Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Two-step, two-bar triad chord, film music generator...

The festive season is here, and the end of the year approaches rapidly, so here are a couple of free utilities to entertain you over the holidays…

I’ve released quite a few sound generators already, but this time I thought I would do something slightly different - a chord sequence generator. I will then show you a few ways that it can be used (simple orchestration and arranging tips for Live), as well as show you how to make a ‘missing’ preset for the Ableton ‘Random’ MIDI Effect.

What it is...

TR2gen_mr is a 2 step sequencer. Yes, just two steps, each one bar long, and looped forever. All it does is generate 2 chords made up of major or minor triads, so just three notes in each bar. You can set the pitch of each chord, if it is major or minor, how you want the fixed or random inversions to be applied to the three notes, and how long the notes last. Simple - in fact, so simple that you are probably wondering how this could be useful!



You may know that quite a lot of the music used in films follows some basic rules, and there are some excellent tutorials, explanations and demonstrations available on YouTube. Here are some examples:

How to Imitate a Whole Lot of Hollywood Film Music In Four Easy Steps:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSKAt3pmYBs

How to Imitate Even More Closely a Whole Lot of Hollywood Film Music with One More Easy Steps:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1DK4m2tuiw

(The two links above by Scott Murphy are nicely made and give very clear explanations - thoroughly recommended!)

Film Score Harmony: Chords by Thirds:
https://music.tutsplus.com/tutorials/film-score-harmony-chords-by-thirds--cms-21412

(The above link goes into music theory a bit more deeply...)

…and this link includes a very useful compilation summary chart of the first two links by Scott Murphy (Different intervals between the roots suit different genres of film!):
https://hitrecord.org/records/3124715

With all of this in mind, all that TR2gen_mr does is make it easy to create pairs of chords that have a fixed pitch interval between their roots, and have either fixed or random inversions applied to them.

The Controls


The main user interface element is the 2-step grid, which uses the standard M4L ‘live.step’ object, and so may be familiar to you already. Using a mouse, trackpad or other controller, just click, hold and drag the music keyboard up and down to choose the pitch range you want to use, and drag from side to side to zoom in and out. Click to the right of the music keyboard to set the two notes, which follow the usual left to right time ordering of Ableton’s piano roll.

Each of the two single bar steps has the root note set using the grid, and underneath that are the playback controls: duplicated for each bar. (I could have used the live.step object to do everything in this utility, but that requires multiple layers of controls, and from simple utilities I prefer to be able to see everything at a glance…) The uppermost buttons control the type of chord: MAJOR or minor, following the convention of major chords being in capital letters (M) and minor chords being in lower case letters (m).


Underneath the ‘MAJ/min’ buttons are three horizontal rows of buttons that control the three notes in the chords: Root at the top, then the 3rd, then the 5th. Each of these rows has a ‘note name’ that gives the fixed ‘no inversion’ form, and so is shown by ‘R’,’3’, and ‘5’. Each row has the same order, so, from the left hand side: the first button is ’-‘, indicating that the note will either be randomly inverted downwards by an octave, or will not be inverted at all. 50% chance of either occurrence. The next button to the right is the note name: ‘R’, ‘3’, or ‘5’, and these are all fixed (so no randomness), with no inversions. The next button to the right is ‘+’, and this works like the ‘-‘ button, but inverts upwards by an octave approximately half of the time. (In a future version, then I may provide fixed inversions without the randomness, but I’m in a bit of a ‘randomness is cool’ period at the moment…). The final button on the right is ‘+-‘, and this randomly inverts up or down by an octave, or doesn’t invert at all - so there’s a 33% chance of each of these happening this time. (Note: If you look at the 'Random' MIDI Effect plug-in from Ableton, they use 'Add', 'Sub', and 'Bi', where I have used '+', '-', and '+-' - my excuse is that I was running out of space...)

(Note also that the rows are horizontal - unfortunately the UI makes it look like they are vertical!)

The final control is the ‘Length’ rotary control, which sets the length of the notes that are produced. At 120 rpm, then this covers the range from staccato through to just over a bar long, and at very slow tempos then it may not completely fill a bar - one of these days I will figure out the transport-to-note-length conversion…

Playing and Recording

To set TR2gen_mr running, you just start Live's transport... To stop it, you stop Live's transport. You may find that the notes in the first bar are not correct, and so you should wait until the first repeat (bar three) before trusting the output. This means that if you are recording the output of TR2gen_mr, you should always ignore the first one or two bars...

I mentioned the MAJOR/minor notation convention earlier, but didn't say that you can include the interval between the two root notes in between, so a major chord followed by a minor chord with an interval of 5 could be written as 'M2m' - this is how the summary chart is annotated in the link above.

