- Top 100
April 16, 2012
By now you’ve gotten a small taste of what Ableton Live has to offer. Last week’s column covered a bit about the different kinds of racks in Live. In this article we’re going to explore an important feature within racks; chains.
The chain function is an often overlooked feature in Live, but it can be an extremely useful tool when looking for selection solutions. There are many different reasons why you would want to create a rack and many combinations of instruments and effects that you could use within the rack. When you group multiple devices into a rack they run in a parallel series, which means that each device will be processing the incoming signal. By default, all devices that you add to a rack will be placed within the same chain zone. This means that the rack’s output signal will have the compound effect of all the devices in the rack (i.e. if you add a piano, synth and horn to a rack the output for every note played will have all three sounds). In some instances this might be the desired effect, but quite often the intended result is to be able to select between them as single units. This can be accomplished by assigning each device to a different chain zone.
The chain zones are basically data filters that determine where the input signal is being routed through. Any device in a rack can be manually assigned to a range of 128 zones. These assignments can be for individual zones, a range of zones and even overlapping zones. This is particularly useful when the chain selector is mapped to a MIDI controller, which gives you real-time control and playability of the multiple devices in your rack. In addition to the chain zone selection each device within a rack has it’s own on/off activation switch, which can be used to control individual device layers.
In the step sequencer, I use chain selection quite a bit. It greatly extends the range and playability of the instrument using the layout of the Novation Launchpad. The step sequencer only has four input signals, so using racks and chain selection is the easiest way to diversify the sound output. I utilize chain functionality on the snare, hi-hat and percussion layers.
The ‘snare’ sound is is set up in an additive fashion, as opposed to simply selecting between them. This allows me to select between sounds and layer them on top of each other. For this reason, the snare input uses the device on/off activation switches. Every kit has a ‘snare’, ‘clap’ and ‘click’ sound that all sit on the same zone. Each sound’s activation switch is mapped to a particular button on the launchpad so that they can be used in any combination from the same input signal.
The ‘hi-hat’ sound has a slightly more complex routing than the ‘snare’. For this set of sounds I use both the activation switches and zone selection. There are two main sounds that are generated from this input; a ‘hi-hat’ and ‘ride cymbal’ sound. The main sounds of both sit in the same zone but have alternating activation switches that are mapped to a single button on the launchpad (i.e. when the hi-hat activation switches are on, the ride switches are off, and vice versa). Each of these sounds also has a modifier that is mapped to a different zone. These modifiers switch the hi-hat from a ‘closed’ to ‘open’ sound and the ride cymbal from an ‘edge’ to ‘bell’ sound. By mapping the zone selection modifiers to a momentary toggle button on the launchpad, they can be easily engaged and released in a way that allows you to play the kit with fluidity.
The ‘percussion’ sounds have the most complex routing of the three input signals. The main sound switches are between various percussion sounds and a tom drum array, which use the same activation switch method as the hi-hat/ride cymbal input. Within each of these two main groups there is the main sound and two modifiers that reside in different layers of racks. Two different momentary toggle buttons on the launchpad are used to trigger the modifiers and each button is mapped to control a chain selector in different racks (i.e. the same way that the hi-hat open/closed system works). Since the toggle buttons on the launchpad control only one chain selector, there needs to be two different instrument racks that hold the different sound layers. This essentially creates ‘zones within zones’ and a high level of sound selection and playability.
Check out the video below to see the chains in action …
Here are a couple loops highlighting the chain switches …
Come back next week for more Live madness!