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Live: Repurposing Included Audio & MIDI Content

Ableton Live Tips & Techniques By Len Sasso
Published August 2022

Screen 1: Three MIDI clips playing a General MIDI drum kit are sliced by kit piece and then remixed using Follow Actions.Screen 1: Three MIDI clips playing a General MIDI drum kit are sliced by kit piece and then remixed using Follow Actions.

We show you how to get more from Live’s included content.

Live comes with a versatile selection of audio and MIDI clips along with devices to play and process them. This month we’ll focus on ways to creatively repurpose that material for use in your Live sets.

(Almost) Endless Drum Patterns

I’ll start with drum clips from Live’s Core Pack. In Screen 1, I’ve loaded the 16‑pad General Purpose Kit from the Racks/Drum Racks/Acoustic folder along with three MIDI drum clips from the MIDI Clips/Drums/Acoustic folder. These occupy the General Purpose Kit track (top‑left). The remaining seven tracks are generated by revealing the Drum Rack’s Chain List, right‑clicking the chain for each kit piece that is played in at least one of the clips and choosing Extract Chains from the menu that appears. Each of the generated tracks holds a Drum Rack with a single kit piece extracted from the original Drum Rack, and those kit piece pads in the original Drum Rack are now empty. Each new track has a MIDI clip with notes extracted from the original clip if it played that kit piece, and that clip will be in the same Scene as the clip from which it was extracted. To use the original Drum Rack instead of the extracted kit piece Drum Racks, reinstate it on the first track, delete the Drum Rack on each of the extracted tracks (which will repurpose them as MIDI tracks) and then route their MIDI outputs to the first track.

Playing any of the Scenes in the middle of Screen 1 will now match the original clip, but you can also mix kit piece patterns from the original clips. The bottom of Screen 1 shows how to use Follow Actions to mix and audition these patterns. A Scene with empty, one‑bar Follow Action clips is inserted as the first Scene, and its clips’ Follow Action settings are shown top‑centre in Screen 1. The extracted clips have been rearranged and a single empty MIDI clip has been added to each track (bottom). Triggering the Follow Actions Scene will, after one bar, trigger one clip from each track, and these clips will loop until stopped. You can capture combinations you like by selecting Scene 6 on the Master track, right‑clicking and selecting Capture and Insert Scene (Command+Shift+I, Control+Shift+I). That will leave Scene 6 as a buffer between the Follow Action Scenes and the captured Scenes. There are 864 possible combinations in this example, so capturing a few that you like will save a lot of time in composing your tracks and will produce better results than simply randomising as you go. The captured Scenes will also work with other 16‑pad GM drum kits.

Kick The Bass

Screen 2: A MIDI Effect Rack for generating a bass part from kick‑drum clips.Screen 2: A MIDI Effect Rack for generating a bass part from kick‑drum clips.You can use the single kit piece MIDI drum clips from Screen 1 as starting points for other instrument tracks. For example, kick tracks often work well as starting points for bass tracks. Screen 2 shows a MIDI Effect Rack for generating bass parts from kick clips. One reason for using a MIDI Effect Rack rather than simply altering the kick‑drum clip is that you can apply it to different kick‑drum clips instead of having to edit each of them separately. The Macro assignments for the Rack let you sculpt the results.

The MIDI clip below the Macro knobs in Screen 2 is the original ‘Funk Slow Pushy 100 bpm’ kick pattern. The settings for the Velocity and Note Length effects render the velocity changes less extreme and make the note lengths more suitable for creating the bass using the devices that follow. The bass clip shown below the Chord and Arpeggiator effects is an example of their effect on the modified kick clip. The Chord effect converts single incoming kicks to chords whose size is set with the Chord Size Macro knob. Chord sizes range from no added notes to six added notes whose pitch shifts are shown in Screen 2. The Arpeggiator that follows randomises the order of those chord notes at the rate and with the gate times set by the Arp rate and Arp Gate Macro knobs. The Arpeggiator’s ‘Random Once’ Style setting creates a new random pattern each time Arpeggiator’s input changes. The Random effect produces semitone variations of the notes output by the Arpeggiator. With the full six shifts shown in the Chord effect, that covers the full semitone scale.