Orchestrating

The TR2gen_mr M4L plug-in can be connected to any of the Ableton Instruments, although my favourite for listening to harmonies and chords is a basic piano sound. This will produce a very simple sustained chord (for most of the bar: set by the ‘Length’ control), but it is easy to extend this using Live’s built-in MIDI Effects. The first thing I did was to add an Instrument Rack and drop a Piano instrument into it. Block chords are a bit boring after a few repetitions, even with added inversions, and so adding the Arpeggiator MIDI Effect can turn it into something rather busier.


The ‘classic’ instrument sound to accompany a piano is a string pad (as in the well-known example from the Korg M1, for example), and so dropping a String Ensemble instrument into the Rack and increasing the attack and release times gives the ‘hold notes to get the strings sweeping in, play staccato to hear just the piano’ time-based control between the two sounds. But Ableton Live’s Instrument Racks let you do much more interesting things that that, and so I added additional random inversions using the ‘Random’ MIDI Effect.

(The reason I didn’t do a much simpler TR2gen_mr device and let the Random MIDI Effect do the random inversions was to maintain detailed control over exactly which notes are inverted…) The presets that Ableton provide for the Random MIDI Effect don’t include one which randomly inverts notes up AND down, and so I’ve produced my own, and saved it as a ‘adv’ file. The screenshot shows exactly how to produce this ‘Random Inversions’ plug-in, and all you need to do is set Random up like this, and then save it as ‘Random Inversions’ for future use. (That’s the second ‘free’ giveaway this time, by the way…)

By dropping other instruments into the Rack, you can extend the ‘Orchestra’ that is playing the output of TR2gen_mr. I added some Double Basses and used the ‘Pitch’ MIDI Effect to drop them by an octave...


...and a Brass Ensemble that uses a separate instance of the ‘Random Inversions’ so the strings and brass are not just paralleling each other (paralleling is bad!).


The end result of all this ‘arranging’ is a lot more interesting than the block chords that TR2gen_mr produces, and could be used as the backing music for all sorts of projects. (YouTube/Vimeo (etc.) videos, animation demos, etc.)

The 'Arranger' Instrument Rack can be downloaded here:
https://drive.google.com/open?id=13ECzqF1f32EVqGCyTS1i30njoCCVCdr4

So there’s this blog’s seasonal presents to you! See you in the New Year.

Some examples of using TR2gen_mr are on SoundCloud:




Downloading TR2gen_mr

You can download TR2gen_mr for free from MaxForLive.com.

Here are the instructions for what to do with the .amxd file that you download from MaxForLive.com:

https://synthesizerwriter.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/where-do-i-put-downloaded-amxd.html


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Where do I put a downloaded .amxd MaxForLive (M4L) device file in Ableton Live?

This blog should answer some questions like these: How do you install a MaxForLive plug-in? What do you do with a .amxd file? Where do you put MaxForLive plug-in files?

Installing MaxForLive device/plug-in files

Many MaxForLive (M4L) devices/plug-ins can be downloaded from the MaxForLive.com web-site, and many other places on the Internet.

When you download a device/plug-in, you will often get just one file - this will have the name of the device/plug-in, followed by '.amxd'. The suffix indicates that the type of file: in this case it is a '.amxd' MaxForLive (M4L) device file. You will need to add this file to Ableton Live so that you can add it to the track device chain.

A '.amxd' device file is similar to VST, AU, etc., 'plug-in' files - it contains the code, user interface and other data required to make the plug-in work inside Ableton Live. In order for Ableton Live to recognise the file correctly, it needs to be added to Ableton Live.

How do I add it to Ableton Live?

Live 9 provides two ways to add a .amxd M4L device file. Both require you to set up the Ableton Live window and the window containing your downloaded file so that both windows are visible on the screen...

1) Drag the .amxd device file into a track, and then click on the save icon (right: floppy). This will automatically save the device to your ‘User Library’ folder in ‘Places’ (the ‘head outline’ icon), and will also save a '.adv' file which can be used to store your favourite initial setup.

2) Put the .amxd device in a folder you have allocated to M4L devices, then add that folder to the Browser. Just scroll down to the bottom of ‘Places’ and click on ‘Add Folder’ . Then select the folder where you have saved the .amxd device file. (The ‘power user’ technique is to just drag that folder into ‘Places’)

Scroll down past the example download boxes for the same information - but with screenshots!

Some of my free .amxd device file downloads:

Max for Live
Missing Echo dark

This echo puts an LFO inside the feedback loop, so the number of echoes changes over time.

F R E E

Download
Max for Live
ProbablyLFO dark

This is no ordinary LFO. Lots of timing sources, edit waveforms, chance variations, and much more.

