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Creative Crossfades In Ableton Live

Ableton Live Tips & Techniques By Len Sasso
Published July 2018

Screen 1: The two-track crossfade (top) is a bit more versatile than the single-track crossfade of overlapping clips shown below.Screen 1: The two-track crossfade (top) is a bit more versatile than the single-track crossfade of overlapping clips shown below.

We see how crossfades can be used creatively and cosmetically in Live.

This time we’ll take an in-depth look at Live’s versatile approach to audio clip fading and crossfading in the Arrangement view. Creating crossfades with clips on separate tracks lets you apply separate audio effects processing and offers more flexible shaping of the fade curves, whereas crossfading clips on the same track is simpler and requires only one track. Either approach is a useful tool in both arranging and sound design. If you’re not familiar with using audio clip fades in Live, have a look at the ‘Hands On’ box for the basics.

The Fickle Hand Of Fade

The top of Screen 1 shows two audio clips containing different electric piano voicings of the same chord. The clips’ Fade handles at the top and bottom and Curve handle in the middle shape individual fades that together crossfade the two voicings. In this example, a reverb effect is inserted on the track holding Clip 2. The fade-out of the top clip and fade-in of the bottom clip are the same length but have different shapes owing to the different positions of their Curve handles. You can use the two-track version or Resample it (shown in pink) for use in Scenes, other songs or sampled instruments.

When you don’t need separate effects processing or different curve shapes, a single-track crossfade is simpler and faster to set up. The first step is to overlap the two clips on the same track, as shown at the top of the lower example in Screen 1. (It makes no difference which clip overlaps the other, and you can even use the fade handles to change which overlaps which after the fact.) To create the crossfade, drag the top Fade handle of the overlapped clip into the overlapped region. The crossfade is limited to the length of the overlap, which is indicated by a dashed vertical line as you drag. The Curve handle at the intersection of the two fades shapes the crossfade. Although that handle will move in any direction, you cannot reproduce curves like the one in the two-track example, in which the two handles are at different positions. Crossfades are Arrangement specific, but you can Consolidate the entire crossfaded region into a single audio clip for saving or working in Session view.

Loops & Effects

Crossfading is a handy sound-design tool for combining and repurposing loops and sound-effects samples. For example, if you have several compatible instrument loops or even one long clip from the same session, you can often juggle individual phrases to get new loops in the same style and key.

Screen 2: Seven bass clip segments are patched together and crossfaded where necessary to create a single 24-bar bass loop.Screen 2: Seven bass clip segments are patched together and crossfaded where necessary to create a single 24-bar bass loop.

Screen 2 shows an example of this using three bass loops from the Chop & Swing Pack that’s included in all versions of Live. It starts with three 16-bar, 90 bpm bass loops (‘Bass Eb Part 2, 3 and 4’), isolates one or two useful segments from each of them, rearranges the segments and then uses crossfades to smooth out the result. Here are the details:

  • Set Live’s tempo and time-signature to match the loops — 2/4 and 90 bpm in this case. While not absolutely necessary, this makes the rest of the process much easier, and you can change the settings afterwards.
  • Select the segments you want to use from each clip. The example in screen 2 produces a 24-bar loop built from seven segments: Part 3, bars 1-4 looped once; Part 2, bar 5 inserted twice; Part 2, bars 5-6 played once; and Part 4, bars 1-4, played once, and Part 2, bars 9-16 played once. The first segment is repeated at bar 25 in order to create a crossfade from the end of the loop back to the beginning.
  • Play the patched-together loop to identify rough transitions and then fix them with crossfades.
  • Consolidate the 24-bar region to create a reusable bass loop.

When combining instrumental loops, the rhythm dictates where the seams can be and the crossfades are usually short — just enough to smooth out any rough edges. With arrhythmic sound effects you have more flexibility with the seams and the crossfades can be long or short as suits the material. Screen 3 starts with five samples from the Ambient & Evolving category in Live’s Core Pack. The sample clips are arranged as illustrated on the two tracks at the bottom and then combined on a single track with the clips on the left always covering the ones on the right. The crossfades shown at the top are each generated by dragging the clip’s top-left handle to the left to blend its hidden portion with the tail of the previous clip. As with the bass loops example, you’ll want to Consolidate the result into a single clip to move it around as well as to use it in Session view clip slots, sampled instruments or Drum Racks.

Screen 3: The clips shown separately at the bottom are combined to produce the clip sequence on the track at the top with the indicated crossfades.Screen 3: The clips shown separately at the bottom are combined to produce the clip sequence on the track at the top with the indicated crossfades.

Odds & Ends

Occasionally you’ll find that the Fade handle won’t move when you try to create a crossfade. That is typically due to one of three things:

  • The clips you’re trying to fade across don’t quite touch. You can see that by zooming way in on the intersection or by turning on Warping for the clip on the left and finding that the Clip view shows its End setting to be slightly short. The fix is to either manually change the End setting or to select the region from the beginning of the left clip to the beginning of the right clip and Consolidate.
  • The loop boundary of the clip you’re trying to drag into is very close to the boundary you’re trying to drag across. You can fix this by adjusting the loop boundary or Consolidating the looping clip.
  • The clip whose handle you’re dragging ends at the handle. You can fix this by turning looping on for that clip.

You can often use Clip Envelopes to put the finishing touches on a crossfade. Clip Envelopes are created using the Envelopes pane in Live’s Clip view. The two most useful envelopes are Volume and Transposition, and you can manipulate those whether or not Clip Warping is turned on. When Warping is turned on, Grain Size (Tones and Texture modes), Flux (Texture mode) and Sample Offset (Beats mode) can also be useful depending on the nature of the clip. Sample Offset, which lets you shift the playback position in 16th-note increments, is especially useful with drum and percussion clips.  

Check out the SOS Tutorials video course on Ableton Live.

Hands On

Live takes the tedium out of creating fade-ins, fade-outs and crossfades for audio clips in Arrangement view. You create fades using handles that appear at the ends of an audio clip on Arrangement view tracks when the tracks are expanded to at least three vertical units. (The clip’s title bar is one unit high.) Drag the top or bottom handle horizontally to set a fade’s beginning and end, and drag its middle handle in any direction to change the shape of the fade curve. Ctrl-click on any handle to reset it. There is also an option in the Warps/Fades section of Live’s Record-Warp-Launch preferences called ‘Create Fades on Clip Edges’. When turned on, the Reset function applied at clip edges leaves a four millisecond fade in place, which reduces clicks at clip boundaries.

Screen 4: Clip-fading scenarios are displayed below their unfaded Arrangement track clips.Screen 4: Clip-fading scenarios are displayed below their unfaded Arrangement track clips.With clip looping turned off, you can drag the top and bottom handles to the beginning and end of the audio clip regardless of how much of the clip is visible on the track — any other clip that you might run into along the way is truncated in the process. When clip looping is turned on, you cannot drag the top and bottom handles beyond a loop boundary. When that doesn’t meet your needs, you can work around it by Consolidating the clip, but be sure to reset any fades before you do that or they will become a permanent part of the Consolidated clip.

The top of Screen 4 (yellow clips) shows a full non-looping clip with two differently shaped fade curves. In the middle (orange clips) fades are created by dragging the bottom fade handles beyond the displayed region of the clip. At the bottom (blue clips) a single loop is extended into the adjacent loops at each end. The extensions are then faded back to the loop boundaries.

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