Ableton Live Tutorial: Sound Design using Live’s Freeze Functions + FREE Download w/ Rory PQ

In this tutorial, Dubspot’s Rory PQ explores many creative sound design possibilities using Ableton Live’s various Freeze functions to create melodies, pads, risers, vocal effects, and buildups. Included is a FREE Ableton Live project download. 

freeze

It’s that time of year when Mother Nature releases winter upon us and the Holidays begin. So why not kick off the chilly season with the gift of learning and a free giveaway.

In this tutorial we will explore some creative sound design possibilities using Ableton Live’s various Freeze functions. In addition, we will delve into many ‘Sample and Hold’ techniques using Live’s Reverb, Ping Pong Delay, and Beat Repeat devices. Along the way we will resample the results using the ‘Freeze and Flatten’ method to create melodies, pads, risers, vocal effects, and buildups. By the end of this tutorial we will have created a groovy Deep House sketch and covered a wide range of music making techniques aimed to help spark new ideas and creative approaches. Grab your scarf and gloves because we are about to freeze.

Deep Freeze | Ableton Live Sketch

Before we get started, feel free to follow along by downloading the FREE Deep Freeze Ableton Live project below. Sampler and Analog devices required.

Deep Freeze Sketch


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Understanding Live’s Reverb Freeze Function

First up on our frozen adventure takes us to Live’s Reverb audio effect. Located in the Diffusion Network section of the device interface is a Freeze button. The Freeze button allows you to freeze the reverb tail of the input sound. When activated, the reverberation will sustain indefinitely until the button is deactivated. Another term that describes what happens when you activate Freeze is ‘Sample and Hold.’ Essentially, the output signal is sampled the instant Freeze is activated during playback. The buffered audio will continue to loop until Freeze is deactivated.

The Cut and Flat buttons just below Freeze modifies how the frozen reverberation reacts when activated. Activating the Cut button will prevent the input signal from applying additional reverberation. Be cautious when deactivating this button because the reverberation can quickly build up to the point where it may bust through your speakers like the Kool-Aid Man. The Flat button is used to bypass the High and Low shelf filters when Freeze is activated. When Flat is deactivated you can control the High and Low frequency bands using the shelving filters located in the Diffusion Network.

Reverb Freeze Button

In the example below I sampled a snare running through Live’s Reverb with Freeze activated. Listen to how the reverb tail freezes in time and sustains without decaying.

Frozen Snare Reverberation

Now that we have a sustaining reverb tail, what’s next? Well, the creative possibilities are up to you, but to help you in the right direction we will explore how to resample frozen reverberation from a sampled synth stab, and then use the results to create a melody, pad, and a gated pitch riser.

Bonus Tip: You could also use small sections of sampled reverberation to layer under different drum elements to thicken their sound. I used this technique to thicken up the claps in the Deep Freeze project for this tutorial.

Resampling Using the Freeze and Flatten Method

To get this party started we need a sound to trigger the reverberation. For this project I sampled a single note using FabFilters’s Twin2 synth, but feel free to use any sound you like. To make the sound more unique we will process the signal further by adding the following chain of audio effects.

• Saturator – Used to warm the signal going into the Reverb and thicken the sound up by creating additional harmonics.
• Reverb – Used to freeze reverberation. Feel free to place the Reverb device anywhere in the device chain that sounds best to you.
• Resonator – Great for creating additional resonant tones and stereo width.
• Chorus – Adds additional stereo width and movement.

Sound Design Chain

Before we resample the frozen reverberation, it’s recommended to work in Arrangement View and activate the Freeze button with automation. This gives you more control to set the exact point when frozen reverberation will start. Note that silence will occur if the Freeze button is activated before playback begins. It’s important to allow the sound a chance to pass through the Reverb device first so it can trigger the reverberation.

Once you’re happy with the sound it’s time to resample some frozen reverberation. There are a couple different ways to do this, but for this demonstration we will use the ‘Freeze and Flatten’ method since we are all about freezing in this tutorial.

