Monday, 20 January 2020


It was a strange email. Not from a name that I recognised. But it praised this blog, used an obscure link from a two year old blog post, and then used this as the hook to entice me into clicking on a link.

So I checked the actual email address, and yep, the name wasn't the same, plus it was a gmail address, so it was already starting to score quite highly on my 'possible phishing' suspicion counter. The link it so desperately wanted me to click on wasn't quite as ordinary as it appeared, and, like the name at the end of the email, was in a different font size. At this point the suspicion counter was too high and I deleted the email.

Not that long ago, phishing emails tended to routinely use urgency (only 24 hours left, do this now, urgent...) as one of the main ways that they tried to get you to click on the link payload. This email was different, because it was attempting to appeal to my vanity by praising this blog, in the hope that I would then click on the poisoned link payload. Normally this would probably raise it closer in my mind to what is called 'spear-phishing', which is where the email is targeted to an individual, but it didn't seem to be that specific. So my suspicion is that this was just what passes for ordinary phishing nowadays, and is consigned to the same virtual waste bin as all of those emails with names of people I know that say that I must open this link because I will love it, or I must see it, etc., and where again the name and the email address don't match...

I apologise for hijacking this blog post away from the usual music content, but the occasional reminder about

not clicking on links in emails that are even slightly suspicious

is always good, imho. It could save you from all sorts of bad stuff. Just delete suspicious emails.

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Sunday, 19 January 2020

Quick and easy MIDI clock sync between Novation Circuit and Circuit Mono Station

One interesting trend that I have watched recently is the loss of 5-pin DIN sockets for MIDI, and their replacement by one of two different ways of wiring up stereo 'TRS' 3.5mm jack sockets. I feel sorry for the IMA/MMA at having to choose one of the two ways as the approved standard going forward (Recommended Practice RP#54), much as I'm intrigued that MIDI 2.0 isn't as OSC-friendly as I expected, but the world can be a challenging and complicated place. Now smaller sockets do mean that hardware rear panels and front panels can be smaller, and in these Eurorack-ascendent days, this is probably a good thing.

As a side effect of smaller MIDI sockets, a lot of hardware that I have bought recently has come with adapters, and I have carefully labelled each adapter with the piece of equipment for which it is intended to be used, so that I avoid the troubleshooting nightmare of one or more 'Wrong MIDI adapters'. I expect that several stands in the quieter backwaters of this year's Winter NAMM exhibition featured testing gadgets that show which type of little MIDI socket you have, or which 'way' of adapter you have, because I can see a growing market for these things over the next few years.

Two pieces of my equipment that have little MIDI sockets are from Novation: the astonishingly versatile, feature-rich and often-firmware-updated Circuit, and the broad, deep and flexible Mono Station. Given their price to feature ratio, I find it very hard to criticise them in any way, and I use them a lot. Plus, their customer support has been helpful, responsive, informed and overall excellent to me, so that's a strong combination: brilliant products, and amazing customer support.

MIDI Clock Sync

The Novation Circuit and the Novation Mono Station are two very different pieces of equipment, despite looking like two pretty close siblings. Circuit is a 'jack-of-all-trades' two part (6 note poly, and 6 note articulation, spread across the two parts) synth and (drum or anything else) sample playback groovebox for knocking out ideas. Mono Station is a sophisticated 'everything major can be automated' synth-and-sequencer deeply-incestuous combination that has two note 'polyphony' and one note articulation - something which is often abbreviated to 'paraphonic' in some quarters. Between them, you can make some interesting stuff with just two boxes.

Of course, one thing that you might want to do with two pieces of hardware is sync them together so that they use the same clock. Asynchronous beats have always struggled to get people onto dance floors, and so routing the MIDI Clock from one to the other is a pretty standard part of setting them up for 'synced' operation. To do this, you use one of them as the MIDI Clock source, and the other as the sink for the clock - the default configuration of both units means that if you connect the MIDI Out of one box to the MIDI In of the other box, then they should run in sync with the Master (the box with the MIDI Out) Run/Stop button controlling both boxes.