F R E E

Download
Max for Live
gFreez_mr

A 4-phase LFO blends four channels of granular atmospheric sound into a swirling audio experience...

F R E E

Download

How do I add it to Ableton Live (with screenshots)?

Live 9 provides two ways to add a .amxd M4L device file. Both require you to set up the Ableton Live window and the window containing your downloaded file so that both windows are visible on the screen...


Method 1: Drag the file into a track...

Here we have the 'Downloads' folder (where you have probably put the downloaded .amxd device file...), and inside it is the file itself.

(The screenshot also shows the User Library open in the 'Places' part of the Browser inside Live.)













Drag the .amxd device file into a track... This can be a track strip,











or the track chain...










Then click on the save icon
(on the right hand side of the window: with a 'floppy disk' icon)...

This will automatically save the device to your ‘User Library’ folder in ‘Places’ (the ‘head outline’ icon), and will also save a '.adv' file which can be used to store your favourite initial setup.
















Method 2. Folder dragging...

Make sure that you set up the Ableton Live window and the window containing your downloaded file so that both windows are visible on the screen...

Put the .amxd device in a folder you have allocated to M4L devices, then add that folder to the Browser.

(To add a folder to the Browser: Just scroll down to the bottom of ‘Places’ and click on ‘Add Folder’. Then select the folder where you have saved the .amxd device file.)





When you have done this, then you will have a new folder in your 'Places'





















Method 2a. 'Power user!'

The ‘power user’ technique is to just drag the folder containing the .amxd file into ‘Places’...
















... and it gets added. Easy and very quick.

The only difficult bits to the power user method are:
-  arranging the two windows on the screen!
- scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the 'Places' (it can get very long...)






Sunday, 3 December 2017

Complex timing generator for Max For Live and Ableton Live

The first presentation at Loop 2017 was Andrey Smirnov's wonderful talk and demo of Leon Theremin's 'Rhythmicon', ending with a superb live performance piece. It was an inspiring opener to a wonderful event, and it got me thinking...

Probably GENerator

If you've been following my 'Probably' series of MaxForLive devices, then you may have noticed that they have gradually been influenced more and more by modular synthesisers. ProbablyLFO could easily have some radical graphics, a name suggesting 'West Coast' influences, and be a hardware module in a rack, except that it is only in software in Ableton Live at the moment. Producing hardware is a time-consuming process, and I'm still considering what my next device will be...

But, as we have just passed through one annual winter 'holiday' event, and with another looming, this seemed like a good time to release yet another unusual giveaway, and with the 'Rhythmicon' still tucked away at the back of my mind, I wondered what I could do that was exploratory rather than just a dull copy... And, trust me, some of my previous M4L giveaways at this time of year have been useful, but just a little bland. 

The result is ProbablyGEN, (GEN is short for Generator, not Max's 'gen'!), and it is a three channel (after dFreez_mr, I've temporarily given up on trying to squeeze four channels in!) asynchronous / synchronous note generator. Each channel has a choice of free-running (async) or synchronous (divided from Live's transport), a probabilistic 'velocity' grid (with a special variation on the previous user interface specially for this type of application), length control per grid, direction controls (forwards, backwards, scanner), and completely straight-forward (gasp!) MIDI Note output selection. So you get three note polyphony (or use the 'Chord' MIDI plug-in) which is ideal for simple drum sounds, or simple three-part monophonic music.


The screenshot above shows three synchronised channels, all running at 1:1 (i.e., the same as Live's transport), and all playing 16 column grids (more on this in a moment). The far right hand side shows the MIDI Notes which are being generated, which is a giveaway for what this is doing: 36 is Kick, 38 is Snare, and 42 is Closed Hi-Hat. I did consider calling this ProbablyD, or ProbablyDrum, but then I realised that you could use it for other purposes than just drums, and so I went for the generic name of 'GENerator'.

The 'Columns' setting and the direction buttons on the right might need some explanation. Why is the middle channel 'Columns' control set to 17 instead of 16? Actually, this is a consequence of it running back and forth in a 'scanner' type pattern - the little '+' is there to remind you that when you choose the 'scanner' direction then you need to increment the 'Columns' control by 1 (or not, as you prefer!). So, actually, all of these channels have 16 columns in the active part of the grid - but there's more later on this... 

With these settings, from the lowest channel upwards: the bass drum is playing four 'on the beat' hits, with the final column (or the 16) exploiting the new UI twist that I have added: the upper white cell is indeed a '66' velocity. but the lower white cell is a '0' velocity on the black row, which doesn't mean 'zero velocity' (that would be a Note Off...), but means 'don't play this note. Now because the probability grid takes multiple instances of white cells in a vertical column as providing choices for that event, this means that there are two things that can happen here: a kick drum played at a velocity of 66, or no kick drum, and with each having the same probability - so the kick drum will play about half of the time. When you listen to this, then you hear that 'the drummer' keeps putting in extra little appoggiatura ('pick-ups') at random, just before the main beat at the start of the bar. So here we have a software emulation of an impatient foot...

