Unreleased Aphex Twin, Warped in Ableton Live

By now, people who care about the music of Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, know about how he dumped 175 (and counting) unreleased songs on Soundcloud. Like everything he’s done its a body of work that is at turns beautiful, frustrating, and obtuse. The majority of the tracks seem to be Aphex-esque techno and acid house, which is to say his unique combination of standard drum patterns with melodic flights of fantasy and piss-takes.

I had the idea of DJing with these tracks, and when I say ‘DJ’ I mean ‘arrange and blend tracks in Ableton Live’ — which isn’t proper DJing, according to many. That controversy aside, that is the easiest way for me to work; by not having to worry about synchronization and beat-matching, one is free to concentrate on the arguably more important parts of DJing, which is song selection and sequencing.

What started as a simple project to select some tracks to play in DJ sets turned into an obession, and I ended up ‘warping’ the entire corpus of tracks — 175 in total. There are only 173 on Soundcloud because 2 were withdrawn.

To make use of my warping efforts is unfortunately a 2 stage process, the first being to go download the music files. These are available on Google Drive. You’ll need a Google account of some sort to download them, but you can just download the “Selected Soundcloud works 1985-2015” folder. https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B80j1_axBSvIRWJJMUNvdldmWFk&usp=sharing.

Then, download this zip: http://www.cornwarning.com/xfer/AphexUnreleasedLiveProject.zip. It’s also available in the Google Drive AFX folder as well, in the “Ableton” folder.

There’s a ‘Readme’ file in the project ZIP file explaining how to use the warped files, but the TL;DR instructions are “Unzip the mp3 files, unzip the Project, load the project in Live, and tell Live where to find the mp3s.” It should be self-evident to anyone who regularly uses Ableton Live.

Some observations after working through all those tracks:

1. Tempos are almost all very consistent, making me think that he used accurate clock sources & DAT recordings from very early on. There are a very few with the telltale ‘cassette stretch’ tempo drift.

2. There are several with ‘Sequencer Stop’ pauses where he stops the master clock device, allows the effects to decay, and then restarts the sequence off beat. This blows Ableton Live’s mind. I’ve fixed these as best I can, basically pinning a warp marker on the last beat and then dragging the point where the sequencer restarts to the next measure start.

3. Only a few had ‘intergral’ BPMs, i.e. 130, 140, etc. Meaning that the tempo clock was only accidentally set to an intergral tempo. Or the sequencer device and Ableton Live don’t agree about intergral tempos.

4. A couple of them were unwarpable, and I gave up on those.

5. This set of songs was a torture test for Ableton Live’s automatic warping, and I wasn’t impressed, even by the new 9.2 beta version which supposedly improved automatic warping. It rarely found the downbeat properly, was confused by beatless intros etc. Even though the tracks have a very steady tempo.

This was an interesting project to undertake, and it allowed me to ‘needle’ drop in every track. There’s a lot of impressive tracks in this collection.

Groove, Metastability and Randomness

[audio:http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/Chaircrusher-TestPercussionGroove.mp3|titles=test percussion groove|artists=chaircrusher]http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/Chaircrusher-TestPercussionGroove.mp3

This is a recording of two loops playing in Ableton Live. One is a percussion drum rack, the second is the U-He Bazille instrument run through several effects.
This loop plays the same notes, but will never actually play the same one bar sounds twice, for two interlocking reasons.

First, both instruments go through a gate effect, which is adjusted so that the threshold is at the point of metastability, meaning that it spends most of it’s time on the cusp of closing and cutting off the sound.

Second, the Bazille patch uses random LFOs to modulate the levels of two oscillators as they modulate each other. On top of that, each of the two random LFOs is modulating the rate of the other, and the cutoff of a low pass filter through which the resulting signal passes. This accounts for the filtered noise sounds continually changing sound.

In addition, the two MIDI clips driving the sounds are modified by two different groove timings.

So the loop never repeats, and yet it also stays the same. The variety of the loop has musical value — in the same way (but not equal to) a human drummer adds vitality and interest to a repeated drum pattern with micro-variations of timing and dynamics. And the repetition of the loop has musical value, in the way a groove can entrain the listener’s mind.