There are two steps to the ‘Freeze and Flatten’ method. First, we need to freeze the entire track we are working with. To do this we will use Live’s Freeze Track command. Freezing a track is an extremely handy feature that helps manage a projects CPU load by temporarily rendering all instruments, effects, audio or MIDI material to a new audio file. However, for are purposes we will use the Freeze Track and Flatten commands to quickly bounce the frozen reverberation to audio without having to record anything. Note that this is a destructive method meaning that all the devices and MIDI data will be overwritten and no longer available.

The steps to ‘Freeze and Flatten’ a track are simple. First freeze the track by right-clicking the Track Title Bar and choosing Freeze Track from the context menu.

Notice how the entire track and device chain now have a transparent white look. This shows that the track is temporally frozen and that further editing is unavailable until the track is unfrozen.

Freeze Track

Once the track is frozen, we can quickly resample the audio to the existing track by right-clicking the Track Title Bar once more and choosing Flatten from the context menu. Flattening a track creates a new audio file containing the recorded source material and effects.

Notice how the track’s device chain and MIDI data have been overwritten.

Flatten Track

Boom! We now have a sampled audio file to work with.

Frozen Synth Reverberation

Creating a Melody from Frozen Reverberation

Now that we took care of business and have some material to work with its time to get busy with the fun stuff and create the following melody.

Melody from Frozen Reverberation

• Create a new MIDI track in Arrangement View.
• Load Simpler and drop in the frozen reverberation sample we just created.
• Create a new MIDI clip by highlighting a region of time and holding CTRL [PC] / CMD [Mac] + Shift + M.
• Have some fun and record in some notes. Below is the melody pattern I came up with for this project.

Melody MIDI

• Looking at Simpler, adjust the Sample Start control to find a nice spot for the onset of the sound.
• Transpose the notes as needed. The melody for this sketch was playing to low so I transposed everything up two octaves.
• Smooth out any pops and clicks during playback with crossfades. First, we need to create a loop by activating the Loop button and then adjusting the Loop Length control to taste. Next, adjust the Loop Crossfade Amount control to apply fades on both sides of the loop. Activating the Snap button often helps as well by forcing the loop markers to zero-crossing points.
• Adjust the Volume envelopes to shape the sound further. For this melody I thought the initial attack of some notes were a bit sharp and percussive sounding. In addition the release time was a bit too long causing notes to overlap. To clean things up I increased the Attack, shortened the Release, lowered the Sustain, and adjusted the Decay until I had a desired sound.

Melody Simpler

Lastly, lets tie everything together and process the sound further. Feel free to add your favorite audio effects or third-party plugins to create a more unique sound. For this melody I added the following audio effects.

• EQ Eight – Used to cut out unwanted low frequencies with a highpass filter.
• Gate – Used to clean up and tighten the sound ever further by removing low-level noise that occurs between sounds. The device is also being used to add rhythmic gating by sidechaining it to the Kick.

Melody EQ and Gate

• Phaser – Used to create some additional movement and richness.

Melody Phaser

• Compressor – Used to tighten the decay of each note and control wild volume peaks by setting a fast Attack and Release.
• Sidechain Compressor – Set to sidechain from the Kick to add a subtle amount of bounce.

Melody Compressors

Creating a Pad from Frozen Reverberation

Many of the techniques we covered while creating the melody can be applied to designing a pad sound. However, this time we will process the sound a bit different and then finally layer the pad with the melody to create a more unique sound that is full and rich sounding.

We could find another sound and resample the frozen reverberation tail again, but for this demonstration we will use the reverberation sample we created earlier. Repurposing the sample for both the pad and melody will help unify the sound when we layer them together.

Lets explore the freezing reverb approach further and create the following two pad sounds.

Sustaining Pad

Gated Pad

• Create a new MIDI track in Arrangement View.
• Copy the Simpler over from the Melody track because it is already loaded with the frozen reverberation sample we created earlier.
• Copy the MIDI clip over from the Melody track as well. The notes from the melody will serve as the root notes for the pad chords.
• Stretch out each note so they sustain longer. Now that we have root notes for our chords we can play around with different minor and major triad variations until each chord smoothly transitioned to next.

Pad MIDI

• Adjust the Volume envelopes to taste. For this pad I increased the Attack and Sustain controls until the pad slowly swelled and sustained for the full length of the notes.
• Transpose the notes as needed. Pads often play above the bass and below the lead. For this pad I transposed the notes down one octave.

