Live Concepts. AUTOHELM ABLETON

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13

Chapter 4

Live Concepts

This chapter introduces the essential concepts of Live. We advise you to read this chapter early in your Live career, as a solid understanding of the program's basic principles will help you fully exploit Live's potential for your music-making.

4.1

Live Sets

The type of document that you create and work on in Live is called a

Live Set

. Live Sets

reside in a Live Project a folder that collects related materials and can be opened either through the File menu's Open command or via the built-in File Browsers.

A Live Set in the File

Browser.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

14

Selecting the Library bookmark in Live's File Browser will take you to the Live Library of creative tools. Depending on what content you have installed, there may be a number of demo Sets here, and double-clicking a Live Set's name in the Browser will open that Live

Set.

4.2

Arrangement and Session

The basic musical building blocks of Live are called clips. A clip is a piece of musical material: a melody, a drum pattern, a bassline or a complete song. Live allows you to record and alter clips, and to create larger musical structures from them: songs, scores, remixes, DJ sets or stage shows.

A Live Set consists of two environments that can hold clips: The Arrangement is a layout of clips along a musical timeline; the Session is a real-time-oriented launching base for clips.

Every Session clip has its own play button that allows launching the clip at any time and in any order. Each clip's behavior upon launch can be

precisely speci ed through a number of settings .

Clips in the Session View

(Left) and in the

Arrangement View

(Right).

The Arrangement is accessed via the

Arrangement View

and the Session via the

Session

View

; you can toggle between the two views using the computer's Tab key or their respective

selectors. Because the two views have distinct applications, they each hold individual collections of clips. However, it is important to understand that ipping the views simply changes the appearance of the Live Set and does not switch modes, alter what you hear or change what is stored.

The Arrangement and

Session View Selectors.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

15

The Arrangement View and the Session View interact in useful ways. One can, for instance, improvise with Session clips and

record a log of the improvisation

into the Arrangement for further re nement. This works because Arrangement and Session are connected via tracks.

4.3

Tracks

Tracks host clips and also manage the ow of signals, as well as the creation of new clips through recording, sound synthesis, effects processing and mixing.

The Session and Arrangement share the same set of tracks. In the Session View, the tracks are laid out vertically from left to right, while in the Arrangement View they are horizontal from top to bottom. A simple rule governs the cohabitation of clips in a track:

A track can only play one clip at a time.

Therefore, one usually puts clips that should play alternatively in the same Session View column, and spreads out clips that should play together across tracks in rows, or what we call

scenes

.

A Track in the

Arrangement View.

A Scene in the Session

View.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

16

The exclusivity of clips in a track also implies that, at any one time, a track will either play a Session clip or an Arrangement clip, but never both. So, who wins? When a Session clip is launched, the respective track stops whatever it is doing to play that clip. In particular, if the track was playing an Arrangement clip, it will stop it in favor of the Session clip even as the other tracks continue to play what is in the Arrangement. The track will not resume

Arrangement playback until explicitly told to do so.

The Back to

Arrangement Button.

This is what the Back to Arrangement button, found in the Control Bar at the top of the

Live screen, is for. This button lights up to indicate that one or more tracks are currently not playing the Arrangement, but are playing a clip from the Session instead.

We can click this button to make all tracks go back to the Arrangement. Or, if we like what we hear, we can capture the current state into the Arrangement by activating the Record button. Disengaging Record Mode or stopping Live using the Stop button leaves us with an altered Arrangement.

4.4

Audio and MIDI

Clips represent recorded signals. Live deals with two types of signals: audio and MIDI. In the digital world, an audio signal is a series of numbers that approximates a continuous signal as generated by a microphone or delivered to a loudspeaker. A MIDI signal is a sequence of commands, such as now play a C4 at mezzo piano. MIDI is a symbolic representation of musical material, one that is closer to a written score than to an audio recording. MIDI signals are generated by input devices such as MIDI or USB keyboards

1

.

It takes an

instrument

to convert MIDI signals into audio signals that can actually be heard.

Some instruments, such as Live's Simpler, are for chromatic playing of one sound via the keyboard. Other instruments, such as Live's Impulse, have a different percussion sound assigned to each keyboard key.

Audio signals are recorded and played back using audio tracks, and MIDI signals are

1

For an introduction to digital audio and MIDI, please see http://img.uoregon.edu/emi/emi.php and http://www.midi.org/

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

17 recorded and played back using MIDI tracks. The two track types have their own corresponding clip types. Audio clips cannot live on MIDI tracks and vice versa.

