Glitch is a form or style of music that has been around since the mid-90s, but its technique and unique audio aesthetic has been carried along with the new music technologies that can be heard in most modern forms of electronic music production today. In the early days, music producers would manipulate audio mediums to get these “glitch” effects such as scratching CDs and then playing them back to hear the results, giving you that skipped CD sound effect. These unexpected audio creations really got producers interested in other ways of manipulating their audio, and with the technology advancement of digital audio workstations and audio effects, it's now very quick and easy for you to get these glitch effects, plus you have much more control now over how they sound. Let’s take a look at how you can create your own glitch effects in Ableton.
Back in the day when you scratched a CD, it would skip over damaged areas and give you this skipped/duplicated sound. Let’s look at how you can recreate this same effect in Ableton. This is best done working with an audio file. Pull an audio file onto an Audio Track. I’m going to use a drum loop, but these techniques work well on any audio, even vocals. Now select an area of the audio track, preferably a small section such as maybe a 1/16th note selection and press Command-E (Mac) or Control-E (PC) to split this.
Now use the Duplicate command (Command-D on a Mac or Control-D on a PC) and this will duplicate your clip selection along the audio track. Do it a couple of times, and then start playback to hear the result.
The original loop.
And here it is with a 16th note length duplicate clip repeat.
How about trying out a 32nd note duplicate clip repeat.
The finer you get, the more glitchy the result. Try this out, right-click an area of the arrange area to bring up the contextual menu with the grid setting and choose Narrowest.
Make the smallest selection possible and now duplicate this. Hear how this sounds.
To smooth out these duplications you can add fades. Take some clips and shorten their lengths. I find it easier to turn the grid snap settings off. From the grid contextual menu choose Off under the Fixed submenu.
Now you can choose how much you want to shorten the audio region without it snapping to the grid. Then select to view the fades.
And draw in different fades on the audio regions.
What really works well is to reverse some of the audio clips. To do this double-click the clip to bring up the clip sample window, and then click the Rev. button to reverse the audio region.
Randomly select audio clips and reverse them. The trick is to create an out-of-the-ordinary audio sound. So the less it conforms to a pattern the better.
Let’s use the same duplication principle but this time disable the grid. Select a part you want to duplicate, make the duplications, and then turn off the grid. Now take your clips that are duplicated and start moving them across to the right. Start off with small gaps between the audio clips, and as you go start increasing the gap size. This creates a really cool stutter effect and gives the impression that the sound is slowing down.
Or do it the other way. Start with big gaps between the audio clips, and decrease the size as it moves along. This gives the impression that the sound is speeding up. But what’s key here is to move the audio around so that they don’t sit on defined grid spacing. It takes a bit of tweaking to get it sounding right, but once you have it, it creates an interesting effect.
Ableton’s warping algorithms are a great tool to use as well to manipulate and glitch up your audio. Select an area on your audio, press Command-E (Mac) or Control-E (PC) to split the clip. Double-click on a clip to open the clip sample window and enable warp mode for that region. With Warp mode you have different warping algorithms you can use, and each one imparts a different time and pitch algorithm to the audio. Normally warping is used to correct audio clips that aren’t in the same timing as the project, but if you manipulate these timing you can get interesting audio results. Let’s try this out. Select Tones as the warping mode and now increase the Seg. BPM to a very high setting. In my project the tempo is 120 BPM, and I’ve increased the Seg. BPM to 385.
This stretches out the audio region and creates some artifacts with the sound. You can extend the clip if you need to, as it may now be cutting of the end of the sound. You can even try different Grain sizes for different artifacts in the sound. The lower the grain size, the more artifacts that get introduced into the sound.
You can apply other manipulation techniques to this new audio region like discussed above. The great thing is that all these processes are nondestructive to the audio. So select an area of the new clip sound, and duplicate this to give you new sounds that you wouldn’t have had before.
Try out some of the other warp modes and hear what they do to the sound. The Complex Mode also works very well in manipulating the sound. Use this warp mode on an audio clip, increase the Seg BPM, and then try out different Formant settings and hear what it does to the audio.
When it comes to a mixing point of view, you can glitch up your audio in two ways. You can use glitching techniques like the ones already discussed and apply these to single tracks, and then mix these in with the rest of your tracks. So for example you could glitch up a guitar track and then bring it into your mix with the other tracks. Or you could look at it the other way. You can mix your track and then apply the glitching techniques afterwards. So for example you can pull your mixed track into Ableton and create some splits and duplications, and applies it to all the sounds in your mix in one go. Try this out. Pull a song you have already mixed into Ableton. Then choose a selection to split. Create some duplications, and even try out some warp mode clip stretching. You’ll get very different results than if you did this to each track in your project.
Glitched Stereo Mix:
That’s how to edit your audio clips in Ableton and apply editing and processing techniques to glitch up your audio. You can get some very interesting and unique sounding audio results. Try some of these out in your future music productions. And don’t forget that these can be applied to single tracks or even to your finished audio mixdown.
For further glitching techniques check out this Ableton tutorial: