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
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.