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Abelton Live: Instant Sampling & MIDI Mapping

Imagine playing a short groove on a kit, recording it, and within seconds having each individual note just performed loaded into a soft-synth drum machine, ready to be programmed into a magnificent mutation of meter. This is the future: instantaneous sampling and MIDI mapping, and it’s almost more fun than playing the drums. Almost.

In this column we’ve discussed the art of sampling a groove and turning it into a loop. This time, with scalpel in hand, the cut goes a little deeper into the beat-making abyss, resurfacing with a MIDI-triggered drum kit of home-grown audio samples.

Back in the old days (1990s) DJs made samples by hand, recording each drum one at a time. The audio was then cropped into individual files and imported or recorded into a sampler. While that’s still a common practice, there’s a new, more efficient, and fun method of sampling drum tones thanks in particular to Ableton Live (Reason and Pro Tools have similar beat-detecting software, but Live is streamlined for this).

The Ableton Method
To start, load a short (one-bar) stereo clip of a drum groove into Ableton (don’t fret about quality, as low-fi and sampling go hand-in-hand). Right click on the groove and select “Slice To New MIDI Track.” Be sure “Transients” is selected as the mode of slicing, then hit “OK” and voilĂ , a new instrument track is created with each drum tone mapped to a MIDI trigger. Now those drums can be played from either a MIDI controller or the computer’s keyboard (just select the keyboard icon in the top right-hand corner). Additionally, they can also be programmed, but be sure to test-drive the finger drumming first.

Let It Bleed
The real gold, however, isn’t from harvesting samples of isolated kicks and snares, but from permanently fused samples of a kick and hi-hat, snare and crash, or tom and ride, etc. (hence the beauty of sampling from a stereo track). These are the truly inspiring elements of the process because they lend themselves to stretching beyond the creativity of the traditional percussionist. This sampled drum kit has rhythmic capabilities that are physically impossible for a drummer, and therefore should be exploited for just that.

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