Fidelity? High-quality sound? No – degradation! And if you don’t have a ragged VHS deck or cassette Walkman handy, these free effects racks in Ableton Live will sort you out.
Downgrade is the work of Tom Cosm, long-time Ableton guru. There are five effects:
— plus if you give him literally US$1 or more (you cheapskate), you get an additional Stutter rack.
Basically, you get loads of controls for manipulating downsampling, tape effects, saturation, distortion, modulation of various kinds, echo, vocoder, and more. It’s a sort of retro Vaporwave starter kit if you’d like to think of it that way – or an easy, dial-up greatest hits of everything Ableton Live can now do to make your sound worse. And by worse, I mean better, naturally.
Ableton have been gradually adding all these digital downsampling features (early on) and simulated analog tape and saturation effects and nonlinear modulation (more recently). Tom has neatly packed them into one very useful set of Racks.
Notice I say “Racks,” not Max for Live devices. That means these will mostly run on different editions of Live, and they’re a bit easier to pick apart and adjust/modify – without requiring Max knowledge.
Day in, day out, a lot of producers spend a lot of time editing in Ableton Live. Here’s a free tool that automates some common tasks so you can work more quickly – easing some FL Studio envy in the process.
This one comes to us from Madeleine Bloom’s terrific Sonic Bloom, the best destination for resources on learning and using Ableton Live. Live Enhancement Suite is Windows-only for the moment, but a Mac version is coming soon.
The basic idea is, LES adds shortcuts for producers, and some custom features (like sane drawing) you might expect from other tools:
Add devices (like your favorite plug-ins) using a customizable pop-up menu of your favorites (with a double right-click)
Draw notes easily with the ~ key in Piano Roll.
Pop up a shortcut menu with scales in Piano Roll
Add locators (right shift + L) at the cursor
Pan with your mouse, not just the keyboard (via the middle mouse button, so you’ll need a three-button mouse for this one)
Save multiple versions (a feature FL Studio users know well)
Ctrl-shift-Z to redo
Alt-E to view envelope mode in piano roll
And there’s more customizations and multi-monitor support, too.
Ableton are gradually addressing long-running user requests to make editing easier; Live 10.1 builds on the work of Live 10. Case in point: 10.1 finally lets you solo a selected track (mentioned in the video as previously requiring one of these shortcuts). But it’s likewise nice to see users add in what’s missing.
Oh, and… you’re totally allowed to call it “Ableton.” People regularly refer to cars by the make rather than the model. We know what you mean.
Here’s a video walking through these tools and the creator Dylan Tallchief’s approach:
Wavetables are capable of a vast array of sounds. But just dumping arbitrary audio content into a wavetable is unlikely to get the results you want. And that’s why Wave Weld looks invaluable: it makes it easy to generate useful wavetables, in an add-on that’s free for Max for Live.
Ableton Live users are going to want their own wavetable maker very soon. Live 10.1 will add Wavetable, a new synth based on the technique. See our previous preview:
Live 10.1 is in public beta now, and will be free to all Live 10 users soon.
So long as you have Max for Live to run it, Wave Weld will be useful to other synths, as well – including the developer’s own Wave Junction.
Because wavetables are periodic by their very nature, it’s more likely helpful to generate content algorithmically than just dump sample content of your own. (Nothing against the latter – it’s definitely fun – but you may soon find yourself limited by the results.)
Wave Wend handles generating those materials for you, as well as exporting them in the format you need.
1. Make the wavetable: use waveshaping controls to dial in the sound materials you want.
2. Build up a library: adapt existing content or collect your own custom creations.
3. Export in the format you need: adjusting the size les you support Live 10.1’s own device or other hardware and plug-ins.
The waveshaping features are really the cool part:
Unique waveshaping controls to generate custom wavetables
Sine waveshape phase shift and curve shape controls
Additive style synthesis via choice of twenty four sine waveshape harmonics for both positive and negative phase angles
Saw waveshape curve sharpen and partial controls
Pulse waveshape width, phase shift, curve smooth and curve sharpen controls
Triangle waveshape phase shift, curve smooth and curve sharpen controls
Random waveshape quantization, curve smooth and thinning controls
Wave Weld isn’t really intended as a synth, but one advantage of it being an M4L device is, you can easily preview sounds as you work.
The download is free with a sign-up for their mailing list.
They’ve got a bunch of walkthrough videos to get you started, too:
Major kudos to Phelan Kane of Meta Function for this release. (Phelan is an Ableton Certified Trainer as well as a specialist in Reaktor and Maschine on the Native Instruments side, as well as London chairman for AES.)
