Warning: technical music jargon and a lack of fishing-related content ahead!
As long as I can remember I’ve been making music. First it was just me and an alto saxophone in fourth grade; then I got a Yamaha PSR-330 keyboard with a 4-track MIDI sequencer and my life was changed forever. I could make entire songs all by myself. That was helpful, since my opportunities to play jazz with others were very limited. Eventually I graduated to recording stuff on the computer, and I never stopped.
Even as obsessed as I am with fishing, I’m also obsessed with making music. I usually call it making music instead of composing or beat-making because sometimes it’s hard to tell what I’m doing. If I layer a bunch of found sounds and make some kind of rhythmic audio collage, is that composing? Yeah, probably, but I’ll just call it music.
My favorite vehicle for making music for the past ten years or so (!!) is Ableton Live. I started with version 2.0, and they recently released 9. It’s the most flexible, musical, and just plain fun music program I’ve ever used.
And it’s deep too. Even after all these years I only scratch the surface of its capabilities. Yesterday I discovered something pretty cool you can do with Ableton’s “Sampler” instrument.
If you load a piece of audio- even a whole track- into the sampler, by default you can “play” it with your keyboard. Each notes transposes the sample so it plays back at a different pitch, slower or faster depending on what key you hit. That’s the normal thing that happens.

Ableton's Sampler
Ableton’s Sampler

The really cool thing I figured out is if you turn off that auto-transposing feature and modulate the playback-start-location with the key range, you can play different parts of the sample by playing different pitches. In other words, if you hit the lowest note on the keyboard, it will play the first 2 seconds of the sample. If you hit middle C, it will play 2 seconds in the middle of the sample. The highest note? The last 2 seconds of the sample.
What that means is you can “play” an entire sample with your keyboard- which is not really ground breaking, but I find it very musically inspiring. Each time I load a sample this way, my keyboard is suddenly filled with new sounds just waiting to be explored. The discovery part of this process- hitting each white and black key to explore the new sounds is like picking apart the currents in a river with a tube jig.
It’s exciting and a little random.
Basically I’m chopping up the sample and playing it back in little bits and pieces. It’s possible to do this “manually,” by chopping up the waveform and moving around samples with my mouse. That is the way I normally work with samples, but this way is way more fun.
Once I uncover some interesting pieces of the sample, I play my keyboard and record the MIDI into Live. That gives me some MIDI notes I can further edit and sequence and play with for hours on end.
A MIDI sequence that triggers various parts of a sample
A MIDI sequence that triggers various parts of a sample

All of this technical stuff means nothing if the end result isn’t musical… but I think it is. Manipulating the sounds with my keyboard instead of chopping up the waveforms by hand makes me listen to the sounds instead of stare at the graphical representations of them.
And I think it sounds pretty cool too.

2 responses

  1. LOL this is so great, because I used to be obsessed with the sample offset envelope in audio clips. I would always link it and end up with absurd shit that was very difficult to manipulate. but that was before I knew how to use MIDI. Thanks man 😛

    • glad you dig it!! I agree- I used to play with sample offset, but it was so hard to make anything musical.. so difficult to control. LFO controlling sample start? Yes please

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