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How To Create 'Prepared' Instruments In Ableton Live

Ableton Live Tips & Techniques
By Len Sasso

Screen 1: At the top, notes are distributed to individual chains that are enabled or disabled using their Chain Activators (speaker icons). Below, notes are distributed to octave chains and passed or blocked using Scale MIDI effects.Screen 1: At the top, notes are distributed to individual chains that are enabled or disabled using their Chain Activators (speaker icons). Below, notes are distributed to octave chains and passed or blocked using Scale MIDI effects.

We get avant–garde with some seriously experimental ways to use synthesis, sampling and effects to 'prepare' any instrument by altering its sound note-by-note.

To 'prepare' a piano you insert objects made of metal, paper, rubber, plastic and so on between the piano's strings to alter the timbre of the corresponding notes. For John Cage's ground-breaking Sonatas & Interludes series for prepared piano (1946-1948), roughly half of the piano's 88 notes are prepared, a lengthy process that is nicely illustrated in a short video by Stephen Drury (of the New England Conservatory) that can be found on YouTube. You'll find excellent sampled prepared-piano libraries for Kontakt from Big Fish Audio and UVI. This month we're going to take this idea and transfer it to Live, looking at several ways to use synthesis, sampling and effects to prepare any instrument by altering its sound note-by-note.

I'll start with three quite different approaches, each having its own advantages and disadvantages. Live's Tension instrument has three prepared-piano-like presets in its Piano & Keys folder: 'Prepared Piano1 Mute', 'Prepared Piano2 Harmonics' and 'Prepared Piano3 Ambient'. In these three examples, Ambient provides the natural piano sound while Mute and Harmonics provide two types of prepared sound. The idea is to map the prepared sounds to some of the notes and to have the remaining notes play the natural sound.

Three Ways To Play

The simplest approach...

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Published September 2019