In order to do this, you need two adapters, plus a MIDI cable and a cable wrap to keep it tidy:

Now this is quite an assembly! And it got me thinking: it converts from little MIDI sockets to big MIDI sockets, just so that a conventional MIDI cable can connect the two boxes together. Why can't you just connect the two little sockets together?

It turns out that you can. Here's my experimental setup to see if it works:

All I did was borrow a stereo 3.5 TRS jack to jack cable from one of those headphone-sharing iPod/iPhone accessories and connected the MIDI Out of the Circuit to the MIDI In of the Mono Station. Pressing the Run/Stop' button on the Circuit then controlled start and stop for both boxes. Now in reality, this is a cheap and nasty cable and my advice would be to make a more robust cable than use part of a headphone sharing gadget, and there are a number of important things to bear in mind:

'Only connect a MIDI In to a Thru or an Out.' (The first rule of MIDI)

'Use cables with stereo TRS 3.5mm connectors - NOT Eurorack patch cables' 
(Yes, once plugged in they look the same!)

'Use shielded twisted pair cable! (as used for microphones)'

So the Frankenstein 'Two adapters plus MIDI cable plus cable tidy wrap' assembly can be replaced by a single cable. Simples, as the adverts say.

 So that you don't have to turn your computer monitor upside down, here's that 'rear-panel' view the other way up so that the socket legends are readable:

Here's a graphics-software-edited reminder that the connectors have to be STEREO...

A simple diagram with reminders about stereo plugs!

Use the right sort of cable!

As a quick experiment to check out that you don't need the two converters and the MIDI cable in between, then this test worked for me. But for professional use, then MIDI should be done properly with the right cables, not part of a cheap headphone gadget!

The MMA Recommended Practice #54 states that:

"Direct connection between two TRS-equipped devices using cables designed for use with audio equipment is not acceptable because the wires are not twisted pair and are typically individually shielded."

Which is why I am recommending that you make your own special-purpose cable. You will need two stereo TRS 3.5mm plugs, plus a short length of shielded twisted pair cable (as sold for microphone cables, NOT twin screened as you use for stereo interconnections) - and some skill at soldering. I will have a go and include a photo of my finished cable in an update to this post...

My thinking here is that if you have a distinctive cable with plugs that don't look like Eurorack patch cabling, then you will know that it is a special purpose 'Special cable for doing MIDI Clock Sync between two boxes with little MIDI sockets'. Hey, you could even add a label to the cable that reminds you!

You do all of this at your own risk, of course.

Do not do this with ANY other pieces of equipment until you have checked that they use the same 'way' of converting from little MIDI sockets to big MIDI sockets!

Enjoy the syncing, of course.

Twisted pair?

In case you are wondering what all this 'stereo / individually screened' versus 'screened twisted pair' means, then here's a quick guide to what happens inside a cable, even when the plugs on the end look the same...

Let's start with what is happening inside a 'stereo' 3.5mm TRS cable - the sort of thing that you get between a tower computer and a woofer, or between a laptop or mobile phone and a multi-headphone sharing gadget. Each of the two wires carrying audio (T and R) has its own metal screen (the dotted lines), and the screens are connected to the 'Ground' (S). Having separate screens around each audio signal is deliberate - it keeps the two audio signals separate!

In contrast, a 3.5mm TRS cable intended for carrying MIDI is very different inside. The two wires that carry the MIDI data (T and R) are twisted together, and then that twisted 'pair' is put inside a single metal screen, which is again connected to 'Ground' (S). The twisting inside the screen has a big effect on the speed and reliability of transferring the MIDI data - the physical arrangement of the wires and screens really does matter!

Note that from the outside, the plugs on the ends of this cable look exactly the same. Also, unless the cable is actually made as two separate screened cables joined together in a figure-of-8 shape, then the cable probably looks exactly the same as well. (Lots of cables have an outer 'sheath' that hides what is going on inside with a 'round' exterior.

