How to play an Ableton Push or other midi controller in an outdoor setting and still be able to see your screen and pad lights.

Have you ever tried to perform at a live gig, using midi-controllers or devices that have backlit pads or screens, only to find out the sun makes it so you can barely tell what’s going on? Me too. I learned the hard way, but luckily a quick teardown and setup in a more shaded area, I was able to get back up and running. But, it was a frustrating scenario and I like to prevent these types of issues happening. So when WMSE asked my noise-rap project, Guerrilla Ghost, to play their “Backyard BBQ” at Humboldt Park last year, I did some research and didn’t find much by the way of good solutions. I did find ONE reddit post where, in the comments, someone noted that folks at outdoor EDM festivals are known to use checker boards to shield their gear from the sun while they play. I searched again, prior to posting this, and didn’t find that original post that sent me down this path, but another one outlining the problem. I figured I’d share my approach in hopes that it might help others prepare for gigging outdoors with electronics.

The Problem

Gigging outdoors in the sunshine (yay!) the device screens and backlit buttons are washed out, making it impossible to see what you’re doing (boo!).

The Solution

Build your own sun hood out of game boards and bring it to the gig.

Sourcing materials

I found all of my gaming boards by hitting local thrift stores. I used a total of four. Three of them needed to be the same size, so that I could build a wrap-around shield, and extend it on one side. The top was constructed with a larger, “Sorry!” game board that fit nicely over top. I used strips of velcro in key spots to make the hood easy to setup and break down.

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Rough assembly and outdoor testing

When fitting the boards, I made a cutaway in the front left section to allow for USB and power cable connection. I also spray-painted our band name on the visible section of the larger game board. The orange and black look pretty killer together. I had a velcro strap I found years ago at American Science and Surplus, here in Milwaukee, and used it to keep the boards together so they’re easier to carry on-the-go.

I made sure to test my contraption outdoors ahead of the big gig, so I could make sure that it works as expected. I suggest you do the same, in case you need to modify your design to accommodate. Also, if possible, scope out the event location at the same time of day as your set time so you can be aware of where the sun will be during your set.

Note: if you’re using an Ableton Push device, make sure to use the power cable when playing outdoors. It assures that the lights will be the brightest they can. If you only use a USB cable and use the bus-powered option, the lights will be dimmer and might make it harder to see outdoors.

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Black out the interior and dress up the exterior

During my initial tests, I felt like I was still getting some reflections from the irregular printing on the inside surfaces of my sun hood. Thankfully, my good friend Francisco Ramirez, at Bureau of Print Research and Design, is a local screen printer and had a bunch of gig posters on black French paper that he let me cut up and past to the inside of my hood. This helps to absorb the light and prevent reflections. I also put an extra part of the poster front on the outside to dress it up a little.

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The day of the gig

Here are some photos of my setup on the day of the gig. The first two pictures show my final setup, front and back, in the backstage staging area. The last two photos show ya boi, Tron Jovi of Guerrilla Ghost, in action during the set. For a little extra insurance, I used gaffer tape to secure the hood to itself and to my Fastset DJ table.

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Making-do with available materials

If you don’t have the time to source game boards, use whatever material you have available. This shade hood was built out of available materials by Nicholas Elert and I just before his outdoor performance at X-Ray Arcade. Luckily, I had done some research on how to mitigate this. Prior “Wired Explorations” events started at noon, so the tent which was provided gave the performer’s enough shade. Nick’s event didn’t start until later in the afternoon, so the sun was in a different position and the tent didn’t help shield his electronics from the sun.

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Posted by Martin Defatte

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