Friday, October 11, 2013

Polyrhythmic Programming in Ableton Live 9

Polyrhythmic Programming in Ableton Live 9

Noah Pred on Oct 10, 2013 in ABLETON LIVE •  0 comments

There's grooves and then there's grooves. In this tutorial, Ableton Certified Trainer, Noah Pred, shows how to take your Ableton Live 9 groove creations to the next level polyrhythmically.
When a groove really hits home, people talk about it being in the pocket – but where is this pocket everyone's talking about, and how do we find it? In this tutorial, we'll look at some tricks using Live 9's enhanced MIDI editor to help build syncopated grooves that mesh together like a jigsaw puzzle, building rhythms that seem as though they couldn't exist apart from each other.

First things first

I'll start by creating a very simple four-to-the-floor house beat in a Drum Rack, with kicks on all quarter notes, claps on the two and the four, and a 2-bar pattern of upbeat hi-hats, with a few 1/16ths thrown in for added feel (Pic 1). We'll use this basic drum pattern to anchor the rest of our set.
Pic 1
Pic 1

Next, I'll use an instance of Operator to write a bassline. I'll try to write things here in the key of E minor, but that's beside the point – you can carry out this exercise in any key or scale, and use the Scale MIDI effect to force your notes to a chosen scale. It's important we do everything in 1/16th note quantization intervals from here on out.
You can record the bassline in via MIDI keyboard, or write it into an empty MIDI clip using the draw tool. I've just recorded in a one bar bassline (Pic 2), but I want to make it a bit more dynamic, so I'll click the loop brace and hit Command-D (or click the Dupl. Loop button in the Clip Note settings area) to make the loop 2 bars (Pic 3). 
Pic 2
Pic 2
Pic 3
Pic 3

Now that I've extended the duration of the loop, I can add a note to the second bar to make it a little more interesting (Pic 4).
Pic 4
Pic 4

Getting Interactive

Now that we have a bassline in place, we can begin to build a groove around it. I've created a new MIDI track using the Organ 4 Dance preset. Now I'll copy and paste (oroption-drag) the bassline MIDI clip into an empty clip slot on our organ track.
Within the newly copied clip, I'll select all the notes, hold down the Shift key, and use the up arrow buttons on my computer keyboard to move all the notes up an octave at a time – a nice little trick enabled by the Shift key modifier. In this case I've shifted them up a single octave.
Next, I'll select them all again and strike the zero (“0”) key on my QWERTY keyboard to deactivate all the notes: they can now function as “place holders” to remind us where the bassline notes are located. Finally, I'll hit the fold button to the upper left of the Note Grid to ensure we don't program any notes outside the original key (Pic 5).
Pic 5
Pic 5

I'll now use the draw mode to write new MIDI notes into the organ clip, being careful not to draw any in on the same rhythmic intervals where we already have notes in the bass line (Pic 6).
Pic 6
Pic 6

PRO-TIP: To give it more “vibe”, I'll add a Chord MIDI Effect to make the organ trigger more than just a single note. I'll also adjust the instrument filter settings until it fits a little better (Pic 7). Feel free to add more effects, via insert or send, as needed.
Pic 7
Pic 7

And Again

I'll essentially repeat this process two or three more times until I have a full groove built up, each time copying the most recently added MIDI clip and deactivating all the notes before adding more notes in the remaining empty note slots. The first time, I'll use a sort of analog acid synth (Pic 8).
Pic 8
Pic 8

Finally, I'll use an Electric Rhodes MKII patch.
Pic 9
Pic 9


This process doesn't really apply to sustained atmospheric sounds, so feel free to add those later; this is more of a creative technique for building rhythmic, syncopated grooves from scratch using some of the handy new features of Live 9's MIDI editor. If you're looking for a strategy to help your sounds sit better in the mix by not overlapping, or just need new creative technique to employ when other ideas aren't flowing, this approach should prove helpful indeed.
Take a listen to all tracks together:

Friday, August 2, 2013

Understanding Modes


Dance music theory expert Oliver Curry introduces the concept of modes and explains why they’re relevant to electronic music.
In this edition of Passing Notes, we’re looking at modes. Modes are often seen as one of the trickier musical concepts to get to grips with, but once the basic theory clicks into place you’ll see that it’s very easy to introduce them to your compositions and create distinctive melodic feels.
Here we’ll examine some of the more frequently use modes in dance music, show how they’re constructed and see what effect they have on the sound of tracks. We’ll take a look at examples from Todd Terje and Kryptic Minds to see how modes can work in practice.


