Enveloping Strategies

Most DAWs have two kinds of automation: time based and clip based. Using Ableton Live 5 for my examples, I'll discuss how to use the clip-based automation tools in your DAW. Ableton Live 5 has a particularly robust form of clip-based automation called Clip Envelopes. You can, however, implement the same techniques in most DAWs.
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FIG. 1: Breakpoint envelopes (from top to bottom) control channel one Main and Mod oscillator pitches, lowpass filter cutoff and resonance, channel two filter cutoff, and channel three volume.

Most DAWs have two kinds of automation: time based and clip based. Time-based automation is tied to the DAW's timeline, whereas clip-based automation is tied to (and loops with) individual audio and MIDI clips, which can be moved around on the DAW's timeline. Either kind of automation can be used to modulate plug-in instrument and effects parameters, but clip-based automation is more flexible. In this article, I'll discuss how to use the clip-based automation tools in your DAW. For my examples, I used Ableton Live 5, which has a particularly robust form of clip-based automation called Clip Envelopes. You can, however, implement the same techniques in most DAWs.

Flexible Flanger

Although technically a time-based process, flanging is often emulated with comb filters by modulating their notch frequencies with an LFO. You can expand on that technique by using parametric equalizers and automating their parameters.

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Insert an EQ Four plug-in on a Live audio track. Set each EQ Four band to Bell Curve mode, and set the band frequencies to consecutive integer multiples of 220 Hz. For now, set each band's gain to the minimum (-15 dB), and set each band's Q to the maximum (12 dB). Place a harmonically rich audio clip in one of the Session view slots for the track. Select the clip, make its Envelope Box visible and active, and select the first frequency envelope for the EQ Four in the Clip Envelope editor. Depending on the length of the clip, you may want to unlink the envelope and set up a short loop of one or two bars.

Create a triangular envelope whose peak is roughly 30 percent, and copy and paste that envelope to the remaining frequency envelopes. Play the clip, and you'll hear typical flanging. You can change the effect by using Clip Envelopes of varying lengths, modulating other EQ Four parameters, and using two or more EQ Four effects in series (see Web Clip 1).

Stop That Arp

Arpeggiators are relentless, but you can use volume envelopes to curb their enthusiasm. Web Clip 2 illustrates a live-performance technique for varying the rhythm of an arpeggiated bass line. The setup uses two MIDI tracks: a performance track to play the synth and an automation track to control the synth track's volume. Set Live's Monitor mode for the performance and automation tracks to In and Auto, respectively.

Insert a synth plug-in on the automation track and insert Live's Arpeggiator MIDI effect on the performance track. In Web Clip 2, I used the Thumb UpDown Arpeggiator style with a tempo-synchronized rate of eighth-note triplets (1/12). Route the performance track's MIDI output to your synth on the automation track (not to Track In). Playing a chord now produces arpeggiated eighth-note triplets.

Create an empty MIDI clip on the automation track, select its Mixer Volume envelope, and create a looping gating pattern. (Longer loops allow for more intricate patterns.) Assign MIDI notes to trigger different automation clips, and then play chords with one hand while selecting rhythm patterns with the other.

Tapped Out

You can create your own multitap delay from several Simple Delay plug-ins inserted on different return buses (see Fig. 1 and Web Clip 3). Effects on return buses can't be automated with Clip Envelopes, but you can automate the send levels to those effects. Be sure to initialize the setup by turning all send levels to the maximum and initializing all send-level envelopes to the minimum (0 percent).

For Web Clip 3, I used four Simple Delays with different delay times. I set each delay's mix to full wet. Three delays were stereo linked, tempo synchronized, and set to 50 percent feedback. The fourth delay was unlinked and set to short right and left delay times with 95 percent feedback to produce a pair of resonators tuned a fifth apart.

Send-level automation for any clip on any track controls the input to each delay. Use the return-bus sends for cross feedback between the delays. Relatively active automation works well on rhythm tracks, but to avoid lapsing into multitap chaos, it's best to place individual drum instruments on separate tracks with their own send-level automation.

Len Sasso is an associate editor of EM. Visit his Web site atwww.swiftkick.com.