It’s the wisdom of Heraclitus embodied: “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” It’s the same and not the same. Though I’m neither as wise as Heraclitus nor as musically talented as a significant percentage of humanity.

Ableton Live — a Different Way to Swing.

I’m doing two posts in one day after months of silence?

This just occured to me; I had to share.

1. Get a clip loaded. MIDI or whatever.
2. Click on the Groove hot-swap icon, and choose any groove:


3. Set Timing, Random, and Velocity in the Groove.
4. Set ‘Base’ to 16T.
5. Tweak the quantize control.


This will give your clips an adjustable swing; about 11% sounds pretty good.

For extra points, you can hack your own groove:
1. Make a clip with 16 16th notes — the actual note doesn’t matter. A closed hi-hat will help you get the groove right.
2. mess with the velocity of notes so that it has some ebb and flow type funk.
3. Apply the triplet swing groove, and hit commit.
4. Drag the midi clip into the groove pool. Your own custom groove!

The Hallway Samples as an Ableton Live Pack!

I previously had posted about a couple of sample sets I made by banging on stuff in the basement hallway, (Hallway 1 and Hallway 2) but today I went through the steps to package them as an Ableton Live ALP file.

These are Sampler presets, so I don’t know if you can load them if you don’t have the Sampler License, or rather I don’t know what will happen if you try. But you can always use the original zip files and load the samples wherever you like. Just click through above to the original posts.

Ableton Live Hallway Live Pack

Using Random Processing in Ableton Live

There are two things that I’ve done consistently for 18 years I’ve been using a computer to make music is to experiment with random processes to generate something musically.

EXAMPLE ENSEMBLE: http://www.cornwarning.com/xfer/AbletonLiveRandomizeExample.zip

Ableton Live has a ton of effects. People spend a lot of time and money (or time looking for W4R3Z, which imho is wasted) to find third party VST instruments and effects to give them a palette of sounds. But before you go crazy buying and downloading stuff, it’s a good idea to fully explore the stuff built in to Live.

The Live MIDI effects are an under-utilized resource for creative sequencing, and the MIDI effect rack I’ve built does something that is to me really inspirational: It takes a stream of midi notes and randomizes their pitch and velocity.

That doesn’t seem like much except for this particular context: If you have a drum rack after this MIDI effect rack, when a MIDI note occurs, it adds a random offset to the note number, and assigns a random velocity. If you load a drum rack with an assortment of sounds — in the case of my example, latin percussion samples — it will generate endless variety of drum patterns with continuously changing accents.

From left to right the components of this rack are

  1. Pitch Effect. Adds a fixed offset to incoming notes.
  2. Random Effect. Adds a random offset to incoming notes.
  3. Velocity Effect. Randomly changes velocity of incoming notes.
  4. Velocity Effect. Filters out notes with velocity outside the range lowest to lowest+range.

The actual rhythm is determined by the note pattern that’s playing in the current MIDI track. This is cool because you can use groove templates on (for example) clip with a steady stream of 16th notes, and the output of the rack will follow the groove template. Every time a note is triggered by the clip, a random offset is added to the pitch, which has the effect of choosing a different drum sound, with a random velocity.

The Macro controls on the left side give you control over various parameters.

  1. Lowest: notes with velocities below this value won’t play
  2. Range: notes with velocities above Lowest+Range won’t play
  3. Pitch: Constant offset added to incoming note numbers
  4. Rand Velocity: How much randomness is added to incoming note velocities

Here’s a use case: If you play the third clip in the KW Conga track in the example ensemble, it is a steady stream of notes with a pitch of C1, which in my drum rack corresponds to the first sound. If you don’t want a hit on every 16th note, turning up the Lowest knob will discard notes with low velocity, and turning down Range discards notes with higher velocity. You tune the velocity range with these two knobs to thin out the incoming stream of notes by discarding some of the lowest and highest velocity notes.

The Pitch knob is to get around a limitation of the Random MIDI effect — it only goes up to a maximum offset of 24. Since I have more than 24 sounds loaded in the drum rack, in order to play any of the sounds more than 2 octaves above C1, I have to add an offset. You can also play this knob — or automate it — to change the set of sounds played by the incoming notes. In this particular rack, all the flams are at the top of the drum rack’s note range, so if the Pitch knob is below 8, you won’t get any flams.

