Everything Old is New Again, Again
By Francis Preve
Tue, 23 Jul 2013

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Electronic dance music is like fashion that you can hear. It goes through predictable and well-defined stylistic cycles in which a sound begins in some underground scene, rises to general popularity among EDM fans, then crosses over onto pop albums you can get at Starbuck’s, at which point it’s cast aside as dated. Then, this now unfashionable genre lies dormant for about 15 to 20 years, after which it is rediscovered by the next generation.

Well, now that the ’80s revival is reaching its end, what next? Why, ’90s house music, of course. Thanks to artists like Disclosure and indie labels like Toolroom and Definitive, the early ’90s house sound is roaring back to life like one of the dancing zombies from the “Thriller” video. [That video is from the ’80s, but we can’t think of any ’90s videos that have dancing zombies. Unless you count Seattle grunge. —Ed.]

One of the key components of that era of dance production is parallel seventh chords, major or minor, played on either piano or organ. There are two easy ways to accomplish this: Either via sampling or with the assistance of MIDI tools like Ableton Live’s Chord device or Xfer Records' Cthulhu plug-in (reviewed May ’13). 

Method 1: Via Sampling

The classic approach to authentically recreating these chords is remarkably straightforward. Pick your favorite bright piano or B-3 organ preset, play a seventh chord (throw in the ninth if you’re feeling ambitious), then record it as audio into your DAW of choice. Ableton Live’s Freeze/Flatten functions make this task even, ahem, simpler. For added flexibility, make sure you record a sample that’s at least two measures long, because transposing the sample upward will shorten its duration.

From there, crop any silence from the beginning of your chord sample then load it into your sampler of choice, spreading the sample’s key range across your entire keyboard. And if you really want purism, get a used Akai S1000 (shown) to keep it real.

Method 2: Via MIDI processing


Ableton Live includes a nifty MIDI device, simply called Chord, that allows you to pick up to six simultaneous intervals, then play them as a chord using a single keystroke. This technique is especially well suited to playing piano samples, as extreme transpositions of sampled pianos can sound awkward and artificial.


The Chord device settings for a major seventh chord are: +4, +7, and +11 semitones (the root note is automagically included in the resulting chord). For a minor seventh, use +3, +7, and +10. Once you’ve got it set up, just start banging on your keyboard with a single finger. Trust me, something cool and vintage sounding will pop out of your speakers in no time.

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