The middle 'snare' channel is scanning back and forth, and so we get a single snare (at 33,66 or 99 velocity) or a cluster of 2 or 3 snares on alternate repeats. Again, the 'zero' bar is used to make that middle snare in the cluster happen about half of the time.

The 'hi-hat' channel has 'on the beat' hits, with off-beats at half probability using the 'zero' row again, and a cluster of 'sometimes' at the end of the bar, followed by an end of bar tick that always happens.

A rhythm less ordinary... 


The screenshot above shows a slightly more unusual setup. This time, the bass is as before, whilst the snare is playing slower, at 0.889:1 to Live's transport, and the active part of the grid is only 15 columns long (wide?). The hi-hat is now faster, at 1.333:1, and there are 22 columns in the active part of the grid. In this example, I have deliberately chosen the values of Divide and Column so that the lengths are the same duration in time, but this does reveal an interesting side-effect. It is quite difficult to change the Divide control and the Columns control at the same time, and so you will find that the timing gets out of alignment, as you can see by the three vertical cursor lines not being aligned in a vertical line. There are two ways to fix this: stop Live's transport and restart it; or hit the 'In' button in the top left hand corner, just underneath the 'start' light circle. This forces a reset of the internal counters, but doesn't sync it back to the bar or beat of Live's transport, which can be a useful effect. Either way, you get to control the channel timing alignment as you want.

The hi-hat is also busier in this last few columns, with 25% and 33% probabilities from the page of the 'zero' row. But you've probably not got the time to concentrate too much on this, with all of the timing complexity that this setup gives. Each of the channels is outputting notes in its own synced time, but the timing isn't the 'four-to-the-floor' many ears are used to hearing. Nope, this could perhaps be interpreted as being simultaneously an emulation in software of the best AND/OR the worst software drummer in the world...

This is only scratching the surface of the timing options that ProbablyGEN gives you - the 'Divide' range is deliberately set wide, so you can go fast and very slow (try increasing Live's tempo too!). And if you use the 'Free' button, then the tempo of that channel is completely independent of Live's transport, and so is totally asynchronous. For hi-hats, this can sound pretty cool! (This is also where tempo-aligned echo can be useful to explore...) But hey, that's enough presents given away in one blog article!

Notes

If you replace a drum kit with a synthesiser, then ProbablyGEN becomes a three channel monophonic step sequencer with potentially independent timing of the three channels (or any degree of sync that you want). As I said earlier, this is the sort of thing that many people associate with modular synthesiser racks, and not a laptop running Ableton Live.

By using the 'Chord' MIDI effect plug-in, then one, two or all of these notes can be expanded into chords. Depending on how you set this up, it can be described with words like 'jazzy', or 'obtuse'... (and if you've ever listened to the 'ChromatixT' demos on SoundCloud, then...)

MaxForLive.com

As usual, ProbablyGEN is available for free from MaxForLive.com. Enjoy doing interesting things away from 4:4 timing as we move into 2018!

Unexpected surprises!

ProbablyGEN outputs all three notes when you first instantiate it in a track, so beware!

Did someone mention a Parappa the Rapper reference?
PaRappa_the_Rapper
5 Minutes of Parappa the Rapper Remastered Gameplay - YouTube 2mins 10 seconds

Update: version 0.04: Asynchronous timing generator for Max For Live in ...






Thursday, 30 November 2017

Probabilistic flexible LFO for Ableton Live

ProbablyLFO is not an ordinary LFO, although it can be used to produce the usual simple repetitive, predictable modulations that are expected from this type of slow modulation oscillator. But it goes much further than that, into more unusual areas, and so it allows deep, complex and often unexpected and unpredictable control over parameters in ways that can be very musically useful.

LFOs normally provide a speed control and a waveform selector, and LFOs for use in Ableton Live add a way of mapping the output to a parameter. ProbablyLFO has all of these, but the way it approaches each of them is intended to extend and enhance what it does. So there are four ways to control the speed, a small number of preset waveforms which can: be edited live; have random values added; can be filtered/smoothed; and output, in various ways. The most conventional bit is the parameter mapping, which works exactly the same as in any other LFO - and that's because that bit of code is taken from the Ableton example M4L LFO!

ProbablyLFO?


ProbablyLFO is part of the Probably series, and is a companion plug-in to all of the step sequencers (Probably, ProbablyZ, and ProbablyS have been released so far). The common feature is probabilistic control, and so the sequencers do not produce static repetitions of the same sequence (unless you set them to do so, of course) - instead you can control how they produce variations in pitch, octave, probability of a note event happening, velocity and length (and more...). ProbablyLFO brings probability to LFOs...

