Matt Moldover’s World of Controllerism

According to Wikipedia,

Controllerism is the art and practice of using musical software controllers, e.g. MIDI, Open Sound Control (OSC), joystick, etc., to build upon, mix, scratch, remix, effect, modify, or otherwise create music, usually by a Digital DJ or Live PA performer, often called a “controllerist”.

Matt Moldover literally invented the term controllerism to describe his approach to performance.  A graduate of Berklee College of Music, he started out on the guitar and evolved into a one-man performer utilizing a fantastic array of controls of his own design.  His latest album “Four Track” showcases what he has been able to accomplish so far.

Four Trackfour-track

The music and live performance are impressive, but Moldover took the concept of the physical media to another level by shipping is album in the ultimate mini-controllerist format:  An audio-cassette shaped USB drive (that contains the album data) that includes a mini-microphone with an array of controllable audio effects that can be heard either on a built-in speaker, or pumped into an amplifier via a mini-phone jack.

A live solo performance of Four Track sounds amazingly close to what you hear on the album.  Moldover’s  controllers are connected via USB to Max which in turn is mapped into a variety of controllers for Ableton live.  Each song has a separate set of controller mappings.  The most prominent part of Moldover’s live setup is the Mojo, one of his earlier controller creations.


The Mojo

Moldovers_MOJO_panel_w_resizedThe Mojo is pictured here as it would appear to the audience.  The controllerist stands in back of the mojo with their hands coming down over the controls seen here.  Moldover uses the left side (as pictured) to control the gain for the four audio tracks of each song.  Yes, Moldover took the concept of “four track” literally!  The right side of the Mojo is generally used to apply various effects like echo, phasing, and pitch bend to elements of the mix.


The Robocasterrobocaster

Moldover also has a guitar on stage, but as you might expect, it is much more than just a guitar.  It is also a Controllerist’s playground.  The buttons are used to raise/lower the pitch by 4ths and 5ths, providing a unique way to improvise during a solo.  The most prominent use of this effect can be heard on his song Just Like You



The Microphone


Even the Microphone is laden with arcade-style buttons:

The image here is an early prototype.  The latest incarnation clips on to the mic from below, and the clip itself has a cylindrical mount that is then clipped into the microphone stand.  This makes his controller compatible with any standard form-factor microphone and mic stand, and it is a little less visually intimidating with the buttons on the bottom.  In a performance of Four Track, the buttons are used to apply multi-voice pitch shifting, stutter effects, a low-fi effect, and various echoes and reverbs.

The In-Ear Monitorin-ear

In order to facilitate a complex one-person performance, Moldover has created a personal monitor mix via his earpiece.  The mix consists of a click track and a queue mix to keep him in sync and in tune.  The click track allows him to start a piece a capella and have the accompaniment enter in perfect time.

The Possibilities

What impresses me with Moldover’s accomplishments is how thoughtfully he has approached the design of both his equipment and the live performance it creates.  The live performance ability is also great at facilitating exploring many ideas during the composition process well.


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