Tag Archive for: LFO

LFO Shapes: A Guide to Modulating Sound with Different Waveforms

Are you getting to the point where you’ve been playing with many samples and feel like that you want to tweak them a bit so you can give them character?

As you know, I teach music production and the “level 1” of music production involves playing with samples, loops and turn them into songs. Once you get good at it, you can start to to tweak those samples. But where to start?

Well, the main issue with samples is that they’re… dead. By dead, I mean they’re static because they’ve been recorded and if played in loop, there will be no variation, no changes. Music why, this repetition can be challenging to listen to as the brain gets annoyed by an idea it understood because it expect it to change. For people with ADHD, it can even be torture and since a lot of musicians have that condition, you can expect them to want something to happen.


“I’m concerned the listener will be bored by my song”, is one challenge I hear a lot when I training people.


The answer to that is to dive in sound design. One of the main point is to teach yourself to be able to hear changes in sound, because that is movement is what makes a sound always change. There are 2 main types of movement: one that is in sync with a tempo and one that is not.


To relate to how to bring movement to your music, let’s talk about a tool I abuse of and couldn’t see myself without it: Low Frequency Oscillators.


Why using it?

A Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO) is a fundamental component in the realm of audio synthesis and sound modulation. Operating at frequencies below the range of audible sound, an LFO generates waveforms that serve as control signals rather than sound sources themselves. These waveforms—such as sine, triangle, square, sawtooth, and random—ebb and flow in a repetitive manner, influencing various parameters of sound, including pitch, amplitude, and timbre. By imparting rhythmic or cyclical changes to these parameters, LFOs breathe life into static sounds, imbuing them with movement, texture, and complexity. Widely used in electronic music production and sound design, LFOs are pivotal tools for shaping sonic landscapes, adding dynamics, and creating evolving patterns that captivate the listener’s ear.

When you write your ideas/melodies, you can draw your automation for more precision, but the idea of using LFO’s, is to delegate some movement to the machine. Fast paced movement will bring some textures, while slow movement will blur the lines between where modulation starts and stops. Mid-speed will allow ear spotting changes.


In this blog post, we’ll dive into the world of LFO shapes and how they affect sound design. We’ll explore the characteristics of different LFO waveforms and how they sound when used to modulate a filter, both in fast and slow modulation scenarios. By the end of this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of how to use specific LFO shapes to achieve desired sonic effects.

Movement Uses:


1. Sine Wave: Smooth and Subtle

The sine wave is the simplest and most fundamental waveform, producing a smooth and gradual oscillation. When applied to modulate a filter, a sine wave can create gentle and subtle shifts in the sound. At a slow modulation rate, it imparts a calming, almost breathing-like quality to the sound. As the modulation rate increases, the sound becomes more pronounced, adding a sense of movement without being overly aggressive.


Sine movement are also the closest to nature.

  • Sine Wave: The Essence of Smoothness

The sine wave is a fundamental waveform that closely resembles the natural oscillations found in various phenomena, from the movement of pendulums to sound waves. Its smooth, rounded peaks and troughs replicate the behavior of many naturally occurring processes, giving it a sense of organic elegance.

  • Harmonic Content and Complexity:

The sine wave has the simplest harmonic content of all waveforms. It consists of a single frequency with no additional harmonics or overtones. This lack of complexity contributes to its inherently soothing and gentle quality. When the sine wave is used as an LFO shape to modulate a filter, it imparts a gradual, almost seamless movement to the sound. This characteristic is akin to the subtle changes in nature, such as the gentle ebb and flow of waves or the gradual shifts in wind patterns.

  • Emulating Natural Phenomena:

Many natural sounds, such as the chirping of birds, the rustling of leaves, and even human vocalizations, exhibit a certain level of smoothness and continuity in their vibrations. By using a sine wave LFO shape, you’re essentially mimicking these naturally occurring patterns of movement. This can make your synthesized sounds feel more in tune with the environment, adding an organic touch that’s often difficult to achieve with more complex waveforms.

