When composing a track, most of us have an idea of what sound we are after before we start. However it’s always good to stumble across a ‘happy accident’ that gives your track that extra edge. Of course Ableton Live gives us plenty of ways to generate these random sounds or FX. For this tutorial, I will run through how I like to set Live up to discover these happy accidents using Novation’s Launchpad. I find this method particularly useful when using a Beat Masher FX to turn an otherwise boring vocal sample into something a lot more exciting. Controlling FX parameters on a range of pads can lead you to the perfect sound you are looking for.
Here's a short video showing this tutorial in process:
Firstly let’s set up the Live side of things. Create an audio FX Rack with your favorite parameters mapped to the eight macros. Here, I am using a combination of some Grain Delay, Beat Repeat, Panning, High Pass Filtering, Simple Delay and a third-party Beat Masher plug-in. Next we will need to set up a separate audio track to capture anything interesting that we may come across which we can extract later. In the new audio track, choose the original track in the ‘Audio From’ menu and make sure it is record enabled. Set ‘Monitor’ to ‘In’ to avoid a double audio signal.
Now it’s time to map the parameters in the FX Rack to the Launchpad User 2 mode. Enter MIDI Map Mode in Live (Command-M) and select the first parameter that you would like to map. We are going to take advantage of the fact that the Launchpad allows you to map a row or column (or part of) of buttons to a single parameter in Live. Before that I will map the on/off buttons of each device in the rack to the first buttons of each column on the Launchpad. I will then map the relevant macros between the 2nd and 8th buttons of the relevant column. Do this by holding down the second pad in the column and press the last pad. Now the second button in the column will send out a CC value of 16, the third 32, fourth 48 and so on. Where possible, I will adjust the Min and Max settings of the parameter in the browser window so there are only seven different positions that the parameter can be in. For example with the Beat Repeat’s Grid parameter, I will set the Min value to 1/32 and the Max value to 1/4. Now each of the seven buttons in the column will set the grid size to a different value. Repeat this step with some other parameters in the rack, adjusting Min and Max values accordingly.
Now the fun part can begin. Launch both the sample on your original track and the clip that will capture the manipulated audio. Jam away by hitting some random buttons and it shouldn't take long until you discover some interesting sounds. Using the Launchpad like this is a much more expressive way of getting the most out of audio plug-ins / FX racks than using your mouse or even knobs on a controller. It is also an ideal setup when performing live as you can easily adjust parameters in time with the beat.
Finally when you're finished, scroll through the recorded audio, picking out and editing any parts that you fancy adding to your song.