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Making Sampled Instruments In Ableton Live

Ableton Live Tips & Techniques By Len Sasso
Published April 2019

Screen 1: Eight Antidrum sounds are captured in an audio clip, which is then sliced in Simpler to create a kit with triggers starting at C1.Screen 1: Eight Antidrum sounds are captured in an audio clip, which is then sliced in Simpler to create a kit with triggers starting at C1.

We look at how to capture and reuse third‑party samples in Live.

If you're using third-party sound libraries, it's often a good idea to capture the sounds you've found and edited for posterity in one of Live's sampling instruments. The small effort required makes it much easier to locate and reuse the sounds at a later date. The strategy is different for capturing one-shots, loops and layered sounds, and it also depends on whether you plan to apply individual effects processing to some of the sounds. I've used the Ensemble presets from Native Instruments' Antidrum Machine for my examples, as they map all available articulations across the MIDI keyboard, and that's what you're most likely to encounter in other third-party percussion and sound-effects collections.


The first step in capturing sounds from an instrument is to sequence the MIDI notes that trigger them. (You can skip this step when you're starting with audio files rather than an instrument, but you'll need to edit the audio files to capture just the sounds you want.) Keep the MIDI notes equally spaced and far enough apart to keep one sound from spilling over into the next. You will also need to adjust the note lengths for sustained sounds. If your source instrument is velocity sensitive, you may want to fine‑tune the sequence by adjusting MIDI note velocities. The final step is to render the result to an audio file. The easiest way to do that in Live is to Freeze the instrument track and then either Flatten it, which overwrites the original instrument, or copy the Freeze file to a new audio track. If needs be, you can make the Freeze file conform to the sample rate and bit depth you've set in Live's preferences by Consolidating it (Command+J/Control+J).

The fastest way to convert the captured audio file to a Live instrument is to drag the file to the Drop area of a Simpler or to the 'Drop an Instrument or Sample Here' area of a new MIDI track, which automatically creates a Simpler. Next change Simpler to 'Slice mode' to sequence the individual sounds across the MIDI keyboard starting at C1 (MIDI note 36). In Simpler's Sample window, you'll see slice markers at each of the transients detected in the original audio file. The 'Slice By' drop-down menu about a third of the way from Simpler's left edge offers three other slicing options, and 'Region' is the easiest when using equally spaced slices — just set the number of regions to the number of slices. Other important settings are marked in red in Screen 1. Poly mode lets you play multiple hits at once, Retrigger ensures that each note retriggers the sample rather than layering it, Vol<Vel provides Velocity control over volume, and leaving Warp turned off preserves the length of each slice regardless of tempo. Although quick and easy, this approach lacks a number of options: any effects you add will apply to all slices, you cannot add, delete or swap slices without redoing the whole process, and each slice has the same settings. For example, you might want to warp slices that capture sequences so they conform to the song's tempo while leaving single hits unwarped.

By The Slice

'Slice to New MIDI track', available for warped audio clips from the clip's context menu or Live's Create menu, creates a Drum Rack filled with Simplers or Samplers with a separate pad for each slice. It can also slice to a single Sampler and map the slices across the keyboard. You can slice by Warp Marker, transient, bar or note size. In each case, the slices are triggered by notes starting at C1, but you can then edit the trigger-to-note mapping. A number of slicing presets are offered, and you can add your own. To create your own Simpler or Sampler Drum Rack slicing preset, insert a Simpler or Sampler with your choice of settings in any pad of a new Drum Rack and make whatever Rack Macro knob assignments you wish. Place the Drum Rack in your User Library's Defaults/Slicing folder. For Sampler presets, place a preconfigured Sampler in that folder.

Screen 2: The three Slicing Drum Rack presets result in Drum Racks with pads starting at C1 holding the slices.Screen 2: The three Slicing Drum Rack presets result in Drum Racks with pads starting at C1 holding the slices.

