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HAA! & PHISE: Ableton Live and original musical parts

Posted on August 31st at 7:01 am
3 Comments

This is an article taken from my class work from my Berklee Music online class on Ableton Live (instructor Loudon Stearns). The subject – what are the benefits of original musical parts?

Benefits of creating original musical parts

By parts I will include not only parts determined by instrument/note order (such as a trumpet, timpani or guitar part) but also a part that is either a hybrid or pure synthesis/sampled sound (not related to note order).

I have found a few approaches to building sounds and parts in Live.

The first I will title the “Happy Accident Approach” (HAA – sometime written HAA!). This method is the try it and see what happens method. It is a very powerful approach given the extreme sound shaping control available in Live. Load a patch, lob on some effects, twist some dials and as often as not, be amazed by the cool sounds coming out of your monitors. This method, though time consuming shouldn’t be underrated as the results can be very useful. I have a few tools that help me with this:


1) Touchable for the IPAD: Touchable has a very cool mode when working with devices. It is called snap mode. When snap is enabled the value of the parameters in place at the time of enabling snap mode are “sticky”. Then, when you change a parameter (say filter type, resonance, etc.) you hear the change in sound while you move the device parameter but once you take your finger off the IPAD the parameter snaps back to its original value. This is neat tool for experimentation. Although it can take some hand contortions to modify multiple parameters at once, you can get some very interesting sounds and then “Snap” back to your original sound.

Also the physical modeled (gravity/bounce) X/Y pad… major HAA! potential there.

2) Kapture Pad for the IPAD: This is essentially a librarian for the settings currently in your Live Set. You can work with sounds, device and effect settings and more and then “Kapture” a snap shot of the current state of LIVE. These snapshot can be grouped in BANKS, labeled and recalled non-sequentially. This is a simple and effective tool for allowing sound exploration while not losing what you previously had in terms of previous settings. A cool thing about Kapture Pad is that the bank/setting info is stored on the host computer, not on the IPAD allowing for any Ipad with the Kapture pad software to access the saved information. The information can also be archived (backed up) from the host for safe, off site storage.

3) Koncrete Performer: Somewhat less intuitive but visually alluring is Koncrete Performer. This is an actual controller for Live with a librarian attached. The interface are Multiple Nodes controlled by touch. Individual/Multiple parameters of Live’s devices are mapped to the nodes and can be controlled via touch. You sort of have to see this to get the idea but the interface is visually breathtaking. Projecting this interface during a performance would make a very appealing visual for an audience.

All of these tools allow for creating and archiving “Happy Accidents”.

The second method I use for creating musical parts is what I would call “Pre-Hearing Intuitive Sound Envisioning” (PHISE).

This method is a bit more unreliable but can be a HUGE time saver over HAA!. The main method with PHISE is to Pre Hear what it is you want to hear in the real world. Here are a few of the ways that this manifests:

1) Song idea inspiration – have you ever ridden in your car and started to sing a melody? Quick, grab the recorder on your phone and capture that melody. Now when you sit down to Live, input that melody into Live and start building out the tune. You have successfully used PHISE.

The Next Note Theory (NNT)

(briefly stated – at any moment in a piece of music, the most relevant information is the next note)

2) Using NNT, PHISE is expresed as follows: You have built a song/sound structure and you envision another part as yet UNPLAYED. It can be a vague direction or a clear path to the next part, chord change, sound, effect, rhythm, whatever. That is PHISE at its best.

To use this method you have to allow yourself to be very cognizant of the burst of creativity that your mind has provided to you in terms of a sound choice, a chord change, an effect, – any yet unheard (imagined)  part of the project you are working on (or have yet to start).

Warning – it is VERY easy to ignore these PHISE moments. I recommend you don’t. They are rarely convenient, can invalidate the work that came before them and can lead to to many directions from a very simple core. My recommendation is to document them all and when you aren’t having PHISE moments use the more rational mind and the HAA! approach to flesh out the inspirations.

Of course this process doesn’t have to be linear. You may be working on a project and pre-hear something on an unrelated project. STOP. Record or otherwise document that idea.

Finally, the two methods can work hand in hand. Happy Accidents lead to PHISE that then lead to Happy Accidents which then lead to… you get the idea.

So after doing all of that, what are the benefits?

1) No copyright infringement lawsuits
2) Other musicians dig what you are doing
3) Really great musicians and producers want to interact with original artists
4) You start to appreciate originality in other art forms (dance, architecture, painting)
5) In some case, wealth, fame, and a 401 K can come with successful marketing of original music parts.
6) It feels good to create original music parts.

3 Responses to HAA! & PHISE: Ableton Live and original musical parts

  1. Pingback: Tracking live musicians with Ableton Live | Goldflies Music

  2. Maverick Taylor says:

    Very inspiring and useful information. Thanks for the guidance and wisdom of experience! I’ve had a few happy accidents myself. It was even fun back in the day when synths were all knobs & wheels – but every bit as fun today with touchscreens, mouse click & drag, and other manipulation & mutilation in the audio sampling world. Many of the greatest things in life are the least planned, but rather products of the environment, the times, and random chance. :-)

  3. Yossi Scheinberg says:

    I agree PHISE moments are great. I’m a multi-instrumentalis and use Ableton for both live and studio recording. I’m try to come up with a good way to record these PHISE moments without having to leave my current Ableton session. Possibley a memo VST that can records samples that would be availble in all sessions.

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