Information about inserting, reordering and deleting audio and MIDI tracks is found

here .

4.5

Audio Clips and Samples

An audio clip contains a reference to a sample (also known as a sound le or audio le ) or a compressed sample (such as an MP3 le). The clip tells Live where on the computer's drives to nd the sample, what part of the sample to play and how to play it.

When a sample is dragged in from one of Live's built-in

File Browsers

, Live automatically

creates a clip to play that sample. Prior to dragging in a sample, one can audition or

preview it directly in the Browser; the switch in the Browser with the headphone icon activates previewing.

Live offers many options for playing samples in exciting new ways, allowing you to create an abundance of new sounds without actually changing the original sample all the changes are computed in real time, while the sample is played. The respective settings are made in the

Clip View

, which appears on screen when a clip is double-clicked.

Samples Are Dragged in from Live's File Browsers.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

18

An Audio Clip's

Properties as Displayed in the Clip View.

Many powerful manipulations arise from Live's

warping

capabilities. Warping means changing the speed of sample playback independently from the pitch so as to match the song tempo. The tempo can be adjusted on the y in the Control Bar's Tempo eld.

The most elementary use of this technique, and one that usually requires no manual setup, is synchronizing sample loops to the chosen tempo. Live's Auto-Warp algorithm actually makes it easy to line up any sample with the song tempo, such as a recording of a drunken jazz band's performance. It is also possible to radically change the sonic signature of a sound using extreme warp settings.

The Control Bar's Tempo

Field.

4.6

MIDI Clips and MIDI Files

A MIDI clip contains musical material in the form of MIDI notes and controller envelopes.

When MIDI is imported from a

MIDI le

, the data gets incorporated into the Live Set, and

the original le is not referenced thereafter. In the Live File Browsers, a MIDI le appears as a folder that can be opened to reveal its individual component tracks, which can be selectively dragged into the Live Set.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

19

As you'd expect, a MIDI clip's contents can be

accessed and edited

via the Clip View, for instance to change a melody or paint a drum pattern.

MIDI Files Are Dragged in from Live's File

Browsers.

4.7

Devices and the Mixer

A track can have not only clips but also a chain of

devices

for processing signals. Doubleclicking a track's title bar brings up the Track View, which shows the track's device chain.

A MIDI Clip's Properties as Displayed in the Clip

View.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

20

Live's built-in

audio effects ,

MIDI effects

and

instruments

are available from the Device

Browser and can be added to tracks by dragging them from there into the Track View, or into a Session or Arrangement track.

The Track View

Displaying a MIDI Track's

Device Chain.

You can also use

plug-in devices

in Live. VST and Audio Units (Mac OS X only) Plug-ins are

Live's Built-in Devices

Are Available from the

Device Browser.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS available from the Plug-In Device Browser.

21

Consider an audio clip playing in an audio track. The audio signal from the clip reaches the leftmost device in the chain. This device processes (changes) the signal and feeds the result into the next device, and so on. The number of devices per track is theoretically unlimited.

In practice, the computer's processor speed does impose a limit on the number of devices you can use at the same time, a topic that deserves

separate discussion . Note that the

signal connections between audio devices are always stereo, but the software's inputs and outputs can be con gured to be mono in the Audio Preferences.

When the signal has passed through the device chain, it ends up in Live's

mixer

. As the

Session and Arrangement share the same set of tracks, they also share the mixer. The mixer can be shown in both views for convenience. To optimize the screen layout, the individual mixer sections can be shown or hidden using the View menu's entries.

Plug-In Devices Are

Available from the

Plug-In Device Browser.

The Live Mixer in the

Arrangement View (Left) and Session View (Right).

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

22

The mixer has controls for volume, pan position and sends, which adjust the contribution each track makes to the input of any return tracks. Return tracks only host effects, and not clips. Via their sends, all tracks can feed a part of their signal into a return track and share its effects.

The mixer also includes a

crossfader , which can create smooth transitions between clips

playing on different tracks. Live's crossfader works like a typical DJ mixer crossfader, except that it allows crossfading not only two but any number of tracks including the returns.

Devices that receive and deliver audio signals are called audio effects. Audio effects are the only type of device that t in an audio track or a return track. However, two more types of devices are available for use in MIDI tracks: MIDI effects and instruments.

