I’ve been thinking about being stranded on a desert island a lot lately, for some mysterious reason. Once I got past the survival horror aspects of living away from civilization, I started thinking about the classic “desert island records/books/movies” questions. My guess is that I would get tired of the same 5 records and books and movies, so my hypothetical lifeboat that brought me to these desolate shores would also have room for some tools that I could create my own art with.
If I found myself on a desert island, what music tools would I want to bring with me? If I had to pare down my studio to the bare essentials, what tools are most important? From the pure thought exercise perspective, my questions revolve around:
- What would I need to create music on a desert island?
- Are the tools primarily intended for live performance, or for composing & recording?
- What would keep me occupied for an indefinite period of time?
- Would I want to go with tools that I am 100% comfortable with, or would I want something that I need to bring myself up to speed with, in order to while away the hours?
- Am I supposed to bring food and water with me as well? If so, should I pack light so that I have more room for the survival necessities?
After spending several weeks thinking about all the above questions, and trying out different “survivalist” music rigs, I’ve landed on the following rig for my own desert island musical tool setup:
This is a fairly portable electronic music rig, that will allow me to record and compose on the island, using both familiar and unfamiliar tools. A quick breakdown:
- M1 MacBook Air. I just got this machine in December 2020, in order to compile the Valhalla plugins for Apple Silicon. I really enjoy this computer, due to its small size, low weight, speed, and how QUIET it is (no fan!). I’ll be using it for recording, as well as for coding new Valhalla plugins when I feel the need. I’ll probably also use it to send out emails saying HELP ME PLEASE HELP ME I AM ON A DESERT ISLAND THAT SOMEHOW HAS POWER AND INTERNET
- Novation Launchpad X. I originally bought this to launch clips in Live, but it has become my keyboard controller of choice. When entering MIDI notes, the Launchpad defaults to an 8×8 grid that is similar to the notes on a bass or the bottom 4 notes of a guitar. It turns out that I instantly took to this way of playing music. I really appreciate the size factor of this controller – it packs the density of a 43-note keyboard into a 9.5 x 9.5 inch space.
- A small Eurorack modular system, based around the Intellijel Palette 62, the Intellijel Atlantis, and Make Noise Maths. This is a minimalist modular synthesizer, but it packs a lot of power into a small size. The Atlantis is based on the SH-101, which was the first synthesizer I ever owned back in 1995, so it is very familiar to me. Maths is very powerful, but also not exactly intuitive to use at first. The combination of these is something that I both know a lot about using, and have a lot to learn about. Perfect for spending long hours on the island, in between desperately scanning the horizon for a passing ship and hunting fish with spears and gathering rainwater and fighting off wild boars.
- Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, for getting audio in and out of the computer.
- Ableton Live
- Valhalla plugins (of course), as well as other plugins as needed
I’m honestly hoping that an electric guitar and fuzz box wash ashore at some point during my island sojourn. A satellite phone would be even better, but failing that it would be fun to run guitar through the synthesizer filters at some point.
If you found yourself on a desert island that was strangely well equipped for survival, and had time to prepare beforehand, what tools would you bring with you? Would your goal be to perform music for yourself, or compose music, or to make recordings as your souvenirs of your island stay? Do you want comfortable tools, or something that you can spend some time learning? Do you pack light, or do you need some heavy gear for your island stay?
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