If we now go back to that 'Adapters at either end of a MIDI cable':

Then we can now represent what is actually happening much more accurately:

So there are twisted pairs (screened, but I haven't over-complicated the diagram with them) inside the two adapters, plus the same screened twisted pair inside the MIDI cable. As the diagram says, Novation don't use the MMA recommended mapping of TRS-to-MIDI pins, but in this case, because the two adapters are identical, the MIDI cable effectively 'disappears' and the end result is the same as in a purpose made cable:

And, yes, this is not quite 'Quick and Easy', but hopefully you are now better informed about MIDI cables...

Final thoughts - ongoing investigation, plus 2.5mm?

I'm now curious about the cables that are found in the TRS-MIDI adapters that you get with TRS-equipped devices. I'm wondering if they use screened/shielded twisted pair cable (as you would use with a microphone), or if they use the 'stereo' twin screened cable that is normally used with TRS 3.5 mm stereo. This seems like the sort of specification that could easily be misinterpreted, or one where assumptions could be made... So I'm going to do some investigations, and will report back here...

One final concern that I have is in the MMA Recommended Practice #54 where is says that the recommended connector for MIDI other than the 5-pin DIN socket is a 2.5mm TRS 'stereo' jack plug/socket. Given that 3.5mm 'mono' TRS jacks are used widely for patching n Eurorack modulars, as well as the 'stereo' versions in headphones and earphones, then a different connector makes sense. But the 2.5mm TRS jack plug is not the most robust of connectors, and if you compare and contrast it with a 5-pin DIN, then I know which connector I would prefer to be using when making music on stage, in the studio and on tour. The 3.5mm TRS jack is much more robust, imho, and I can see why equipment designers/engineers use it in their designs. I can also understand why they don't use the 2.5mm TRS jack...

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Saturday, 18 January 2020

Importing, Editing and Exporting MIDI Files - Revisited

About ten years ago, I looked at importing, editing and exporting MIDI Files. I have just updated it, and there have been quite a few changes in the intervening years... Overall, though, things seem to have improved!

To take a look at the new version, then just click here. Whilst you are there, take look at some of the other nearby posts and see what a blog from ten years ago looked like...

Here's a hard link:

MIDIKit 4.3.2 from Mixage Software
What is interesting is how some things have changed, and how some things appear to have changed, but actually are much the same except with different names. Apple's 64-bit Catalina Operating System is in focus at the moment, but ongoing change has been a constant theme of the last ten years, and before that too. So there was System 7, which was a huge change when Macs were tiny little desktop boxes (It is very easy to forget just how incredibly small a Mac Plus was!), and OSX, and in and out of skeumorphism (and maybe back in again - there are one or two little hints appearing in operating systems again, I notice!).

A couple of fascinating examples of ongoing compatibility are example apps in the blog post, both of which have been around for many, many years, and are thoroughly recommended:

- MIDIKit, a MIDI File utility that makes detailed editing of MIDI Files very straight-forward, is 64-bit compatible, and it is shareware from a specialist developer in Italy. Web-site.

- Hex Fiend, a hex file viewer, is also 64-bit compatible, notarised, and is a project on GitHub. Web-site.

I'm sure there are many other equally worthy examples, and from huge corporate names too. I just like to promote alternatives sometimes.

One frequently recurring question that I get asked is about setting the top option and the default for Apps when you try to Open a File in macOS. Here's a quick guide:

VLC (setting 'top' and default Apps for MIDI Files...)

One 'alternative' that deserves mention, imho, is VLC. This is a free, open source media player that plays MIDI Files just by dropping the MIDI File onto it, which is very useful for auditioning purposes. Setting VLC as the 'top' app for .mid files makes it even easier for quick auditioning.

Setting the 'top' App:

Here's the usual situation - the default App (in this case MIDIKit 4.3.2) isn't what you want unless you are doing detailed analysis/editing of MIDI Files!).