Pad Simpler

Lastly, process the sound further by adding your favorite audio effects or third-party plugins to create a more unique sound. For these two pad sounds I added the following audio effects.

• Saturator – Used to help thicken up the sound by adding harmonic distortion.
• EQ Eight – Used to cut out unwanted low frequencies with a highpass filter.

Pad Saturator and EQ

• Auto Pan – Used as a rhythmic gating effect by setting the Phase control to ‘0.00’ and the Rate to 1/12. I discovered that inverting the phase by toggling the Invert control and setting the waveform to sawtooth down sounded better when layered with the melody. Deactivate this device if you prefer the chords to sustain rather than gate. For this sketch, I switched back and forth between the two to add some variation.
• Phaser – Used to create some additional movement and richness.

Pad Auto Pan and Phaser

• Compressor – Used to control the difference in levels between the low and high notes. I set the mode to RMS because it’s a more relaxed type of compression that works well on pads and other sustaining sounds with less peaks. A slower Release was set for a longer duration of compression.
• Sidechain Compressor – Set to sidechain from the Kick to add a subtle amount of bounce and make room for the kick to cut through the mix better.

Pad Compressors

We reached a small milestone with the sketch and now have a pad and melody to start building a tune around. Lets check our work and hear how the pad and melody sound layered together before moving on to create some transition effects.

Layered Pad and Melody

Creating a Pitch Riser from Frozen Reverberation

Resampling frozen reverberation works great for creating various transition effects. What’s great about this technique is that you can use existing material from your tune to establish a more cohesive mix. Repurposing sounds your ear is already familiar with can often sound more pleasant than adding a completely new sound. For example, a crash cymbal used at the beginning of a breakdown would work excellent as the source material for resampling frozen reverberation to create a riser that would build anticipation at the end of the breakdown.

Lets look at how to create the following pitch riser by resampling frozen reverberation from a snare. For a more interesting effect, we will use Live’s Sampler device and take full advantage of the various LFO envelopes to modulate the sound as it rises in pitch.

Pitch Riser from Frozen Reverberation

Lets begin by running a snare sample through reverb and resampling the frozen reverberation.

• Create a new Audio track in Arrangement View.
• Drop in a sample of your choice anywhere on the timeline. For this demonstration we will use a snare sample. Note that this technique will work with MIDI as well.
• Load Live’s Reverb and any other audio effects or third party plugins to further process the sound. For this pitch riser I added Live’s Chorus effect to add some stereo width and movement.
• For best results it’s easier to activate the Freeze control with automation. Note that silence will occur if the Freeze button is activated before playback begins. It’s important to allow the sound a chance to pass through the Reverb device first so it can trigger the reverberation.

Snare Reverb Setup

• Lastly, lets resample the frozen reverberation using the ‘Freeze and Flatten’ method we covered earlier.

Now that we have some sampled reverberation to work with its time to make a decision. We could create a pitch riser by automating the clips Pitch envelope and loading additional audio effects, or drop the sample into a sampling device and work with MIDI. For this demonstration we will work with MIDI and use Live’s Sampler device because it’s loaded with fun controls that work great for modulating sounds.

Sound Design Time!

• Create a new MIDI track in Arrangement View.
• Load Sampler and drop in the frozen reverberation sample we just created.
• Create a new MIDI clip by highlighting a region of time and holding CTRL [PC] / CMD [Mac] + Shift + M.
• Next, draw in two notes an octave apart and overlap them a bit. For this pitch riser I placed notes on F3 and F4. Later we will tune the sample so it plays in the same key as the pad and melody. We will also adjust Samplers Glide control to make the pitch slide between the overlapping notes.

Pitch Riser MIDI

Nice, lets move forward with the sound design and bring our pitch riser to life. We will start by exploring Samplers various controls that are available in each tab while shaping our pitch riser.

Sample Tab

Looking at the Sample tab lets create a loop that plays back continuously and then add crossfades to smooth out any pops or clicks when a note is held down.

• Start by dragging the loop braces around a desired portion of the sample that sounds best to you.
• Next, increase the Crossfade amount to create fades on both sides of the loop to remove any pops and clicks during playback.
• Lastly, enable the Loop Sustain Mode so that the sample will keep looping until the note is released.