  • Subtle Dynamics:

The slow, gradual modulation provided by a sine wave LFO can be likened to the subtlety of nature’s changes. Think of how the rising and setting of the sun or the changing seasons bring about transformations that are gentle yet noticeable over time. Similarly, the use of a sine wave LFO can introduce subtle dynamics to your soundscapes, creating an impression of evolving environments that are familiar and soothing to the ear.

  • Organic Aesthetic:

When crafting music or soundscapes, an organic aesthetic can be particularly appealing. It resonates with listeners on a subconscious level, invoking a sense of calm and comfort. By utilizing the natural sound qualities of a sine-shaped oscillator as an LFO shape, you’re infusing your compositions with an element of authenticity that can enhance their emotional impact.

The innate smoothness, harmonic simplicity, and resemblance to natural phenomena make the sine wave a powerful tool for creating organic and natural-sounding modulations. By incorporating sine-shaped LFOs into your sound design, you’re tapping into the essence of nature’s subtlety and fluidity, giving your compositions a more authentic and emotionally resonant quality. Since electronic music is often cold and very artificial sounding, to include something more organic can be a nice contrast.


2. Triangle Wave: Balanced and Versatile

The triangle wave combines the smoothness of the sine wave with more defined edges. This waveform is often used to achieve a balanced modulation effect. When modulating a filter with a triangle wave, the result is a sound that moves gradually between its highest and lowest points. At slow rates, it creates evolving textures, and at higher rates, it imparts a rhythmic quality without being too sharp.


3. Sawtooth Wave: Building and Dynamic

The sawtooth wave has a sharp ascending edge and a smooth descending edge. When used to modulate a filter, it produces a building and dynamic effect. At slow modulation rates, the sawtooth wave can create sweeping changes, gradually opening and closing the filter. When the modulation rate is increased, it generates an aggressive and impactful movement, ideal for creating dramatic transitions or evolving textures.


4. Square Wave: On-Off Intensity

The square wave alternates between two levels, creating an on-off pulsating effect. When applied to filter modulation, it introduces a distinct rhythmic quality to the sound. At slow rates, it produces a gating effect, with the sound fading in and out. As the modulation rate increases, the square wave generates a clear pulsating rhythm, suitable for adding rhythmic complexity to the sound.

Like any shape of an LFO, you can play with the depth of it’s output. If you keep the depth low for a square shape, you’ll have a nice variation but in two stages.


5. Random/Noise Wave: Chaotic and Experimental

The random or noise waveform introduces an element of chaos and unpredictability to modulation. When modulating a filter, it creates a sense of randomness and texture. At slower rates, it can add a subtle layer of complexity to the sound, mimicking natural variations. At faster rates, it produces a glitchy and experimental effect, making it perfect for unique soundscapes.

I recommend the use of random on sounds you never want to be the same twice such as the velocity of a sound, the length of a percussion, the tone of a pad. It is very useful to add variations, slow or fast.

TIP: Use the smooth option to have less abrupt changes.


6. Binary output: Computer Language

As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, Ableton Live’s “Binary” form might refer to a specific device, feature, or concept that was introduced after that time. However, if we’re discussing a feature related to binary operations or manipulation, here’s a general explanation of how binary operations might be used in a music production context:

1. Binary Operations:

Binary operations involve manipulating binary data, which consists of sequences of 1s and 0s. In music production software like Ableton Live, binary operations can be used to generate rhythmic patterns, create variations, and add complexity to your music. They can be particularly useful for creating glitchy, syncopated, or experimental rhythms.

2. Step Sequencers and Binary Rhythms:

Step sequencers are commonly used to create patterns of notes or events over time. In the context of music production, a binary step sequencer might allow you to turn steps on or off, creating a binary pattern. Each step represents a binary digit (1 or 0), which corresponds to a note or event being active or inactive.

