Performing Live with the Surface Pro 3

One of the key reasons behind my purchase of the Surface Pro 3 was to use it for live performance – and now that time has come. I’m performing both music and visuals at a series of events at Norwich Cathedral over the coming year. The first one was on the 23rd November 2014 and I thought it might be interesting to record and document my preparation for that gig and show how I used the Surface, what decisions I made on the associated gear and how it all came together as a performance tool. It seemed too much to do it as a single video so I’ve split it up into 7 smaller videos (below) dealing with different aspects of the process.

Please feel free to ask questions about it in the comments section either here or on YouTube.

1. Introduction.
Here’s what I’m trying to achieve.

2. Exporting from Reason 8 into Ableton Live
I wrote some of the music in Reason 8 and had to convert that into a load of loops that could be triggered in Ableton Live, here’s how I dealt with that.

3. Freezing Instruments in Ableton Live
I’d also written some music in Ableton using a lot of software instruments – some of these were on the Surface, some were not. To create the most efficient project for performance I froze the instrument tracks and turned them into audio loops – here’s the process I went through.

4. Visuals and Video Projection
A big part of what we do is run video loops and visuals as backdrops but also as focus points at various stages. I wanted the Surface to be able to run both the audio and the video loops. Here’s how I approached that.

5. Developing the Visuals
Things change and evolve as you work towards the performance and the choices of technology I made had to work in the context of what we were doing.

6. Putting it all together
Finally got the right gear working in the right way – here’s how it’s all going to work.

7. Showtime!
The challenges in setting up the space, getting it all working and then reflections on the performance itself.


So, yeah – the Surface did a great job of coping with everything I asked of it. We’re already brainstorming on how to evolve and improve for next event at the end of January. I may well split the video side out to another machine – not because the Surface can’t handle it but because i’m not sure I can handle running the music and video all by myself – it’s getting too complex and having someone to operate the visuals would probably be a really good idea. But these sorts of people are hard to find…….

3 thoughts on “Performing Live with the Surface Pro 3

  1. This blog in general, and this post in particular, is a very detailed and informative blog. Thank you for writing it!

    It seems to me that the Surface Pro 3 is an excellent piece of kit for live performances. I wonder if you would mind talking about how you configure it in a live situation? Presumably you turn of notifications for a few hours, use an alternate power plan so that the screen stays on, and perhaps turn off Windows’ system sounds? Is there anything else I didn’t think of?

    1. Very little actually. Probably the best thing to do is turn off Wi-Fi – that then deals with notifications and other sudden update requests and other nonsense. Sure disable sounds and keep the screen on. You don’t need to have the system running at 100% everything though as this will actually risk getting it too hot and having to clock down – this is not a desktop machine so leave it mostly alone. Hope that helps 🙂

  2. I’ve had both a laptop (dell windows) and a tablet (iPad) for several years with different purposes. My iPad was great for couch internet surfing and watching youtube but was terrible for work or anything productive. My laptop was great for work but too clunky to carry around all the time, it ended up just sitting on my desk most of the time. My new surface pro 3 has replaced both devices completely, it light enough that I carry it around with me everywhere and the screen resolution makes working on multiple applications a breeze. The keyboard is a little flimsy when you’re typing on your lap but its much better than trying to type on my iPad. All in all this is the device Microsoft promised us when it released. Well done.

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