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Laptop Music

Book Review By Martin Walker
Published January 2005

Book Review: Laptop Music

This book from PC Publishing is not just an academic exercise detailing the Mac and PC software and hardware you'll need to make music, although there's plenty of that as well. Martin regularly performs live laptop gigs, and his practical experience really shines through in the text. Even better, the text is liberally sprinkled with mini-interviews and quotes from other practising laptop musicians, including details of gear and techniques, which really bring it to life.

The book starts by discussing laptop hardware, and what you'll need in a new model. This includes a discussion of port options; the arguments for Windows, Mac OS, or Linux; and what you'll manage using elderly hardware or when buying secondhand. Following this, he moves on to give examples of the basic audio interface options, before providing advice about carrying cases, security, insurance, maintenance, and batteries.

Several concise but informative sections then discuss various specific audio interfaces, MIDI controllers, and accessories, before concentrating on available freeware, shareware, and commercial software — audio editors, sequencers, soft synths, plug-ins, and so forth. Although the more obvious commercial candidates such as Ableton Live, Propellerhead Reason, and Celemony Melodyne are all covered, exploring opinions from various musicians using them in practice, this section also covers live jamming techniques using free software.

By the next chapter we're really in the thick of things, with an in-depth look at laptop gigging and jamming. There's loads of practical advice on different ways of working with others, places to meet, and how to set up your gear. Then there's the visuals — ways to keep the audience interested when you're a lone musician hunched over a laptop. These include video capture and editing, VJ'ing with software like Arkaos (the visual equivalent of Ableton Live), and the use of webcams, projectors, and screens.

Freeware and commercial software for the laptop DJ is then touched on before the book finishes with a discussion of other portable but non-laptop gear; a look at future possibilities using wireless technology, tablets, touch screens, and more advanced controllers; and two pages of laptop music web links. Overall, I loved this book's streetwise approach — it's one of the most entertaining music technology reads I've ever had, and well worth the money!


Laptop Music by Martin Delaney (ISBN 180775899) £12.95 including VAT.

PC Publishing +44 (0)1953 889900.