So just go down to the 'Other...' menu option, right a the bottom of that pop-up menu on the right...

...and choose the App you want. VLC is a good choice for playing back MIDI Files - you know, like QuickTime Player used to be...

 And so now VLC is the top option in the pop-up menu!

Setting the default App:

To change the default App, then the procedure is slightly different.

So the starting position is where the default App isn't what we want. So let's change the default App from MIDIKit to VLC...

The first step is to right-click the MIDI File and choose the 'Get Info...' pop-up menu option.

Then open up the little triangle for 'Open with:' by clicking on the little triangle...

Select the App that you want as the default in the menu. VLC in this case...

Now the bit that lots of people forget to do - the 'Change All...' button. Click on it!

 ...and you get this dialogue box. Note that it tells you that:

"This change will apply to all documents with extension '.mid'"

This is exactly what we want to happen, so click on 'Continue' and you will then see:

 ...VLC is now the default App for MIDI Files.

If you try the 'Open with...' option again, you will now see this:

 and VLC is now the default App that will open MIDI Files.

Note that if you select an App in that 'Open with...' menu, but don't confirm it with the 'Change All..' button and dialogue, then the default will NOT change! 

For Windows users

I know there are steps that produce the same end results in Windows, but with the recent ending of support for Windows 7, then I don't have a current instance of Windows that I trust at the moment, and so I can't test or screenshot anything. But here are some links that might help you...

Hope these are useful...

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Monday, 30 December 2019

Behind the scenes of 'Synthesizerwriter's 29 Bagpipes...'

At the very end of December 2019, my very late (too late!) non-submission for Christian Henson's '29 Bagpipes' competition finally made it onto the Pianobook Library (if you haven't visited this amazing resource for samplists, synthesists and composers yet, then you should!). This blog post aims to augment the accompanying video (included below) with additional notes, to aid anyone who wants more information on how I produced the core samples, and more discussion about the principles behind the RUSS synthesis technique that I used in Ableton Live and Native Instruments Kontakt to make some example sounds using the samples.

1 of 29...


First of all, the samples that I extracted from the source '29 bagpipes' recording are not very conventional. They are long (about 22 seconds in this case), looped (so that you can choose any start position - controlled by an LFO, velocity or any other controller), in stereo, and they are split into two parts: a harmonic part and an inharmonic part (the harmonic part contains the 'tuned' part of the sound (the bit that you might try to whistle), whilst the inharmonic bit contains all of the noisy, clunky, thumpy, bang. spectral 'rubbish' that gives the sound its character and realism). The intention is that the samples should contain no information about any timbral changes over the duration of the sample - so, although the samples contain varying mixtures of frequencies, these do not change over time in the same way that would occur for the sound that has been sampled. These are raw sound sources, although they are far removed from the rather sterile oscillators that you find in most subtractive synthesisers. I remember that one reviewer of my book on 'Sound Synthesis and Sampling' took great delight in counting exactly how many pages it took me to finally describe what an oscillator actually did - well, part of the reason is that I don't think that enough time is spent on making the raw sound sources as good as they can be... Suffice it to say that these 'samples used as oscillators' are not sterile, boring or static.

The next thing to think about is the split of the raw source material (those 29 bagpipes et al...) into two 'as-orthogonal-as-I-can-make-them' parts. One of the things that always niggled away at me when using samples was the way that the harmonic 'tuned' bit was always 'bound' with the rest of the untuned, inharmonic 'stuff', so if you changed the pitch of the sample, then the pitch of the harmonic part and the inharmonic part both changed. Now in a real instrument, if you change the pitch of a note that it is producing, then the size of the instrument, its resonances, its rattles, its clunks and bangs, do not necessarily change in pitch in the same way. So I always wanted to be able to work with the harmonic part and the inharmonic part of a sample separately - and this is what I have been researching and working on for many, many years. There's a YouTube video where someone enquires in the comments about whatever happened to me (since I'm not as visible reviewing synthesizers as I was 25 years ago), and so now you know the answer - I've been working on fundamentally changing the way that sound synthesis works. Nothing major...

