Ableton Live 9.5 includes a slew of new features, but the real show-stopper is the update to the Simpler instrument. Simpler began as a basic sampler that could accommodate a single audio file mapped across the entire keyboard. It included multimode filters, three ADSR envelopes and an LFO that could be routed to pitch, volume, filter cutoff and panning.
With Live 9.5, Simpler now includes integrated slicing algorithms, hassle-free time-stretching, and some of the best analog filter models I’ve ever heard. Moreover, many of Simpler’s original synthesis functions—such as the filter and envelopes—are now graphically editable, making them much more approachable for newcomers.
This month we’ll explore a few unusual sound design tricks that may not be immediately apparent to users.
Slicing. Simpler’s new one-click slicing algorithm intelligently detects transients and instantly applies them across any sample loaded into its memory. While Ableton’s Slice-To-MIDI feature is still available for deeper work, being able to quickly chop and dice audio is a godsend for rhythmic music of all kinds. While the most obvious applications are drum loops and a capellas, using the slicing tool on evolving drones is a fantastic way to add rhythmic complexity to samples that contain shifting harmonics. Chopping an extended didgeridoo recording is an obvious tactic, but if you have a wavetable synth like Xfer’s Serum, you can take a preset with morphing characteristics, sample a few seconds of a note or chord, then apply Simpler’s slicing algorithm. From there, experiment with various rhythms on your keyboard (or better still, drum pads) and bingo, you’ve got a timbral pattern that would be nearly impossible to duplicate without a lot of tedious step-sequencing.
Warping. The addition of Ableton’s time-stretching algorithms is a quantum leap forward for Simpler, but the new algorithms have distinct strengths and weaknesses that may not be immediately apparent, so here’s a rundown of each mode that goes a bit deeper than the descriptions within Live.
Beats: Optimized for rhythmic loops and the default mode for Simpler. If you’re working with instrument samples or vocals, you’ll want to change it immediately.
Tones: This mode is reminiscent of the time-stretching algorithms found in vintage hardware samplers. Economical in terms of CPU usage, but it tends to smear the details of your sampled audio. Use this with harmonically simple sustained sounds.
Texture: A variation on Tones, but with a bit of granular magic added. I’ve always been a fan of this warping mode, as it adds a chorusing effect with a touch of noise-like harmonic motion.
Complex and Complex Pro: These incur a steeper CPU hit, so using these with polyphonic material may impact older computers. Complex mode is great for audio of all kinds. Complex Pro is better for mixed musical content, as it sounds really strange on a capellas and solo acoustic instruments.
For the audio examples on Keyboardmag.com, I created a multi-octave layer using three different modes—classic, complex and texture—so you can hear each of the new algorithms in a real-world context.
Filters. Derived from Cytomic’s The Drop, Live 9.5’s new filter algorithms are among the best in the industry, with models of the Moog Prodigy, Korg MS20, OSCar, and a fusion of the latter two. Simpler also includes Cytomic’s modeled overdrive characteristics for each filter circuit. Even with the cutoff wide open, adding drive imbues your samples with impressive analog warmth that’s different from Live’s Overdrive and Saturator devices. So if you want to give your audio more presence and character, tinker with the filter’s new drive knob. You won’t be disappointed. And if you want to really go deep, pick up a copy of The Drop, as its features go a lot deeper than what’s represented in Live.