All of you Ableton heads out there have probably used the beat repeat effect but I suspect most have never strayed far from the basics. By activating beat repeats manually (instead of by chance), you can take away the randomness and make the repeats happen when you want. When you use more than one copy of the effect you can create multiple layers of beats. Then work in a controller to interact with the beat in a really tactile and expressive way. In today’s article we will explore this basic but creative controllerism technique for Ableton Live.
The Beat Repeat effect can be used with all sorts of music to create an almost limitless amount of different effects and sounds. While the most obvious uses rely on using the Chance control in the lower left corner to vary the odds of a beat repeating, to me the most expressive use is by removing the random chance and playing the effect manually with a controller. With the right settings, you can use this to achieve great beat looping or shuffling, improvise new rhythms using drum loops or other sounds, or manipulate instrumental tracks on the fly.
In the intro video I used two sets of 3 beat repeats, each controlled by a different control on my midi controller. I used the same settings on each set of three to show off two different control possibilities. The video can give you some idea about what you can do, but the best thing is just to try for yourself.
SET IT UP
- To begin, lower the Chance setting to 0.00% and assign the Repeat to a midi control.
- Change the grid size to, 1/8 and leave the rest of the settings alone for now.
Every time you press the midi key assigned to the Repeat button, whatever was playing at the time that you pressed the key will repeat every 1/8th of a bar. Depending on what kind of midi control you use for the repeat, the effect will either be momentary or toggle between on and off when you press it. Regular midi notes will act as as switch, while pressure pads, for instance, will only have the effect on while they are pressed down.
Add two more beat repeats with different grid sizes and assign the Repeat button to more midi controls. The size has a great impact on what kind of rhythm you develop as you use the effects. Put larger grid size repeats on the left side of the mixer drop area so that the larger grids are not flooded by the smaller, more frequent repeats. When you are finished, your beat repeats should look like this.
HOW IT WORKS
First a word on exactly what is happening. Beat Repeat is basically a looper that loops 1 bar or less. The effect records one bar in a buffer at all times. When you press the repeat button, the effect waits until the next interval of the grid size and then repeats that grid size until the effect is turned off. If the grid size is small, the effect turns on almost immediately, however with the largest setting, One Bar, it waits until the next bar before repeating. To repeat a beat, simply press one of the controls when you hear the sound that you want to repeat.
By turning the chance to 0.00%, the controls outlined in red no longer function. You can use the controls outlined in green to change what and how often the effect repeats.
Try using the Ins (Insert) setting. This will cause the repeated sound to completely replace the original sound. This setting is a lot harsher and produces more drastic effects. I would recommend using it on only one beat repeat at a time to keep from destroying the mix too much.
Sometimes the repeats will drown out a track, especially is you are using this technique on instrumental tracks but the filter will solve this problem. I like to set the filter based on the grid size of the repeats. You can also use this to add variety to drum tracks. Try the settings below and then experiment to find the perfect sound for you.
Experiment with the other controls by assigning them to a midi controller. For example, I have a control set up to raise the Decay of all three Beat Repeats to 15% and another to switch all three Filters on and off. Other than that, it is probably better to use as few controls as possible. A simpler control scheme usually results in a more powerful effect.
TRY IT OUT!
You can use as many Beat Repeats as you want. Depending on the grid sizes, pitch, decay, and other settings can either provide subtle or extreme effects for all types of music. One great option is to use only one Beat Repeat with a favorite grid size (my favorite is 1/6) so you can add some extra flair to a rhythm at the touch of a button. This effect is great because it gives you tactile control over any clip you are playing in Live. Try it out and see what you come up with.
If you are interested in using Ableton Live as a DJ, check out these articles:
Why DJ with Ableton Live:
For more inspiration watch Interview + Performance with Edison