I’m also interested in other ways to go about this – SuperCollider code, anyone?
If you’re obsessive about snares, this free download is for you. If you totally haven’t been thinking about snares at all, and want to let someone else obsess about it for you, this download is also for you. Meet Snare Designer.
Sound and sample house Puremagnetik has been doing sound design right back to the early days of Ableton Live. Now you get a couple hundred megabytes of acoustic snares to mess around with, whether you’re in Live, Logic, or Kontakt. You’ll need Live 10 or the full version of Kontakt 5 or Logic 10.4 to use the tailored versions, though if you’re willing to put in a little more work, you can also work with the raw samples directly.
With the full versions, you get some clever features that make this more usable. In Live and Kontakt, you can select direct, overhead, room, and “trashcan” mics via a graphical UI. Logic uses Track Stacks for those different microphones.
And you get some nicely chosen drums: the 60s Ludwig Acrolite, Mapex Birch, and Pork Pie Squealer. I don’t know anything about drums and even I know those.
Welcome to an alternate universe. You knew the world where acquisitions killed products. In this one, products get better, faster – and go from costing hundreds of dollars to being totally free. Let’s catch up with what’s new in Cakewalk for Windows.
First, DAWs – music production software bundling lots of different features – do as much as they do because producing music is pretty demanding. Multitrack recording, editing, arrangement, working with patterns and sequences, working with audio, mixing, mastering, effects, instruments … a lot of tools go into this process. They’re therefore a big investment of time. Having to start out by also investing a bunch of money can stop people from moving forward at all.
So Cakewalk gives you what had been one of the leading tools on Windows, and makes it free for everyone. It’s not the friendliest to beginners by any stretch, but a lot of musicians and producers swear by it.
It’s free now following an acquisition by online music service platform developer BandLab (and a return to the name “Cakewalk” from the name “SONAR,” which never caught on):
But if you thought “free” meant you’d mostly just see small updates, you’d be wrong. Many of Cakewalk’s previous developers, and tech lead Noel Borthwick, jumped to the new company. They were boasting at the pro-focused AES (Audio Engineering Society) conference in New York that they’re making rapid progress under new ownership. They say that means bug fixes, greater stability, and a more usable program – plus new features.
They’ve integrated the standard élastique Pro time and pitch stretching engine, so you can work with sound more fluidly. That’s become something of an industry standard of late. They’ve also continued to improve their own AudioSnap engine.
There’s now more advanced editing and event filtering of MIDI, across multiple tracks and in the piano roll editor.
The UI has been updated with new themes, and there’s better pop-up help and notifications to keep you oriented.
VST compatibility is improved and optimized.
And they remain committed to pro users with, for instance, Dante driver improvements.
The BandLab Assistant that installs with Cakewalk – and which you may choose to just ignore – does have the update option in it. Look under apps.
I don’t think Cakewalk is for everyone, but then I can’t think of any DAW I’d recommend to everyone. What you get is an excellent update to a favorite DAW for existing users and lapsed users. It’s a terrific choice if you want a pro-level tool but don’t have a pro budget. And it’s an option for complementing tools like FL Studio, Reason, Ableton Live, and other tools with more conventional DAW workflows and functionality. (Film score? Mixdown? Yeah, I often jump from something like Live into a different DAW.) It also helps establish Windows as a solid platform for music – even Apple’s GarageBand can’t match this for out-of-the-box functionality for free.
I still think more could be done to make the UI friendly and refined, but this is a terrific start.
Full feature updates, including the release that dropped last week:
Features & Enhancements
Integrated zplane élastique Pro V3 audio stretching and pitch shifting
Default stretch methods can be specified in the Preferences dialog
Transpose, Length, and Fit to Time commands work on all clip types, including Groove clips, AudioSnap clips, Region FX clips, and slip stretched clips
Slip stretching can also be performed when the edit filter is set to show audio transients.