When you have separate samples for the harmonic and inharmonic part, then all sorts of interesting things open up. A lot of the characteristic timbre-defining 'attack' stage of percussive instruments turns out to be mostly inharmonics, and just making changes to that part can radically change your perception of the sound. Long releases on inharmonics parts sound can sound very much like reverb, but reverb that isn't bogged down in lots of pitched 'mush'. Swapping the inharmonics from one instrument to another doesn't give a simple mixture of the two instruments as you might imagine it would - instead it is more like hearing an unusual and distant relative from the same musical instrument family of the source of the inharmonic part. And that's the disarming bit - it seems that whilst our ears love the pitched part for intelligent, clever things like tunes and melodies, the deeply interesting, satisfying, 'characterful', visceral stuff is actually in those noisy, clangorous, nasty inharmonics.


There's a lot of fine detail in taking 51-ish seconds of 29 bagpipes tuning up and turning it into looped stereo samples, and a lot of it is boring, repetitive work - there aren't many tools in this space yet!

The first thing I do is listen to the raw source material:

Audacity is my audio editor of choice, although I have been looking at Serato Studio as a 'next level up' way of assembling beats... From the looks (and sound) of this 51.1 seconds-worth, there's a pretty constant level, and a lot of interesting content: bagpipes, singing and various other background ephemera. The spectrum next:

So the loudest component is at -25 dB and is at 240 Hz - A#3, so that's going to be my first target frequency (although I might try some others...). I tend to scan across the frequency axis, looking for any peaks at multiples of the dominant peak, and there seem to be some candidates. Most notably though, is all of that broad-band noise at just under -48 dB, which looks like it is going to provide lots of inharmonics. If this was a sample of an electric piano tine, then it would look very different, with lots more easily identifiable harmonic components, and a lower 'noise' floor. But Christian deliberately provided challenging source material, so none of this is unexpected!

My current preference is to split the harmonic and inharmonic content into stereo pairs by using two different frequencies for the separation filters. A fixed difference of one hertz seems to give good results, although I've also tried halving the frequency difference per octave up the frequency axis. Because the numbers are easier with fixed differences, then that's what I used here - I will make a spreadsheet to automate the calculations when I have time (and post-Thanksgiving and 'post-'End-of-Year' offers are a big distraction at the moment...)

The extracted harmonic content looks interesting:

This is quite typical for extracted harmonic content. Notice that the dynamic range is higher than the source material, and that a lot of the high frequencies are removed by the low pass filter.

The spectrum reveals more detail:

The harmonics are now much more visible, and the 'noise' floor has dropped by about 20dB, which gives a usable margin, although a bit more time cleaning up the sample would be needed to get to the standards of Spitfire Audio, of course. But this is only a quick example to see what can be extracted from deliberately difficult material, so usable is fine. In many cases, I actually prefer the sound of 'less processed' samples - doing too many passes of separation filtering can start to sound artificial.

Repeating for the lower frequency and combining gives the stereo pair:

The variation in the two channels is not unusual when doing separation! If you listen to just the raw looped samples (which are effectively the first 20 seconds or so of this) then you get lots of interesting stereo imaging and lots of harmonic movement (dynamic timbral changes) - not at all like listening to a conventional sawtooth waveform! The long length of the separated samples is to enable lots of variation of sample start position (via round-robin, velocity, controller...) and is one of the bits of sampling technology that rarely seems to make it into synthesis (except here, as a counter example!). I'm that most dangerous type of samplists and synthesists: an impurist who will use any technique to get good sounds!

The extracted inharmonics are also interesting, but for very different reasons. You can hear some of the singing much more clearly for example. Some samples that I have processed reveal 'noises off' that weren't caught during recording...

Unlike the harmonic content, the inharmonic has less dynamic range, and since all of those high frequencies are not filtered out, it looks a lot like the original source material. But the sound is very different - there is some leakage of harmonic material (no processing is perfect!), but the majority is all of the 'other' stuff that was going on during the recording: singing, tuning up, extraneous sounds, etc.

