Unwind yourself with this very very ambient noise.
Sometimes, after I’ve spent all day making complicated music I need to decompress my brain. That normally means I put on something by Brian Eno like Discrete Music, or perhaps No Pussyfooting. But very often it’s as easy for me to make an ambient noise for myself – so I turn the dials to very very ambient. And this is what usually comes out – It resets my brain.
So, I thought you also might like it too.
Don’t expect a tune, this is real “drifting through space” stuff. DOWNLOAD IT IF YOU LIKE (try a right click and save-as)
Ableton Operator is a small FM synth which comes with Ableton Live Suite. Operator may seem limited to familiar traditional FM sounds but it is capable of much more. Here I show thirteen advanced tips and a few ways to use Operator’s lesser known features to create bigger sounds. and a few you might not expect, ranging from deep rumbly analog-style basses, evolving leads and pads.
1: Make oscillators morph from sine to “sawtooth”
The oscillators can be set in various FM modulator / carrier routings, but if an oscillator has no modulator input then the oscillator feedback parameter becomes available. Setting an oscillator waveform to sinewave and turning up the feedback parameter will feed the sine wave pitch back on itself and you will hear the sine morph into a waveform which sounds and looks quite similar to a sawtooth.
This waveshaping effect is is dependent on the oscillator amplitude (as amplitude induces feedback), so turning the oscillator up will take the waveshape closer to a “Saw”, turning it even higher will make it distort toward noise, and turning the amplitude right down will take the waveshape closer to the original sine.
The oscillator amplitude is obviously affected by its (amplitude) envelope and by all the other modulation sources mapped to oscillator amplitude – LFO, Aux envelope, modwheel, after touch, etc. meaning you now have deep control over the waveshape of these oscillators.
Of course – morphing a sawtooth wave into a sine wave is very similar to what a lowpass filter does it removes high harmonics – but the benefit here is that each of the four oscillators can independently vary from saw to sine, as if you had 4 independent filters (or 5 if you count the filter itself !). Additionally the smooth interaction between volume and waveshape gives a good almost natural physical modelling feel to the waveform. It’s a unique sound.
2: Invert harmonics for hard to reach waveshapes (a Triangle wave)
Operator has a very handy method of drawing your own waveshape with partials and you will be able to get clues for how common waveforms look as harmonics by studying the built in waves. Not all waveshapes are possible with the basic approach. The reason for this is that harmonics also have a phase relationship, a fundamental might be oscillating up while the third partial is oscillating downwards (180 degrees out of phase). This is the case with the humble Triangle wave.
The basic additive waveform drawing system of Operator does not allow for drawing harmonic phase relationships but we can emulate out of phase partials by using a second oscillator with a waveform phase offset. 50% of offset is 180 degrees of phase difference.
A triangle wave contains the same odd numbered partials as a square wave – yet is plainly very different in sound. In a triangle wave the phase of the upper partials is 180 degrees out of phase with the fundamental. You can see in this image that Oscillator A is handling one group of harmonics (1,5,9,…) and the second oscillator (B) is taking care of the harmonics which are inverted. Combining these two oscillators together allows us to create a waveform with harmonics with relationships which are out of phase with each other. In this case we make a Triangle wave, but the same principle allows other (otherwise unavailable) waves.
Notice that PHASE INVERSION on the B oscillator which is what makes our complex triangle output.
Triangle / Square wave morph
In the above GIF we can see what happens if we make oscillator D a copy of oscillator B but turn in Oscillator D make sure to reset the phase parameter of that oscillator down to 0, and then by using the LFO to crossfade between these two variations (B and D) the wave changes between a triangle and a “square”. the same principle can be used to create more complex harmonic shifting effects. See tip 5 for more on this.
Free Ableton Live pack. To celebrate the festive season here’s a bunch of FREE & amazing instrument racks featuring Ableton’s Operator instrument
Ten free Instrument Racks for Ableton Live
These racks come from an upcoming pack called Vintage Operators, which uses Ableton’s Operator synth to make vintage inspired synth sounds reminiscent of the 1970s and 80s. Yes, it’s a weird idea. The full pack contains over 120 live racks featuring Operator with 21 leads, 28 basses, 34 “keyboard” patches, FX synth patches and more.
