DJ Quest Fine-Tunes Livehuman's Concert Mix By Channeling Everything Through His DJ Mixer

Posted by Billyjam, July 8, 2015 05:44pm | Post a Comment

Since they formed back in the 1990s, the pioneering San Francisco turntable jazz three-piece Livehuman (comprised of DJ Quest, bassist Andrew Kushin, and percussionist Albert Mathias) have been performing all over and at all kinds of venues from underground hip-hop clubs to outdoor jazz festivals. At those concerts the critically acclaimed modern jazz ensemble, who are heard everyday as theme music on San Francisco NPR outlet KALW, would do their part by performing at their very best. However how that would translate into the final mix heard by the concert goers in these venue was beyond their control since the mix was dependent on the club's sound-person. With fingers crossed, the musicians would hope that the sound person would know how to properly mix together the unique trio's individual sounds. Unfortunately, it rarely did happened that a sound man would get the Livehuman mix and blend of their three instruments just right.

Until very recently that is, thanks to new electronic gear and a whole new approach in concert for the turntable-based jazz trio. The solution to getting just the right mix desired was simple enough: they simply had to channel everything through DJ Quest's mixer. In comparison to the sound of old, the new way is a clean, clear, pitch-perfectly balanced, final mix of both Andrew's bass and Albert's various percussion sounds.

When Livehuman started out two decades ago, this new mix approach would not have been possible since Albert was playing a full drum kit (now he uses all electronic gear, much of which he designs/redesigns himself), Andrew was playing a traditional acoustic stand up bass (now his is electronic), and DJ Quest's mixer was primitive in comparison to the new model Rane 64 mixer that he utilizes today. Following their F8 show in San Francisco last month, their last show before taking a break for the summer season, I talked with the group members to discuss their new found freedom when it comes to self-mixing in concert.

"By sub mixing everything through Quest's Rane 64 DJ mixer it allows us to create a consistent sound from venue to venue," said Albert Mathias. "The 'sound guy' never quite understands our sound so we eliminated the need for him. Also Quest can then treat Andrew and myself as sources just like the turntables and mix and effect in realtime. This is very dope!" As for why it is only now in 2015 that they can accomplish this, Andrew Kushin answered, "Quest's mixer is better. Albert's 100% electronic now. With acoustic drums, there's no way to control the sound. But now he becomes just another line in, like a third turntable or live sampler. The same with me: I'm just a fourth sampler generating bass frequencies. Quest can mix our signals in or out as he hears it." As for the bass model Andrew currently plays he said, "It's an electric upright built by Zeta. I don't think they make them anymore. I bought it back in 2000 because I was really struggling with getting enough gain on the acoustic bass without feedback. With the acoustic bass, after a certain volume you aren't really hearing the instrument anymore. All you're hearing is the pickup. That didn't make sense to me. I knew some violinists who were playing Zetas at the time [and] I found out they were making cellos and basses too, so I bought one. Problem solved! I can bow it, it never feeds back, has a lot of punch, and it's way easier to tour with!"

As for Albert's current percussion gear he said that, "I'm using Ableton Live as a host, Addictive Drums plugin instrument, Zendrum Lt midi percussion controller (which was originally designed for a gentleman in a wheelchair), and an iPad mini for sound effects."  Perhaps what is most impressive about Mathias's all electronic gear is that if you close your eyes it sounds just like he playing a traditional full drum kit.  "A traditional trap drum kit has a certain 'known sound' so when you see it on stage you already have an idea what it will sound like. The Zendrum creates a little mystery for the audience," he said. "As far as the advantages of electronic drumming, there are many. Most of all the sound palette is limited only to the imagination. The other major advantage is the sound is pre-produced like a final recording would be so you can build patches that sound like fully produced drum kits. Not to mention my Zendrum is wireless so I can hear my own sound check." Andrew then added that a key factor for playing live with their current setup is having a good monitor mix. "Fortunately for us, Albert has a really nice pair of QSC's that he brings in. Those things are essential," said Kushin.

So exactly how (if at all) does DJ Quest further alter Andrew's bass and Albert's percussion sounds when they get channeled through his mixer? "The 64 has instrument level on the mic input. I can also apply effects to that input as well as the input channel I use for the Zen drum. It allows me to dub out the other instruments as well as my own loops and scratches" said the DJ noting, "The Rane 64 has a hi-quality audio output. We use it when rehearsing [since] it makes it easy to keep the same mix for a live performance, given that we control the level in relation of the instruments to one another. Plus it makes us a self-contained unit." Another advantage of going directly through his mixer, said Quest, is that, "I can also loop the entire mix or just parts in addition to being able to record the drums or bass on the spot and scratch them in the same session. We can also record the session live into Serato. Currently, I'm working on a simple new technique, the 'Dual Deck' scratch. You can scratch two different sounds at once and shift to different cue points simultaneously, allowing for one scratch to play lead while the second adds a harmony scratch and gives you constant flow without having to stop and reload. This can be done on any mixer but the 64 lets me scratch four sounds at the same time with one turntable," said DJ Quest, promising, "Video coming soon!" And as for the possibilities of what Livehuman can accomplish with their new found freedom, Andrew answered that it's limitless. "We're still just scratching the surface of what's possible," he said.

Relevant Tags

Sound Mixing (1), Rane 64 Mixer (1), Rane Sixty-four (1), Albert Mathias (3), Dj Quest (54), Livehuman (4), Live Human (6), Turntablism (43), Turntablist Jazz (1), Andrew Kushin (2), Zendrum (1), Serato (2)