Building the perfect live rig can be a daunting task. In this month’s field guide let's discuss how a 25-year-old workstation can add real-time control to your next live set.
I have been a proponent of mobile music devices for many years. In fact, in the early '90s, I remember saving up my money to purchase the Yamaha QY10 before it came out. I spend weeks reviewing the brochure and eagerly waiting for its release. It was truly a revolutionary device, allowing users to compose music virtually anywhere with just a pair of headphones. My bandmate and I were so influenced by the workflow of the QY10 that in 1994 we purchased Yamaha's follow-up device, the QY20, and recorded three albums with it. The QY series was quite successful, and Yamaha continued to release updated versions of the portable workstation, including the QY20, QY22, QY300, QY700, QY70, and QY100 in the year 2000. Each model featured a variety of sounds, sequencer tracks, memory locations, storage capacity, effects, and more, but they all remained true to their portability and ease of use.
Fast-forward to 2022 and this kind of portability is commonplace. Today the market is flooded with portable workstations and mobile devices. Practically, all of us are carrying a mobile music device in our pockets in the form of our smartphones. With these modern devices readily available, why would anyone choose to use a device like the QY10 that is nearly 40 years old? While the QY10 is very limited, the QY70 and 100 are quite powerful and offer real-time control over sounds and patterns that can come in handy for the performing musician. Lately, I have been experimenting with the QY70 and I think that it still has many useful features.
The QY70 was released in 1997 and featured many improvements over the original QY10, including many more sounds, pattern tracks, onboard effects, and more user memory, just to name a few. All of these features are still quite useful today. It is an inexpensive, battery-powered, device that features a 16-track sequencer, onboard effects, and over 500 editable sounds. The one feature that I have found most useful is the real-time chord transition feature in the pattern mode. This allows you to change the chords of the pattern simply by playing them on your midi keyboard. This feature can open up a world of alternatives for your live performance. In pattern mode, the QY70 includes 8 sequencer tracks and 6 variations per pattern. This gives you a lot of freedom to create elaborate backing tracks. The variations can be used to create sections of your song, like verse, chorus, and ending, or completely new parts that you can instantly trigger with the press of a button. By using a midi controller, you can mute and unmute tracks, adjust the volume, and even trigger pattern and variation changes. Using the QY70 as your main sequencers and controlling other midi devices in your live rig allows you to create some impressive live performances. The onboard sounds and effects aren't bad either and can be tweaked thanks to Yamaha's full MIDI implementation.
I connected my QY70 to my Korg Volcas, Behringer Crave, and Modal Skulpt, sequenced a pattern with a few variations and set the pattern to follow my chord changes. The results were quite impressive. With this simple setup, I was able to take advantage of the amazing sounds of my more modern devices while controlling the chord changes and variations from my MIDI controller.
If you have a chance to experiment with a QY device or a similar workstation from the past, I recommend it. It is a great way to go DAWless and take advantage of some real-time control that is not readily available elsewhere.