With Live 9.5, Ableton completely revamped their workhorse sampling instrument, Simpler. Most of the fanfare surrounding Simpler since has rightfully been focused on its brilliant integration with their Push 2 hardware—but the new version of Simpler deserves closer inspection in its own right, as it remains a powerful creative tool even for those who might not have a Push or Push 2. Better yet, Live’s upcoming free 9.7 update brings even more Simpler features—so let’s take a look at this powerful yet elegant sample manipulation tool.
The previous long-standing version of Simpler had a single panel interface, while the new version is comprised of two panels, selectable in the upper right of the device: Sample and Controls.
Sample, as one might guess, is where waveform editing and playback is accessed. While basic filter, LFO, and amplitude envelope parameters are available along the bottom of the device when viewing the Sample panel, the Controls panel is where you can access advanced filter and LFO parameters, along with a dedicated pitch envelope and assorted globals.
The view toggle triangle to the left of the device on/off toggle expands the sample view area to a large window where the Session or Arrangement would be, allowing for more detailed sample editing and simultaneous access to advanced control parameters. Click and drag down on the magnifying glass mouse icon that appears when hovering on the time ruler above the waveform to zoom into sample-accurate segments; drag up to zoom out.
Live’s previous Simpler strictly behaved as a re-pitch sample player: trigger it with a particular MIDI key and the sample would be transposed by a corresponding amount—drastically shortening or extending the playback time at higher or lower keys, respectively.
While this behavior can be replicated with the new Simpler by disabling the Warp toggle, the fact that samples can be Warped using Ableton’s time-stretching algorithm opens up all kinds of possibilities. You can now play a loop polyphonically, as a chord, with all notes and beats of the loop staying perfectly in time or you could jump to different pitches of a loop while staying in sync with the master clock throughout—none of which would have been possible with the previous iteration of Simpler.
The Warp settings, towards the right below the waveform view in the Sample panel, provides the same parameters you would find in an audio clip, including all six warping modes in the mode selector menu below the Warp toggle.
In Beats mode, transients or note divisions from 1/32 up to a bar can be preserved, with three transient looping modes on offer: forward and backward looping typically provides the smoothest results, forward-only looping gives a more stuttered held response, and play once and stop, which, combined with lower envelope values, delivers clipped percussive playback with a short decay.
Tones, useful for sustained monophonic samples such as piano or bass notes, has a grain size control, while Texture mode, geared towards atmospheric samples, provides a wider grain size range along with a randomization control dubbed Flux.
Re-Pitch mode keeps all MIDI notes locked at the same pitch when triggered, while Complex and Complex Pro mode are geared towards full-spectrum samples including multiple instruments; the Pro mode includes Formants and Envelope parameters for additional flexibility.
Bar length can be specified at far right, above the half- and double-time toggles.
While the old Simpler only had a single mode, the new version comes with three: Classic, 1-Shot, and Slice. Much like the previous Simpler, Classic mode provides the ability to loop a small held segment of a sample, determined by the Loop, Length, and Fade parameters. Zero-crossing snapping can be engaged to reduce the chance of unwanted clicks, while the Retrigger toggle determines whether newly triggered notes start at the current held loop point or, if disabled, replay the sample from its start point. Voice layers can be selected from mono all the way up to 32 for extreme orchestral polyphonic layering.
1-Shot mode is designed for percussive samples and other musical phrases that don’t require any layering at all, being entirely monophonic. In Trigger mode the entire sample duration is played back; in Gate mode, it’s only played as long as the MIDI note is held. The same Warp mode settings are available, and can be deactivated for re-pitched transposition. Rather than an amplitude envelope, the ADSR is now replaced with Fade In and Fade Out times in milliseconds, which appear at the device’s bottom right along with Transposition and volume controls.
Where the new version of Simpler excels, of course, is the new Slice mode. Providing a flexible alternative to the commitment of slicing to a Drum Rack, Slice mode lets you intuitively adjust the number of discrete trigger points desired throughout a sample via the Sensitivity amount.
With the new Simpler’s initial release in Live 9.5, slicing was only available at detected Transient points. Now in version 9.7 they’ve introduced three new slicing modes: Beat mode, which can slice your samples at rhythmic intervals from 1/16 up to 4 bars; Region mode, which can divide your sample into mathematically equal segments from 2 up to 64 for stochastic results at odd integers; and Manual mode, which allows new MIDI note triggers to specify slice points in real time as the sample plays back (ideally, this last mode would be used with Push 2, as the pads light up to display which slice slots have already been assigned). Slice mode’s Trigger and Gate settings work the same as 1-shot mode, along with its Fade times in place of a volume envelope; Warp settings remain the same as well.
Back in the Controls panel, Simpler’s filter has been revamped with the same five filter circuit models now found in Auto Filter: Clean, OSR, MS2, SMP, and PRD, providing a much wider range of tones than the old Simpler ever could. Clicking the Envelope button provides a graphic display of the filter’s dedicated ADSR; unfortunately, this is the only place to access the filter envelope amount, which I feel could be given a dedicated knob in the permanent filter section along the bottom, where there’s clearly room for it.
The LFO itself hasn’t changed at all since the original Simpler, except that the four possible destinations for it—Volume, Pitch, Pan, and Filter—are now all conveniently located in the same area, directly below the LFO shape display. At far right are the Pitch Envelope controls, along with the Amplitude envelope viewing area—available only in Classic mode—along with global Pan, Pan Randomization, Spread, Transposition, Detune, and Glide controls.
Whether your goal is to slice and dice samples into new beat structures or layer time-stretched textures with extreme polyphony, Simpler’s name continues to deceive with its wealth of creative potential.