For example, if you have a binary pattern of “101010,” it might translate to a repeating rhythm of long-short-long-short-long-short in a musical context. This can be a great way to generate interesting, irregular rhythms that deviate from traditional quantized patterns.

3. Creating Glitch Effects:

Binary manipulation can also be used to create glitch effects. By toggling certain bits on and off, you can introduce unexpected variations and unpredictability to your sounds. This is especially useful for genres like glitch, IDM, and experimental electronic music.

4. Sound Design:

Incorporating binary patterns into your sound design can lead to unique textures and timbres. You can use binary patterns to modulate various parameters of your synthesizers and effects, producing evolving and dynamic sounds.

5. Automation and Control:

If Ableton Live introduced a feature named “Binary,” it might also involve binary automation, where you can use binary patterns to automate various parameters in your project. This could add a layer of complexity and movement to your music over time.

Since my knowledge is based on information available up until September 2021, I recommend checking Ableton Live’s official documentation, user guides, or online resources for the most up-to-date and accurate information about the “Binary” feature in Ableton Live. This will provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to use it effectively in your music production workflow.


TIP: To hear better how a modulation is affecting sound, map the LFO to a Utility so you can hear amplitude (volume) modulation, which is easier to the ear since it is very obvious.



LFO Modulated LFO

The concept of using one LFO to modulate the speed of another LFO is a fun technique that can yield intricate and non-linear modulation patterns. Let’s explore how this works and why it leads to non-linear results:


LFO Modulation Basics:

Low Frequency Oscillators (LFOs) are typically used to modulate parameters such as pitch, amplitude, filter cutoff, and more. They generate waveforms at frequencies lower than those of audible sound, resulting in modulation that occurs over time. These waveforms include sine, triangle, sawtooth, square, and random waves, each with unique characteristics.

Modulating LFO Speed:

When you use one LFO to modulate the speed of another LFO, you’re introducing a layer of complexity to the modulation process. Instead of directly affecting the sound parameter itself, you’re altering the rate at which another LFO oscillates. This means that the rate of change in modulation becomes variable and dynamic.

Ever heard the sound of a bouncing ball? This can be achieved with this technique.


Non-Linear Effects:

The key to understanding the non-linear effects lies in how the modulation rates interact. When one LFO modulates the speed of another LFO, the resulting modulation pattern becomes intricate and less predictable than simple linear modulation.

Consider this scenario: Let’s say you have an LFO (LFO1) modulating the speed of a second LFO (LFO2). As LFO1 varies its speed, it introduces fluctuations in the rate at which LFO2 modulates the target parameter. The result is a complex interplay of modulation speeds that can lead to unexpected and non-linear outcomes.

For example, if LFO1 oscillates between fast and slow speeds, the modulation from LFO2 will speed up and slow down accordingly, leading to irregular and evolving modulation patterns. These irregularities create a sense of unpredictability and complexity in the modulation, which can add a unique and experimental flavor to your sound design.


  • Texture and Movement: Modulating an LFO’s speed with another LFO can add layers of texture and movement to your soundscapes. The constantly changing modulation rates can create intricate sonic textures that evolve over time.
  • Dynamic Rhythms: The non-linear modulation introduced by this technique can result in dynamic and evolving rhythms. It’s a great way to inject rhythmic complexity into your music, perfect for genres like IDM, ambient, and experimental music.
  • Experimental Sound Design: If you’re aiming for experimental or otherworldly sounds, using one LFO to modulate the speed of another can lead to unconventional and unpredictable outcomes that can set your sound design apart.

In summary, using one LFO to modulate the speed of another LFO introduces a layer of complexity and unpredictability to your modulation patterns. This technique can lead to non-linear results that are rich in texture, movement, and dynamic rhythms. It’s a powerful tool for sound designers looking to push the boundaries of conventional modulation and create unique sonic landscapes.

TIP: How many LFOs should be used in a project isn’t important. But you’ll have more cohesion if you use a few “master LFOs” that control multiple parameters across the song as they will move all together elements, creating an orchestral effect.


