Ableton’s loop-based sequencer, the $399 Live 3.0 (
), is a remarkably flexible tool that musicians, DJs, and video editors use to easily create dynamic musical scores. But as can happen with any tool, you may have become accustomed to working with Live in a particular way. The following tips can help you see it in a different light.
Ambient in an Instant
Although Live is an excellent tool for creating driving dance grooves, you can also use it to produce music that’s anything but beat driven. With repeating loops of different lengths, you can create the kind of ethereal soundscapes on Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports and Discreet Music.
Eno and other musicians created such works by recording tape loops of varying lengths, playing those loops simultaneously, and capturing the results in a master recording. Because the loops were of different lengths, each time a loop played, its relationship to the simultaneously playing loops changed. You can do the same thing with Live.
1. Record Ambient Sounds into Live Record several tracks of ambient material, varying the length of each track, and loop them. Each track should be long enough that a repeating pattern won’t be immediately discernible. But keep loops under a couple of minutes — playing a lot of very long loops can give Live trouble on slower computers. Because the tracks will overlap in different places as the piece plays, record tracks that will mesh harmonically. For example, improvising around a single chord or a pentatonic scale will ensure that the music sounds right, regardless of how the loops line up.
2. Adjust the Start and End Points The transition from one end of the loop to the other should be seamless. Adding passages of silence will help, as will adding fades to the beginning and end of a track.
3. Program Panning To add another element of randomness to your piece, consider programming the panning envelope of some of your tracks so the mix constantly changes. Select a clip and click on the Waveform button at the bottom of the Live window. Click on the Envelopes editor to make it active, and choose Mixer from the Device Chooser pop-up menu. From the Modulate Control Chooser pop-up menu just below that, select Track Pan. Double-click on the Breakpoint Envelope line to create adjustment points, and drag those points up to pan the clip to the left, and down to pan it to the right.
4. Mix Your Composition (or Don’t) You can mix the resulting piece as much or as little as you like. If you want to participate fully in the process, start recording, trigger one loop, trigger another and gradually fade it in, mute and activate tracks, and play with panning and volume. For a more hands-off approach, trigger all your tracks — then sit back and space out as the loops weave a musical mix.
All Night Long
Many Live users think of the program as a tool for stringing together short bits of audio to create a composition. But a Live clip needn’t be just a drumbeat, bass line, or pad. A clip can be an entire song — allowing a DJ to create sets for an entire evening of music.
To create sets of music, just drag AIFF or WAV song files into Live’s clip slots (Live doesn’t support the MP3 and AAC formats). To move smoothly from one song to the next, alternate tracks for each song and use Live’s cross-fader to fade between one track and another.
For example, put the first song in the first clip slot of Track 1. The second song goes in the first clip slot of Track 2. Song three fits in the second clip slot of Track 1, and the fourth tune goes into clip slot two of Track 2. Select Crossfader from the View menu and choose the A Crossfade Assignment for Track 1 and the B Crossfade Assignment for Track 2. Before the first song begins playing, pan the cross-fade control to the left so you can hear Track 1 when it begins playing. As the song in Track 1 ends, trigger the song in Track 2 and move the cross-fade control all the way to the right to fade out of the first song and into the second. Follow the same procedure for each succeeding song.
Lighten the Load
Piling on effects and EQ and demanding that Live operate in high-quality mode can overtax your Mac’s CPU. When that happens, glitches occur. If Live’s CPU Load Meter routinely hovers around 75 percent or above, try these techniques:
1. Place Common Effects in Auxiliary Sends Effects in individual tracks tax the Mac’s processor. Instead of inserting the same reverb effect in each track, place that reverb in a Send track and turn up each track’s Send control to access the effect.
2. Turn Off EQ Bands If you’re using EQ effects, switch off bands you’re not using — Band 2 in the EQ Four effect, for example, if you’ve made no adjustment to Band 2. To do so, simply click on the corresponding numbered box in the effect (say, box 2 for Band 2) to disable it.
3. Disable High-Quality Sound Select Preferences from the Live menu, click on the Defaults tab, and disable the Hi Quality option. With Hi Quality off, a less processor-intensive algorithm transposes samples more quickly. The resulting samples may be a bit distorted. If you must have the high-quality algorithm for certain clips, you can enable the Hi Quality option in the Clip View window only for those clips.
You’ll find many sound libraries out there, but at least two companies are billing their collections as tailored especially for Apple’s $999 Final Cut Pro 4 and $299 Soundtrack applications (800/692-7753,
) is offering two DVDs of formatted and indexed Apple Loops. PowerFX says you can search the loops on the DVDs via Soundtrack’s Media Manager window, rather than having to download the material to your hard drive before searching.
The first DVD is Massive FX ($199), a sound-effects library for film and video. Categories include sounds related to people, animals, explosions, alarms, tools, and transportation. The DV Composer’s Toolkit ($199) is made up of musical themes for movie backgrounds. The styles include Cinematic Hip Hop, Eastern Textures, Clubstances, and DV Themes and Scores. You’ll get individual instrument parts and a Soundtrack .loop file that demonstrates basic arrangements.
) sells Apple Loops on CD. Dark Side of the Groove is a hip-hop collection of 78 loops. Or you can choose 2Step Ahead, which has more than 8,000 dance samples (see the Web site for pricing information). Because these are Apple Loops, you can quickly set the key and tempo of these files. —
Something From Nothing
Robert Henke, the musical director of the German electronic-music project Monolake (
), has been instrumental in the development of Live. He has generously passed along this technique for creating a percussion track out of white noise in Live 3.0.
1. Clip and Loop Create a clip of white noise and loop about a second of it. Most synthesizers can generate such noise.
2. Add EQ Three You create the sound of the bass drum, snare, and hi-hat by manipulating the gain of the clip’s low, mid, and high frequencies with Live 3’s EQ Three effect. Click on the Live Effects button and then double-click on the EQ Three effect to add it to the Audio Effect window.
3. Manipulate Gain Switch back to clip view and, from the Envelope Editor, select EQ Three from the first pop-up menu and FreqLo from the pop-up menu below it. Add break points to increase gain at beats 1 and 3. This gives you your bass drum sound.
Select GainHi from the second pop-up menu and create break points to increase gain on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4. This creates a hi-hat timbre that sounds on each beat.
To add a snare track, select GainMid from the second pop-up menu and, once again, create break points to increase gain where you’d like the snare part to fall.
4. Color the Sound Your clip is now percussive but could use some tonal color. Begin by adjusting the GainLo, GainMid, and GainHi frequency settings. Dropping the GainHi frequency to around –4.5 dB, for example, puts the hi-hat in a range typical of a 1970s drum machine. To make the clip crisper, click on the 48-dB switch.
5. Add More Effects You could stop here, but to make the track even more interesting, why not add other effects? For example, Henke placed EQ Four (a parametric EQ) before EQ Three and emphasized the middle and high frequencies to bring out the snare and hi-hat sounds. He then added a Chorus effect after EQ Three and engaged the *20 switch to add a didgeridoo quality to the clip.