In Screen 2 I've sliced the audio clip from the previous example using the custom 'Slicing Drum Rack (1-shot)' preset. The critical settings for that preset are 1-Shot mode, Trigger and Snap. Whether each Simpler's Warp mode is enabled is determined by the 'Preserve warped timing' button in the slicing dialogue. For percussive sounds, which you don't want to be affected by the project's tempo, leave that off. After slicing, you can turn warping on for individual Simplers as needed. I prefer not to make Macro knob assignments in slicing presets because they apply to all pads. Notice that each Simpler holds the full, unsliced sample with boundaries enclosing a single slice. This lets you adjust the boundaries as needed.

The custom 'Slicing Drum Rack (Classic)' preset is intended for material that you want to warp and possibly loop. Its Simpler is in Classic mode, and I use it with 'Preserve warped timing' turned on in the slicing dialogue. This preset is handy for audio files capturing sequences of different lengths that you want to trigger individually. For example, Antidrum Machine's built-in arpeggiator and accompanying velocity sequencer generates patterns that vary depending on both the number of held notes and their pitches. After recording a few of these in a single audio clip, capture them with the 'Slicing Drum Rack (Classic)' preset with warping turned on, and each sequence's tempo and looping will conform to your song's tempo.

Sample This

Slicing to a single Sampler rather than a Drum Rack assigns each sliced region to its own one-note key zone. You can then move and expand the key zones as well as combine them with velocity and Sample Select zones. The example in Screen 3 starts with three Antidrum Machine sounds: hitting a fire extinguisher with the palm of the hand, striking it with a mallet and a mallet roll. Each of these is captured in its own key zone. The hand- and mallet-strike key zones are expanded to cover the two‑octave range C0 through C2. The mallet roll is restricted to C1 because Sampler doesn't offer warping, and the roll speed will change with pitch. The Root setting of each zone has been adjusted to align the three sounds' pitches. The result is a two-octave pitched instrument with the mallet roll available for C1 only. The next step is to create Sampler fade-in velocity zones for each slice so that lower velocities play only the palm strike, mid‑range velocities add the mallet strike and high velocities add the mallet roll when playing C1. (You can make the mallet roll cover the whole range without pitch-based speed by Grouping the above Sampler in an Instrument Rack, deleting the mallet roll, and then adding a Simpler chain to play and warp the mallet roll. However, the mallet-roll speed will then depend on song tempo.)

Screen 3: Three sounds captured in Sampler chains with individual pitch and Velocity ranges.Screen 3: Three sounds captured in Sampler chains with individual pitch and Velocity ranges.

Once you've captured a collection of sounds in a Simpler, Sampler or Drum Rack, consider applying some effects processing and then recapturing the results. That's especially useful with effects that change with each pass. Here are three examples:

Echo: follow your Drum Rack, Simpler or Sampler with the 'Liquourice Whip' preset for Live's Echo effect. You may need to lower the Gate Threshold setting on Echo's Character tab to hear the effect. Echo will process the same incoming sound in a different way each time. Collect some of those in a new Simpler, Sampler or Drum Rack.

Resonators: follow your Drum Rack, Simpler or Sampler with an Audio Effects Rack with several chains holding Resonators effects. Dial in a different chord on each Resonators effect. Map one of the Rack's Macro knobs to the Resonators' Note knobs and another to the Racks Chain Selector. Automate or use MIDI note ranges to change roots and chord types while playing or sequencing the source instrument.

Vocoder: enclose your Drum Rack, Simpler or Sampler in a new Instrument Rack and mute its chain (speaker icon). Create a second chain and drag in a vocal clip, which will create a Simpler. Set the vocal Simpler to Slice mode, edit the slices as needed and precede it with a Pitch effect to separate the notes that play it from the notes that play the first chain. Add a Vocoder to the second chain, set its Carrier to 'External' and set Audio From to the first chain '- Post FX'.

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