Firstly, let’s define modes. Modes can be seen as scales derived from the notes of the major scale, but starting at different intervals in that scale. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry – most musicians find modes a little tricky to get their head round at first. Keep reading and things should begin to make more sense.
We’ll take the C major scale as our starting point, simply because sticking to all the white keys on our keyboard can make things a little easier to follow!
So, playing an octave of notes in the C major scale, starting and ending on C, will give you a mode known as Ionian (in the key of C). However, if we start and end our progression at different intervals of the same scale, we get the following modes, now in their respective keys:
1 – C – Ionian
2 – D – Dorian
3 – E – Phrygian
4 – F – Lydian
5 – G – Mixolydian
6 – A – Aeolian
7 – B – Locrian
So, for example, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E is a Phrygian mode in E, whereas F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F will give you a Lydian mode in F. As we’ll see shortly, these modes can then be transposed up and down to play them in different keys. So, if we transposed every note in the E Phrygian mode down four semitones, we’d have C Phrygian.
The four modes we’ll be looking at here are the most common: Ionian, Aeolian, Phrygian and Mixolydian.
You can see how each mode transposes into other keys using interactive online tools such as this one from Musicopedia.


The Ionian mode is instantly recognisable as a standard major scale.
In C, the notes of the Ionian mode are C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. It sounds and looks like this:
Its ‘happy’ sound is largely characterised by its major 3rd, but the major 7th (both highlighted in red) is also important, especially in a lot of dance music where major 7 chords are frequently used.
Dance music is very rarely written in a major key. However, every major key has a relative minor(Aeolian mode) using all the same notes. This means that chord progressions in a minor key could easily have a melody in a major key over the top.
We can hear an example of this below. We’ve played a very recognisable melody in a C major key, then repeated it over a simple chord progression in C major’s relative minor key, A minor. This completely changes the context and feel of the original melody:


Probably the most commonly used mode in dance music, the Aeolian mode forms the natural minor scale. As we can see from the list above, it starts at the 6th interval of the major scale.
Played in C, the notes of the Aeolian mode are C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C.
It sounds like this:
It’s largely characterised by its minor 3rd and minor 7th, in this case the Eb and Bb (highlighted in red), giving it its darker harmonic quality.


Next up, let’s look at the Phrygian scale. As we can see from the list above, we can work out the different intervals of the Phrygian mode by playing a C major scale from E to E.
We can then transpose these intervals to C to make the comparison to the other scales easier, the notes here being C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C.
Aside from the flattened 2nd, it is identical to the Aeolian mode / natural minor scale. It is this flattened 2nd, highlighted in red, which gives the Phrygian scale its distinctive ‘Eastern’ sound.


For a great example of the Phrygian mode in practice, let’s listen to the opening of ‘Organic’ by Kryptic Minds, taken from the album One Of Us. The eastern flute solo that opens the track is in a G Phrygian mode.
Along with the instrumentation and the use of reverb, the Phrygian mode helps give the intro its Eastern sound, setting the tone for the track’s dark, minor and almost sinister quality. Listen out for the Ab in particular at 0:47, which defines it as being in a Phrygian mode rather than the Aeolian mode.


The Mixolydian mode is simply a standard major scale with the major 7th flattened to a minor 7th. Being essentially a major scale, it doesn’t get too much use in dance music, but its minor 7th makes it more employable in many situations than the standard Ionian mode.
In C a Mixolydian mode is C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C, and sounds like this:
On a theoretical level, one of the key factors to the sound of this mode is the tritone interval between the 3rd and the 7th (highlighted). Playing a C dominant 7 chord (C, E, G, Bb) can help us hear the effect of this interval:


For a great example of the Mixolydian mode in dance music, have a listen to Todd Terje’s track ‘Inspector Norse’:
We can hear the piece is in F Mixolydian, because of its use of the minor 7th, Eb, instead of a major 7th, E, in both the bassline and keys.
The major 3rd aspect of the Mixolydian mode here gives the track its fun, almost surreal quality, with the flattened 7th stopping it sounding too predictable.
(An interesting point worth noting is that the chord playing over the F in the bass in ‘Inspector Norse’, is made up of the notes F, A, C, D, which are the notes of a D minor 7 chord. D is the relative minor of an F major, but the F in the bass changes the context of this chord to an F major add 6, with the D now forming the 6th of F major, the other notes forming an F major triad. Because of this, the same chord fits nicely over the D in the bassline, the synth changing to an Eb major 7 over the Eb in the bass. Changing the context of chords using basslines is something we’ll be looking at in greater detail soon.)


Below is a simple 4 bar loop, duplicated in the 4 different modes. We can hear how the different modes alter the character of the loop. Played in Ionian mode, the melody is bright, happy and frankly quite cheesy. The Aeolian mode version is, as expected, less cheerful thanks to the minor 3rd and 7th.
The flattened 2nd in the Phrygian version of the loop instantly gives it a more sinister, dark tonal quality than the standard Aeolian mode/natural minor. Similarly, the use of the minor 7th, Bb, in the Mixolydian version keeps the loop from becoming as predictable and as cheery sounding as in the Ionian mode.
Here is the loop transcribed below in its Ionian/major scale form.
We’ll be referring back to the concept of modes in forthcoming Passing Notes and Breakdown articles. Keep an eye on the comments thread below for links to other articles which draw on this theory.