Experimenting with Ableton & Synthesis

It’s been awhile since i’ve stepped into the world of EMP but i’ve enjoyed playing around in Ableton Live 9 to make this little track.

It’s a track influenced by Flume and the glitch hop type genres. It started off with a rapper named Krownn about a year ago, it was recorded to a completely different track and nothing ever happened with the vocals, so I thought I would use those as the main influence and see where it ended up.

There is a lot of automation happening in this track, most of which was drawn in but some  were controlled by a Novation 25Sl Mk2 (once the dust was removed). Some MIDI notes were played and later quantised as my piano skills are somewhat to be desired.

Here is the track

Diving into the structure and techniques:

After working out the BPM for the vocal 95.5BPM I then set out to make the drums. I ran Flumes track "Sleepless" warped at 95.5BPM and used my MIDI controller to play along with, triggering my custom drum rack consisting of the usual pieces, kick, snare, toms, hi-hat etc. After getting a similar beat I then selected part of Flumes track and used the “extracted groove” function which looks at the transients and accents. I then applied the groove detected to my track giving some much needed swing like the original.

In the drum rack itself I created 3 send & return tracks; 1 reverb for the snare, 1 reverb for the toms and 1 glue compressor for some parallel compression. My drums still sounded to clean so I experimented with the audio effect “Redux” and lowered the bit rate dial on both the kick and snare to purposely degrade the quality of the sample. The only global fx on the drum rack was another glue compressor, this time for some extra punch.

For the harmonies I wrote some basic chord progressions and cadences using a grand piano preset in Ableton. I tweaked the macros and re-mapped some parameters to differ from the template and tailor the the vibe I wanted.

Next was the bass, for this I brought in the Operator synth for some FM synthesis, using a triangle wave being modulated by a sine wave. In the intro and breakdown I am automating the LFO rate (sync’d) and LFO amount. Some  eq automation was used to bring in some higher frequencies at some tension points in the arrangement.

To accompany the bass I found a  loop from my sample collection and used the function “slice to new MIDI track’. This allows for me to play around on my MIDI keyboard triggering little samples of the loop. For some effects I pushed it hard through a “Saturator” plugin and then a compressor for a really warm distorted sound.

Using subtractive synthesis in the form of the "Analog"  instrument I created another layer of bass. This one is more dirty consisting of a "nasal" square and "grindy" saw-tooth oscillator. Both these oscillators are slightly detuned adding some width. The saw-tooth is using the same filter as the square and the pulse width on the square is 50% giving a different tone. Frequency and resonance automation was used as was a  LFO modulating the filter cutoff at a rate 1 cycle per second ( 1 Hz ). Further layering this Analog patch is a bass sample, placed on the same chain. It's purpose is that; whenever a MIDI note triggers Analog it also triggers the bass note, so what your hear it 2 different sounds combined.

Next I wanted some more glitchy effects like Flumes, to do this I found a bit of the track I liked and dragged it into Abletons "Sampler" instrument.  From there I duplicated the sample twice more within Sampler and set the zones to trigger an octave above and an octave below the original. I then automated a LFO which starts to modulate to sample length back and forth.  Also automated is the loop length which is dictated by how much sustain is being used. To further this I then duplicated the Sampler, freezed it, flattened it, dragged it forward out of time, then I added some warmth and delay via plugins. I panned  one to the right and one to the left creating some interesting glitchy sounds heard in the far left and right stereo image.

The next glitchy sound I used a granular synthesis approach starting with a sample playing a melody with a bell like properties. I then selected part of the audio with a 1000 samples selected in a loop. Then using the previous method I automated the LFO that controls the loop length and the sample start automated by the sustain dial.

In the way of global sends and returns only 2 basic  reverbs, 1 simple delay and 1 compressor were used. This added some parallel compression, ambiance and width.

On the master bus I placed a "Erosion" plugin that can vaguely simulate vinyl, this was to try and make the track seem older and not so digital. Next I created a MId/ Side processing rack which consists of the the utility plugin, standard eq and compressor. This allowed for some separate control of dynamics and eq for both the mono and the stereo (sides) of the sound.

To finish it off I used the only external plug in on this track, Ozone 5. Utilising it's multi-band compressor and maximiser for some heavy controlled compression whilst adding some loudness.

I realise now with this type of genre a lot of experimentation and manipulating of audio is required. Techniques like slicing to MIDI, warping and granular synthesis all helps with this kind of vibe. I find this exciting as you never know where you might end up.