Onstage With Underworld

Kenton Electronics keep the show on the road with custom built switching system      30/10/07

Onstage With Underworld
Kenton’s custom built switching system as used by Underworld

Leading electronics experts Kenton are probably best known forretro-fitting classic pre-MIDI synths but they also design and build bespoke electronic solutions that allow some of the world’s biggest bands to take their studio-based creations to the stage. One of those bands is Underworld who are renowned for putting on some of the most striking and awe-inspiring live performances bar none. However, even they aren’t immune to the complications of getting those studio mixes working perfectly in a live situation and Kenton Electronics is the one place to go when the band need results they can trust .
Mal Corbett, Underworld’s long-time Stage Manager, explains…
“Our involvement with Kenton started around 1996 when we had a problem running and synchronizing multiple computer-based sequencers. The box Kenton ended up making for us is now an essential element of Underworld’s live equipment.�
“Basically it stops the MIDI clock that's coming from the main Logic sequence to either one of the other four computers we run live. We can then restart the MIDI clock, all while keeping in time with the main iMac. We have four of these small, custom-built boxes, each controlling the MIDI clock to the other computers. And despite the simplicity it's hard to exaggerate just how important this piece of kit has become.�
The next encounter with Kenton came about when the band wanted to use Apple Logic's ‘Touch Tracks’ function on stage, a function whereby you can play or mute MIDI tracks in a Logic sequence simply by playing a keyboard.�
“The main shortcomings, however, were the lack of any clear indication as to which sequence was playing without looking at the monitor – but worse, a ‘feature’ of Touch Tracks where if the same key assigned to the current sequence playing is accidentally pressed, the sequence stops.�
“Kenton made a switching system [see picture] consisting of a box with eight small switches with embedded LEDs that neatly solves both problems. Though designed for using with Logic Audio, we've easily integrated it for use with Ableton Live.�
“Another very specialised job involved stripping down a Roland GX10 MIDI controller to attach it to the back of Karl [Hyde]'s Les Paul and transmit the MIDI over a digital radio signal. It’s still my favourite!� This device was effectively the forerunner of Kenton’s incredible MIDIStream Wireless system, as used by many acts today.
“We also had Kenton make a system of little boxes,� Mal continues. “It would wirelessly transmit and receive the song number of the current sequence throughout a venue to our Sound, Light and Video engineers.�
“I've worked with Underworld as Stage and Studio manager for 13 or so years, and throughout that time the underlying features of all of the customised boxes made for us by Kenton appears to be reliability and endurance.�
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