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Live primer: Using Novation Circuit Tracks onstage

Circuit Tracks
(Image credit: Novation)

BACK TO LIVE: The handy compact groovebox gets even more useful thanks to a pair of external sequencing tracks. Could it be your new live hub?

What is it?

This year’s Circuit Tracks is a direct follow-up to Novation’s original Circuit groovebox. Like its predecessor, it has both synth and sample sound engines - the former in the shape of two digital polysynths, the latter four tracks of relatively simple one-shot playback. 

The highlight is the sequencing workflow, which is fun and intuitive while still deceptively deep, with features like micro timing adjustments, probability and macro automation. This new version adds two MIDI tracks for sequencing external gear.

Why use it on stage?

Circuit Tracks is something of a compact melodic sequencing powerhouse. Between its synth and MIDI tracks it can independently sequence up to four polyphonic, MIDI-equipped instruments, with automatable macro controls which can output customisable CC messages to each. 

Melodic sequences can be up to 32 steps, and can be chained to create patterns of up to 256 steps - all of which can be saved and recalled using the internal memory. Handy for triggering multiple riffs or progressions on stage.

Any downsides?

Internal battery life is not great for shows, at around four hours, but fortunately it can run from USB power. The lack of a screen can be confusing too - the workflow is intuitive enough that you should be mostly covered, but maybe keep note of where your preset sounds or patterns are stored!

Setup ideas

There are full MIDI in, out and thru ports (which can act as a secondary MIDI out - good for live use!). MIDI in and USB can be used to receive clock messages, and an analogue pulse out can drive Volcas, modular gear, etc. A pair of audio inputs mean it can act as a basic summing mixer. It lacks faders for adjusting levels, but external audio can run through the internal reverb and delay or the sample track-driven sidechain and bi-directional, DJ-style filter.

Live tips and tricks

Expand its potential

Although Tracks’ sampler has only four channels, you can use automation to trigger a different sample on each step, significantly broadening the potential. 

Want to use it to play back elements of a complex beat or backing loop? Slice said loop into 8th or 16th note ‘steps’ in your DAW (be careful with crossover points to avoid clicks) then re-sequence them using Tracks. 

Not only does this allow you to play back complex loops using a single sample track, but you can get creative by live tweaking things like the sampler’s envelope decay or distortion amount.

Bring your sounds together

Tracks has a hidden global compressor, with just an on/off setting accessed by the Advanced Setup menu (hold down shift while turning the unit on). While it’s a very simple effect, it’s handy for adding an element of cohesion across multiple sounds, particularly when running external synths through the audio inputs. 

Combined with the sidechain ducking effect - which can also be applied to external audio - it makes Tracks a handy hub for summing multiple pad or chord sounds, glueing them together with a little compression and rhythmic sidechain pulsing, plus the ability to sweep the output using the filter.

Save time with templates

While you can customise the MIDI tracks’ Macros to output whatever CC suits your setup, Novation have created a handy set of templates (available via Components) that, generally speaking, provide mappings for the most performance-friendly parameters for a whole host of popular hardware instruments.

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