LFOs as Melodies and Compositional Tool


Certainly, LFOs combined with a sample and hold module in the modular synth world can produce intriguing and unique melodies. The type of LFO waveform used in conjunction with the sample and hold module directly influences the character of the generated melodies.

If you look at a melody in the piano roll, you’ll see that notes go up and down or perhaps go up then down. Those are shapes an LFO can do.

How to set it up?

Send the output of the LFO to a Sample and hold. You can ping the sample and hold at the moment you want a note to play. The sample and hold will look at the data sent by the LFO at the moment it was pinged and then output the note which can be sent to an oscillator.













Let’s see how different LFO shapes contribute to specific types of melodies:

1. Sawtooth LFO: Progressive Ascending Melodies

Using a sawtooth LFO with a sample and hold module can create melodies that ascend progressively. As the sawtooth LFO ramps up, it triggers the sample and hold to capture and hold the voltage at specific points. The resulting melody will have a rising, stair-step quality, with each note being slightly higher than the previous one. This combination is well-suited for building anticipation and tension in a composition.


2. Square LFO: Stepped and Rhythmic Patterns

A square LFO paired with a sample and hold module generates stepped and rhythmic melodies. The square wave’s on-off nature causes abrupt shifts in the sampled voltage, creating distinctive steps in the melody. When used at different rates, the square LFO imparts a rhythmic quality to the melodies, making them danceable and syncopated.


3. Triangle LFO: Smooth and Flowing Melodies

A triangle LFO combined with a sample and hold module produces melodies with a smooth and flowing character. The triangle waveform’s gradual rise and fall influence the sampled voltage, resulting in melodies that transition between notes in a less abrupt manner compared to square or sawtooth waves. This combination is ideal for creating melodies that evoke a sense of fluidity and motion.


4. Random/Noise LFO: Chaotic and Experimental Melodies

Pairing a random or noise LFO with a sample and hold module leads to chaotic and experimental melodies. The unpredictable nature of the random waveform causes the sample and hold module to capture varying voltages, resulting in melodies that seem to wander unpredictably. This combination is perfect for generating avant-garde or ambient melodies that challenge traditional musical expectations.


5. Sine LFO: Serene and Ethereal Melodies

Utilizing a sine LFO with a sample and hold module produces serene and ethereal melodies. The sine waveform’s smooth undulations translate into gentle fluctuations in the captured voltage. The resulting melodies are subtle and soothing, with a dreamlike quality that’s well-suited for ambient or meditative compositions.


Thanks for reading my tribute to a often overlooked tool in music and now you know why I’m in love with all the possibilities behind it.


Using MIDI controllers in the studio

People often say that MIDI controllers are mostly for performing live, but they can also be your studio’s most useful tool. My advice to people who want to invest in gear—especially those who aren’t happy working only on a computer and dream of having tons of synths (modular and such)—is to start with investing in a controller first.

There are multiple ways to use MIDI controllers; let me share some of my favourite techniques with you and give you advice to easily replicate them.

Controllers for performing in studio

One trend I’ve been seeing in the last few months is producers sharing how they perform their songs in-studio as a way to demonstrate all the possibilities found within a single loop. This is not new—many people like to take moments from live recordings and edit them into a song, but it’s becoming clear that after years and years of music that has been edited to have every single damn detail fixed, artists are realizing that this clinical approach to producing makes a track cold, soulless, robotic, and not organic sounding and in the end. If you’re still touching up details at version 76 of your song, this means you’ve probably heard it about 200 times—no one will ever listen to your track that many times. My advice is to leave some mistakes in the track, and let it have a raw side to it. Moodymann’s music, for example, is praised and in-demand because his super raw approach makes electronic feel very organic and real. Performing your music in studio to create this type of feeling is pretty simple; it’s super fun and it inspires new ideas too.

