Beat Repeat Plug-in

Ableton Live Tips & Techniques

Published in SOS December 2010
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Technique : Ableton Live Notes

We show you the most modest of feats: a wonderful way of repeating your beats.

Len Sasso

A one‑bar drum loop is shown at the top. Beat Repeat repeats the kick‑drum hit played on the first beat at the next six 16th‑notes, as shown in the second audio clip. The Beat Repeat default settings (shown at bottom) produce a mix of the two audio clips.A one‑bar drum loop is shown at the top. Beat Repeat repeats the kick‑drum hit played on the first beat at the next six 16th‑notes, as shown in the second audio clip. The Beat Repeat default settings (shown at bottom) produce a mix of the two audio clips.

Getting a handle on Live's Beat Repeat audio effect plug‑in can seem daunting at first, but, despite its array of options, the basic concept couldn't be simpler: grab and repeat chunks of audio at regular intervals. This month we're going to get to grips with Beat Repeat, and then use it to do some serious damage.

The name 'Beat Repeat' suggests an effect designed for drums, but Beat Repeat is equally adept at enhancing pads and ambient sounds; other rhythm‑section parts, such as bass, guitar, and keyboards; background vocals and speech clips; and even leads. I'll use a simple drum loop to describe how Beat Repeat works, then offer alternative examples, along with some tips on how to avoid over-using the effect.

The Simple Truth

In this example, Beat Repeat makes one pass every bar, as indicated by the Interval setting of one Bar (red). On each pass, Beat Repeat waits four 16th‑notes then grabs one eighth‑note of audio, as indicated by the Offset (green) and Grid (blue) settings. Beat Repeat then repeats the grab with eighth‑note spacing, as indicated by the Gate (purple) setting of 6/16: one eighth‑note (2/16) for the grab and two eighth‑notes (4/16) for the repeats.In this example, Beat Repeat makes one pass every bar, as indicated by the Interval setting of one Bar (red). On each pass, Beat Repeat waits four 16th‑notes then grabs one eighth‑note of audio, as indicated by the Offset (green) and Grid (blue) settings. Beat Repeat then repeats the grab with eighth‑note spacing, as indicated by the Gate (purple) setting of 6/16: one eighth‑note (2/16) for the grab and two eighth‑notes (4/16) for the repeats.

To learn your way around Beat Repeat, load up your favourite MIDI drum machine and create a simple one‑bar loop with a different sound on each eighth note. Insert a Beat Repeat after the drum machine and play the drum loop. You'll hear the sound that's played on the first beat repeated at the next six 16th‑note positions while your original drum sequence plays underneath.

The most important Beat Repeat controls are Interval, Offset, Grid and Gate. Together they determine where (Offset), how often (Interval), and how much audio (Grid) is buffered for repeating (I'll call this the grab). The Grid knob setting is also the repeat rate. The Gate knob sets how long Beat Repeat is active — including the time for the grab as well as all repeats. (If the Gate setting is not bigger than the Grid setting, Beat Repeat won't have any effect.)

The graphic at the top left of the control panel shows the effect of the Volume and Decay settings: the second green bar illustrates a 2dB drop for the first repeat, and the remaining bars illustrate 33 percent volume drops thereafter. Notice the faint grey bar in the graphic; this shows the output level of the source audio and reflects your choice of the Mix, Ins, or Gate button. The Volume, Filter and Pitch settings affect only the processed audio.The graphic at the top left of the control panel shows the effect of the Volume and Decay settings: the second green bar illustrates a 2dB drop for the first repeat, and the remaining bars illustrate 33 percent volume drops thereafter. Notice the faint grey bar in the graphic; this shows the output level of the source audio and reflects your choice of the Mix, Ins, or Gate button. The Volume, Filter and Pitch settings affect only the processed audio.Next, notice the Volume and Decay knobs at bottom right of the control panel and the Mix, Ins (Insert), and Gate buttons above them. Volume controls the relative volume of the repeats but does not affect audio passing through the plug‑in. Decay determines how much successive repeats drop in volume. The graphic at the top left reflects both settings.

The Pitch and Pitch Decay knobs to the left of the Volume and Decay knobs have a similar impact on pitch. The filter section at the top right processes the repeats with a band‑pass filter (again, the source is not affected). You can drag in the graphic or use the numerical controls below to set the filter's frequency and bandwidth.

If you click the Ins button, the source is suppressed when Beat Repeat's gate is open, so you won't hear the original drums during the repeats. If you click the Gate button, you will never hear the source; only Beat Repeat's output gets through. That's the setting you'd most likely want when you use Beat Repeat as a send effect or when you use several Beat Repeats in parallel (more on this later).