Anyway, that’s another story, here’s your Xmas Presets (Free!)
I have been using Ableton’s built in effects for guitar recently and despite owning a few other VST based sims I’ve found the Ableton effects in racks to be much more useful, because of the ability to shape them to my requirements.
So, I’ve provided four of my (many) guitar amp experiment racks for you to download here.
Guitar Amp Ableton Audio Examples
In these I use the same short loop of me playing guitar badly and then for each “amp” I tweak the provided macro dials to show the variations each amp can reach.
Dual Crunch Amp
Clean / Dirty hilo Amp
Pro Vib Amp
Twang and Fuzz Amp
Investigating the sounds of Ableton Guitar Amps & Sims
Initially I found the “amp” and “cabinet” which Ableton include to be a little underwhelming yet I know they are licensed in from well regarded company Softube. So I decided a few months ago to investigate more fully. What I discovered is that if I “Bi-Amp” then it’s possible to get a rack which responds better to different playing techniques, has a more intriguing variance over the dynamic range and also has a more interesting sound across the stereo field.
So here are the four effect racks all wrapped up inside a live set, just for handiness. Please note that if you say “why isn’t this making any noise” you may have to check your input routings 😉
Collapsing your bass frequencies to mono while maintaining stereo imaging is something you may want to do for a variety of reasons, but there’s a simple way to do this with just the basic Ableton devices in a rack.
UPDATE EDIT: March 2018
You can now safely ignore this whole post if you own Live 10, because Live 10s Utility device has a “Mono Bass” button complete with a frequency crossover selection parameter. You should certainly use this feature whenever you need to make sure your bass is colapsed to mono.
Live 9 users might want to try out the tips below, but Live 10 users should certainly use Utility’s Mono Bass feature instead.
The rack is attached to this post, but you may as well pretend to read this post so you have a vague understanding of how it works. In my example I’m using a broad spectrum noise which is a field recording of a street scene.
Before we begin – a warning
This tip uses Eq8 to produce a Crossover with the aim of collapsing the bass end to mono. Almost all EQ tends to alter phase and so you should be aware of potential phase issues around the crossover frequency. Phase issues might be imperceptible … or they might audibly mess with your transients (the percussive part of your sounds), or they might alter your bass sound – so proceed with your ears open.
How to use EQ8 to collapse the bass to mono
To collapse the bass end we can use EQ8 in mid/side mode. We make an Audio effect rack, and put an EQ8 on the first chain then activate Mid side mode. Clicking the “M” button means that we can edit the “middle” of the stereo field. This is all of the components of the stream which is common to both the left and the right. So if something is equally in Left and right then it will be available in this M channel. Set the M channel of this EQ8 as below
You can see I have mapped the frequency of the 4x lowpass filter to a macro named “crossover”, you should do that too.
In this chain we need to kill all the stereo information in the low end. So we now we go to Side mode by pressing “M/S” toggle button again, and in the stereo channel we kill everything by doing something like the below image where we use a couple of bands of hi-pass filters pushed right up to 22kHz to eliminate any stereo signal in this chain.
Now lets deal with the stereo component. For this we make a whole new chain … as you probably spotted in the above images. In this chain we add another EQ8 but this time set to Stereo mode because in this “hi” chain we need both mono and stereo signals. This is what the Hi chain looks like
Now all that is left to do is map that frequency dial of the 4x HiPass to the same x-over macro and we are nearly done.
try running a signal with a broad range of stereo information through this rack. It should sound reasonably transparent, but of course there are filters involved and filters make for phase shifts. I never said this was going to be as pure as driven snow!
To test the mono compatibility of the output get a utility device from the browser and set its stereo with to 0%, you should still be able to hear the entire frequency spectrum in this mono-ised channel if you have done it right.
Now you have a rack which allows to collapse the bass end of your tracks to mono while leaving the higher frequencies in stereo. You can either process the bass and high frequencies in the rack chains themselves, or use Live’s routing features on individual channels to pull the stereo or bass feeds out and process them in separate channels. For example compressing the bass and hi end separately.
