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Ableton: Auto-switching Instrument Racks

Ableton Live Tips & Techniques
By Geoff Smith

Screen 1: Prepare your Instrument Rack by dragging an empty Instrument Rack preset onto a MIDI track.Screen 1: Prepare your Instrument Rack by dragging an empty Instrument Rack preset onto a MIDI track.

Find out how to prepare your Instrument Rack for performance in Live.

In this issue's interview with drum & bass artist Wilkinson, he describes how he uses Live's Instrument Racks during performance, with his Project automatically switching to the right sounds in sync with his band's backing tracks. In this short walkthrough, we'll show you exactly how it's done.

First, open Ableton Live, set the Browser to display Categories / Instruments, and drag the Instrument Rack folder onto the first MIDI track (see Screen 1 above).

Now open the disclosure arrow for the instrument presets you want to add, then drag and drop the presets onto the instrument rack in the Devices panel, as in Screen 2.

Screen 2: To create an Instrument Rack that you can use as a song playlist, drag instrument presets from the Browser straight into the Instrument Rack and then assign each instrument a unique Chain Selector value.Screen 2: To create an Instrument Rack that you can use as a song playlist, drag instrument presets from the Browser straight into the Instrument Rack and then assign each instrument a unique Chain Selector value.

Next, on the far left‑hand side of the Devices panel, click the Show/Hide Chain List button to display the Chain List editing panel. Click on the Chain button in the Chain List panel to display the Chain Select Editor. Then, for each instrument in the Instrument Rack, set the Chain List zone so that each instrument has its own value.

In Screen 2 I have set the first instrument to have a value of 0, the second a value of 1 and the third a value of 2. When the Chain Selector automation parameter is set to 0 you will hear only the first instrument; when it's set to 1 you will hear only the second instrument. To layer two instruments together, you simply have to set them to the same zone value.

Chain Keep Us Together

To automate the Chain Selector value, create three empty clips in track 1 and double‑click on the first clip so that the lower panel displays the Clip View. Next, in the bottom‑left corner of the Clip View panel, click on the Show/Hide Envelopes box. If the last parameter you changed was the Chain Selector, this should be automatically selected in the Envelope Editor; if not, select it from the Envelopes panel's Device and Control Chooser drop‑down menus. Now draw in a Chain Selector value of 0 for the first clip, 1 for the second clip and 2 for the third (see Screen 3). Rename the three clips Song 1, Song 2 and Song 3 (when you create your actual setup you can use the name of the songs).

Screen 3: Add your Chain Selector automation inside a clip that is labelled according to the name of the song that the patch is used in; this will help keep your backing track project organised and clear.Screen 3: Add your Chain Selector automation inside a clip that is labelled according to the name of the song that the patch is used in; this will help keep your backing track project organised and clear.

Now when you launch the clip for Song 1, 2 or 3, it will change the Chain Selector value so that the Instrument Rack will only play the instrument needed for that song. You can copy a clip from Session View using Command+C (Windows: Ctrl+C) and paste it into the Arrangement View using Command/Ctrl+V.

Creating the clips with their song names in Session View in effect gives you an organised bank of clips which are conveniently labelled with the song name (and section, if needed). This makes it easier to add the Chain Selector changes for different songs in the Arrangement View alongside your backing tracks. It also means that when you want to edit anything in the Arrangement View, all of those instrument changes are encapsulated in clearly labelled regions.

Check out the SOS Tutorials video course on Ableton Live.

Published January 2019