The Rand Velocity knob, if turned to zero, doesn’t change incoming velocities at all. This would be useful in the case where you want the Velocity of the Groove template to determine note volumes.

All this is harder to explain than it is to use. Try downloading the example ensemble and fiddle with the knobs, and I think you’ll find that there’s an intuitive feel to using this effect rack. The main thing you need to start with is a drum rack — like the conga rack in the example — driven by clips usually consisting of C1 notes, which is the default lowest note for drum racks. The more sounds you add to your drum rack the more useful the pitch knob will be; if you only have 24 sounds, turning up Pitch will just cause notes to be sent to empty slots in the drum rack.

And if you don’t want to just let this sort of constrained randomness do its thing forever, you can record the output of the MIDI rack in another MIDI track, and then choose a few bars to loop, or find the 4 bars that’s almost perfect and tweak it a bit.

This sort of technique isn’t limited to drum sounds. If you’re using this rack with a pitched instrument it will do something random, and perhaps useful. With a pitched instrument, you can add a Scale Live MIDI effect, in order to constrain the notes played to the scale of your choice.

And that’s only the beginning of what you can do with effect racks. Live’s MIDI effect racks have the same ‘multi-chain’ feature of Live Effect and Instrument Racks — you can set up different chains of MIDI effects and use the Chain Select control to choose between them. And once you add in Max For Live MIDI effects, things can really get crazy.

#Ableton Q: Start a track before 1.1.0?

Notice my clever hash mark — because my posts get forwarded to Twitter … I’m becoming a blog/facebook/twitter whore.

 My friend Dylan wrote “Here’s a problem I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now: say you want to drop a track in from the very start instead of fading it in  slowly, but it starts before the first downbeat. (This usually comes up when I’m messing with acapellas, but can apply to a full song as well I suppose.) Is there a clever work-around to drag 1.1 back beyond the start  of the audio file so it drops on 4.2, for example? Then I could trigger  it however many bars earlier as appropriate to let it come in synced.”

1.1 is a convenience point so you can drag the ‘start’ marker before 1.1.   That’s a time saving trick when you’re warping a track — find the first solid, unambiguous downbeat, and then set that as 1.1, warp from there (automatically or manually) and then drag the start point to the actual track start.

BUT — if you set the start marker NOT on a downbeat, you’re not going to get things the way you’d like.  What that seems to mean is ‘the downbeat is offset from what Live thinks is the downbeat.   This lets you play tricks like drag the loop to the middle of a measure, and then set the start on the downbeat, if you want to loop a measure, but combining the first half of one measure with the last half of the previous measure.

The only way I know how to do what Dylan wants is to always keep the start marker on a downbeat.  In Live 8 you can drag the start and end markers before and after the actual clip’s start and end. So you can warp the track starting at a logical place, and then drag the start marker to the downbeat before where you’d like the clip to come in.  In Live 7, you can’t go before or after the clip’s actual beginning or end, unfortunately.

Then, if there’s audio before the beat you want to come in on, use a volume envelope to mute it.  And you have to trigger the clip a measure before where you want the downbeat to fall.

Ideally there’d be a second type of start marker, that would mean ‘start here, but keep the downbeats in sync’ — but there isn’t.

DJing in Live — Limiters are not the answer!

This is a common ‘helpful tip’ about playing live or DJ’ing with Ableton Live — ‘put a limiter on the main output bus.’

After recording a set last night (which you’ll hear about when I get approval from one artist to use a track) I have spent some time rendering, tweaking, and then re-rendering a mix, because of leveling moves I made in the heat of the moment.  It’s really hard unless you have some sort of giant external meter to watch to keep things properly leveled.

Several times during the mix I brought tracks up to the point they were pegging the limiter giving you that dreaded ‘solid ingot’ waveform.  I’m going to take the limiter out of my standard setup and resolve to watch the meters better, and use my ears. If you clip the main output in Live a little bit it does a fairly good job of soft-limiting to keep from going into digital clipping.  But it’s better that you LISTEN to what you’re doing and be conservative than to use the limiter as a crutch.