Sample Tab

Pitch/Osc Tab

The Pitch/Osc tab has some handy controls we will use to create a pitch envelope and tune the sample so it’s in key with the pad and melody.

• Enable the P.Env button to activate the pitch envelope. We will use this envelope to modulate the pitch so it ramps up by 12 semitones. Currently the pitch riser effect is 8 bars long, so we need the pitch to increase slowly 12 semitones over that length of time. To achieve this, I increased the Attack to 20 seconds and set the Pitch Amount to +12 st. I didn’t want the sound to drop in pitch when the note was released so I increased the End value to 100%.
• At this point if we played back the pitch riser effect it would play the first note and then jump up to the second note. For this pitch riser, we want the sound to slowly transition in pitch up to the next note. To accomplish this, simply choose Glide from the Glide Mode drop-down menu and adjust the Global Glide Time amount until your happy with the transition. Now the pitch riser will sound like one note rising in pitch rather than two overlapping notes.
• Lastly, let’s tune the sample so it’s in key with the pad and melody. Using Live’s Analyzer device I was able to see that the note on F3 was playing back as C3. To fix this we need to adjust the root key of the sample. This can be easily adjusted with the Global Transpose control. C3 is 5 semitones below F3, so simply increase the amount +5 semitones. You could also tune the sample using the RootKey control on the Sample tab.

Pitch Osc Tab

Filter/Global Tab

Lets move over to the Filter/Global tab and set up some filter envelopes to create a filter sweep.

• Enable the Filter button and lower the frequency somewhere around 100 Hz. We will use the Filter envelope to slowly increase the filter frequency over 8 bars.
• Enable the F.Env button and increase the Attack to taste. The faster the Attack the faster the filter will increase in frequency. For this pitch riser I also increased the Release and End controls so that the release tail frequency sustains and doesn’t quickly swoop back down.
• Next, increase the Filter Envelope Amount to control the filters cutoff frequency. For this pitch riser I set the amount to 72, which is the max amount. I went for the max amount so that the filter opens up completely.
• Lastly, adjust the Volume envelopes to further shape the sound. For this pitch riser I increased the Attack and Release controls so that the sound slowly creeps in and then has a nice amount of release at the end. The longer release sounded much smoother and transitioned better than a shorter release for this effect.

Filter Global Tab

Modulation Tab

The Modulation tab is loaded with an Auxiliary envelope and various LFO modulation controls. Here we will have some fun modulating the pitch riser to make it sound more interesting.

I thought it would be cool if the pitch riser started to pan and pump towards the end of the effect to build up more anticipation. To achieve this I used the following LFO settings to modulate various controls.

• Enable the LFO 1 button.
• Increase the Volume and Pan amount. I kept the amount somewhat subtle so it didn’t sound to crazy and out of control.
• Set the LFO Rate to Sync so that modulation occurs in-sync with the tunes tempo. Adjust the Beats to ¼ so that the pumping occurs on every quarter beat.

At this point the panning and pumping was occurring throughout the entire effect. I thought it would sound better if these two modulating controls could slowly creep in like the filter. This is where the Auxiliary envelope comes into play.

• Enable the Aux button.
• Increase the Attack to a desired amount of time. For this sound I set it to the same amount of time as the Filter and Pitch envelopes.
• We need to tell the envelope what controls to modulate. Choose the destination source from the ‘A’ and ‘B’ drop-down menus. For this sound, it is the ‘LFO 1 Amt Pan’ and ‘LFO 1 Amt Vol.’
• Next, set the amount you would like the envelope to modulate. 100 seemed to work well for this sound.
• Lastly, let’s clean up the sound by loading an EQ Eight with a highpass filter set to cut any unwanted low frequencies and a high shelf filter to tame the higher frequencies.

Modulation Tab and EQ

Sweet, that wraps it up for our frozen reverb adventure. Lets move on and look at the Freeze function for Live’s Ping Pong Delay device.

Creating a Vocal Loop Effect from Frozen Delay

Live’s Ping Pong Delay has a Freeze function as well. The Freeze button on the Ping Pong Delay is labeled ‘F.’ Activating this button during playback will buffer the audio and cause the delay to endlessly cycle, ignoring any new input until Freeze is deactivated.

