Create Complex Tones from Basic Tones in Ableton

Abelton Live is so much more than a live performance tool. It's a serious studio DAW and one of the first ports of call for G.W. Childs when it comes to designing sounds and FX.  

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Ableton is one of the most underrated sound design tools in the DAW lineup today. In fact, in my humble opinion, it’s one of the greatest…if you know how to use it. 

What makes it so good for this? The effects in Ableton, first off, are as innovative as they are simple to navigate through. Many of them are actually far from the basic effects that we usually expect in a DAW package. 

A Little Tweak Goes a Long Way

For example, Grain Delay can act as a simple delay, but with a small tweak, it will turn a sound something entirely different. It can make something very simple into something huge and organic, with very little work. 

Grain Delay.

Grain Delay.

Another element of Ableton that is overlooked for sound design actually goes beyond effects and, in fact, lies within the heart of what’s made Ableton what it is all along: a warp machine.


Warp points have been in Ableton since Day 1. And, in all honesty, it’s the warping that has made Ableton the true miracle that it really is. Warping has been used, by and large, as it was original intended: syncing beats, warping beats, mashups, etc. However, if you’ve ever tried warping something the "wrong way", just for the fun of it, you’ll know that it can generate some very strange and cool sounds. 

In most audio applications, when you time-stretch to severe degrees, it can sound very digital, very..."computery". And, what makes stretching so cumbersome in some of the other apps is that they aren’t as ‘realtime’ as Ableton is. You’ll always see a scroll bar as the program processes the information. Ableton never does this: with mere knob turns, pushes and pulls, the results are instantaneous.

Step 1 - Drag it Out

Pull out a tone of a basic oscillator (or any old tone if you have one) and drop it in to an audio track:

A simple tone

A simple tone.

Once the audio file is in your Ableton project, enable Warp by clickin on its button.

Enable warp

Enable Warp.

In order to incorporate warp points, you have to have Warp enabled. This is of big importance!

Now, start creating warp points and then dragging them over to the right. Believe it or not, this causes time stretching in realtime, so feel free to experiment.

Dragging warp points

Dragging warp points.

Step 2 - Envelopes

Let’s make this a little more interesting now. After warping, this simple waveform resembles more of a car engine. 

With the help of the envelope mode, I can tie the transposition of this waveform to my audio part. I’ll draw it in, in such a way that it causes my audio to pitch up and down.

Tie the transposition to the audio part

Tie the transposition to the audio part.

I’ll also do the very same thing for the volume, so that I have a clean entrance and exit. 

Adjusting the volume

Adjusting the volume.

Finally, I’ll change my Warp mode to Texture.

Warp mode set to Texture

Setting the Warp mode to 'Texture'.

The end result is a nice engine rev. With a little effect this will become much, much more authentic. This is just a little bit of noodling but, imagine how many complex waveforms are residing in every audio file you come across... 

Dig deeper into Ableton with the full range of Ableton Live Tutorial-Videos.

Sound Designer, Musician, Author... G.W. Childs has worn many hats. Beginning in the U.S. Army back in 1991, at the age of 18, G.W. began learning electronics, communications and then ultimately audio and video editing from the Department of Defense. Upon leaving the military G.W. went on to work for many exciting companies like Lu... Read More


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