AudioSnap enabled clips display a clip icon in the top right corner
AudioSnap clips show Auto Stretch icon when Clip Follows Project Tempo is enabled
AudioSnap palette options now directly opens Preferences page for settings
Optimizations and enhancements to time/pitch stretching and AudioSnap workflow
Customize or remove Project Open notification affirmations
Toast notification informs you when a new Cakewalk update is available
Changing the Online Render mode for slip stretch can cause crash/glitches
Looping causes stretched clip to become partially silent
Slip Stretch cursor appears with Move tool
Crop tool appears when holding CTRL with the Move tool
Slip stretch is available without the key modifiers if cursor is placed in bottom corner of a clip
Waveform display in split clip appears to adjust crop when slip stretching
Cropping slip stretched clip shows 000% in header
AudioSnap average tempo can show negative value
AudioSnap properties do not appear when Enable Stretch is engaged in Clip Properties Inspector
Clip Follows Project Tempo menu item in AudioSnap context menu does not match actual state
Transient edits and merged markers from other tracks can be discarded when toggling AudioSnap Off/On
When slip editing, active AudioSnap changes appear in waveform even if AudioSnap is disabled
With slip edited clips, active AudioSnap changes are rendered even when AudioSnap is disabled
Clip Properties Time Format setting persists across multiple open projects
Transposing stereo audio file with Radius creates flat line
Process > Transpose can fail or render static when transposing clips at different bit depths
Potential crash on project load
Potential crash in Help Module with German/Japanese text
Potential crash when exiting if the app is not registered
Elastique Efficient and Elastique Pro are the new default online/offline stretch methods for audio clips.
Elastique is only available in Cakewalk release 2018.09 and higher. Because prior versions of Cakewalk (or SONAR) do not support this feature, projects utilizing Elastique as a stretch method will not render properly in prior versions. A warning message will be displayed when you open a new Cakewalk project in an older version of the software. If you need to share project files with a prior version of Cakewalk, select one of the older stretch methods before saving the project. Alternatively, you can reset the stretch method in the earlier version of Cakewalk.
Elastique stretching with AudioSnap or slip stretching enabled can require larger disk read ahead depending on marker stretches. To optimize playback and reduce the potential for dropouts or audio glitches, we recommend a Playback I/O Buffer Size value of about 512 (KB) if you are experiencing any performance problems. You can change the Playback I/O Buffer Size value in Edit > Preferences > Audio – Sync and Caching.
Features & Enhancements
Global options to enable/disable toast notifications and specify timeout duration
AudioSnap transient marker tooltip now shows sample position, updates dynamically, and shows the original and current position in both samples and Measure:Beat:Tick when dragging markers
Default/inherited AudioSnap render mode names are shown in Track/Clip Properties Inspector
Improved Aim Assist UI
Toggling AudioSnap Enable/Disable in the AudioSnap Palette does not update the Clip Properties Inspector
AudioSnap: Follow Project Tempo and Enable Stretch should be mutually exclusive
Rare crash after selecting an audio device in the Welcome onboarding dialog
Aim Assist snap line not visible while moving clip if clip boundary is offscreen
Rare crash when hovering mouse over Clips pane time ruler
Aim Assist delta is not shown for Bus pane automation nodes
Aim Assist delta is not shown when drag selecting in area below last track
Aim Assist not visible in Clips pane time ruler after creating a new project
Aim Assist text obscured when moving mouse to far left/right of Clips pane
Invalid Aim Assist text shown when drag selecting before measure 1
Project load notification shows successful load when project file is missing
Think of it as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop of the east: the Polish Radio Experimental Studio produced unparalleled electronic sounds and inventions for decades. Recognition of those accomplishments is growing – and now Ableton are collaborating to produce a free pack of sounds and tell the PRES story.
Vital stats on this project:
Who’s behind this: Poland’s national cultural institution Instytut Adama Mickiewicza (IAM) commissioned the library from Ableton and contributors.
Where do the sounds come from: Works made at the studio by composers Krzysztof Knittel, Elżbieta Sikora, and Ryszard Szeremeta, 1970s-80s, comprise the original sound material.
Who built the pack: Project coordinator Michal Mendyk worked with Ableton Certified Trainer Marcin Staniszewski.
What’s in there: 300 sounds, loops, and effects organized into Drum Racks, plus custom Effect Racks, all pre-mapped with macros (making them easy to use with Push or other controllers)
Check out the pack and a full article on the studio and its history at Ableton’s site (plus more on Marcin Staniszewski and his music):
Lots more links there, but the history to me is the most compelling. Paralleling the hot-and-cold relationships of experimental sound and music technology in East Germany and the Soviet Union in the same period, there was a precarious relationship of electronic sound to the government in Communist Poland. Michal Mendyk tells the story of studio founder Józef Patkowski to Ableton:
Paradoxically, a couple of years earlier, it was Sokorski who introduced social realism and radical political and aesthetical censorship in Polish art and culture. He was famous for having said about Witold Lutosławski, one of the leaders of Polish music vanguard that “he should be thrown under a tram”. So, in 1957 the same guy was responsible for creating the most experimental music centre in the whole Eastern Europe! He later said that Polish Radio Experimental Studio was his way to redeem his previous sins. This is one of many example of how paradoxical cultural and intellectual life in an authoritarian system can be.