So what does ProbablyLFO do differently?

The speed of an LFO sets the timing of the modulation that it controls. So a typical use might be the  vibrato of an oscillator, or a slow sweep of a filter or phaser. ProbablyLFO has four sources for its basic underlying 'Speed':
- a free-running oscillator (i.e asynchronous to Live's tempo clock)
- a synced divided version of Live's tempo clock (i.e. synchronous)
- Note events (so each incoming note from a clip causes the LFO to run)
- Poly events (the LFO runs faster or slower depending on how many notes happen at once)

The 'Free' setting is the simplest. There is a 'Speed' control that sets the basic frequency (in Hertz or cycles per second) that the LFO runs at. (You will see why I call it the 'basic' frequency later on...) This speed is not synced to the main Ableton Live tempo clock (i.e. it is asynchronous) and so can b used when you want a modulation to happen with no connection to the main tempo - slow sweeps are one example that work well.

The 'Sync' setting allows you to synchronise to the main Ableton Live tempo clock, but you can control the division ration - so the control is called 'Divide'. If you set the 'Divide' control to 1:1, then ProbablyLFO runs at the same speed as the Ableton Live tempo clock. Set it to 2:1 and it runs at twice the speed of Live (the fastest is 4:1, which is 4 times Live's tempo). Conversely, if you set it to 0.5:1 then it runs at half the tempo of Live, and you can go all the way down to 0.125:1, which is one eighth of the tempo of Live. There are other ratios as well between these limits, but they are all locked to Live's tempo.

The 'Note' setting has no control - or rather, the control is in the incoming MIDI notes. It takes any note events in the clip on the track, and uses them to run the LFO. So the more notes there are, the faster the LFO goes. So this is another type of 'sync' - the LFO is locked to the notes, but if you add extra notes to the clip, then the LFO reflects that by running faster. Simultaneous notes count as one note when using this setting.

The 'Poly' setting also has no front-panel control, and is a variation on the 'Note' setting. In 'Poly' the number of notes that are present simultaneously controls how quickly the LFO runs, so chords make it run faster than single notes. Once again, this is 'synced', but it is another type of sync.

The 'Note' and 'Poly' modes can be very useful musically, because the LFO is tracking the occurrence of notes, and it not tied directly to time or tempo. You may need to spend some time getting used to these two settings, because this type of sync may be quite unusual (I've not seen it anywhere else before, but I haven't seen everything!).

Waveforms

LFOs traditionally have  predictable selection of waveforms (or wave shapes: LFOs arguably have wave shapes, whereas audio oscillators should have waveforms, but this is just semantic detail, and waveform is often used interchangeably with waveshape): sine, triangle, sawtooth, square, pulse and some sort of random or 'sample & hold' waveform (and sometimes a 'draw-your-own' waveform as well...).

ProbablyLFO has a similar selection of waveforms provided as presets, but has a much larger possible set of waveforms (very large numbers of them: many millions). The waveforms are provided as starting points for you to edit to suit your own purposes, and so some of them may appear weird at first.

The 'Flat' waveform is the first unusual waveform. It looks like a thick line across the screen, and you may be wondering why it is included at all.

To understand what is happening, then you need to know what is happening in the waveform grid. The 16x16 grid in the middle of ProbablyLFO shows time horizontally, and value vertically. Single white cells in a column produce that value as the output, but when there is more than one white cell in a vertical column, then the output value will be chosen randomly from those values. In this case, there are three rows of white cells, and so the output waveform can be any of those three values...

So the 'Flat' waveform is actually anything but flat: it is a sequence of values chosen from the middle three: a kind of random ripple. You can change the smoothness of the ripples using the 'Smooth' control (sorry about the obviousness of the naming here!): lower values make the output 'jagged and step, whilst higher values smooth it out. But take care: if you apply too much smoothing then you will miss the peaks and troughs. You can see the smoothed output of the grid on the right hand side of the grid - in the big vertical bar.

To hear this modulating a parameter, you will need to use the 'Map' button on the right hand side of ProbablyLFO to select a parameter. It is normally a good idea to 'undo' or 'clear' any pre-existing mapping by clicking on the 'X' button first, an then clicking on the 'Map' button, followed by the parameter that you wan to control. When you have selected a parameter to control, then the name of hat parameter should appear in the 'Map' button. The final things you may need to tweak are the 'Offset' and 'Depth' controls, which set how the smoothed output value from the grid affects the parameter. The best starting point is to set the Offset to zero, and the Depth to 100%, and see how this affects the parameter you have chosen. Starting with a filter frequency parameter in a synth is a good starting point for exploring how these controls work. You can invert the way that the value goes by using the 'Normal/Invert' button. The 'Flat' setting can be a bit subtle, so you may not hear much effect on the filter, so you could try increasing the filter resonance, or you could click the little '+R' button to add some randomness and give you more range of values in the output.

