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Ableton Live Drift Synthesizer

Ableton Live Tips & Techniques By Simon Sherbourne
Published June 2023

Screen 1: Drift’s easy‑to‑follow control panel.Screen 1: Drift’s easy‑to‑follow control panel.

Float away with Live 11.3’s new synth...

Live version 11.3 has arrived in public beta form, and it’s MPE‑themed. But don’t switch off if MPE is not your thing or you don’t have an MPE controller. There’s a brand‑new instrument device that we’re going to explore here, and although it supports MPE it works just fine without it. We’ll dig deep into MPE and its integration in Live 11 another time.

Drift features a familiar two‑oscillator subtractive synth engine, and I guess was conceived as a new default virtual analogue sound source in Live. I say this because it will be in all versions of Live from Intro upwards, and has a simple user panel that’s more approachable than the Analog device. It’s less dense in its layout and has Push‑friendly graphics. It’s not just a cut‑down Analog, though. It is slightly less flexible in its routing and has fewer onboard mod sources, but its oscillators are considerably more versatile and it has a whole bunch of exciting and unexpected stuff going on that might not be apparent at first glance, making this a really special little synth.

Shape Shifting

The first block on Drift’s panel accesses two oscillators and a noise source. Each oscillator has a pop‑up shape/mode selector, with osc 1 having a few more options. Ableton say that Drift is influenced by modern synths and modules, and you certainly feel that here. Osc 1 has a Shape control that appears to do different things depending on the basic oscillator mode. There’s an oscilloscope display that shows the product of the whole oscillator section to give clues as to how the sounds are being manipulated.

With the sine and triangle shapes, the Shape control appears to apply wave folding. The third mode provides morphing between triangle and saw. The fourth shape looks like half a sine and triangle stitched together, which the Shape control progressively clips, providing a pleasing harmonic sweep — a great starting point for classic poly sounds. The sawtooth and pulse modes get a sync sweep treatment from the Shape control, while the final square mode gets pulse‑width modulation.

Screen 2: Each of the oscillator modes are affected differently by the Shape control.Screen 2: Each of the oscillator modes are affected differently by the Shape control.

Note that slap in the middle of the oscillator 1 section there’s a modulation assignment mapping MPE Slide to Shape. If you look across the...

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