Operator is Ableton’s FM synth and while it allows the user to design their own waveforms you might think it’s not possible to do PWM in Operator, in fact there appears to be no Pulse wave available in Operator so using Pulse Width Modulation to morph from a square wave to Pulse wave seems doubly impossible.
In fact there is a way to create a pulse wave and also pulse width modulation in Ableton’s Operator synth. This is possible by using two oscillators out of phase with each other and then harnessing the power of FM.
Routing of the Oscillators
Firstly you’ll need to put Operator in any of the the routing modes where oscillators A and B interact through frequency modulation. In simple terms any where the Green boox feeds into the yellow box. I’ve indicated any that you can use in this picture.
The Basic Waveform
Choose the basic waveform of a squarewave, as indicated below.
The square wave I used is the one with the D next to it which indicates “Double” or 128 partials, in simple terms this means it’ s the most detailed square wave that Operator can manage. ensure that the little “R” for re-triggering is activated, this means we’ll have a reliably consistent wave output that starts at 0 every time.
You can see that in my example I’m using a Max for Live oscilloscope by Jonas Obermeuller in order to show you the wave output, I’d suggest you also use an oscilloscope plugin of some kind to help you craft the sound. Any will do. If you have M4L you can grab the same one that I used.
The Second Oscillator makes a Pulse
Now, we add in the modulator waveform in Oscillator slot B. here again I use the square wave with the D next to it and again ensure that the retrigger is active, but here we use the phase offset to set a 25% offset . It’s equally important to set the volume of oscillator B to -22db
If you have an oscilloscope active you should now see a pulse wave, a narrowed square. If this is not the case check the previous steps and images carefully.
Now, try turning the volume of oscillator B down from its -22db position, listen and watch the oscilloscope. You will hear and see the disctinctive pulse width modulation as the pulsewave morphs smoothly to a square wave and back (as you return the Oscillator B volume to -22db)
So, all we have left to do is to automate this volume control by use of the LFO. Copy the settings in this image carefully
Notice that all of the LFO “Destination A” settings are deactivated and we are instead using the “Destination B” section to route 100% of our modulation signal to the Oscillator B volume.
Now you should hear the sound of LFO modulated pulse width modulation in Ableton’s Operator.
This is just the start of creating bold new unexpected sounds in this powerful little synth. Try dropping the Coarse pitch oscillator B to create a rich complex waveform.
In this Ableton tutorial we’ll take a look at the Ableton Looper and how a hidden feature can enable it to become more of a creative tool for producing unique pads and effects.
This is the second in a series exploring the creative power of feedback in Ableton Live. In the first in this series Feedback in Ableton Live – making a “dub delay”, we learned how to activate the feedback mode of Ableton Live’s effects return channels and to use Ableton devices to shape audio in a feedback loop, it might help you to read that tutorial before this one, but it’s not essential.
In this tutorial we’ll look at carving the frequencies within a long loop to produce unique sounds.
I will show how we can take a simple Sawtooth wave like this
and use loop frequency carving using only an EQ to boost and reduce harmonics, and a saturator to add related harmonics to turn that simple sound into something very different.
About the Ableton Looper effect insert
The Ableton Looper device has an effect insert which enables us to place effects within the Looper feedback path. In the Live manual there is a small and mysterious section regarding the looper entitled “22.21.1 Feedback Routing”. and it is described like this :
“…[it] allows you to, for example, create Looper overdubs that continually feed back
through another track’s devices.
If you have followed the previous tutorial you’ll remember how we used a delay effect and inserted our own effects within the feedback path in order to shape the sound.
In this feedback effecting loop any changes the changes are iterative, this means if we sweep a filter inside the audio feedback loop that filter sweep sound will come back around as feedback and we can layer different filter sweeps onto the looping sound. Iterative changes to the sound in the loop mean we can carve the sound harmonically by listening and changing to our requirements. We can put effects an EQ inside the feedback path, and use them to shape the sound. We can reshape the harmonics which make up waveforms so we can create a noise which moves from a sawtooth to a square wave (for example)
carving the frequencies inside a loop
In the previous tutorial we worked in the Ableton Effect return channels and these require us to send our sound source off to the effects section – but the looper can exist anywhere, and its feedback insert feature relies on the track routing boxes – so lets begin making our turbocharged looper feedback loop.