For in-studio jams, I recommend the Novation LaunchXL which has a combination of knobs and sliders, plus it’s a control surface; depending on where you are on the screen, it can adapt itself. For instance, with the “devices” button pressed, you can control the effects on a specific channel and switch the knobs to control the on-screen parameters.

When I make a new song using a MIDI controller, I’ll start by using a good loop. Then I’ll use my controller to quickly play on the different mixes I can create with that loop. Sometimes, for example, I want to try the main idea at different volumes (75%/50%/25%), or at different filter levels. Some sounds feel completely different and sound better when you filter them at 75%. Generally, I put on these effects on each of my loops: a 3-band EQ, filter, delay, utility (gain), and an LFO.

Next, I’ll record myself playing with the loop for a good 20 minutes so that I have very long stems of each loop. Then when it comes to arranging, I’ll pick out the best parts.

TIP: I sometimes like to freeze stem tracks to remove all effects and have raw material I can’t totally go back and fix endlessly.

Controllers for sound design

I find that the fun part of sound design involving human gestures comes from replicating oscillations a LFO can’t really do. It’s one thing to assign a parameter to a LFO for movement, but if you do it manually, there’s nothing quite like it—but the best part is to combine the best of both automated and human-created movements.

I use a programmed LFO for super fast modulation that I can’t do physically with my fingers, and then adjust it to the song’s rhythm or melody—just mild adjustments usually. For instance, you could have super fast modulation for a resonance parameter with an LFO or with Live’s version 10.1’s curves design, then with your controller, control the frequency parameter to give it a more organic feel.

Recently, I’ve been really enjoying a complementary modular ensemble for Live called Signal by Isotonik; it allows you to build your own signal flow to go a bit beyond the usual modules that you’ll get in Max for Live. Where I find Signal to be a huge win is when it’s paired with PUSH, which is by far the best controller you can get for sound design. PUSH gives you quick access to the different parameters of your tools, and if you make macros it becomes even more organized.

Controllers for arrangements

Using MIDI controllers in arrangements is, to me, where the most fun can come from; using them can completely change the idea of a song.

For instance, if your song has a 3-note motif that has the same velocity across the board, I love to modulate the volume of the 3 notes into different levels. When we speak, all the words we use in a sentence have different levels and tones. For example, if you say to someone “don’t touch that!”, depending on the intonation of any particular word, it can change the emphasis of what you’re saying. “DON’T touch that!” would be very different from “don’t touch THAT!” This same philosophy can apply to a 3-note melody; each note is a word and you can decide on which ones to emphasize and how a certain emphasis fits in your song’s main phrase or motif.

If you assign a knob or fader on your controller to the volume of the melody, you can also control the amplitude of each note. You can do this for the entire song, or you can copy the best takes and apply their movement to the entire song. I find that there will be a slight difference in modulation depending on if you use a knob or fader; each seem to have a different curve—when I play with each, they turn out differently (but perhaps that’s just me). Explore and see for yourself!

TIP: Using motorized faders can be a a huge game changer. Check out the Behringer X-Touch Compact.

Another aspect of controllers that people don’t often consider are foot pedals. If you’re the type who taps your foot while making music, you could perhaps take advantage of your twitching by applying that to a specific parameter. Check the Yamaha FC4A. Use it with PUSH and then you have a strong arsenal of options.

SEE ALSO : Equipment Needed to Make Music – Gear vs. Experience vs. Monitoring

Using Quad Chaos

I’m proud to announce the release of our first patch – Quad Chaos. I met Armando, the programmer, on the Max/MSP group on Facebook and his background was exactly what I was looking for and we got along very well. Quad Chaos is basically a patch version of what this blog is about: finding ways to have innovative sound design through modulation and chaos.

Speaking of chaos, the only “rule” for using Quad Chaos is to resample everything you do, because we intentionally wanted it to be something that works ephemerally; something you can’t really control and just have to go with. There are many tools out there you can use to do anything you want, but we wanted to create something experimental that can be fun and creative at the same time.

Make sure these knobs are up!

