Today Danny J Lewis shows you how to how to twist up a vocal using a custom Ableton Live Effects Rack. Download the rack below for free!
This post was originally published in DJ Magazine’s free online edition DJ Weekly issue 93
Twisted vocal effects are all the rage at the moment, from the deepest underground tracks to the most commercial pop dance radio hits. Our ears are well and truly tuned into this sound now, so much so that when you hear a naturally performed and un-tampered with vocal you almost feel that something is missing. There are many options out there for creating these abstract vocal effects including classics such as Effectrix and Artillery alongside recent arrivals such as Izotope’s Stutter Edit but this week we want to work on twisting up a vocal using a custom Ableton Live Effects Rack.
The whole concept of an Effects Rack is similar to a Reason Combinator; you can build up your own combination of effects in a chain and then map the most logical parameters to one of 8 macro controls. The Rack can then be saved as a single preset ready for instant recall. It’s a great way to put your own personal spin on your sounds and a big feature of the way we work on Point Blank’s Ableton Live Sound Design Course.
Vocal Twisting effects come in several main categories and can be combined for interesting textures:
- Pitch – either up or down in pitch. Depending on the process used this could be independent of time (or not) For example, if a granular process is used (such as transposing pitch on a warped audio clip) then the speed is not affected.
- Time – the speed of the vocal is adjusted (timestretch/compress) or the timing of the elements in the phrase are adjusted (re-triggering at different start positions). You could also put gating into this category, either rhythmically or just as a tool for shortening the length of words/syllables.
- Space – Reverbs are added to add a sense of space or delays to bring an extra rhythmic dimension to the sound.
- Modulation – adding sonic ‘movement’ to the sound using a phaser, flanger or chorus can help to make a vocal sound ‘futuristic’ or thicker, depending on the settings.
- Distortion – adding extra bite or edge to the sound through additional harmonics. You could also class the Redux plugin in this category and this brings extra scope for mashing up the sound through sample rate reduction and bit depth adjustment.
All of these effects types could be combined and adjusted in realtime via midi control to add some extra spice to a vocal performance. In our example this week, I take a vocal and process it through my custom Effects Rack that focuses on re-pitching the vocal. Watch the video to see the Rack in action and then take a look behind the scenes at how the effect was made. You can download the rack for yourself by clicking here.
Learn more sound design techniques such as this on our Native Instruments Sound Design, Ableton Sound Design Courses and upcoming Maschine Course.
Watch more free tutorials on Point Blank’s sample course page.
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Hi. This is Danny Joe Lewis, also known as Enzyme Black. I’m a course developer and tutor, at PointBlank Online.
In Club Land, you have heard some very interesting pitch-to-vocal effects occurring in quite a few tunes. We’re talking about stuff that goes very high pitch, very low pitch a real kind of twisted-out kind of vibe. I’ve got an Ableton FX Rack that I’ve built for you guys and you can download this from the blog. What you can do with it is make the vocals sound really futuristic or weird. This video is all about actually using that. I’m going take you behind the scenes on how it was built as well. What I’m going to do is a little bit of a performance for you, I can do it on the machine, andyou’re going to get to see it, actually in context first, and you’re going to get the behind the scenes look afterwards.
Ableton Live is setup, ready to record into the arrange. I’ve got the machine as a MIDI controller. Don’t feel you need to have a machine. Any MIDI controller with rotary controls and buttons is going to be fine. I’ve got these setup with custom MIDI mapping, to work with my Audio Effects Rack. I’m going to do a performance on-the-fly first, then what I’ll do afterwards is take you through the parameters in the chains so you can see the effects and what’s happening with them.
I’ve got Ableton Live’s Arrangement dock open. You can see some of the automation that was recorded. The majority of the stuff that I was doing was based on my custom FX rack. This has got 3 macro controls that are mapped to the effects contained within. Firstly, we have the EQ. This is just a mixing thing, just to roll off the bass and brighten up the vocal. The compressor is to balance the level of the vocal. Chorus just to add a bit of stereo width. The auto-filter is mapped, so you can see if I right- click, this is mapped to the first macro on my custom FX rack. The grain delay pitch is mapped to the second one. The frequency shifter is fine, mapped to the third macro; that was creating the really interesting vocal twisting. Let me just show you again, I’m going to just delete, basically just take this as if we’re starting again with the vocal soloed.
Filter, low-pass filter. I’m going to take you back onto the vocal chain so you can see this. There’s the filter. With that open, let’s have a look at the grain delay, higher in pitch, 12 semitones, minus 12. Also, the frequency shifter, the fine control adds a kind of robotic texture to the voice, and that combined with the other pitch, that’s what I was doing in the break down sections. The other thing to create the intensity was the fact that I was automating the actual effects sends. If you have a look, I’ve got rotary controls to feed into a reverb, and that’s on Channel 8, and then I’ve got a delay. The reverb had a massive, long tail; it decayed on 60 seconds. Then what I did was assign these 2 buttons to be on and off of the actual effects returns. Sometimes, it would be a wash of effects texture, then you’d see it go dead, and it would sound really nice. This is just showing you the internals of that particular rack. It’s a great rack for twisted-out vocals and performing stuff on-the-fly. You can download it, put it into your Live, and have an experiment for yourselves. You can just see how the whole concept of performing stuff is a really nice way to do it. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but that’s the great thing about going back into the Arrange window and tidying stuff up at the very end.
If you’re interested in building your own custom FX racks, check out our course, the Ableton Live Sound Design course. This is designed as a follow- on from the first Ableton Live course. This goes through lots of demonstrations of building effects and also building some custom instruments for yourselves, as well.
Make sure also to subscribe to the YouTube channel, that’s YouTube.com/PointBlankOnline. If you’re interested in any other courses, check out PointBlankOnline.net.