Canadian Musician* contributor Jeff Gunn is back with the latest edition of his “A Conversation with…” series. This time, we’re venturing out of six-string territory and into controllerism with the one and only Alluxe.*
If you watched Logic’s performance at the 2018 Grammys or caught a show on one of Kanye West’s recent tours then you have been witness to one of L.A.’s most in-demand controllerists, Laura Escudé, aka Alluxe. A controllerist, producer, live show programmer, and violinist, Alluxe has opened for Garbage and toured the world with Kanye West and Miguel. She has personally trained numerous people for her live show design company, Electronic Creatives, who are the soundscape-operating gurus behind Logic, Harry Styles, Camila Cabello, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kid Cudi, Pentatonix, and many more. Her diverse musical skill set has even led her to develop shows with the likes of jazz legend Herbie Hancock.
Due to advances in music technology, the past decade has seen a whole new breed of musician evolve – one who is proficient on multiple instruments and music technologies and software platforms. Her mastery of Ableton Live along with her musical sensibility have placed her and those like her at the heart of great touring shows in the 21st century.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Laura and ask her questions about the role of controllerists in the contemporary music scene.
JG: What is a controllerist?
A: A controllerist is someone who uses MIDI controllers and software to mix, remix, and perform music, usually in a live setting. It’s similar to a turntablist who uses the turntable as an instrument, but using controllers and software.
JG: Describe how technology has impacted your practice as an artist and controllerist throughout your career?
A: I fell in love with producing while in college – fun fact: I learned to produce at George Clinton’s studio – and quickly became hooked on learning new things. Throughout the years as technology became increasingly more powerful and accessible, I began to use it to try out things in my productions and performances that not a lot of people were doing at the time. For instance, in 2004, I was using the Playstation glove as a MIDI controller and began experimenting with using gaming controllers in a live setting. I worked for Ableton long before it was ubiquitous and became certified in 2008, which was really the thing that catapulted my artistry and career. Without technology, I don’t know what I would be doing. There are constant inspirations that help propel me forward.
JG: Name some of your biggest career highlights so far.
A: Definitely opening for Garbage, performing my one woman controllerist show with violin. Opening for Miguel on his tours as a DJ. Doing shows all over the world with Kanye West, including massive events like Glastonbury. Playing violin on [Kanye & Jay Z’s] Watch the Throne album. Doing the Grammys with Logic. There are so many. I’m very thankful!
JG: You are a multi-instrumentalist. Describe your show.
A: My show consists of violin, keys played on Ableton Push, a Wii controller to control vocal effects, and live looping of violin and vocals in a mix of improvisational and non-improv works. I also control my visuals in real time using my controllers. It’s definitely something to see! I’ve put a lot of work in over the years to refine it and get it where it needs to be.
JG: Why has Ableton become the industry standard for live shows?
A: Ableton has become the standard because they were the first DAW to really think “outside of the box.” The non-linear way of working way difficult for me to wrap my head around at first but once I locked into it, I started creating and making music in ways that were much more expressive because I wasn’t bound to any timeline. Also, Ableton is very stable now and making changes and edits on the fly make it super flexible when those artists come up to you in the middle of the show and want to make changes!
JG: You’ve toured with Kanye West and Miguel. How does your role change depending on which artist you are working with?
A: There’s a common thread with all of the artists that I’ve worked with but they operate slightly differently. For example, Kanye used music playback and vocal effects while Miguel just used music playback and I DJ’d it. Other artists like Herbie Hancock and Porter Robinson, I helped to create their own solo shows, so it was about helping them to perform with these tools. I’ve also gotten into doing television recently so that’s a whole different atmosphere because the music changes every week and very quickly. But in all of these scenarios, it’s all about precision editing, technical skills, and being on top of changes!
JG: Name some artists and controllerists who have inspired your own practice.
A: Bjork is a big inspiration for her ability to push boundaries with her performances and brand. Moldover gets a shout out because he coined the term controllers and has been pushing boundaries for a long time with his performances. I also am really recently inspired by Chagall, who uses the Mimu gloves to do amazing looping and processing of her vocals.
JG: Does your role differ when preparing a performance for the Grammys as compared with a tour set?
A: The Grammys are usually a bit easier because it’s only one song! But it’s still very intense because there’s a lot of moving parts and pieces to be aware of. Once a tour gets in the groove, it usually becomes like clockwork, but those first couple of weeks are rough – especially if you’re working with artists that don’t like to rehearse, which I’ve had the tendency to do…
JG: Describe any challenges you have faced as a controllerist during the programming process and live performance.
A: The biggest challenges are making sure the technology works properly. I like to push the boundaries, especially in my own show, and sometimes there have been times when something doesn’t work properly. When I’m working with other artists, though, I try to keep it very safe and more minimal. But the main challenge is just making sure everything comes together in the moment the way you want it to and then being able to pay attention to your performance and not the tech.
JG: Why have controllerists become an essential component of some live performance?
A: Unfortunately, certain artists can’t afford to have full bands due to budgets, but also, music playback and controllerism allow performers to have more control over their sounds and effects while on stage. So some bands save money but then others augment their setups with new technology so that they can get clicks and cues in in-ears and control lighting, video, pyro, you name it, all from one system.
JG: What advice do you have for up and coming controllerists who want to make it in the music industry?
A: Grind hard. Absorb as much info as possible. Find someone you look up to and interview them or better yet, find a mentor. Be a considerate, professional, helpful person and it will come back to you tenfold.
Jeff Gunn is a contributor with Canadian Musician, a Juno-nominated songwriter/producer, author of the Hidden Sounds Guitar Series, and musical director/guitarist for Emmanuel Jal. Visit him on Instagram @jeffgunn1 and Twitter @jeffgunn1 or at www.jeffgunn.ca.
Photos by Suzanne Strong (top) & Alister Ann.