By Donald Dinsmore
Many producers don't fully understand the power of Clips in Ableton. Most see them only as containers for MIDI or Audio information. While this notion isn't technically incorrect, clips can be used for much more than musical tupperware. If you learn to harness the power of clips you can add a whole new set of creative tools to your musical palate. Below are eight powerful techniques that take advantage of unique features of clips and will add interest, complexity and general gnarliness to your tunes:
1. How to Apply Clip Automation
Most producers I've worked with only take advantage of automation in Arrangement View. They are short changing themselves. A whole new world of creative possibilities open up when producers learn to use clip automation. In theory clip automation isn't much different from automation in Arrangement view but I find it a particularly useful way to add variation to my tunes on a clip by clip basis. The workflow is simple, here's how to do it:
Start by deciding which parameter you want automate, maybe it's Filter Cutoff on Operator, click on the Filter knob. When you click on the knob a bounding box will surround the knob. Press Shift+tab to switch to clip view. Select a clip by clicking on it and in the bottom left side corner of Ableton you will find a little button with and E on it, click it. This will change the appearance of your piano roll and open a new box to the right of the Notes box called Envelopes. The drop menu in the Envelopes box will tell you what parameter you clicked on while you were in device view. In this case the top drop down menu will say "Operator" and the one below it will say "Filter Freq". On your piano roll you will see a dotted red line showing you what the knob is currently set to. Use you Pencil tool or your mouse to manipulate the break point envelope and add automation. This works for any instrument or effect on your track. This type of automation can also be used for Audio Clips.
2. How to use Pitch Bend Automation Effectively While Working with MIDI
One of the Automation options you will see for MIDI clips is Pitch Bend. You can automate the Pitch bend of the MIDI Clip in exactly the same way you automated the filter cutoff in the previous example. If you move on within your song you may notice some of the other MIDI clips on the track you automated are out of key. Over the years I struggled to figure our why this was happening. Essentially it is a glitch in Ableton. Thankfully this glitch can be overcome relatively easily. On all of the clips in your track add a breakpoint at the beginning of Pitch Bend breakpoint envelope. This will reset the pitch and allow you to play the rest of the clips in your project at the pitch they were meant to be played at.
3. Get Rid of Clicks and Pops with MIDI Clips
The start of your MIDI clip starts with a click. Here's one way you can avoid it:
4. The :2 and *2 Buttons
I love these two buttons! When you are working with warped Audio you can double the length of the audio by pressing the *2 button and half it by pressing the :2 button. You can use this in a conventional way to add a double time (or halftime) beat to you song or you can use to abuse your audio to add interesting warping artifacts. Try doubling the length of an audio file a few times, consolidating the clip (CMD+J) or freezing and flattening, then loading the consolidated audio file into Sampler or Simpler. Hours of entertainment ensue.
5. Groovy man: How to Use Groove Pool
Loosely grove can be defined as an alteration of rhythmic timing and volume in a consistent way. It is often described as "feel" or "swing" and is found in many forms of popular music. I often think of jazz, funk, soul or hip hop when I think of groove. One of the struggles (and inherent biases) of making music of the computer is a producers reliance on the grid. Music that is made on a strict grid tends feels "robotic" or "stiff". You can add groove you your MIDI patterns by recording them into Ableton with your MIDI device and not quantizing. Another way to add groove to your MIDI clips is to use Ableton's Groove Pool. The easiest way to make use of Groove Pool is to click on the Hot-Swap button in the clip section of clip view. In response, your browser will show you a series of different grooves you can apply to your clip. Double click on any one of them and the groove preset will populate a drop down menu in the Clip window and the rhythmic timing of the clip will be altered. If you press the Commit button you will see the timing of your clip change.
6. How to Use Warping as a Sound Design Tool
A huge part of my sound design process involves using Ableton's warping algorithms to abuse audio. If you push the limits of warping you will begin to hear distortion in the form of warping artifacts. One way I like to do this is to warp an audio using the Transpose knob in clip view using a Warp mode like complex. I'll pitch the entire clip down by 12 semitones (or more) and then freeze and flatten the clip. Next I'll repitch the clip back to it's original frequency using a different warp mode and freeze and flatten again. The outcome will often be an interesting timbral change to the audio clip. I would recommend trying this trick on a vocal track. Finally, load the clip into Simpler in Slice mode and have some fun.
7. How to Use the Beat Warp Mode to Add Rhythmic Gating to Your Clips
You can add rhythmic gating to you clips with Ableton's Beats warp mode. To do this set your warp mode to Beats. Change the preserve from "Transient" to a timing instead, say "1/16". Next change the Transient Loop Mode drop down menu below it to the Loop Forward option (arrow pointing right with a line on the end of it) and begin to reduce the Transient envelope box from 100 to something lower. The lower you set the transient envelope value the deeper the gating effect will be. This works extremely well on risers and droppers.
8. High Quality Interpolation
In the Sample box in clip view there is a button called HiQ. When HiQ is enabled your CPU works hard to reduce the warping artifacts introduced as you pitch or stretch audio. If you want to avoid the distortion keep this button enabled. But if you want to really mangle your audio turn it off. You can also turn this function off to save CPU drain when you're working with warped audio clips that you are not stretching or pitching.