Every artist working in music production knows that there are countless loops and timbres frequently used by the vast majority of music producers. Strictly speaking, there is absolutely no problem with this, since to have access to a huge collection of samples and software, a high investment is required. However, it is the creative way in which these sounds - repeatedly used - are worked on that makes artistic production comprehensive and rich.
Eventually, when we talk about the creative and proper use of sound design, it immediately comes to mind if there is a miraculous plug-in that transforms these common sounds into something completely new and sophisticated. However, such software does not exist. But there are good plugins that help in creating and editing a sound design, if used effectively. In addition, it is important to note that within the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) platforms there are numerous resources to work satisfactorily and achieve different results with the same sounds. It will be precisely some of these resources that I will show in my first article for the blog.
Knowing these devices within the DAWs is substantial, as they are the working environment for all producers, who over time become familiar with a particular platform, among the many that exist. Also, as already exposed above, especially for those who are at the beginning of their production, it is difficult to acquire plugins for the high price and to know where to look for them. For users of Ableton Live, there are some methods to extract a satisfactory result from a given audio, when we are talking about sound design. As the subject of audio editing and manipulation, Live brings very interesting ways to have a spontaneous and easy workflow. On the platform's website we find:
“One of the things that makes creating with Live so fluid is the ability to change the tempo and timing of any audio, in real-time, without stopping the music. We call this warping. Use warping to mix and match loops from a variety of tempos, fix timing errors in recorded performances, or radically reshape any audio into new sound design directions.”
Having made this brief introduction, I can now state that the purpose of this text will be to explain how we can transform a sample into an interesting and unique sound. Using the Warp Mode tools inside the clip box in Ableton Live, we are going to transform a simple loop into a dynamic battery, an atmosphere and an effect (better known as fx).
CLIP BOX E WARP MODE: BEATS, TONES, TEXTURE, RE-PITCH & COMPLEX
When working with audio within Ableton Live, one of the first things we notice is called Clip View. In its manual, Ableton describes Clip View where "[...] properties can be set and adjusted.²" In addition, defining the elementary form, the clip is where "[...] contains basic clip settings.³" And later in the manual, we find the comprehensive definition of the audio clip as follows:
Having made the definitions regarding Clip box and Warp Control, we can now have a special focus on Warp Mode. In the Ableton manual we find the following definition about:
“The warp modes are different varieties of granular resynthesis techniques. Granular resynthesis achieves time compression and expansion by repeating and skipping over parts of the sample (the “grains“). The warp modes differ in the selection of grains, as well as in the details of overlapping and crossfading between grains.”
In Warp Mode, we find six different modes. They are: Beats, Tones, Texture, RePitch, Complex and Complex Pro. Next, the definition of each of these modes, according to the Ableton manual on pages 166 to 168 in section 9.3, called “Adjusting for Good Stretching Quality”. Let's see:
- BEATS MODE
“Beats Mode works best for material where rhythm is dominant (e.g., drum loops as well as most pieces of electronic dance music). The granulation process is optimized to preserve transients in the audio material.”
- TONES MODE
“Tones Mode serves well for stretching material with a more or less clear pitch structure, such as vocals, monophonic instruments and basslines.”
- TEXTURE MODE
“Texture Mode works well for sound textures with an ambiguous pitch contour (e.g., polyphonic orchestral music, noise, atmospheric pads, etc.). It also offers rich potential for manipulating all kinds of sounds in a creative way.”
- RE-PITCH MODE
“In Re-Pitch Mode, Live doesn’t really time-stretch or compress the music; instead, it adjusts the playback rate to create the desired amount of stretching. In other words, to speed up playback by a factor of 2, it’s transposed up an octave. This is like the “DJ stretching method“ of using variable-speed turntables to sync two records, or what happens to samples in traditional samplers when they’re transposed.”
- COMPLEX MODE
“Complex Mode is a warping method specifically designed to accommodate composite signals that combine the characteristics covered by other Warp Modes; it works well for warping entire songs, which usually contain beats, tones and textures.”
- COMPLEX PRO MODE
“Complex Pro Mode uses a variation of the algorithm found in Complex mode, and may offer even better results (although with an increase in CPU usage.) Like Complex Mode, Complex Pro works especially well with polyphonic textures or whole songs.”
Warp Modes Ableton Live 10
In other words, Beats Mode is a Warp mode that basically sticks to samples that have a programmed rhythmic structure, such as: drum loops, hi hats, bongs. But if Warp Modes are “different varieties of granular resynthesis techniques”, and because this synthesis method has sound samples expanding or repressing, “repeating and skipping over parts of the sample” forming a soundscape, we could ask ourselves: what happens to the rhythmic patterns?