Clicking on 'Flat' again will give you the original, clean waveform again, and you've probably already clicked on the '-R' button to see if that removes white cells - which it does. 'Clear' clears the whole grid. Hopefully, you've just realised that there are a huge number of possible waveforms in ProbablyLFO, and exploring them all could take a long, long time...

The 'Both' waveform looks like just slight ripples at the top and bottom of the range of values. But, in practice, this produces an output which makes big jumps up and down, or little jumps in the ripples. You can control the smoothness and size of the jumps with the 'Smooth' control, of course. This tends to sound a bit like the 'Sample & Hold' or 'Random' waveforms that you get in conventional LFOs, depending on the setting of the Smooth control.

'SineH' is the traditional sine waveform that you were expecting to find in an LFO, except that it is horribly quantised! The 'Smooth' control can remove as much of the blockiness as you want, so the grid is slightly misleading. 'SineV' is not normally found in LFOs, and gives an interesting output: not random, but structured, and with lots of variation each time it repeats.

'RampU' (Up) and 'RampD' (Down) are the usual sawtooth waveforms, but they also provide a good opportunity to explore some additional controls. The 'Direction' controls on the right hand side shows '<', '<>' and '>', and ProbablyLFO normally defaults on first use to '>', which equates to 'forwards' or moving from left to right across the grid. If you select '<' then the cursor line moves across the grid 'backwards' from right to left, and if you select '<>' then it 'loops' back and forth from left to right, and the sawtooth or ramp waveform becomes a triangle waveform at half the speed. You may have already figured out that if you want a full speed triangle, then you click on 'Clear' and then draw in a single cycle and select '>' or '<'...


'Rect' provides various rectangular waveforms: from square to pulse. Just keep clicking on the button until you get a waveform you like. (I did consider making all of the 'waveform' preset buttons work this way, but decided against it in this version. I also wondered if I should make all of them 'add' without clearing... I'm still considering the best UI to use in a future version...)


'Bars' gives you four vertical bars, whilst 'Blobs' gives four blobs. These are intended (as all the presets are) as starting points for editing, or adding (or removing) random white cells with '+R' or '-R'.


The final control in this version is the Columns control, which sets the number of columns in the grid. This is normally set to 16, but you can set it to smaller values if you want to change the length and waveform that the grid produces. The final parameter-affecting version of the grid output, after smoothing, offset and depth, is the small vertical bar on the far right hand side.

And that concludes this quick description of ProbablyLFO. I hope that you like and enjoy exploring its many and varied creative modulation control possibilities (and probabilities).

MaxForLive.com

ProbablyLFO is available, for free, from MaxForLive.com.

You will get a '.amxd' M4L device file. You need to add this to Ableton Live so that you can add it to the track device chain.

How do I add it to Ableton Live?

Live 9 provides two ways to add a .amxd M4L device file:

1) Drag the .amxd device file into a track, and then click on the save icon (right: floppy). This will automatically save the device to your ‘User Library’ folder in ‘Places’ (the ‘head outline’ icon)

2) Put the .amxd device in a folder you have allocated to M4L devices, then add that folder to the Browser. Just scroll down to the bottom of ‘Places’ and click on ‘Add Folder’ . Then select the folder where you have saved the .amxd device file. (The ‘power user’ technique is to just drag that folder into ‘Places’)






Sunday, 26 November 2017

dFreez_mr - M4L live performance utility

Sometimes, inspiration hits you at interesting times. There I was, in Studio 4 at the Funkhaus at Loop 2017, giving the second of three Open Space Lightning Presentations (one per day), when I realised that sFreez_mr was missing a vital set of functionality. sFreez_mr is an M4L Audio Effect that provides 4 parallel loop audio players whose output is slowly mixed between using a 4-phase LFO. I made it to produce complex mixes for background atmospheres and special effects - so put four wind and rain loops into it, and you can generate non-repeating 'atmosphere' tracks for installations, stage and theatre usage.

What I realised mid-presentation was that every time I used sFreez_mr, I would raise the channel fader for the track it was in at the start, and lower the fader in that channel at the end. My headset mic was going direct to the PA mixer, and so I didn't have that signal to duck the channel volume inside Ableton Live. What I needed was an automatic volume fade in and out control...

dFreez_mr


dFreez_mr is the result of taking that idea and working on it for a few days. It it often happens that what seems to be a simple idea is more complex to implement, and this was definitely one of those cases. I quickly realised that I needed to have four different states:
1. Off. Zero volume.
2. Fading up. Volume goes from zero to maximum at a defined rate, using a non-linear curve.
3. On, Maximum volume.
4. Fading down. Volume goes rom maximum to zero at a defined rate, using a non-linear curve.

