Optimizing Ableton Live's Operator for Live Performance

If you have the Ableton Live Suite it's worth taking advantage of Operator. Tadhg Leonard demonstrates how to optmize this impressively powerful synth for Iive performance.  


For those of you who own the all singing, all dancing Live Suite but only use Live to DJ, then you will probably find Ableton's Operator gathering dust, hidden away in the browser. Why not incorporate this powerful synth into your performance and show the audience that you have complete control over your sound? Let's take a look at how best to set up Operator for this purpose. 

You can draw MIDI data into clips beforehand or play the notes in live.

You can draw MIDI data into clips beforehand or play the notes in live.

For this example, I am using a wobble patch as it contains many parameters that are ideal for adjusting during a live performance. Feel free to download the Live Set or alternatively program your own patch that compliments the genre of your DJ Set.

Firstly drop your Operator patch onto an instrument rack and open it up. Obviously there are vast amounts of 'live tweaking' potential at your disposal but for practical purposes let's pick a few of the best parameters to map to macros and then to your controller.

The most obvious choices in this case would have to be from the LFO and Filter sections in the top right corner of the interface. Altering the cutoff frequency and the rate is an absolute must when dealing with any form of wobble bass. Map the Rate and Frequency knobs to different Macros and open up the MIDI browser. Adjust the Min and Max settings of each to preference. 

Map the Rate and Frequency knobs to different Macros.

LFO Rate Tweaking

Frequency Tweaking

It's now time to delve deeper into Operator's capabilities. In the display of your carrier oscillator (in this case A) switch the loop function to 'trigger'. Now the length of each sounds being played will no longer be determined by the length of the notes but can instead be scaled in unison with the 'Time' control in the shell's global section. Map the Time parameter to a Macro so when you are playing live you can gradually increase/decrease the length of your sound.  Map the Loop parameter to another Macro so you can switch this 'Trigger' function on/off as you please. 

As the “none' and 'trigger' setting are both at each end of the macro, it is easy to bypass the other settings which are not relevant here.

As the “none' and 'trigger' setting are both at each end of the macro, it is easy to bypass the other settings which are not relevant here.

Time Increase Example

When you are happy with your patch and how it is mapped, duplicate it in the rack two or three times. Now make changes to each instance. In the first duplication, I have changed slightly how oscillator B modulates oscillator A. To make my sound a little 'dirtier', B is now using a saw wave to change the frequency of A. The 'course' setting has also changed from 1 to .5 so that it sounds an octave lower. In the last duplication, I have simply changed the filter in the filter section to a 'bandpass 12db' to let some higher frequencies into the mix. Open up the chain select editor and spread each instance evenly across the chain. When you have assigned a knob on your controller to the chain select you can easily switch between these various patches on the fly. 

Switching between patches on the fly.

Switching between patches on the fly

Of course there are an unlimited amount of options when it comes to how you tweak, map and perform your soft synths live but hopefully this tutorial will set you on your way to building the ultimate performance rack.  A good idea would be to practice with various settings and mappings beforehand, record your performance into the arrangement view and examine the results to see what worked and what didn't. All that's left to say now is happy patching, mapping and performing.

I have been an audio enthusiast and DJ hobbyist since I was a young lad. I currently work as a researcher on The Gadget Show on Channel 5 in the UK where I specialize in all the audio and music tech related content on the show. Before that I have worked in the sound department on a number of feature films doing everything from locati... Read More


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