Step One – create an instrument track with a Looper
Create a MIDI track and place an Operator device on it, followed by a Looper. You should match the Instrument and Looper settings to those pictured here.
If you do not have access to Operator any synthesiser with a basic sawtooth waveform will do. We use a sawtooth waveform because it contains all of the odd and even numbered harmonics and this makes it a perfect starting point to carve out our resultant sound. For example we might choose to slowly remove all of the even numbered harmonics from our looping sawtooth leaving only the odd numbered ones – and that would give us a morphing sawtooth-square wave!
The instrument needs to have a slow attack and release on the amplitude and no filter activated.
In my example the MIDI track is titled “Operator” and that name will help us identify the track in the next step.
Step Two – create the Loop insert channel
Create a new Audio track and title it “Loop insert”, open up the In-Out section so you can see the track routings, if it is not already visible you will find the show/hide In-Out button over on the right side of the interface, it’s a tiny little circle marked “I.O”.
make your Loop Insert track’s IO look like this, notice that the Loop Insert track’s volume is set to -6db, this is important.
Notice that in the the Audio From section of Loop Insert I have chosen “2-Operator”, and in the pulldown immediately beneath I have chosen “Insert-Looper”. In the Audio To section I have chosen “2-Operator”.
Now we ought to check if the routing is working before we proceed so … Flip over to your instrument channel and play a note or two with Operator, if you can hear something from Operator that’s a good start. If you can’t hear anything take a look at the Looper’s Input-> Output pulldown and set it to “Always”
Now press play to start the Ableton transport running and take a look at the Looper, hopefully that has started and appears to be following the main Ableton BPM. If it seems to slow or too fast, ensure the Tempo control is set to “follow song tempo”
Play a note from Operator and if all is going well you should hear the note repeat after a couple of bars, and the note should slowly fade away. If the note does not repeat – check that your Loop Insert channel Monitor section is set to “Monitor:In.”
Once you get the basic looping fade, proceed to the next step.
Step three – Loop Insert effects
On the Loop Insert channel is where we can interfere with our loop. Here we can drop effects in and twiddle with them and whatever we to the sound will come back around the next time the feedback loop returns.
I suggest inserting this basic toolkit. An EQ8 and a Saturator with these settings :
The drive of the saturator is set to +10 db and the output of the Saturator is set to -4 db, the reason for this is that these two will combine to create +6db of signal boost (saturated). If you have correctly set the Loop Insert channel fader to -6db that will add up to 0db of boost. That means the signal will be saturated, but not increase or decrease in volume.
Why choose an EQ and a Saturator?
An EQ8 can remove existing harmonics, or it can boost existing harmonics so the usefulness of this device should be obvious in this context. A saturator will add related harmonics where there are none – so even if we started with a simple sine wave at 100hz – by using a Saturator we could create harmonics for our EQ 8 to work with.
By choosing an EQ8 and a Saturator we have a good simple toolkit to amplify and attenuate existing and to create harmonics where there currently are none.
Step four – Sculpting sound
Now the fun begins! What we are going to do is iteratively carve and sculpt the audio feedback each time it passes around, this means that every filtering or tweaking of the audio will be cumulative. We can add sound in frequency ranges where there is no sound, and take away frequencies too. Carving and sculpting the audio.
For a nice rich source of harmonics to try this out on I recommend setting your synth to output a sawtooth wave, and for the amplitude envelope of the synth to have a slow attack and decay. Around 4 seconds for both will do it.
Perhaps the simplest way to examine how to carve sound with the setup you just created is to watch this video of me “performing” the system.
Here I play a sawtooth wave into the loop and switch to the EQ of the feedback loop channel, where I now have realtime access to the harmonics of the sawtooth. I can increase or decrease their volume, I can make harmonics from (near) silence, and I can wobble the harmonic to create variation.