I also realised that I wanted a minimum of controls, whilst also providing lots of feedback to the user. I ended up with a single button, which 'starts' the fading upwards from the 'Off' state to the 'On' state, and which then 'stops' the audio by fading downwards from the 'On' state to the 'Off' state. I added two controls for setting the times to fade up and down (twist the dial to set the Seconds and Minutes), and some indicators to show the progress in the fade process, and finally, a state indicator, which says which state is currently active.

In practice, you load up four samples into the players in the 'Off' state, then when you are ready to go, you press the 'Start' button.

You wait whilst it goes through state 2 and eventually gets to state 3: fully 'On'. It then stays in this state until you do something. In dFreez_mr, this is where you would wait for the 'Load' lights to go 'bright' (showing it is safe to change the sample in the player because the volume is zero at that point) and you swap samples...

When you want to stop the audio, then in state 3, you press the 'Stop' button, wait through state 4, and it eventually gets to state 1 ('Off') again.

Now, if you've ever been to a 'Drone' music concert, then this is more or less what happens during one of those performances, so there may be ways of using dFreez_mr for more than just background atmosphere effects.

MaxForLive.com

As usual, you can get dFreez_mr from MaxForLive.com. Like many of my ideas, at this stage, it is not perfect, not production ready. In fact, it is quite some way from being properly finished, needs some tidying up inside, parameters naming, etc, and so it is free. I hope you enjoy using it.






Sunday, 29 October 2017

sFreez_mr - 4-phase LFO looped sample live performance tool in M4L for Ableton Live

When I programmed gFreez_mr, I was exploring granular synthesis, and so an 'atmospheric sound generator' was a logical way to use the results of my experimentation. sFreez_mr takes the underlying  'live performance' framework of gFreez_mr, and turns it into a sound generator based on looped samples. So the way you work with both M4L plug-ins is the same, but the sound sources are different. Maybe in the future I will make a hybrid of the two...

So this blog entry is a rambling user manual for sFreez_mr...

sFreez_mr 


sFreez_mr allows the simultaneous playback of up to four separate samples in a way that is designed for live performance, but it can also be used in the studio as well. Instead of manually mixing between the sound samples, it uses a four-phase LFO with variable 'overlap waveforms' to control how the mixing happens. A simple sine wave just mixes between three sounds at any one time, whilst other waveforms can mix between pairs or even all four. (My original plan was to make the phase shits between the four LFO outputs user-controlled, but this required three controls, and actually, there weren't that many useful sets of settings, so (unusually for me) I went for the classic audio plug-in design approach of 'less controls is better').

There's a clear design decision here. DJs normally mix between and process (with effects) two main sources of sounds (vinyl, CDs, decks, sample players... (insert your favoured technology here)), and fly in additional sounds from other sources - and they do this live. This treats the sound sources as components in a music instrument that works at the level of samples of audio, and there's enough abstraction from the one detail (down at the sample level) to allow them to 'play' those samples expressively in a performance that has structure and connects at an emotional level. sFreez_mr removes just the mixing part and automates it, leaving the performer/DJ free to work with 4 separate sources of sound at once - and actually, by changing the LFO rate or using the On/LFO/Mute buttons, the mixing is controllable too. So you can think of the 4-phse LFO as a 'helper' that enables the assembly of more sound sources into a live performance by reducing the loading on the performer/DJ. I'm expecting great things from talented performers /DJs when they start to get the hang of what sFreez_mr lets you do...

Now this wouldn't be one of my M4L creations if it didn't have LFO-controlled panning, and here four separate LFOs are used to animate the four LFO-controlled samples components into a constantly shifting atmospheric sound. sFreez_mr is particularly good for slowly evolving background sounds, and it has a number of functions that are specifically designed for live use.

Let's look in detail at each of the sections that make up sFreez_mr:

Sample Players


There are four looped sample players, which can be 'Load'ed with AIFFs (or WAVs), or you can drag and drop samples onto the four waveform displays. The four samples are each colour-coded: red, yellow, green and blue. Each sample player waveform display has several sections: there's the central waveform display, the sample name on top of that, and two rows of buttons (above and below). That's a lot of functionality in a small space!

Left-most are four big 'Load' buttons that allow direct loading of samples. On gFreez_mr, these were the record or 'capture' buttons for grabbing the source material for the granular players, and I did consider  having the same functionality here, but eventually went for providing dedicated buttons AND drag & drop. These buttons cycle at the rate set by the 4-phase LFO, so you can always see which sample track is not currently in the mix. When the button is bright, then the LFO has set that tracks fader to off or very low, and so you can make changes to that track without being heard. So when the button goes bright, that is when you replace the sample (or drop a new sample in the waveform display - one technique is to grab the sample and hover over the waveform display, waiting for the button to light up!).