This feature is great for capturing delayed audio to create a loop that can be further processed or modulated. The creative possibilities are up to you, however we will look at using this technique on a vocal sample to get your music making gears turning.

Freezing vocal samples is always fun. Using the Freeze function on Live’s Ping Pong Delay, we will capture a vocal snippet and modulate the delay times to create a more interesting vocal effect.

Ping Pong Freeze

Lets explore this approach further and create the following delayed vocal effect.

Modulating Frozen Vocals with Ping Pong Delay

To get started create a new Audio track in Arrangement View and load a vocal sample. This technique works with MIDI as well. Next, lets load the following audio effects to process the sound further.

• Dynamic Tube – Adds a mild amount of warmth. Saturating the signal before it delays is common technique used to help the signal sound more analog.
• EQ Eight – Used to cut unwanted low frequencies and unpleasant resonant frequencies. This helps clean up the vocal a lot.

Vocal Saturator and EQ

• Audio Effect rack containing a Ping Pong Delay. This allowed me to Macro map the Freeze button and Dry/Wet control to the same Macro control. Doing this makes it easier to automate the Freeze control and stop the sample from delaying when Freeze is deactivated. I Macro mapped the Beat Division controls as well to a different Macro control. This will allow us to automate the delay times.

Vocal Ping Pong

• Compressor – Used to control sporadic volume peaks and balance levels for a more consistent sounding vocal effect.
• Gate – Used to clean up the sound ever further by removing low-level noise. Tuning the threshold by increasing the Attack and decreasing the Release helped tighten things up as well.
• Limiter – Used to boost the signal and add some power back in that was lost while EQing the sample.

Vocal Dynamics

Things are coming along, almost to the finish line. Now that we have our vocal sample sounding smooth, let’s have some fun. Using the Macro controls lets draw in some automaton to active the Freeze button and modulate the delay times to create a vocal buildup.

Vocal Automation

Creating a Frozen Snare Buildup with Beat Repeat

Finally, the last stop on our frozen adventure takes us to Live’s Beat Repeat audio effect. The Beat Repeat doesn’t have a Freeze button but it does have a similar function called Repeat. Activating the Repeat button will immediately capture material and play repetitions until the button is deactivated. Note that activating the Repeat button bypasses the Interval, Offset, Chance, and Gate controls.

Beat Repeat

Lets get down and dirty with Beat Repeat and use the Repeat function to capture a snare sample. While the snare is repeating we will automate the Grid control to increase the rate of the repeated snare to create the following buildup.

Frozen Snare Buildup

• Create a new Audio track in Arrangement View. This technique works with MIDI as well.
• Drag in a sample you wish to repeat. For this buildup we are using a snare sample.
• Load Beat Repeat. For this sound we will keep the default settings.
• Automate the Repeat button to activate just after the sample plays.
• Automate the Grid control as well to control the size of each slice. This sounds like the snare roll is increasing in rate. Perfect for a snare roll buildup!

Beat Repeat Automation

This is a basic snare roll, but feel free to play around with some of the other controls to create a more unique sound.

Finally we will use the ‘Freeze and Flatten’ method to bounce the sound to audio and then run the signal through some reverb so it sits back in the mix. Again, feel free to get creative by adding your own audio effects, or take things ever further by editing the audio. For example, you could chop up the audio and rearrange different sections, stretch the audio, reverse sections, and go crazy with any other edits you can come up with.

Snare Buildup

Check out some other great Beat Repeat tricks HERE. Dubspot Contributor and Ableton Live Certified Trainer Josh Spoon shows us how to make a unique, rhythmic beat repeat rack.

That wraps up our frozen adventure. We now have some great material to work with and can start building a groovy tune. Before we add the remainder elements to complete our sketch lets hear all of our new frozen sounds playing together.

Frozen Sounds Unite

Great work! Many thanks to all you music makers who followed along and hung in there throughout the entire tutorial. Hopefully some of these techniques will spark a few new ideas you can try in your own projects. I would love to hear what you come up with, just drop a link to your tune in the comments section below.

Enjoy!

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