Dummy Clips within Ableton have become a more and more popular option among the creative Live user over the last few years. They are generally used to experiment with interesting envelope automation while composing. They are also an excellent way of handling your audio FX during live performance. In this tutorial we will look at using the different launch modes within Dummy Clips to give you different types of FX control and how best to use them in a live setting.
In case you don’t know how to set up Dummy Clips, the process is very straightforward. Create an audio track and rename it something like Dummy Track. This is where all the FX (dummy) clips will be placed. Next, you will need to route the audio from the track you want to the dummy clips to effect. In the track, click the ‘audio to’ menu and select ‘Dummy Track’. Then in the ‘Dummy Track’ track, select the relevant track from the ‘audio from’ menu and choose ‘in’ in the monitor section. Now it’s time to create the dummy clips themselves. Here, you can use any audio clip in your library and drag it into your dummy clip tracks. Open up the clip in the clip view and drag the clip volume slider to –inf dB. Alternatively, crop a section of the track that has no audio in it. Drag any FX of your choosing from the browser on to the dummy track, the parameters of which you can automate from the envelope of a dummy clip.
Using the repeat mode on a dummy clip is as far as I’m aware is the only way to get Momentary FX control within Live itself. As the dummy clip will trigger repeatedly based on its quantization value, you can automate its envelope in such a way that the effect will turn off when you let go of the clip’s launch button. This works best with a particular devices on/off switch. Firstly, set the clips launch mode to repeat and its quantization to the value you would like the clip to launch too. (Unfortunately turning quantize off won’t work in this scenario).
Then in the clips envelope choose the relevant effect in the Device Chooser menu and ‘Device On’ in the Control Chooser menu. Next, draw the envelope in such a way that the device turns off just after the clips reaches the particular beat segment that corresponds to the clips quantization setting. For example, if the clips quantization setting was set to ¼ bar, turn the device off just after the first beat of the clip. Now the device will remain turned on as the button is held down and turn off once let go. Simple as that.
If you leave your dummy clip in trigger mode, then the effect will follow the automation envelope that you have drawn once you launch the clip. A perfect real world example would be to draw the envelope of a beat repeat’s Grid parameter over four bars in such a way that it cuts to shorter and shorter grid values over each bar to give a ‘fill’ effect. This way you can be sure the timing of each section of the fill will always be perfect as its quantized to the grid. Another example for DJs would be to fade in or fade out a tracks volume level over a certain amount of time. This would save you having to do it manually on your mixers volume fader.
You would think that using the Gate mode would act as a momentary control as the clip launches when the button is pressed and stops when it is let go. However this is not the case since the effect remains at the point in the envelope where the button was released. This could be useful if for instance you were to automate an FX dry/wet control from 0 to 100% in the clips envelope. This way you can hold the clip down until you get the perfect mix of dry and wet signal and then let go to leave the effect in this state. It may be a good idea to create another dummy clip, however, with all FX automated to ‘off’ so you can return to the dry audio signal whenever you want.
As with so many features in Ableton, Dummy clips provide countless creative possibilities. Feel free to play with around with the clips other settings to further enhance your live sets.