The top row of little buttons transpose the sample, whilst the lower row of buttons stretch or shrink it. The range of transposition is limited, so I made some decisions about the available settings, and so you get fifths purely for usability (a future version might allow these to be customisable). The centre setting is the 'no transposition, real time' setting, and either side of this the sounds get more and more altered. In the centre default, then you get a mildly conventional sample playing device that operates in what many people would class as 'DJ' territory, whilst away from the centre, you get more atmospheric and experimental sounds - but I encourage everyone to break through any barriers, recommendations or preconceptions of use. I debated for quite a while if I need a Play button, and eventually decided to leave it in, (although for me it stays on all the time, and so need not be there, but I wanted to leave the control there for other performance styles...). The 'Play' button is the rounded edge button next to the 'chevron' forward (to the right) or reverse (to the left) buttons. You can use the chevron buttons to change the sync of samples by reversing for a time and then going back to forwards. I use this for rhythmic samples where I want to change timing relationships , and I do it when the 'Load' button is bright so that the next time that sample track gets back into the mix it is different.

Track controls


The next three buttons are linked and only one can be selected at any time for each coloured sample 'track': On (the sample plays all the time), LFO (the sample volume is modulated by the 4-phase LFO), or Mute (the sample audio is muted). These buttons fade the sound quite quickly, and so shouldn't cause too much audio hassle (like zipper noise), but they are intended to be 'played' live, so don't just dismiss them as being used in setup (especially since 'setup' can be happening live during a performance, not just beforehand).

The thin buttons in the middle are 'group' controls that affect all four sample tracks simultaneously - once again, this is intended for live performance use - so you can quickly stop everything happening by muting all four small tracks, or alternatively, you can blast all four tracks full on by using the 'On' button. Normally, the 'LFO' middle position is where the buttons will be set, and having a single button that restores this can be very useful. On you have learned this user interface, then you may find yourself wishing that other button-based UIs had similar shortcuts...

The final part of the track controls are the LFO displays, which show the 4-phase LFO as four colour-coded virtual faders. Left is off, no coloured bar) and right is full volume (full coloured bar) - just listen to a single track to get your head around this (press the thin central 'Mute' button, then the 'LFO' button for the sample track that you want to audition...). Remember that when the fader bar vanishes, then the 'Load' light will be bright, and you can make changes to that sample track without being heard in the output mix. In performance, your head needs to be in sync with the 'Load' buttons or the LFO fader displays.

Mixer


The next section is kind of a 'mixer', but very specific to what is needed in this context.

First, there's a display of the audio level for each sample, which helps you keep track of what is playing, and which can be very useful to all you if a track is playing a slow continuous sound, or a bouncy rhythmic sound. I'm never sure if this display should be part of the previous 'track control' section, or if it should be included in the mixer...

Then there are trims for volume for each sample track, and then the Pan LFO controls; frequency and phase. To fix the pan position in the stereo image, you low it right down and use the phase to set where you wan the pan position to be. Note that the phase does NOT map directly to L and R (i.e. All the way left on the has control is not necessarily hard Left panning) - watch the little pan display blob to see where the actual position is in the stereo image.

4-phase LFO


The 4-phase LFO has a rate control that is how you interact with the LFO, but the main number that is shown is how long it takes for a complete cycle (in seconds). The wo things are inversely related - the 'how long' display number is, again, designed for use in live performance. The LFO has additional 'waveforms' that set how the samples are faded in and out, and so I suspect that 'transfer function' is a more accurate description. Anyway, try the new waveforms out: they allow you to vary the number of samples that are mixed at any time. Each waveform gives a different 'feel' to that way that the sample tracks get cyclically mixed together.

Finally, the 'Makeup' control adjusts the overall output volume, whilst the 'Mute' button and 'Gain' control are inherited from gFreez_mr, and allow you to monitor the input audio - which adds to the live performance possibilities...

Practice

sFreez_mr is intended to be a live performance tool that can also be used in the studio. To get the most out of any tool when performing live, you will need to have spent time learning how to use it effectively. Also, don't forget that this is 'work in progress'...

sFreez_mr can be downloaded for free from MaxForLive.com

SoundCloud demo1 - wind
SoundCloud demo2 - rain
SoundCloud demo3 - seq
SoundCloud demo4 - loop
SoundCloud demo5 - fx
SoundCloud demo6 - fx2
SoundCloud demo7 - drum
SoundCloud demo8 - drum