Here’s a great documentary on the studio:
And for an imaginative take on the studio’s work, see our previous story:
That headline isn’t a mistake. If you’ve ever wanted a plug-in to f*** up your mixes, sabotage you, insult you, or “get passive aggressive,” this free collection of Max for Live Devices is for you.
Not to completely spoil the results here, but as I write this, my screen is covered with virtual bees. I cannot make the bees go away. I thought the “bees” instrument was going to make some sounds, but instead it has brought bees onto my screen, both inside and outside Ableton Live.
That’s the sort of results you can expect from Really Useful Plugins.
ru.bomb will take your mix and completely f*** it up, as my headline promises.
ru.no is basically an onscreen version of the nagging doubts inside your head.
That is way too much f***ing reverb.
And that’s just the beginning.
Simon Kitmine and David Synth bring you 12 instruments, audio effects and midi effects for Ableton Live, featuring:
Ways to magically sound like everyone else!
The Chuckle Brothers!
So you want to start recording, mixing, arranging, and your budget is … you don’t have one. Tracktion runs on every OS, and the latest update adds still more powerful features.
Free production tools are invaluable – not only are they a refuge for the cash-strapped, but they can be a useful common denominator when you want to exchange projects, or if you need to get up and running quickly on something other than your main machine. Tracktion isn’t the only option out there. Notably GarageBand is available to macOS and iOS users. The excellent Cakewalk (formerly called Cakewalk SONAR) is an optimal choice on Windows, now available free from BandLab. For cross-platform tools, there’s the completely free and open source Ardour, though it can be a bit hacky to install and use. And while it’s not free, Reaper has an unlimited demo, meaning you can use the full version for free and send the developer some money after you sell that first TV score.
Where Tracktion stands out: it’s a modern, friendly, single-window DAW that runs on any OS (Mac, Windows, Linux). And of all of these, it may be the friendliest option – with some power features not available from other options.
T7, released this week, sweetens the pot with some unique new additions – including a couple that might even sway you from the DAW you’ve already paid for.
The UI has been refreshed, with a new scheme called “Blue Steel.” (Okay, enough Zoolander references already. Or at least they missed the opportunity to say the new color scheme will help you “Relax.”)
Browsing is also easier, with a visual browser for plug-ins (the likes of which we’ve seen in Reason, but more rarely elsewhere), plus a multi-browser for auditioning and placing multiple audio files.
The real magic, though, is in the ability to get some power over automation and routing:
Modular racks let you create custom signal processing chains.
Clip Layer Effects let you stack on effects and plug-in processing on specific clips, not just on tracks. That makes for a different workflow – no more making a new track every time you want to change audio routing. Tracktion says they’re applying for a patent here.
Clip Layer Effects: no more duplicating tracks just because one section needs a different effects routing than another bit.
Automation patterns are modulation and envelopes that you can apply to any parameter repeatedly. And there’s optional tempo sync support for them. That sounds especially handy for keeping favorite gestures at the ready, and for remixes and dance music (or to go the opposite direction, hyperactive microediting). Speaking of which, you also get….
Automation patterns can now be stored an applied anywhere – including with tempo sync.
LFO Modifiers can be applied to any parameter in the channel strip or in any third-party plug-in. We’ve seen powerful modifiers in Bitwig Studio – and in Ableton Live, though limited to somewhat simple Max for Live add-ons – but here, combined with those Clip Layers and Automation Patterns, they make Tracktion into a powerful DAW for editing.
LFO Modifiers now work with plug-ins.
Okay, so since this is free, how do the developers make any money? They hope you’ll upgrade to Waveform, their next-generation DAW. It’s got all these features, but adds more extensive instrument support, a multi-sampler, Melodyne pitch correction, a fully modular mix environment, more detailed MIDI editing and pattern generation, and other additions.
Also significant: master mix DSP, chord track, track loops, track presets, quick render, Rack ‘stack’ editor,’ plug-in faceplates, plug-in macros, and free online support. And only Waveform has ready-to-play Raspberry Pi support.
That still means Tracktion is a good way to give this approach a try.
Spitfire’s latest LABS plug-in release is out, with the theme “DRUMS.” Here’s how to get started with it – and why it may make you feel like you magically know how to actually play and properly record an acoustic drum kit.
Okay, apologies – I’m projecting a little. Some of you I know can do both those things. Me, that counts as “not at all,” and “yes, but only in theory, please hire an actual producer.”
