To put it simply, our music is often some repetitive parts built up from some number of layers. These parts usually come from recordings of analog synthesizers, VST instruments or different sources of acoustic and electric instruments like guitars, piano and wind instruments. The parts are organized in an arrangement where we bring in and out different parts over the duration of a tune. We feel that monotony and repetition are an important core of music in the ambient genre regardless of what sub-genre within ambient we are talking about. To make monotonous and repetitive music interesting over time we need something more, and for us that usually means to sprinkle our music with some randomness.
After coming up with the primary parts of a tune we often start looking for that little bit of extra randomness to make a track come alive. Here we will present some of our most used techniques for creating just that.
Since we are using quite a bit of field recordings in our music, why not just find a nice and long recording to mix in to give the track that little extra. Well, yes we do that too..but often we might find a small piece of recording that really suits the mood of the track and we want to use that. How can we then go about using that small piece across a whole track without it ending up sounding too static?
For a long time we have been using three particular tools in Ableton Live to make short recordings become longer interesting pieces.
1. Clip envelopes
Using Live’s clip envelopes set to varying lengths has been a go to for as long as we can remember. This can generate interesting stuff of almost any recording. Load up a clip with a loop or recording of some kind. It could be rhythms, field recordings or whatever. Select and loop the part of the clip that you want to use.
In the envelopes section, set the Loop button to Unliked and adjust the Loop Brace to have a different loop length than the sample section of your clip. Preferably even, a loop length that is a bit off. With a loop length of two bars in the audio section, try with a loop length of e.g 1.4.2 or 1.1.3 in the envelope section and adjust your envelope for interesting effects. All your available envelopes can have different loop lengths so you can give your original sound a pretty extreme makeover, and best of all, you will be able to make your loop sound different all across your track and, with tiny adjustments, even different for each time it is played back.
2. Beat Repeat
Beat Repeat is a great effect to create small bits of random occurrences of sound. But beware of overusing it.
3. Max4Live LFO
The Max4Live LFO is perfect for making changes to different parameters over time. I can be mapped to all sorts of things, and we use it all the time.
4. The combination of all the above tools and techniques
All the three mentioned tools and techniques can give you excellent results on their own. Combine them all and there are really no limits to how you can randomize small snippets of sound.
Jostein & Rune