Live’s flexible Instrument Rack format allows for not only stacked tonal layering, but all sorts of dynamic timbral shifts – utilitarian and creative alike. Let’s explore some possibilities. First of all, I’ve got a basic two-bar MIDI clip playing through a single instance of Analog for a basic electro bass line.
Basic Analog bass parameters
To make it less repetitive, I’ll use an Instrument Rack to create some alternate timbral layers I can switch between. To do this, I’ll select the Analog device by clicking its title bar and hitting CMD + G. Once it’s grouped to an Instrument Rack, I’ll right-click the Filter 1 Freq to assign it to Macro 1.
Now I can select the Analog’s Chain in the Instrument Rack Chain view and hit CMD + D to duplicate it to a second chain. Since I already assigned the Filter 1 Freq, the duplicated instance will already have the same mapping assigned as soon as I create it.
To differentiate the two Chains, I’ll rename the first one Saw, then change the oscillator waveforms on the second Chain to Square, and rename it accordingly.
I’ll duplicate the Square Chain again, setting the waveforms on that third instance to Sines, adding a bit of Noise, and renaming it for easy reference.
Now if I wanted to just have these three instruments stacked, I could simply adjust their individual Chain volume levels and call it a day – but I want to do something more dynamic. With the Chain view enabled, I’ll click the Chain label above the Chain list to open the Chain Selector view. By default all three chains are set to the same value of zero, but in order to stagger them one at a time, I’ll set the second and third chains to 1 and 2, respectively, by dragging their zone selection bars just to the right.
The lavender bars at right determine the selected zone occupied by a Chain, while the bright blue bar at top – draggable with the mouse or assignable to Macro, MIDI, or Automation control – determines which zone values are currently selected, and therefore, which Chain or Chains are playing.
The next step involves configuring some follow actions – for a more in-depth look at this powerful clip functionality, read this article (https://ask.audio/articles/ableton-live-10-advanced-beat-juggling-using-legato-mode). In short, follow actions allow you to configure Audio and MIDI Clips in the Session view to play for a specified period of time before playing another adjacent Clip contained in a vertically contiguous “group” on the same track.
First, I’ll click the “L” toggle in the lower left of the Clip Detail view to reveal Clip Launch parameters. In this case, I will set the initial Clip to play for 0 bars, 1 beat, and 0 sixteenths before playing Any random Clip in the Group; by enabling the Legato toggle it will begin playing the next clip – or continue playing itself – at the correct relative timing interval rather than restarting from the Start marker placement when triggered.
Next I’ll click the “E” toggle in the lower left of the Clip Detail view to reveal Clip Envelopes. With the Instrument Rack selected in the device drop down, I’ll select Chain Selector as the Envelope to automate.
Next, I’ll duplicate the MIDI Clip twice, stepping up the Chain Selector value to 1 for the Square Chain on the second Clip, and 2 for the Sine Noise Chain on the third Clip, with the original Clip set to 0 to trigger the Saw Chain. I’ll rename these Clips accordingly.
When triggered, they alternate randomly yet fluidly every quarter note or so, creating a timbral call-and-response or “hocketing” effect. I’ll add some Glue Compression after the entire Instrument Rack to help compensate for differences in volume between the three chains.
Now I want to create a dynamic pad rack, but rather than switching between sounds rhythmically, I want to crossfade or morph between them smoothly. I’ve written a basic minor chord into a MIDI Clip and chosen three Instruments from the Library to layer.
Let’s hear each layer before configuring them for dynamic transformations.
Rather than set them to three discrete and single Chain Selector zones as I did with the bass rack, I want them to transition smoothly from one to the next. To do this, I want to first stretch them across wider zone ranges.
A quick trick to automatically extend multiple Instrument Rack chains to equally-apportioned zone ranges is to click the bracket edge and drag to stretch one Chain’s zone out to the full range, then right-click its zone selection bar, and click “Distribute Ranges Equally” from the resulting context menu.
In order to crossfade them smoothly, I’ll click and drag the bracketed edges of each Chain’s zone range outward to make sure they overlap.
Then, I’ll click and drag the thinner, lighter-colored line just above each Chain’s zone selector and drag them inward to enforce fades between each Chain. With the fades configured, I can right-click the light blue Chain Selector stripe above the zone range area and assign it to a Macro dial or configured MIDI controller for real-time control – or, in this case, add it directly to a new automation lane.
I’ve gone ahead and assigned a simple sweep from the first chain to the last and back again.
The ability to control which layer is playing back as they morph smoothly can create all kinds of expressive dynamics on stage or in the studio. However, you can also take a more hands-off approach and still get sufficiently dynamic results using Live 10’s LFO. In this case, I’ll map an LFO to the Chain Selector, set the waveform to Random with maximum Smoothing, and the interval to a synchronized rate of 1 bar. A bit of gentle Glue Compression smooths out the amplitude difference.
You might want to fine tune your LFO settings and zone fades, but this technique allows you to switch between timbres dynamically while attending to other areas of your set.
Combining Instrument Rack Chain Selections with automation, modulation devices, follow actions, and additional Macro assignments – in conjunction with external instruments and third-party plug-ins – can open new realms of creative possibility. Get the hang of it, and the sky is the limit.