The first thing that appears when you load up Quad Chaos is a screen in which you can add up to four samples. If you hear nothing when you load in a sound, you probably need to raise the volume, direction, or panning. In the demo video, Armando has used short samples, but I find that the magic truly comes together when you load up longer files such as field recordings, things that are four bars long, or even melodic content. I don’t really find that Quad Chaos works well if you load a sample that has multiple instruments in it, but I still need to explore it more and I could be wrong about that. My advice is to start with one sample that you load into Quad Chaos, and then with your mouse, highlight a portion of it. Personally, I like to start with a small selection based on the waveform content I see. I’ll try to grab one note/sound, along with some silence. Once you make a selection, you’ll hear a loop playing that might sound like something in a techno track…but this is just the beginning.

While it’s very tempting to load in all four samples at once, if you do things this way, Quad Chaos will get out of control quickly; I like to start with one layer and then build from there.

Once you isolate a section that loops to your taste, it’s time to engage the modulation. One trick that I like to do with any synths or gear is to move one knob to its maximum and then minimum, quickly then slowly, to simulate what an LFO could do. When I find something I like, then I’ll assign an LFO or envelope to it and start my tests.

For example, in Quad Chaos you can assign the first modulator to a direction; you click on “dir” and you’ll see numbers underneath, which represent the modulation source. To access to the modulation section, use the drop down menu and pick “mod” and you’ll see the first modulation.

Depending on how you set it up, you’ll start hearing results as your sound now has modulation on and in full effect. I know the lack of sync in the plugin might seem odd, but to repeat myself, a lack of sync is needed to create “chaos” and this approach gives more of an analog feel to what you make; you can get some pretty polyrhythmic sequences because of this as well.

As I mentioned earlier, how I start my sound is usually just with an LFO set to sine curve and the I explore slow/fast oscillation to see what kind of results I get. I’ll find a sweet spot somewhere in the middle or something, then I’ll try all the different oscillations to hear other results. I’m very much into the random signal just because it will create the impression of constantly “moving” sonic results. Afterwards, I have a lot of fun scrolling through the recorded results of these experiments and then from them I pick one-bar loops/sections. I find that the random signal is always the one that gives me pretty interesting hooks and textures.

Once you’re happy with the first layer you’ve created with the first loop, you can use the other loops to create complex ideas or simply to add a bit of life to the first one. I’ve seen a few artists using Quad Chaos already and everyone seems to comes up with really different use-cases and results. One thing I often see is people dropping some important samples of a production they’re currently working on into the plugin to get some new ideas out of them. My friend Dinu Ivancu – a sound designer that makes movie trailers – tried out Quad Chaos and had some very lovely feedback of his own:

I love it JP!

[Quad Chaos] is a fantastic tool. I would love it even more if it had a few quality live options. Still though, as is, it’s an amazing tool to generate live and organic sounds out of ordinary samples. I’ll send you something I made with it and just two soft-synths. It’s fantastic. That reverb is AMAZING! Congrats – you guys did a great job. I’ll try to help [Quad Chaos] get to a wider audience as it’s very, very good for film work!

Dinu Ivancu

I think what Dinu is excited about here is the creation of small-but-detailed organic, improbable textures that are difficult or laborious to make in a very stern, organized DAW. Breaking down the strict boundaries of your DAW opens doors to creating sounds you’d hear in the real world that are completely off-sync and un-robotic. Quad Chaos also includes a built-in reverb to help create space for your sounds (and there are other effects included as well!).

Jason Corder, “Offthesky”, sent us a neat video of himself working with Quad Chaos. Jason shows us how you can record a song live, only using the plugin. It’s very spontaneous; he’s using the macros to create external automation to keep a minimum structure. This approach is something I didn’t initially think of, but seeing Jason do it makes me think that I’ll explore that avenue next time I use it!

You can get a copy of Quad Chaos here and if you make songs or videos, I’d be more than happy to see how you use it!