The problem isn’t that it sounds ‘bad’ — it sounds OK.  But it doesn’t sound great, because you lose all dynamics. If you’re DJing, everything you play has already been mastered and limited within an inch of it’s life, to limit it more is to second guess the mastering engineers, using much less sophisticated tools.

As for the general philosophical idea of DJing in Live — I love playing vinyl, but especially when it comes to making a studio mix, I like the flexibility that Live gives you, and freedom from cuing and beatmatching as primary concerns.  When I do one of my studio mixes, my concern is to showcase the stuff I’ve recently acquired in a way that is meaningful musically to me, not show off my skills.

I go through a lot of tracks to find the ones that speak to the mood I’m going for, and pre-sequence them, usually in order of tempo.  I actually do record the actual mix in real time — I’m triggering and fading and EQing live.  But I’m not above going back and correcting levels.  Or in the mix I just did, loop the end of one track to make the transition to the next more graceful.

My goal is to get to where I don’t have to tweak after the fact, and every time I record a set I get closer.  When I listen to the first mixes I did with Live a couple years ago they make me cringe.  I want to be able to get in front of a crowd and use the flexibility of Live to make it sound great and move a crowd.  Getting away from using the mouse and staring at the screen can make a big difference.  The APC40 is nice in that way, but actually the mappings I have for the XSession Pro are a more complete mouse-eliminator.

Akai APC40 First Impressions

My APC40 came yesterday, and I spent a few hours fiddling with it last night…

The build quality is impressive. Almost absurdly so — the knobs are big and solid, the faders are smooth. The hard rubber end cheeks are some designers wet dream — they seem to have no purpose except to enhance the ‘stealth bomber’ profile. The case proper is sheet metal with smooth bends. It’s not really a criticism per se, but a plastic case would have made it more transportable — it’s heavy. This plus a laptop in a bag, and you’ll not want to be lugging it all over Berlin.

My only criticism of it design-wise has nothing to do with ergonomics: The faders and knobs will be vulnerable during transport, and the box it came in is pretty bulky. They need to come up with a padded bag with foam ribs at the side so you don’t break off sliders or knobs. If they made one with room for a laptop, I’d buy it — something like the M-Audio Oxygen8 bags…

In operation, there’s very little to write about; it does a good job of taking your head out of the computer screen, and if you’re comfortable with Live, it will make complete sense after about 5 minutes of use.

The one thing I found sub-optimal is the Device Control section. If you select an instance of a Live Instrument, the knobs are automatically mapped to … whatever the first 8 parameters the instrument exposes. These are almost never the most useful parameters to be tweaking, and in the case of Collision you have to hunt around the instrument panel to try and find what they’re changing.qqqq

So in order to mess with a Live instrument’s parameters you have to put it in an instrument rack and assign the macro knobs to something meaningful. For VST instruments and FX the new Live 8 parameter mapping UI makes it a little better — you choose which parameters are exposed and you can rearrange them. But the Device Control knobs are pretty useless for Live Instruments and FX unless you wrap them in a rack.

But all in all it’s a very nice controller for Live, and very nearly the perfect controller for live performance. It’s not revolutionary or amazing, but it solidly does what needs doing, and makes interacting with live a lot more tactile. Just being able to trigger or turn off multiple tracks is huge — it’s something I was always trying to do with the mouse, and it’s not a natural move.

Oh, and tried to look at the top secret MIDI handshake between Live and the APC40 with MIDI-OX and failed. They’ve set up the MIDI driver for the APC40 so it’s single client (meaning only one program at a time can access it) — so if I load MIDI-OX and try and run live, Live won’t talk to the APC 40, and if I try and load MIDI-OX after Live, it won’t be able to open the ports. Given that the only connection is USB, someone will have to use a lower-level tool to try and figure this stuff out.

AudioMidi has APC40 in stock, shipping today

Cet obscur objet du désir
Cet obscur objet du désir

AudioMidi is one of those online retailers, like NewEgg that once you find it, becomes your vendor of first resort. I can’t recommend them highly enough — competetive prices, prompt shipping, and first rate customer service.

I ordered my Akai APC40 yesterday, and called them to ask if they were backordered and when they’d ship, and they said “we have plenty of stock and we’re shipping tomorrow” — meaning today. If you were wondering where to get one.