The Pitch and Scale effects that follow then correct those to the scale type programmed on the Scale effect’s note matrix. The root of the scale is set by the Base knob. You can use clip envelopes for the Pitch effect’s Pitch knob to follow a chord progression while keeping it within the scale. An example of one pass is shown in the clip at the bottom — each pass will generate a new pattern. You can insert the bass instrument after the MIDI Rack, but to capture the results in new MIDI clips, insert it on a separate track fed by the MIDI Rack’s track.

Spectral At The Feast

Live’s Spectral Resonator audio effect performs real‑time spectral analysis of incoming audio to radically alter its timbre. In Screen 3, I’ve placed it after the Drum Rack from Screen 1 to convert the drums to sounds vaguely resembling plucked strings, which can then be played with polyphonic MIDI input. Use Spectral Resonator’s Dry/Wet knob to balance the drum and Spectral Resonator sounds. (An alternative is to create a separate audio track for Spectral Resonator and route that track’s input to come from the Drum Rack track.)

Spectral Resonator has Internal and MIDI playback modes. In Internal mode the effect is monophonic and the knob labelled Freq controls the output pitch. In Internal mode you may want to map a MIDI keyboard range to that knob, making sure that the key range matches the mapped range. In MIDI mode, external MIDI input controls the pitch, and the knob (now relabelled Transp) transposes it. A separate MIDI mapping is available for that mode, but you may not find it necessary.

Screen 3: Spectral Resonator converts audio drum clips into pitched parts following polyphonic MIDI input.Screen 3: Spectral Resonator converts audio drum clips into pitched parts following polyphonic MIDI input.

The Spectral Resonator settings in Screen 3 use MIDI mode with Poly(phony) set to eight. The Harmonics and Poly settings together determine the distribution of the spectral analysis among the notes. The example in Screen 3 feeds three‑part MIDI chords to Spectral Resonator’s MIDI input. The controls to the right of Spectral Resonator’s mode settings can radically affect the timbre of the output, as can selecting the Chorus, Wander or Granular modulation modes — the Mod Rate and Pch.Mod settings apply to those modes. On the right, Input Send adjusts the audio input level, while Unison and Uni. Amt set the number and pitch‑spread of unison voices.

Screen 4: MIDI step sequencers replace the MIDI clips in the bass and chord examples.Screen 4: MIDI step sequencers replace the MIDI clips in the bass and chord examples.The MIDI drum clip in the middle of Screen 3 plays the Drum Rack whose audio feeds Spectral Resonator. The MIDI notes with black wedges in their upper‑left corner have their chance of playing set to 70 percent. That varies both the drum and Spectral Resonator outputs with each pass. If you prefer the full drum track to play while applying chance to Spectral Resonator’s audio input, use a separate copy of the Drum Rack and its MIDI tracks to feed the Spectral Resonator. That also lets you delete kit piece tracks that add little to the Spectral Resonator sound (the hi‑hats in this example) but are an important part of the drum track.

Stepping Out

You can use Live’s ample collection of MIDI step sequencers in place of the MIDI clips in the above examples. You’ll find coverage of a number of these devices in the February, October and November 2019 and April 2020 Live columns.

In Screen 4, I’ve replaced the MIDI drum clips in Screen 1 with Live’s Rotating Rhythm Generator (October 2019) configured to play kick, side‑stick, snare and hi‑hat. The Rotate buttons on the right rotate the four kit pieces through the four patterns. The bass MIDI Processor Rack’s MIDI input comes from the C1 output of the Rotating Rhythm Generator and produces the Chord Triggers clip, which selects the chords played by the Cthulhu chord machine (November 2019). The input to the track holding Spectral Resonator is set to the audio output of the General Purpose kit. Cthulhu’s MIDI chords are routed to a separate MIDI track, which is selected as Spectral Resonator’s MIDI input. (Cthulhu’s MIDI output is not directly available to that input.) Notice that selecting different Rotating Rhythm Generator rotations produces different playback patterns for the bass and Spectral Resonator chords. That’s a good target for automation.

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