Consider a MIDI track playing a clip. The MIDI signal from the clip is fed into the track's device chain. There, it is rst processed by any number of MIDI effects. A MIDI effect receives and delivers MIDI signals. One example is the Scale effect, which maps the incoming notes onto a user-de ned musical scale. The last MIDI effect in the chain is followed by an instrument. Instruments, for instance Live's Simpler and Impulse, receive MIDI and deliver audio. Following the instrument, there can be any number of audio effects as in an audio track.

Live's Crossfader.

If a MIDI track has no instrument (and no audio effects), then the track's output is a plain

MIDI signal, which has to be sent somewhere else to be converted into audio. In this case, the track's mix and Send controls disappear from the mixer.

A MIDI Effect, an

Instrument and an Audio

Effect in a MIDI Track.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

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4.8

Presets and Racks

Every Live device can store and retrieve particular sets of parameter values as

presets

. As

presets are stored independently from Live Sets, new presets become part of a library that any project can draw from.

Live's

Instrument, Drum and Effect Racks

allow saving combinations of devices and their settings as a single preset. This feature allows for the creation of powerful multi-device creations and effectively adds all the capabilities of Live's MIDI and audio effects to the built-in instruments.

4.9

Routing

As we have seen, all tracks deliver signals, either audio or MIDI. Where do these signals go? This is set up in the mixer's In/Out section, which offers, for every track, choosers to select a signal source and destination. The In/Out section, accessible through the View menu's In/Out option, is Live's patchbay. Its

routing options

enable valuable creative and technical methods such as resampling, submixing, layering of synths, complex effects setups and more.

The Mixer for a MIDI

Track without an

Instrument.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

24

Signals from the tracks can be sent to the outside world via the computer's audio and MIDI interfaces, to other programs that are connected to Live via

ReWire

or to other tracks or devices within Live. Tracks can also be combined into a

Group Track

which serves as a submixer for the selected tracks.

Likewise, a track can be set up to receive an input signal to be played through the track's devices. Again, tracks can receive their input from the outside, from a ReWire program or from another track or device in Live. The Monitor controls regulate the conditions under which the input signal is heard through the track.

It is also possible to route signals to external hardware devices from within a track's device chain, by using the

External Audio Effect

and

External Instrument

devices.

Track Routing Is Set up

Using the In/Out Section in the Arrangement (Left) or Session View (Right).

4.10

Recording New Clips

Audio tracks and MIDI tracks can record their input signal and thereby

create new clips .

Recording is enabled on a track by pressing its Arm button. With multiple tracks selected, pressing any of their Arm buttons will arm all of them. You can also hold down the

Ctrl

(PC) / (Mac) modi er when clicking the Arm buttons to arm several tracks at once. If the Exclusive Arm option is enabled in the Record Preferences, inserting an instrument into a new or empty MIDI track will automatically arm the track. When the Control Bar's Record button is on, every armed track records its input signal into the Arrangement. Every take yields a new clip per track.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

25

Track Arm Buttons, as

They Appear in the

Session View.

It is also possible to

record into Session View slots on the y . This technique is very

useful for the jamming musician, as Session recording does not require stopping the music.

When a track is armed, its Session slots exhibit Clip Record buttons, and clicking one of these commences recording. Clicking the Clip Record button again de nes the end of the recording and launches the new clip. As these actions are subject to real-time launch

quantization, the resulting clips can be automatically cut to the beat.

Session recording in conjunction with the Overdub option and Record Quantization is the method of choice for creating drum patterns, which are built up by successively adding notes to the pattern while it plays in a loop. It only takes a MIDI keyboard (or the computer keyboard) and a MIDI track with Live's Impulse percussion instrument

to do this .

The Control Bar's

Quantization Chooser.

4.11

Automation Envelopes

Often, when working with Live's mixer and effects, you will want the controls' movements to become part of the Arrangement. The movement of a control across the Arrangement timeline is called

automation

; a control whose value changes in the course of this timeline is

automated. Automation is represented in the Arrangement View by breakpoint envelopes, which can be edited and drawn.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

26

Practically all mixer and effect controls in Live can be automated, even the song tempo.

Creating automation is straightforward: All changes of a control that occur while the Control

Bar's Record switch is on become automation.

Changing an automated control's value while not in Record Mode is similar to launching a

Session clip while the Arrangement is playing: It deactivates the control's automation (in favor of the new control setting). The control will stop tracking its automation and rest with the new value until the Back to Arrangement button is pressed, which will resume

Arrangement playback.