SEE ALSO : Creating tension in music

More tips about working with samples in Ableton

Recently I was doing some mixing and I came across multiple projects in a row that had some major issues with regards to working with samples in Ableton. One of them is a personal issue: taking a loop from a sample bank and using it as is, but there’s no real rule about doing this; if you bought the samples you are entitled to use them in any way you want.

While I do use samples in my work sometimes, I do it with the perspective that they are a starting point, or to be able to quickly pinpoint the mood of the track that I’m aiming for. There’s nothing more vibe-killing than starting to work on a new song but losing 30 minutes trying to find a fitting sound, like hi-hats for instance. One of my personal rules is to spend less than 30 minutes tweaking my first round of song production. This means that the initial phase is really about focusing in on the main idea of the song. The rest is accessory and could be anything. If you mute any parts except the main idea(s), the song will still be what it is.

So why is it important to shape the samples?

Well basically, the real answer is about tying it all together to give personality to the project you’re working on. You want it to work as a whole, which means you might want to start by tuning the sample to the idea.

Before I go on, let me give you a couple of suggestions regarding how to edit the samples in ways to make them unique.

I always find that pitch and length are the quickest ways to alter something and easily trick the brain into thinking the sounds are completely new. Even pitching down by 1 or 2 steps or shortening a sample to half its original size will already give you something different. Another trick is to change where the sample starts. For instance, with kicks, I sometimes like to start playing the sample later in the sound to have access to a different attack or custom make my own using the sampler.

TIP: I love to have the sounds change length as the song progresses, either by using an LFO or by manually tweaking the sounds. ex. Snares that gets longer create tensions in a breakdown.

In a past post, I covered the use of samples more in-depth, and I thought I could provide a bit more in detail about how you can spice things up with samples, but this time, using effects or Ableton’s internal tools.

Reverb: Reverb is a classic, where simply dropping it on a sound will alter it, but the down side is that it muffles the transients which can make things muddy. Solution: Use a Send/AUX channel where you’ll use a transient designer to (drastically) remove the attack of the incoming signal and then add a reverb. In doing this, you’ll be only adding reverb to the decay of the sound while the transient stays untouched.

Freeze-verb: One option you’ll find in the reverb from Ableton is the freeze function. Passing a sound through it and freezing it is like having a snapshot of the sound that is on hold. Resample that. I like to pitch it up or down and layering it with the original sound which allows you to add richness and harmonics to the original.

Gate: So few people use Ableton’s Gate! It’s one of my favorite. The best way to use it is by side-chaining it with a signal. Think of this as the opposite of a compressor in side-chaining; the gate will let the gated sound play only when the other is also playing, and you also have an envelope on it that lets you shape the sound. This is practical for many uses such as layering percussive loops, where the one that is side-chained will play only when it detects sound, which makes a mix way clearer. In sound design, this is pretty fun for creating multiple layers to a dull sound, by using various different incoming signals.

Granular Synthesis: This is by far my favorite tool to rearrange and morph sounds. It will stretch sounds, which gives them this grainy texture and something slightly scattered sounding too. Melda Production has a great granular synth that is multi-band, which provides lots of room to treat the layers of a sound in many ways. If you find it fun, Melda also has two other plugins that are great for messing up sound with mTransformer and mMorph.

Grain Delay, looped: A classic and sometimes overused effect, this one is great as you can automate pitch over delay. But it is still a great tool to use along with the Looper. They do really nice things when combined. I like to make really shorts loops of sounds going through the Grain Delay. This is also fun if you take the sound and double its length, as it will be stretched up, granular style, creating interesting texture along the way.

Resampling: This is the base of all sound design in Ableton, but to resample yourself tweaking a sound is by far the most organic way to treat sound. If you have PUSH, it’s even more fun as you can create a macro, assign certain parameters to the knobs and then record yourself just playing with the knobs. You can then chop the session to the parts you prefer.

I hope this was useful!

