Mike Gao's Elaborate Musical Inventions

Mike Gao's Elaborate Musical Inventions

Mike Gao is by all means a part of the beat movement in LA. He produces beats, performs them live, and interacts within one of the most prolific electronic music communities in the world today. But Gao takes it a step further. He has an arguably deeper understanding of his equipment than any other producer on the scene. A programmer with a PhD in Music Technology, he sees the shortcomings of his world’s ubiquitous music-making equipment and fills in the blanks. While the rest of us work with what we have, Gao builds what he needs.

Gao’s inventions range from novel iPhone apps to highly technical VST instruments, and they all increase the functionality of existing technology, giving you more control over what you produce. Here’s a rundown of some of the things he’s brought into existence.

Vocal Beater

The Vocal Beater is an iPhone app that comes in handy when you think of a beat pattern, but don’t have your computer in front of you to sequence it out. Simply beat box the rhythm into the app and it will record the individual hits into a MIDI file which you can email to yourself and open within production software or an MPC later. The best part is that you don’t have to be Kenny freakin’ Muhammad in order to use this thing. Whatever mouth percussion you can muster will work, granted the bass hits sound different than the snares.


This is an iPad app used for teaching harmony. It’s a color-coded button grid that allows you to play in a diatonic scale by color, and uses shapes to coordinate chords across keys. If that’s too jargon-y for you, see him using it to manipulate a Nas verse in the video below. The basic idea is to visualize a harmony to achieve a better understanding of it. As Gao puts it, “You can teach a child three Tetris shapes and they will be on the way to playing big jazz chords in every key.” He recently added Monome support so that the button grid can be used as a Monome. This app is something he used on every track of his 2011 album Sun Shadows.

Epic Failure + Epic Recovery

This one is less of an invention and more of a performance art piece. After seeing some fellow producers epically fail while performing, Gao wanted to make the point that computers are far from an error-free musical instrument. In the middle of one of his own live sets, he faked spilling a drink all over his computer, then “pouring” it out, causing the computer to make a noise that sounds like pure digital error. He put together this video of Epic Failure + Epic Recovery just for us.

In addition to all of the above, Gao is constantly working on music, as well as other technology. He has designed various VST plugins for timing, including ones that allow for polyrhythmic quintuplets, which is something that standard Ableton Live doesn’t allow for. And this summer, Gao will be working with Native Instruments on the Maschine controller. We can’t wait to see what that thing will look like after he gets his hands on it.