The Automated Pan

Control and its

Envelope.

4.12

Clip Envelopes

Envelopes are found not only in tracks but also in clips.

Clip envelopes

are used to modulate device and mixer controls. Audio clips have, in addition, clip envelopes to in uence the clip's pitch, volume and more; these can be used to change the melody and rhythm of recorded audio. MIDI clips have additional clip envelopes to represent MIDI controller data. Clip envelopes can be unlinked from the clip to give them independent loop settings, so that larger movements (like fade-outs) or smaller gestures (like an arpeggio) can be superimposed onto the clip's material.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

27

An Envelope for Clip

Transposition.

4.13

MIDI and Key Remote

To liberate the musician from the mouse, most of Live's controls can be remote-controlled via an external MIDI controller. Remote mappings are established in

MIDI Map Mode

, which

is engaged by pressing the MIDI switch in the Control Bar.

In this mode, you can click on any mixer or effect control, and then assign it to a controller simply by sending the desired MIDI message (for example, by turning a knob on your MIDI control box). Your assignments take effect immediately after you leave MIDI Map Mode.

Session clips can be mapped to a MIDI key or even a keyboard range for chromatic playing.

MIDI keys and controllers that have been mapped to Live's controls are not available for recording via MIDI tracks. These messages are ltered out before the incoming MIDI is passed on to the MIDI tracks.

Session clips, switches, buttons and radio buttons can be mapped to computer keyboard keys as well. This happens in

Key Map Mode

, which works just like MIDI Map Mode.

Live offers, in addition to this general purpose mapping technique, dedicated support for the

Akai APC40 ,

Akai APC20

and

Novation Launchpad , which allows for mouse-free operation

of the program.

The Key/MIDI Map

Controls.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

4.14

Saving and Exporting

28

Saving a Live Set saves everything it contains, including all clips, their positions and settings, and settings for devices and controls. An audio clip can, however, lose the reference to its corresponding sample if it is moved or deleted from disk. The links between samples and their clips can be preserved with a special command,

Collect and Save , which makes a copy

of each sample and stores it in a project folder along with the Live Set.

A separate Save button in the Clip View

saves a set of default clip settings

along with the sample, so that each time the sample is dragged into the program, it will automatically appear with these settings. This is especially useful if you have made warp settings for a clip and want to use it in multiple Live Sets.

Exporting audio from Live can be done from both the Session and Arrangement Views.

Live will export the audio coming through on the Master output as an audio le of your speci cations via

Export Audio/Video .

Live can also

export individual MIDI clips as MIDI les .

Exporting and saving material for later use in Live can be done very conveniently with the

Live Clip format. Session View clips can be dragged back out of a Live Set to the File

Browsers, and thereby

exported to disk as Live Clips .

Live Clips are a very powerful way of storing ideas, as they save not only the clip's Clip View settings, but also the corresponding track's instruments and effects chain. Live Clips in the

Browser can be previewed and added to any open Live Set just like sample les. In the Live

Set, they restore the original clip's creative options.

Using Live Clips, you can build your own personalized library of:

A Live Clip in the File

Browser.

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

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ˆ MIDI sequences with matching instruments and effects, e.g., a MIDI drum pattern with the associated Impulse and effects settings;

ˆ Different

regions or loops

referencing the same source le;

ˆ Variations of a sample loop created by applying

Warp Markers ,

clip envelopes

and

effects ;

ˆ Ideas that may not t your current project but could be useful in the future.

4.15

The Library

The

Live Library

acts as a repository of sounds that are available to all projects. In Live's

File Browsers, the Library is accessible through a

bookmark . Bookmarks can be selected by

clicking the Browser's title bar to open the Bookmark menu:

The rst time you run Live, it will automatically install its Library to your standard user folder.

You can, of course,

move it to a new location.

After installation the Library will already contain a few sound ideas, courtesy of Ableton. We encourage you to experiment with this material to get a sense of what the program can do, but we do not recommend removing or changing the contents of the factory Library.

Ableton provides additional Library content in the form of Live Packs which are available from installation CDs, DVDs or the Ableton website

2

. Owners of a boxed version of Live can

Choosing the Library

Bookmark.

2 http://www.ableton.com/downloads

CHAPTER 4. LIVE CONCEPTS

30 enjoy the

Essential Instrument Collection 2 , a multi-gigabyte library of meticulously sampled

and selected instruments.

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