Creative sampling in Ableton Live 9
Boasting a wealth of features designed to facilitate cutting-edge sampling techniques, Ableton’s ever-popular Live – now on version 9.7 – has become the go-to DAW for creative audio manipulation. Whether you’re transforming loops, reworking existing audio material on the fly or just fiddling around with bits of audio, Live is fully stocked and ready to rock.
But why is Live such a powerful tool for audio manipulation, exactly? Well, it helps to think of the DAW as a tempo-sync’d multichannel sampler of sorts. Although you can work on a traditional ‘left-to-right’ timeline via its Arrangement View, it’s the Session View – a non-linear loop-launching and sample-triggering environment originally aimed towards live performance – that allows you to compile audio and MIDI events (called ‘clips’) independent of your main arrangement, that all stay in sync with the master bpm. This encourages a fun, creative ‘drag-and-drop’ approach when producing with audio: throw audio loops onto the page and they’re automatically ‘warped’ to sync with the project and your other parts; edit a clip’s warp markers to instantly alter timing and groove; or automate multiple clip and effects parameters on a per-clip basis. An electronic musician’s ‘sonic sketchpad’, if you will.
Live’s bundled samplers
You’ll find several samplers in Live’s Instruments folder, each with its own advantages and quirks. Although the bundled Simpler can only hold one sound per instance, and features a mere +/-5 semitone pitchbend range, it’s still the go-to workhorse for sample playback, one-shot triggering, sample looping and beat slicing – find out more about its three different sampling modes below. Sampler (either bought separately or included with Live 9 Suite) is the bigger brother – a ‘power’ sampler to rival Kontakt et al, offering more advanced multi-sampling capabilities, velocity splits, several looping modes, additional LFOs/modulation envelopes, waveshaping and even an AM/FM oscillator. Both are integral to the Live sampling workflow: call up Simpler when you’re working with a single audio file (say, a drum loop), or enrol Sampler for multi-sampling and intricate looping duties. And you can always convert one format to another, too: right-click Simpler’s header and choose Simpler>Sampler to switch to the bigger brother, or vice versa.
Elsewhere, Live’s Drum Rack is designed for – yep, you guessed it – the playback and performance of multiple drum samples. It’s not a sampler in itself, but instead allows you to load a Simpler instance on each of its 128 pads, giving you instant beat triggering and slicing. And then there’s the oft-overlooked Impulse, an 8-part mini drum sampler that, although somewhat redundant since the introduction of Drum Racks, still houses several unique features such as global pitch and stretch controls for mashing up all eight sounds at once.
Although other DAWs now include warp-style time-stretching, samplers, alternate arrangement environments and other sketchpad-like features, Live’s advantage is the sheer speed with which complex sampling tasks can be achieved. Wanna play back any sample across the keyboard? Just drag and drop it over to a MIDI track’s Device View and the audio is loaded into a Simpler instrument for instant chromatic playback. Slicing a loop? Right-click the audio clip and select Slice To New MIDI Track. Multi-sampling’s a breeze, too – chuck a bunch of samples into Live’s Sampler instrument and they’ll be mapped across the keys for an instant multi-sampled patch. Plus, you can also render any MIDI track to audio with just a couple of right-click commands (Freeze and Flatten, to be exact), keeping you firmly in the compositional flow. Learn to use, and combine, these handy speed-ups in conjunction with keyboard commands and you’ll whip up inspiring, unique sounds in no time.