SEE ALSO : Learning how to make melodies

Adding life to sounds: movement in electronic music

Creating movement in electronic music

One of the most misunderstood concepts in electronic music is movement. By movement, I am referring to the way that each sound constantly evolves throughout a song. I was once talking with someone who is very into modular synthesizers and he was saying that he cannot stand recorded sounds such as samples because according to him, those sounds are “dead”. With modular synths a sound can be repeated for minutes and it will never be exactly the same because the hardware components constantly give the sound slight variations. A recorded sound is frozen just like a picture. Since we don’t all have the luxury to own a modular synth, let me explain how we can use software tools to make sounds feel “alive” and develop some movement in our own electronic music.

First, let us agree that movement in electronic music is about having some elements that are in “motion”. There are a variety of different ways to create that feeling:

1. Changes in volume (amplitude)

Volume change in percussion are often associated with groove and swing. Both can alter the volume of the sounds. That said, you can apply a groove template not only to percussion, but also to melodies and basslines. If that’s not enough you can also use the midi effect velocity which can not only alter the velocity of each note, but in Ableton Live it also has a randomizer which can be used to create a humanizing factor. Another way to add dynamics is to use a tremolo effect on a sound and keep it either synchronized, or not. The tremolo effect also affects the volume, and is another way of creating custom made grooves. I also personally like to create very subtle arrangement changes on the volume envelope or gain which keeps the sound always moving.

In general, using LFOs – such as what is offered in Max patches – can be used to modulate anything, and they will automatically create movement. For each LFO, I often use another LFO to modulate its speed so that you can get a true feeling of non-redundancy.

Tip: Combine the use of LFOs and manual edits and then copy sequences until the end of the song. I suggest you try stepping out of 4/4 and regular blocks structure to step out of a “template feel.”

2. Filter

Another great way to create movement is to have the sound always changing its tone. Using a filter in parallel mode is a very efficient way to create colours. The important part is to make sure that both the frequency and resonance are constantly in motion by using either LFOs or envelopes. By being in parallel the sound always appears to be the same but will have some added body to it because of the filter. What many people don’t know is there are different types of filters, so you can try different types of filters into different send channels and then your song will feel like its moving. While filters are great for subtle changes, you can also do the same trick with an equalizer but still in parallel. Adding an envelop on the filter so it detects incoming signal and change the the frequency is also a very nice way to keep things organic sounding.

Tip: Try comparing how a Moog filter can differ from any regular ones.

3. Textures

Background textures or noise is another great way to emulate analog gear. There are many ways to do that, but the one that I recommend is to get a microphone for your iPhone and then record a part of say, your next visit at the coffee shop or restaurant, or even in your house where we don’t realize that there is still a very low level of noise. Adding that recording at low volume to your song automatically adds a layer of every evolving sound. if you want, you can also convert certain noise into a groove pattern which creates a form of randomization on your sounds. Some high quality effects such as saturation used on certain sounds will add a form of texture that prevents your samples from sounding stale.

Tip: FM modulation on a filter or oscillation can create gritty textures.

4. Stereo and Panning

For this point there are different effects that play with the stereo image and – while you should be cautious – it’s good to have at least one or two sounds that have these kinds of effects. Some of these types of effects include of phaser, chorus, flanger, delay, reverb and auto-pan. They can all give the sounds movement if the modulation is unsynchronized and if the wet/dry is constantly being slightly modified.

Tip: Just be careful of what effects you use as overusing can create phasing issues.

5. Timing

A sound’s position in a pattern can change slightly throughout a song to create feelings of movement; a point people often overlook. This effect is easier to create if you convert all of your audio clips to midi. In midi mode you can use humanizer plugins to constantly modify the timing of each note. You can also do that manually if you are a little bit more into detail editing but in the end a humanizer can do the same while also creating some unexpected ideas that could be good. Another trick is to use a stutter effect in parallel mode to throw a few curve balls into the timing of a sound every now and then.

Tip: turn off the the grid locking in the arrangement section to intentionally be imprecise.


SEE ALSO :   Dynamic Sound Layering and Design