If you’re not aware of what the APC40 is, it is a MIDI controller tailored for use with the Ableton Live music software.

Ableton Live 8 Extracts Grooves from Audio

Groove Quantization was one of the ‘big deal’ features added in Ableton Live, and I suppose if I’d read all the marketing shiznit more carefully I would have figured it out before now, but as usual I only learn by doing.


So what I did here:

1. Load the track “Amazon” by El-B (from The Roots of El-B into live. (You can hear a sample of it here.)
2. Set 1.1.1 in the timeline to a downbeat. Make the loop region 2 bars starting there. Drag the ‘end’ marker for the track to the end of the loop. Drag the downbeat transients to line up with the timeline downbeats.
3. Right click the resulting clip and select Extract Groove(s)

Then you can apply your groove to any midi clip. Cool…

Other interesting things you can do with grooves:

1. You can drag a groove into a midi track to look at it, or e.g. trigger a hi hat. The beginning of the Audio example above starts out with the raw groove template played by itself.

2. You can drag any midi file into the groove pool. Together with 1, you can edit grooves. In the case of the El-B ‘Amazon’ groove there wasn’t a hit on every 16th note, in which case I don’t know what it does to the timings of notes that fall in the holes, so I plugged the holes with new notes and fiddled with them until they fit the rest of the groove.

3. You can put a groove on a track, and mess with the settings — the random setting and groove amount in particular — until you like the sound created and then hit ‘commit’ on the clip. That quantizes the notes in the clip to the groove settings. Then you can drag the midi clip back into the groove pool and have a new groove.

4. You can apply a groove to many clips simultaneously. Like — every clip in your session. Select the clips to put the groove on in the session view or hit ctrl-A (or cmd-A) to select all. The groove box is in the same place as it would be for a single clip. Then you can choose a groove and it applies to all selected clips.

5. There’s a slider that sets the amount of groove from zero to 130% — I understand what 0-100 means: it drags the notes 0 to 100% of the way to the nearest groove point. I’m not sure what it means past 100%, except that a swing groove swings even harder, and if you have non-zero randomization set, it’s even randomer. At any rate it can sound very cool.
Image stolen from Rootoon.com

How to make Reaktor Knobs Automatable in Ableton Live

So the target demographic for this post is the intersection of three sets:

  • Ableton Live Users
  • Reaktor Users
  • People wonky enough to try and automate VST plugins with envelopes.

Still with me? OK.

I was contacted by an Internet acquaintance because he wanted to use the Reaktor Effect that emulates the Roland RE201 Space Echo, and he wanted to automate it with envelopes.  There are two places you can do this — In the ‘Session View’ on a per-clip basis, and in the ‘Arrangement View’ on a per-track basis.

The way you do this, in both cases is by selecting the plugin instance  from a pull down menu of Automatable Things, and then select the parameter to automate from a separate pull down menu just below the first.  In the case of the ‘Session View’ there’s a first step — select a clip, then on the far left hand side of its properties, click on the little ‘E’ in the bottom row.

In this case, all the parameters of the RE201 were just invisible.  I asked about it on the NI Reaktor Forum, and got this answer.

So I wrote back to my friend with this advice, which may stand you in good stead should you ever get into this sticky situation:

Live before rev 8 only recognizes the first 128 automation parameters.  The parameters (i.e. changeable knobs and controls) each has an ID that’s unique per instrument.  These IDs get assigned as an ensemble is created, and if you delete a control, the ID isn’t re-used.

When it comes to Automation, the parameters are exposed by the standard VST mechanism, with each Reaktor parameter being the Base ID for the instrument, plus the ID of the control.

In the case of RE201, the base parameter was 500-something, so all controls were invisible to Ableton Live.

If you look in the Reaktor Instrument Properties, click on the control routing tab. (the two little boxes with an arrow between them).

At the bottom, there’s an ‘Automation’ section.  Do two things:

Pull down the ‘IDS’ menu, and select ‘Instrument Up’ until the base ID is zero. Then pull down the ‘IDS’ menu again and select ‘Sort and Compress IDs’

This will make all of the controls in the RE201 visible in Live. Honest to God.