Less Is More

In this Audio Effect Rack, four Beat Repeat chains add a 16th‑note repeat at or near each beat of a bass loop. Each of the Beat Repeats is in Gate mode, and the top (empty) chain is used for the unprocessed loop. Slight pan offsets add a spatial element.In this Audio Effect Rack, four Beat Repeat chains add a 16th‑note repeat at or near each beat of a bass loop. Each of the Beat Repeats is in Gate mode, and the top (empty) chain is used for the unprocessed loop. Slight pan offsets add a spatial element.

Repeating in the same way over and over gets a little boring, and Beat Repeat has three ways to liven things up. Firstly, the Interval knob sets the length of the repeat cycle. Return to the default settings (reloading Beat Repeat using the Hot Swap button is the fastest way), and change Interval to two or four bars. Now you'll hear the repeats of the first beat every other or every fourth bar. Change Interval to 1/2 bar and things get busier—beats one and three now get repeated.

Long Interval settings add breathing space, but the process is still always the same. On the other hand, the Chance knob sets the probability that Beat Repeat will kick in. At 50 percent with a one bar Interval setting, for example, you'll get the effect only half the time, but it won't be the predictable every‑other‑bar that it is with a 100 percent Chance setting and a two-bar Interval setting. Of course, you can use small intervals and low chance together to produce infrequent, unpredictable repeats.

The Variation knob is your final way around predictability. It varies the grid at specific times, in a manner chosen by the drop‑down Trigger menu below it. The knob's value indicates how far either side of the Grid knob's value the grid can vary. The 'No Trpl' button overrides triplet values (1/3, 1/6, and so on) by using the next lowest Grid setting, and that applies to values set with the knob or by variation.

A Different Drummer

In this setup, Beat Repeat grabs the second and fifth eighth‑note in each bar of a background vocal, pitch-shifts it down a Perfect Fourth (five semitones), and feeds it into the reverb.In this setup, Beat Repeat grabs the second and fifth eighth‑note in each bar of a background vocal, pitch-shifts it down a Perfect Fourth (five semitones), and feeds it into the reverb.

To finish off, let's look at some creative ways to use Beat Repeat to process sounds other than drums.

You can add some interest to a repetitive bass line by inserting occasional double hits using multiple Beat Repeats with short gates, different offsets, and reduced Chance settings.

  • Create an Audio Effect Rack on the bass track and insert an empty chain to use for the unprocessed audio.
  • Drag a Beat Repeat into the rack to create a new chain.
  • Set the Beat Repeat's Gate to 2/16, its Grid to 1/16, and its mode to Gate.
  • Start the bass loop and adjust the Offset knob until you find a position that produces a useful double hit (zero almost always works).
  • Repeat the process with two or three more Beat Repeats, choosing a different Offset setting for each one.A pad triggered every two bars (top) is grabbed and repeated with slight pitch and volume decays at half‑bar intervals (bottom). The repeats replace the incoming audio (Ins button) and the repeat grid varies between 16th‑notes and eighth‑notes — one position each side of the Grid knob's 1/12 setting. A pad triggered every two bars (top) is grabbed and repeated with slight pitch and volume decays at half‑bar intervals (bottom). The repeats replace the incoming audio (Ins button) and the repeat grid varies between 16th‑notes and eighth‑notes — one position each side of the Grid knob's 1/12 setting.

To keep the extra hits from going over the top, you'll want to adjust both their Chance and Volume settings. To that end, map the Chance knobs to the Effect Rack's top macro knobs and the corresponding chain levels to the bottom macro knobs. Now you can dial in the treatment without manually selecting individual chains, and you can easily automate changes; for example, zeroing some chain volumes at different points in your song.

Beat Repeat often comes in handy for adding harmony and reverb to background vocals. To do this, insert the Beat Repeat, followed by your favourite reverb plug‑in, into one of Live's Return tracks and temporarily set the send bus to pre‑fader so that you can lower the vocal while setting up Beat Repeat. For this effect, you'll generally want 100 percent Chance and no Variation to ensure that the effect is consistent. Grid settings of 1/8 or 1/12 with a Gate setting of 7/16 or 8/16 generally work well. This is a situation in which small Interval settings and consonant pitch shifts often work well, the small Interval setting causing several different positions in the vocal loop to be grabbed, and the pitch shift adding a little harmony.

Pads make good fodder for regular repetition. Set Chance to 100 percent and use small Interval and Grid settings with slight pitch and volume decays. Set Beat Repeat to Ins mode so that the repeats replace the incoming audio; otherwise they're likely to be obscured. A Gate setting below the Interval setting but above the Grid setting lets you hear the unprocessed pad before and after each repeat cycle. For example, with half‑note intervals, an eighth‑note grid, and a three eighth‑note gate, you'll hear the grab (unprocessed pad), followed by two eighth‑note repeats followed by another eighth‑note of the pad on each cycle.

As you can see, Beat Repeat will deliver occasional, subtle accents or completely mangle your audio, and both alternatives are useful. Next time one of your tracks goes a little stale, let Beat Repeat mix things up a bit.    .


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