Ableton Live Tutorial: Become a Power User Part 7 – Clip Experimentation in Session View

Session View has numerous uses in Live 9 , both practical and creative. Liam O’Mullane explains how you can use and abuse the properties of audio and MIDI Clips to make music in a different way… So far in this series we’ve looked at the various different tools for creating music in Ableton Live, most […]

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Session View has numerous uses in Live 9 , both practical and creative. Liam O’Mullane explains how you can use and abuse the properties of audio and MIDI Clips to make music in a different way…

So far in this series we’ve looked at the various different tools for creating music in Ableton Live, most of which can be used in either Live’s Arrangement or Session Views. This instalment, however, focuses on tools that are available only when using Clips in Session View. Arrangement View is a linear overview showing tracks running vertically in rows, while time goes from left to right. Session View, on the other hand, takes a different approach, displaying tracks vertically like channels on an audio mixer. Slots are placed vertically down each track, which can be used to launch MIDI or audio Clips.

You can choose to trigger an entire row of Clips at once – referred to as Scenes – or launch them individually. We’ll first look at how you can interact with one or more Clips for experimentation, then explore how to develop ideas so that Scenes can be expanded into potential new song sections.

Scenes or individual Clips can be launched using the mouse, mapped keys on your computer keyboard, MIDI keys or buttons. Mapping manually this way is set up using either Key Map or MIDI Map modes respectively. When enabled from the Options menu, you can then assign Scene Launch or Clip Launch buttons to a fixed mapping. This is a good approach for quickly trying out new ideas or for triggering specific assignments within a prepared performance, though you’ll usually delete the assignments when they are no longer needed.

When either Map Mode is enabled, four new assignable buttons appear below the Scene Launch area on the right-hand side of Live’s display. When mapped, these allow you to select Scenes using either assigned up and down controls or a rotary encoder to scroll up and down. You can then use a special Launch button that simply triggers the scene currently highlighted.

This approach is open to anyone with a standard computer keyboard or a MIDI controller, but for a higher level of interactive control it’s worth investing in a dedicated controller. Ableton’s own Push is the Rolls-Royce of options as it controls Session View and plenty more, making composition, sound design and mixing all feasible with minimal computer interaction. Other candidates include the Novation Launchpad or an AKAI APC-type product, which offer different levels of control but still let you navigate Session View for Clip/Scene launching. But irrespective of how you want to interact with Clips and Scenes, the techniques here will enhance your ability to jam in Session View.

Experimenting with Clips

1: One way to interact with Clips is by changing their Launch mode behaviour. Unsync the Clip’s Launch quantization from Live’s Global quantization – this gives you more expressive settings, such as 16ths, without affecting Live’s global setting. Open the Launch box in Clip View by clicking on the small L symbol, then select from the Quantization menu.

2: There are four Launch modes to choose from. Trigger is the default mode, simply launching a Clip. Gate gives momentary launching while you hold the Clip’s Launch button; Toggle flips between playback being on/off with each launch. Repeat creates a stutter effect during playback while the Launch button is pressed, which then reverts to normal playback (like Trigger) when released.

3: Experiment with Launch modes to determine which one works best. If more than one sounds good, duplicate the Clip and give them custom modes to move between. The next way to manipulate multiple instances of a Clip is to explore Start Marker positions. These are the small markers above the waveform/MIDI grid in Clip View and they too can be customised for multiple instances of the same Clip.

4: You can immediately rework ideas when three or four duplicated Clips are set up with different Start Marker positions. The next level of manipulation comes from experimenting with loops on certain Clips. With the Loop Switch enabled, resize the Loop Brace above the waveform by dragging its edges or using the numerical values below the Loop Switch button.

5: Start Markers take on a new life here as they can be placed before a Loop Brace’s position or at any point within it, so explore letting normal playback run into a short loop later on in the Clip. In this way, short plays of this Clip will sound normal; longer runs into the loop create a sound effect.

6: If you want to keep the relative Clip playback position as you move from one Clip to the next, Legato mode can be used in much the same way that a synthesizer will use legato to move from one note to the most recent one hit, no matter how many are being held. For instance, launching a new Clip on the second beat of the bar will resume playback in the next Clip from the same position.

Developing Scenes into Full Ideas

1: You can extend the duration of MIDI or audio Clips for developing ideas, but they need to be approached in different ways. A MIDI part can be duplicated using the Dupl. Loop button, then you can manually edit your new MIDI data to create more interest. Because audio Clips are single audio events that are played back, a different approach needs to be taken to create variation within Session View.

2: To vary audio over a longer duration than the audio itself you need to create automation loops for variation that can act independently. By opening the Envelope Box (press the small E symbol in the bottom left of Clip View), you can choose a parameter to edit from the Device and Controller dropdown menus. Each envelope can be given its own loop length by changing the Linked button to Unlinked

3: Regardless of an envelope’s duration, rounded loop lengths will allow you to create predictable changes to your Clips. This means that the envelope’s loop will stay in sync with the musical phrase of the Clip’s audio. Start by creating a gated sequence – select Clip from the first menu, then Volume Modulation. Use Draw mode (Options menu) to edit the envelope and turn the sound on and off rhythmically.

4:A modulation envelope uses the current minimum/maximum range available from a parameter’s current position. Because our Clip volume is at 0dB, our envelope can control infinity up to full volume, but if the Clip volume is lower, we’d be limited to its maximum setting. For other effects automation, Absolute makes more sense as each edited envelope will control the parameter.

5: Warp Markers are a useful tool for adjusting the timing within an audio loop. These are created after double-clicking above the waveform display in the Clip View window and can then be dragged around. Automation that is linked to the original audio’s duration will follow Warp Marker manipulation. Explore this for interesting ways to edit audio and effects processing at the same time.

6: For less-sync’ed changes to your ideas over time, think of envelopes as looping LFO. Create an envelope with a less musically related duration so that it overlaps in different ways every time the audio loops. For instance, automate the movement of a notch filter for five beats to create a sense of constant movement in a sound as it plays.


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