Within this mode, even if the granulation of separation, shrinkage and transposition of the (in between) sound grains is applied, there is the function of preserving the rhythmic elements of the sample, in the Preserve function. "Preserve control to preserve divisions in the sample as boundaries when warping." This function, within Beats Mode, is divided as follows: 1 Bar, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 and Transients. Given the construction so far, it is evident that the Preserve function at specific times (1 Bar up to 1/32) will preserve the rhythmic structure of the samples at these certain times, when the granulation method is applied. In the Transient function, the sample will be kept: “[...] the positions of the analyzed (or user-created) transients to determine warping behavior.” As a matter of knowledge, the transients appear immediately when the audio is imported into Ableton with the Warp Control on, being automatically calculated in DAW.
Transients created or analyzed automatically within the Clip Box on Ableton Live 10
That said, still in the Beats Mode function, we find two options just below the Preserve Control: Transient Loop and Transient Envelope. The Transient Loop in the words of the Ableton Live Manual “sets the looping properties for the clip’s transients.” That is, the Transient Loop is the parameter that adjusts how the audio from one transient to another within the clip will behave. Let's look at the three behavioral functions:
The so-called Loop Off represented by a single arrow in one direction, indicates that each transient will be played until the end and there will be no repetition. And "Any remaining time between the end of a segment and the next transient will be silent."
Loop Forward also reproduces until the end of a transient to another. However, after activating this mode, after playing until the end, and if the next transient has not arrived, the audio returns to a certain point and repeats itself.
And finally the so-called Loop Back and Forth is a pattern in which the audio plays until its end, and then, it returns making a reverse effect. When the reverse effect is complete, it returns to normal direction and so on until the next transient.
As a matter of knowledge, again, two things need to be made clear. The first is that for the operation of Warp Mode, as the examples show, it is necessary to manipulate the sample time, multiplying its speed or changing its transpose.
Second, these patterns that we are discussing, Loop Off, Forward and Back and Forth, are repeated in an absolutely short time between one transient and another, which is equivalent and milliseconds many times.
Last but not least, there is the so-called Transient Envelope. Ordinarily, the Transient Envelope acts as a Decay for each transient within the audio. Or, in the words of the manual: “The Transient Envelope slider applies a volume fade to each segment of audio. At 100, there is no fade. At 0, each segment decays very quickly.”
Ableton Live 10 - Beats Mode Parameters
Tones Mode as already defined above, performs the function of audio granulation in sounds in which the tone is not well defined. For example, if we work with up sweeps or down sweeps that have a pitch that varies. In the only parameter that appears when selecting the Tones mode, the Grain Size “provides rough control over the average grain size used.” That is, from the Grain Size control, this parameter controls the average distance of the granulation between the samples. Below is an example of a sample with Grain Size at 100%.
Texture Mode has similarities to Tones, precisely because it acts on the grain of the audio with the Grain Size control. However, as we saw in the definition above, Texture Mode is suitable for atmospheric and polyphonic samples. The big difference that separates, in fact, Tones from Texture is with respect to the grain related to the signal. That is to say, the size of the granulation in Tones “is determined in a signal-dependent manner.” While in Texture, “this is a setting that Live will use unaltered, without considering the signal’s characteristics.”. In the figure below, the difference and the importance depending on the signal are plotted. While in Tones the audio shows a drop in the beginning of the granulation due to its signal, directly linked to the shape of the sample (listening to previous audio), Texture presents almost a linearity, without being directly governed by the signal itself.
The grain effect considering the sample signal in Tones and Texture Mode.
In addition, another important parameter within Texture Mode is related to Flux. Basically, the parameter concerns the randomness of the granulation process. The more expanded, the more your granulation process will be random, fluid. The same goes for its opposite.
SAMPLE FLUX 100%
SAMPLE FLUX 0%
Re-Pitch Mode, as described in the manual, does not have the effect of retracting and expanding the audio grain. It is directly focused on the question of adapting the speed of the desired music. As explained also, this function is basically used by DJs who perform at Ableton Live, when they need to vary BPMs. Re-Pitch Mode is recommended for this job, as it is efficient in the necessary compression in relation to the variation in the tempo of the song. In addition, the transpose functions and those related to changing the audio tone are automatically disabled. Below is an example of the same sample that we are using with a drastic BPM variation. And the way Re-Pitch Mode tries to preserve the characteristics of the sample.
