I have always been into sampling and circuit bending, hoping for a possibility for doing both live. After thinking about buying an old hardware sampler and possibly circuit bending it (a risky proposition), I started to imagine that between Ableton’s Simpler and my MS20 Legacy Controller I might be able to create something meaningful and highly useful for some very experimental live ambient music. The way I recorded the ambient stuff on Distances was very difficult, and quite often, I found myself frustrated, wondering if there were an easier way. After some experimentation, I found the perfect solution.

The bonus points of sampling with Ableton would include the following:

  • No limit to file or sample size / rate
  • Simple interface I know and love
  • The ability to save the file, sequence it, or live record the performance
  • A unified format for my laptop and my main studio computer (Win 7)
  • Endless ways to manipulate the sample in real-time (including sampling a VST instrument or jam)
  • Live ‘circuit bending’ of the result with Effects

The challenge I gave to myself was to make this as lean a process as I could from start to finish, employing as little of the computer as possible to be totally spontaneous. I would need to use the computer to do only a few tasks. The simplest of which would be:

  1. Arm the audio input (A on the computer keyboard)
  2. Record a sample (R on the computer keyboard)
  3. Playback the sample using Simpler (P on the computer keyboard)
  4. Play a Circuit bendable soft synth and sample it’s audio output (M to arm and R to record)

Task 3 & 4 are the ONLY ones that requires the mouse. Once I record a sample, I must drag the audio clip into Simpler. After that, all manipulation of the sample occurs using the MS20’s controls (including trimming the sample). I should also point out that any samples I keep on my desktop can be also be dragged directly into Simpler. Again, this requires one visit to the screen, otherwise, everything else is as tactile as working on dedicated hardware. I liken and compare this step to the load function of my old MPC60 / 3000, where I would have to load a kit from disk before I could mess with it, so no big deal. Lastly, if the sample is to be a VSTi performance there’s a little trick to make the sampling process faster. The trick is to arm both the VSTi track AND the adjacent audio track, so that when I hit R, the audio track records everything I’m doing as I am playing. Here’s how I did it…

I opened up Ableton Live and created the following:

  • 1 Audio Track (this will be the “Sampler’s input”)
  • 2 Midi tracks (1 for Simpler, and the 2nd is for my circuit bent soft synth)
  • 1 Audio track that records the VSTi track live (to sample it).

I’ll want to map the computer keyboard to the audio track to arm and record a sample. I chose A for arm, and R for record (you can use what you want). On 1st the midi track, I inserted Simpler and a few choice effects. I mapped P to arm this track, which effectively deselects the sample input and engages Simpler (to play). I added a delay effect which behaves quite a bit like an old tape unit I used to have. It’s called ET301 (PC only). I assigned D to turn this echo unit on or off. I then added a reverb, and assigned V to turn it on and off. Finally, I added a random note plugin to create a human-controlled octaver / arpeggiator. To this I assigned N to turn it on and off. The last part was adding a ring modulator / granular processor to the chain, which I assigned the command B. This is the ‘sample bender’.

On the 2nd midi track I inserted a VSTi called Mr. Alias which is basically a noise generating synth plugin. I assigned M to turn this device on. Consequently, I assigned M to also arm an audio track to sample it, and R to record a performance. I made sure that this track’s input comes from the adjacent midi track.

If you like, you can totally get very random noise effects by employing this plugin as well: Illogic. I can in actuality, create a few of these and have them ready to go for live performance. I just might.

These are the 10 most important QWERTY commands thus far:

Now that the computer and the keyboard commands are set up, I turn my attention to the MS20 controller. But wait.. Am I done with the computer keyboard? Hmm, no. There are things I will want to do from the keyboard, like turning the Filter and LFO on / off etc. I also want the computer keyboard to be part of the MS20 and not be on my desk. I don’t want to look at the screen unless I absolutely have to. Also, I don’t want to forget the keyboard functions. A cheap white keyboard may be in order so that I can totally feel ok with painting or altering it… so … Hello Ebay!

This ends part 1