But DRUMS packs an enormous amount of nuance into a deceptively simple, two-octave mapping. Ever had a chocolate sundae and said, you know, I’m really kind of about the cherry and this bit of peanuts covered in chocolate most? You get the feeling that that’s what’s in this pack.
Here’s a sample. This is literally just me mucking around on the keys. (I ran the sound through the Arturia TridA-Pre, from Arturia’s 3 Preamps You’ll Actually Use set, just to add some dynamics.)
Ready to get started? Here’s where to begin.
Get going with LABS – don’t fear the app!
If you missed our first story on LABS, we covered its launch, which came with a lovely soft piano and chamber string ensemble through vintage mic:
Your first step is to head to the LABS site, and choose the free sound you want. If you created a login before at Spitfire, that will work for “DRUMS” – just click ‘get’ and login. If you haven’t got a login yet, you can register with an email address and password.
I find two things scare people about free software, and I understand your frustration, so to allay those fears:
They’re not signing you up for a newsletter, unless you want one!
Some useful assistance, not annoying intrusion. The app is only there to aid in downloading. It doesn’t launch at startup or anything like that. Basically, it’s there because it’s better than your Web browser – it will actually put the files in the right place and let you choose where those hundreds of megs go, and it will finish a download if interrupted. (That’s especially useful on a slow connection.)
Specifically on Windows, you can make sure it finds your correct VST folder so you don’t load up your DAW and wonder where the heck it went.
Grabbing the app helps make sure you complete the download, and that it goes into the right place. The app downloads and installs the content in one step. It doesn’t load on startup or do anything else weird.
Another key feature of the Spitfire app – you can select where the sample content goes, so you can use an external drive if you’re short on space on your internal drive.
Give it a play!
Once LABS is installed, you have your drum kit, which Spitfire says is the creation of drummer Oliver Waton and engineer Stanley Gabriel.
That minimal interface shouldn’t worry you – have a fiddle with the controls and dial in whatever variation you like. Most of the nuance to the LABS kits is really in actually playing them, so the best idea here is to connect your favorite velocity-sensitive instrument and play, whether that’s a drum pad controller or keyboard or whatever else you have handy.
In my case, I wirelessly paired a ROLI Seaboard Block. It’s conveniently also two octaves, so you just need to set the octave range to match the DRUMS.
As opposed to sprawling sample libraries, LABS are simple and compact, so don’t worry – just go ahead and play.
Beginning some ideas with a familiar sound can also be the basis of doing something a bit radical, because a well-recorded acoustic source will give you a rich sonic range – and dares you to make it sound like something else. So, using another bit of free add-on we’ve covered lately, I loaded up the Creative Extensions Pack from Ableton, which works in Live Suite 10 or any copy of Live 10 with a Max for Live license.
To bend this into experimental/IDM territory, I stacked on various effects, including reversing and gating the sound and adding spectral ambience … generally mucking about. The idea was to keep the character of the drum source, but make it sound like spacetime had gone a bit amiss.
Pairing conventional sounds with out-there effects is one way to go. Ableton Live 10 users can grab another freebie (for Suite or Max for Live). Choose Creative Extensions from the browser and download.
And here is a not terribly-well-thought-out effects chain using those Creative Extensions. Could your cat do better? Possibly. I like cats, though. Give those felines some production opportunities, too.
This time I finished off the sound using Native Instruments’ VC 76 compressor and Enhanced EQ.
But I was just having a bit of fun. So I’d love to hear what you come up with using these sorts of sounds. One of the common complaints about production today is that everyone has easy access to sounds and very often the same tools. But let’s use that – let’s see what you all come up with.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to better record drums, I’m happy to ask Spitfire about how they recorded this set, too. Playing with it actually does make me want to grab some mics and a kit, too.
Feel free to post thoughts, questions, and sound links in comments.
For a few glorious years, Legowelt had a radio show, Thursday evenings on Intergalactic FM internet radio. But while the show is gone, the sounds live on.
Why am I bringing this up now? Well … I owe that notion to Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing, back in the heyday of the blog from whence this site came. Any extended period of, say, reading legal filings surely deserves a unicorn chaser.
And Legowelt comes to our rescue.
The show ran from 2007-2011, and was as eclectic and glorious as you’d expect from Legowelt. Brazilian Moog Cruisin’? Nigerian boogie disco? Check. Or, for instance:
Another radio reportage, this time from the cold snowy Rotterdam were we investigate Mono-Poly’s & Dr.Albert Putnam’s research in Biorhythms using modular synthesizers such as the Fenix and Buchla.
It’s a perfect template of what nerdy music things should be.
There’s a full archive of the tail end of the show in MP3 form, which you can grab as long as it lasts.