We look at how audio clips can be repurposed in Ableton Live.
This month we’ll dig into a technique from the video ‘Percussify’ by Stoni in Ableton’s new One Thing series of short video tutorials (ableton.com/one-thing). It uses Beat mode Warping to bring out the percussiveness of an audio clip by shortening the transient envelopes that Warping identifies. Beyond gaining an insight into the rhythmic feel of a clip, you can use this to repurpose clips in a variety of interesting ways.
To get a feel for the basic setup, load a Session view clip slot with a rhythmic guitar or keyboard loop. Select the clip, turn on Warping in the Sample section of the Clip viewer and match Live’s tempo to the clip’s. By default the Warp mode will be set to Beats and the Preserve setting will be Transients. Below those settings, use the drop-down menu on the left to set the Transient Loop Mode to one-shot (->|). That will ensure that each transient will play once with a fade-out whose length is set in the scrolling numerical to the right of the menu. As you lower the fade value from its default setting of 100 (no fade) you’ll get shorter fade-outs until, with a setting of 0, each transient becomes a short blip as illustrated on the right-hand side of screen 1 (above). Shorter settings will be more percussive and less pitched.
For sound-design purposes you have several options when you find Live’s placement of transients not to your liking. You can delete a transient, thereby silencing it, by selecting an area that includes its marker and choosing ‘Delete Transient(s)’ from Live’s Edit menu (Command-Shift-Delete/Control-Shift-Delete). You can move a Transient marker by click-dragging, and you can move it without disturbing the adjacent Transient markers by pressing Command/Control while dragging. In the latter case it and its adjacent Transient markers will be converted to Warp markers. If you want to lock in your changes as well as make them visible, move the clip to Arrangement view and Consolidate it (Command-J/Control-J).
Screen 2 shows one way you might use this in practice. Start with one of your songs or with a few audio clips from a sound library. Locate or create a multitrack Scene of short clips. If you’re starting with a Scene from one of your songs, delete everything else in the song in both the Session and Arrangement view. If your Scene includes any MIDI instrument tracks, Freeze and Flatten them to produce audio clips on audio tracks. Duplicate your Scene a couple of times and add a fourth Scene to hold blank audio clips. Set each clip for looped, Beats mode, one-shot Warping as described above. Adjust the Transient Envelope times for the clips in each Scene as follows: leave the first Scene’s clips set to 100, use something near 50 for the second Scene’s and something near 25 for the third. Next, set each clip’s Launch Mode to Legato and set the left Follow Action to ‘Other.’ Finally, set the Follow Action Times to different values for each Scene.
In Screen 2 the Follow Action is set to three bars for the clips in the first Scene, to four bars for those in the second Scene, to five bars for those in the third Scene and to two bars for the blank clips in the fourth Scene. Using Legato Launch Mode ensures that the clips stay in sync regardless of their Follow Action Times. Now hit Live’s Record button, trigger one of your Scenes and watch as Live creates an arrangement similar to the one at the bottom of screen 2. If you manually edit your arrangement, make sure to keep the clips in sync, which you can do by keeping each clip’s loop markers properly aligned with the song’s bar lines. If you enlarge or shrink a clip by dragging either end, that will happen automatically.
Drum Racks holding Simplers offer another way to manage looping audio clips. You can then use your MIDI keyboard or button box to loop the clips in sync while toggling their individual audio outputs. Here are the steps to set this up:
- Start with eight or fewer audio clips and configure them for looped, Beats mode, one-shot Warping as described above.
- Create a new MIDI track and drag an empty Drum Rack to its Instrument Drop area.
- Drag an empty Simpler to the Drum Rack’s C1 pad. Set it to Classic mode with Loop turned on and Snap turned off.
- Reveal the Drum Rack’s Chain List and duplicate the Simpler chain as needed to accommodate the clips created in the first step.
- Drag one of your clips to the drop area of each Simpler. Each clip’s Warp mode settings will be transferred to Simpler, but you can change them to suit. In particular, you can change the Transient Envelope (Env) setting. However, you cannot add, delete or move Transient markers. If you need to edit them, do so in the source clip and drag the clip back to the same Simpler.
- Play and hold C1 to loop all your samples in sync. With Simpler’s default settings, note Velocity will affect playback level, but you can change that in the Envelope section of Simpler’s Controls tab by changing the ‘Vel>Vol’ setting to 0.0 percent.
- For each Drum Rack chain, map the Chain Activator (speaker icon) to its own Macro knob. (That’s the reason for the eight-chain limit.)
- Turn on MIDI Mapping (Command-M/Control-M) and assign two consecutive notes to each Macro knob. My preferred settings are a black key followed by a white key starting at C#1. I also reverse the Speaker On Min/Max map settings so that the black key turns the chain on and the white key turns it off. That’s ideal for managing five clips with one hand.
Playing and holding C1 will loop all clips, and the same is true if you use a MIDI clip to play C1 with its note spanning the full clip. To keep the loops in sync, however, the MIDI clip and note length must be a multiple of each audio clip’s length. For example, if you have audio clips two, four and eight bars long, the MIDI clip length must be a multiple of eight bars — add a five-bar clip to that and the multiple is 40 bars. But there’s a better way: use a one-bar clip holding a one-bar note and set the clip’s loop boundaries within that note, for example, loop beats 2 and 3 as shown in screen 3 (right). Doing it this way, the looping does not retrigger the clips. In Arrangement view it doesn’t make that much difference, but it makes working with Scenes in Session view much easier.
You can go hands-free for hearing and silencing the Simpler chains by recording the toggle notes (C#1 through B1 in the example) to a MIDI clip and routing the clip track’s output out and back into Live via a MIDI port whose input is enabled for Remote input. You can draw the notes in or record them, but in the latter case, the keyboard you use to record them should not be enabled for MIDI Remote input. At the bottom of screen 3, the ‘Speaker Remotes’ track is routed to an IAC bus that is enabled for Remote. The input from the keyboard used to record Pattern 1 on that track does not have MIDI remote enabled. In short, the notes from the keyboard get recorded in a MIDI clip whose output is routed back into Live on a bus that is Remote enabled.
Once you’ve exposed your transients, Live has a bevy of effects to mess things up a bit more. Used sparingly and applied to individual clips they can enhance the percussive nature of the clips. ‘Drum Electrifier’ and ‘Low Feedback’ are a couple of my Grain Delay favourites. Try Beat Repeat’s ‘Insect’ preset and play with the Grid and Filter settings. The 13 Corpus presets whose names start with ‘Loop’ work well. If your song can tolerate the added pitch element, all the Resonator presets are also worth checking out.