The outcome shown in this video below is a basic demonstration of controlling the harmonics in a loop, for resynthesis. It should help you understand the potential of this method to create new and unusual sounds.
As soon as you have a loop you like you can drag it out of the looper and into a new Audio track, this way you will collect a bunch of looper takes which are harmonically related and the resultant soundbank can be assembled or selected from to form the basis of anything from ambient masterwork, a movie soundbed, or a rhythmic pumping technological atmosphere.
This tutorial is the first in a series covering feedback in synthesis and production, and how it can be a fun way to create new and interesting sounds with a seeming life of their own. Exploring feedback techniques can bring a complexity and uniqueness of sound to your tone palette, it is a sound with internal coherence so it might appear more “natural” than other types of synthesis or effect. If you are the type who learns by dismantling a working example, then there is a downloadable example file at the end of this tutorial.
What can I make with feedback?
The types of outcomes you can create with feedback range from Dub style delays, to no-mixer synthesis, to looping evolving ambient soundscapes.
here are three audio examples of the sound of feedback
A no-input mixer
In this first tutorial I will focus creating the Dub Delay and a little bit of regenerative Looping. The tutorial also shows you the basics which can be used in all of these cases, this involves activating feedback in Ableton Live’s effect return channels and showing you how to progressively reshape the sound produced until you have a unique effect. I’ll explain some pitfalls to avoid which we should bear in mind as our experiments become more complex. In later tutorials I will cover feedback matrices and automation, intermodulation and other more advanced topics.
A “Dub Delay”
A short history and explanation
In the recordings of Lee “scratch” Perry, King Tubby, and others, there is a very recognisable echo sound which has come to be recognised as the “Dub Delay”. Often the effect device used was a very simple type of analog echo device known as a bucket brigade delay, however the notable sonic features which made the distinctive dub sound was NOT inherent in the delay device itself but in the way it was routed. This is what we will recreate.
Traditionally the way to incorporate effects returns on an analogue mixing board would be to have a send dial on each track (such as Drums), the effect send dial would send a percentage of the track signal out to the delay device, the effected signal would return back into the mixing board onto a dedicated return channel. This return channel was a very simple channel with no EQ, or any other features common to the rest of the mixing board tracks. The return channel could not send to other effects.
What Lee Perry (and others) did was to route the effect output of the Delay unit into a normal track channel, thus allowing the effected Delay returns to be EQed and even sent back to themselves using the effect sends, delay-eq-delay-eq-delay-eq-…. . Additionally it meant that the mixing engineers could now send delay into reverb, or reverb into a flanger and then into the delay. This allowed the creation of very flexible feedback loops which could quickly get out of control and start making chaotic noises, but a skilled operator could manage this chaos into art.
In Ableton Live we have a (possibly) unique ability to allow return channels to send back to themselves and each other, but by default you will notice that the return channel send dials are deactivated, this is to prevent users encountering unavoidable issues. We need to activate the return channel send dials for our experiment to work. Create a new return channel and title it “dub delay”, in that new channel right click on the send dial which would send back to itself and choose “activate send” from the context menu.
One thing you should understand is that by allowing Ableton Live to send effects back to themselves we have chosen to make plugin latency calculation for this special track almost impossible, so Live will no longer do PDC on tracks with feedback activated. I will explain further in the section titled “warnings”
The basic effects
Now find the “simple delay” device and drop it into this track, turn the wet/dry on the effect to 100% wet and VERY IMPORTANTLY turn the feedback down to zero. The reason for that is we are going to take care of the feedback signal path, we are taking that away the effect. Set the left and right sides to the same speed.
In a normal delay effect device path the audio comes in and this input gets sent to a “buffer” where it is delayed for a specified amount of time and then this wet signal is mixed into the dry signal and output. The feedback control sends an amount of the delayed signal back into the input so that is delayed once again, and that mix appears at the output and again is sent back to the input.
That closed loop is no use to us if we want to take control of feedback tonality. We need to inject our own toys into the loop so we have much more shaping control over the outcome.
You will need a sound source as we proceed, and I recommend any kind of snare-drum. Load a snare into any channel and use the effect send dial on that channel to send to your “dub delay”