In this Ableton Live Tutorial, Dubspot’s Rory PQ takes us through four methods of creating rhythmic gate style effects to add movement and energy to sustained sounds. Also included is an Ableton Live project loaded with racks and examples of the rhythmic gating methods covered in this tutorial.
One of the most commonly used audio effects utilized in all styles of music is the Noise Gate. Noise Gate effects have many practical applications and are used as either corrective or creative tools. For example, Noise Gate’s can be used as a corrective tool to eliminate background noise that occurs between sounds, or used to clean up a mix by cutting off long reverb or delay tails. In addition, Noise Gate’s work great to shape a sounds decay to either tighten up long notes or control syncopation between sounds to achieve a tighter groove. Noise Gates also excel as a creative tool in the studio for sound design purposes or on the road in live performances as an audio effect to excite the crowd.
In this tutorial, we will look at four rhythmic gating methods and sound design techniques using various Ableton Live devices. In addition, we have included a Creative Gating Ableton Live Project loaded with the Audio Effect Racks and examples of the four rhythmic gating methods covered in this tutorial.
Rhythmic Gating with Dummy Clips
Using Dummy Clips to trigger automation is a great way to build a complex set of rhythmic gate patterns. You may ask, “What are Dummy Clips?” The term Dummy Clip is used to describe an empty Audio Clip that contains automation for modulating a specified parameter of any device in Ableton Live. They are used to trigger automation only and are not intended to playback any audio. Learn more about Dummy Clips and how to create them in the following article:
Rhythmic gating using Dummy Clips allows you to create unique rhythmic patterns with automation envelopes that can be drawn in or recorded to give you complete control over how the sound is being gated. In addition, you’re not limited to using a Gate device for this method. You have the option to use any device that can dynamically affect levels. For example, you could use volume envelopes or filter frequency envelopes. What’s also nice is that you can build a collection of Gating Dummy Clips that can be easily recalled in future projects.
For the examples below I created two Dummy Clips to add some creative movement to a sustained pad sound. One Dummy Clip automates Live’s Utility Gain control and the other automates the Auto Filter’s Frequency control. Each Dummy Clip has the same automation envelope but a much different effect.
Rhythmic Gating w/ Utility
Rhythmic Gating w/ Auto Filter
Bonus Tip: You can use a Return Track to feed the gate effect in parallel. To set this up select the track you wish to gate and change the output to ‘Sends Only.’ Next, select the Dummy Clip track and change the input to any empty Return Track. On the track you wish to gate, use the Send knob to control the amount of gate effect being applied in parallel.
Rhythmic Sidechain Gating
The next method of rhythmic gating we will look at involves using Live’s Gate device and its Sidechain feature to trigger the gate effect from another source. This technique is fun and much faster to setup than using Dummy Clips. The source that triggers the Gate’s Sidechain input can either be an audio sample or MIDI sequence. For example, you could set the Gate’s Sidechain source to trigger from a percussion sample so that the effect matches the groove of the project or program a MIDI sequence to create a more complex gate effect.
Using the same sustained pad sound, we will set up Live’s Gate device to sidechain from both a percussion sample and a programmed MIDI pattern so you can hear the difference. The initial setup is quick and easy. First, drag in Live’s Gate device onto any track you wish to gate. Next, expand the Sidechain controls and choose the source material to trigger the gate effect. Lastly, fine tune the Gate’s Threshold, Attack, and Release settings until you’re happy with the results. Often, a fast Attack and medium Release is a good starting point.
Rhythmic Gating Triggered by Audio
Rhythmic Gating Triggered by MIDI
Stutter Gating w/ Auto Pan
The third rhythmic gating method we will look at uses Live’s Auto Pan device. This method is by far the simplest form of gating and the easiest to set up. However, it lacks the fine control seen in the previous methods. Auto Pan does a great job adding stereo width and movement to your sounds, but it can also be used to create gate style stutter effects that sync to the project’s tempo. Let’s explore this further. Auto Pan has a Phase control to adjust the amount of offset between the waveforms for the left and right channel. Setting the Phase to ’0.00′ will leave you with a single waveform that modulates amplitude. Essentially it’s an LFO to control volume levels. Once the Phase is set, you can fine-tune the effect by selecting an LFO Waveform and adjusting the Rate, Shape, and Amount to control how much of the effect is being applied.
Bonus Tip: You can drop in multiple instances of Auto Pan with different waveform settings to create a more unique gating effect. You could also adjust the Offset slightly to add some stereo width. Caution, sounds can become very sharp and percussive, so it’s recommended to drop in a Compressor to tame the gate party.
Stutter Gating w/ Auto Pan
Sidechained Rate Gate
The final rhythmic gating method we will look at is similar to the rhythmic sidechain gating method we explored earlier, except it allows us to adjust the MIDI notes triggering the gate effect on the fly. This approach uses Live’s Compressor instead of a Gate and a custom Audio Effect Rack (included in the free project download) stacked with Live’s Arpeggiator and Simpler loaded with a sample to trigger the Compressor’s Sidechain input.
The combination of devices allows you to adjust the rate at which tempo synced notes trigger sidechain compression on the track you wish to apply the effect. Essentially, it’s like traditional sidechaining but with the option to increase and decrease the pumping effect on the fly to create tempo-synced patterns. The setup involves loading a Compressor on the track you wish to effect and setting the Sidechain input to the Audio Effect Rack that is loaded on a separate MIDI track. On the same MIDI track create a clip that has a single sustained note for 1 or more bars. The Arpeggiator will play this note at a rate you can adjust with a turn of a knob. This rack works great for adding additional movement to sounds and creating pumping buildups that increase in rate.
Sidechained Rate Gate
Bonus Tip: Try applying some delay or any of your favorite effects to any of these methods to enhance the sound.
Also, check the following article to learn how to use Live’s Beat Repeat to create some fun rhythmic effects.
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