And finally, Complex and Complex Pro modes, although the name speaks for itself, are a Warp mode that is recommended for whole songs and more complex audios. The Complex Mode aims to cover those audios that have a greater range of tones, rhythms and textures. Using the time stretching method, it can be seen that the Complex and Complex Pro mode keeps the audio tones as accurate as possible, accommodated directly with the audio signal. The crucial difference between the Complex and Pro is directly linked to its algorithmic variation, in which the Pro is an attempt to achieve greater performance to the audio being worked on. For this, in Complex Pro mode we find two more functions:
““The Formants slider adjusts the extent to which the formants of the sample are compensated when transposing. At 100%, the original formants will be preserved, which allows for large changes in transposition while maintaining the sample’s original tonal quality. Note that this slider has no effect if the sample is played back untransposed. The Envelope slider also influences the spectral characteristics of the material. The default setting of 128 should work well for most audio. For very high-pitched samples, you may have better results with lower Envelope values. Likewise, low-pitched material may sound better with higher values”
Below is an example of the Warp Mode Complex under audio, and its grain effects:
Having made these presentations about Warp Modes, we now move on to the last part of this article, which is to creatively use these modes to extract different and creative sounds from simple audios.
BUILDING SOUND DESIGN IN WARP MODE
If we look carefully at the Ableton Live manual, on page 166 the following statement is alerted: “It’s also fun to “misuse” these controls to achieve interesting artifacts instead of accurate stretching.” For personal opinion, I believe that this is the most interesting function of Warp Mode, using it “incorrectly” to achieve really surprising goals. I always try to use these resources in the most creative way possible, exploring each parameter to have, in the end, an experimentation that can inspire some new idea. Through Warp Mode it is possible to escape the standard tones, even using these, ironically. Let's hear the original loop again.
Now, a variation of this using Beats Mode creatively:
In this second example, audibly, it appears to be a completely different loop than the initial one. However, what I used here were just the features of Beats Mode, along with Reverb and Auto Pan, in a slightly more creative way. Within this "new" loop there are two variations in the Transient Envelope and an expansion of the audio at a given time, causing the pace to change. Let's see the images below.
TRANSPOSE AND TRANSIENT ENVELOPE VARIATION
TEMPO, TRANSPOSE AND TRANSIENT ENVELOPE VARIATION
In this second example (see audio and video below), the variation of the loop itself within the working possibilities within Warp Mode makes it different from the original and previously edited audio. This time, I combined two types of warp mode within the loop: beats and texture. In addition, I made a variation between Loop Off, Forward and Back and Forth, a variation of different types of envelope transients with different transposes in each clip clipped. It was purely audio editing and manipulation without any plug-ins external to Ableton Live.
Now, in this third example, using Texture Mode, I made an atmosphere of the same drum loop, which could be very well used in a song. The process was very simple. I chose the "strongest" part of the sample (see image below) and started processing. I extended the time for this little piece of the loop twice in Texture. And then, I consolidated (ctrl + j on Windows or cmd + j on Mac) the processed sample twice. Again in Texture, I doubled its time, now totaling a total of four times greater than the original (see image below). With a Grain Size of sixty-five and a Flux at zero, without randomness, I put a native reverb from Ableton and an Echo Delay at short speed. Let's look at the result:
STRONGEST PART WITHIN THE DRUM LOOP
SAME SAMPLE EXTENDED 4x
Finally, in this last example I show how, in Complex mode, we managed to achieve completely different tones from the same loop. First, with the same cutout as the “stronger” tone, I expanded its tempo twice and added a reverb with a high decay size. There, then, we have a first effect, the so-called impact from the initial loop. Later, I duplicated the loop and put it in reverse mode with the time expanded at once, and with a transpose just below the original. The second effect is made, a more dynamic and faster uplifter. And finally, from the same expanded sample, which I used for the impact, I made variations in its transpose and cut it out in the way that the structure of the famous “question and answer” of synths was formed. Thus finding a classic characteristic in the musical production of all genres of psytrance. See the video below, and then the sample of the final result.
In this article I tried to show a little about this simple and innovative feature that Ableton Live has and also try to help producers that have limited collections of samples and plug-ins to creatively use the native resources within their platforms. Warp Mode, although small inside the Warp column, can bring a gigantic universe when it comes to audio manipulation and editing. So do as the Ableton manual recommends: use it in the wrong way to achieve the right results and build a sound identity beyond those that exist. Explore this resource without fear if you are looking for a sound design with simple and fast processing.