What can Live’s Device Racks do for you?
This month we’ll use Live’s Device Racks to get more out of Live devices and third‑party plug‑ins. We covered the basics along with a couple of applications in the December 2011 Live column and explored using Racks for complex audio effects processing in the February 2021 Live workshop. Both articles are available on the SOS website. This time we’ll focus on using Racks to create complex instruments and MIDI processors.
One thing I like to do is layer other instruments with an electric piano. That’s easy with an Instrument Rack. Start by creating a new MIDI track (Command+Shift+T/Control+Shift+T) and dragging an electric piano instrument to the track (the ‘E‑Piano MKII Bright’ Electric preset is a good choice for layering). Select the instrument and enclose it in an Instrument Rack (Command+G/Control+G). Reveal the Rack’s Chain List by clicking the bottom button along the left edge of the Rack. Now select the instrument you want to layer with the piano and drag it to the Drop Instrument area to create a second chain. The Operator preset ‘Camels in the Desert’ is an arpeggiated preset that works well for this. Simpler’s ‘Aroura Pad 1’ preset is a softer and less active sound that also compliments the electric piano. Screen 1, above, shows how to give yourself both alternatives.
With the three Instruments in separate chains of an instrument Rack, I’ve configured the Rack’s Chain Selector to fade from the pad through the EP to the arpeggiator, mapped it to the Rack’s first Macro knob and assigned the pitch‑bend wheel to that knob. I used the Less Macro Controls button (‘‑’) to hide the other Macro knobs. Pitch‑bend’s default position is centred, which leaves only the EP audible. Pulling the wheel backward fades in the pad, pushing it forward fades in the arpeggiator, and releasing the wheel jumps back to the solo EP. A MIDI keyboard’s wheels can only be mapped if Remote In is enabled for the keyboard in Live’s Link/Tempo/MIDI preferences. The downside is that, once pitch‑bend is mapped it is no longer sent to Live tracks — you’ll need to send it from a different MIDI device to bend pitch.
Live’s Note Echo MIDI effect repeats incoming MIDI notes. In Sync mode, numerical buttons across the top set the repeat interval in 16th‑note increments. The Feedback knob sets the rate at which the Velocity declines as the notes echo and feedback stops when the Velocity reaches zero. With Feedback at 100 percent the echoes repeat forever, but the knob acts in real time — turning it down starts the Velocities declining and turning it to zero percent stops the process immediately. The Feed Delay knob alters the Velocities of incoming notes, thereby also affecting the number of repeats. The pitch interval set with the Pitch numerical is applied to each succeeding echo. Thru and Mute buttons determine whether the incoming note is passed through the effect, and you may want Mute if the source notes are also feeding another track. In this example, I’ll assign Macro knobs to only the Delay Time and Feedback settings and then use other Live MIDI devices to process the results.
In Screen 2, I’ve Grouped MIDI Pitch, Note Echo, Random and Velocity effects into a MIDI Effect Rack. The coloured arrows indicate the Rack’s Macro knob mappings shown at the top. The Pitch effect serves two purposes: it sets the pitch range of incoming notes and transposes the notes before they are passed to Note Echo. The Random effect either randomises Note Echo’s output (Rnd mode) or generates a cycle round‑robin sequence (Alt mode). Turning its Macro knob to zero mutes the Note Echo chain. The Velocity effect keeps the output note Velocities between its Out Hi and Out Low settings. With the settings shown in Screen 2, incoming notes generate three, four or five repeats depending on their Velocity, and their pitch is randomised within an octave above the incoming note. Try it with the electric piano from Screen 1: play sparsely with a bit of pitch‑bend to blend in the pad and arpeggiator effects.
One thing I like to do is layer other instruments with an electric piano. That’s easy with an Instrument Rack.
In Screen 3, I’ve Grouped four of the Note Echo Racks to create the Quad Note Echo Rack. Each of the Note Echo Racks (Low, Low‑Mid, High‑Mid and High) displays its first four Macro knobs, which set the Rack’s lowest note input, input range, transpose and velocity range. Those are typically ‘set and forget’ parameters. The remaining four Macro knobs — Echo Rate, Echo Feedback, Rand/Alt and Random Chance — are hidden because they are mapped to the Quad Note Echo Rack’s Macro knobs shown at the left. Those Macro knobs are grouped by function and colour-coded to match the source Note Echo Rack. If you use a MIDI control surface with eight Macro knobs, such as the Akai APC40 MkII, the first bank of those knobs will control the top row (echo rate and feedback) and the second bank will control the bottom row (random settings).
The settings shown let notes from the C1, C2, C3 and C4 octaves trigger respectively the Low, Low‑Mid, High‑Mid and High chains of the Quad Note Echo Rack. With all Random Chance knobs set to 0.0 percent the notes played will be the notes output. Other Random Chance values will produce random pitches within an octave of the played note. Setting the inputs of four separate MIDI tracks to come from the different Quad Note Echo Rack chains will let you route them to different instruments as well as capture the results. Insert Scale MIDI effects on those MIDI tracks when you want to pitch‑correct the captured notes.
For a more hands‑on approach, combine all four parts along with scale effects and target instruments on a single track, as shown in Screen 4. Start with the Quad Note Echo Rack from Screen 3 and use the input settings shown at the bottom of Screen 4: C1 triggers the low instrument (bass), C#1 the low‑mid (horns), D1 the high‑mid (strings) and D#1 the high (choir). The chains’ Xpose Pitch settings restrict the four parts to successive octaves. That Rack is followed by a new MIDI Effect Rack with eight chains (shown at the top). Its first chain is empty, whereas Scale MIDI effects in the other seven chains map incoming notes to various scales. Those chains are selected by MIDI notes E1 through B1. MIDI note range C2 to B2 is mapped to each Scale effect’s Base knob to select the scale root. You can now trigger Quad Note Echo parts with C1 through D#1, select the desired scale correction with E1 through B1 and select the root of the corrected scale with C2 through B2.
Alternatively, you can use MIDI clips to trigger each of the Quad Note Echoes, and you can play notes or use clip automation to change the Scale Rack’s Scale and Base settings. The eight‑note clip at the bottom of Screen 4 triggers combinations of Quad Note Echo chains.
For a different approach, replace the four‑channel Instrument Rack in Screen 4 with a Drum Rack. The Screen 4 Quad Note Echo Rack’s Xpose Pitch settings will target 48 drum pads (C1 through B4). For 64‑pad Drum Racks, set the Xpose Pitch knobs to multiples of 15 instead of 11. You’ll find a variety of 64‑pad Drum Racks in Live’s Drum Booth and Drum Essentials Packs as well as in the Mad Zach 64 Pad Lab Drum Racks, which are available at no charge from the Ableton website. You can also stack 16‑pad Drum Racks by dragging them to separate chains in an Instrument Rack and then inserting a Pitch effect before each Drum Rack to restrict and transpose its input. Because the Scale Rack in Screen 4 now blocks or swaps kit‑pieces rather than correcting pitch, you may want to create custom Scale effect settings as well as modulate the Scale and Base knobs.