The stereo pair is revealing:

The combination of lots of broad-band noise plus no filtering of high frequencies gives two apparently similar channels, although if you listen there are some differences. I have experimented with using broader difference frequencies, and different Q factors on the filtering, but I haven't reached any firm conclusions on the best approach yet...


Using two pairs of looped stereo samples is going to soak up computing resources - sorry! As a partial mitigation, there are only a few samples across the keyboard:

This screenshot is from Ableton Live's Instrument Rack, where I'm using multiple instances of Sampler to play back the samples. The samples are in pairs (harmonics and inharmonics) and there are only four ranges. Remember though, that the looped samples are solely a source of frequencies, and any timbral or volume variation is solely provided by 'synthesis' processing, so a lot of the clues that you get from timing of decays or attacks (or detuning) in normal sample playback are not present. RUSS synthesis is very much a mixture of sampling AND synthesis!

A quick word on inharmonics... I have always wondered why subtractive (and other) synthesizers typically give you several choices of oscillator waveform, but only one (white) or maybe a second (pink) choice for 'noise'? There are lots of other sources of inharmonic 'noise' that could be used (hey, even a ring modulator would be better than nothing!), but what tends to be provided is broad-band noise. Yes, you can do quite a lot with that noise by processing it, but, no, there's lots more to inharmonic noises than just broad-spectrum hiss. Now you may be asking: like what? The answer to which is: separated inharmonic sounds. There's a reason why I've been dissatisfied with conventional synthesis noise provision, and if you are reading this, then you are seeing part of the answer. Maybe at some stage I will release a set of inharmonic samples that are completely useless for conventional tuned sounds, but which are very useful in combination with tuned sounds...

Content tips and hints...

The example Kontakt instruments have 'Vel' as part of the name when they have velocity sensitivity built-in. I'm one of those unusual people who likes extreme levels of velocity-driven variation in sounds, and so the sounds that I make tend to incorporate velocity sensitivity. But this may be unusual, as Paul Ward intimated to me at the 2019 Synthfest UK in Sheffield (thoroughly recommended, btw!), and so if you are a 'Controller-mapper' person, then you may want to avoid the Multis with 'Vel' in the name.

Yes, I can spell 'Kontakt', although the autocorrection 'feature' in various layers between me and the Squarespace web-site for Pianobook seems to think it is spelled 'Contact'!

The Ableton Live Instrument Rack instruments didn't make it into the Pianobook Library zip file, but I will try to get an update that includes them. There's just not enough time!

And finally, some thoughts on what you can do with the inharmonic samples. First, some simple things to try.
1. Use inharmonic samples with fast attacks and decays to form the 'Attack' phase of a sound (as popularised by Roland's D-50 synth...).
2. Use the same envelopes for the harmonics and inharmonics, and then alter the keyboard scaling/tracking of the inharmonics so that it doesn't track at all (0% - and this is one reason why Kontakt lets you do this!) through to 100% or more. At zero percent you get an instrument whose size feels strange, whilst as you move towards 100% you get variations of realism. Filtering the inharmonics (or mapping them to velocity) can give some very metallic sounds.
3. Use slow envelopes for the harmonics, and slower envelopes for the inharmonics, and play with the scaling/tracking of the inharmonics (or even reverse them). Band-pass filtering can be good for placing the apparent resonances of the virtual instrument that you are synthesizing.
4. You CAN detune the inharmonics - they don't care! 5ths, 9ths or even totally out-of-tune (or inverted) are all acceptable. Your ears will hear the harmonics as the 'tuned' part, and will assume that everything else is just an integral part of the sound that the instrument makes whilst being played in that acoustic environment. Your entire life has probably been spent listening to sounds where the harmonics and inharmonics are tightly linked together, so you are exceptionally well trained in assuming that this is the case, even when you hear sounds where it isn't a valid model for how the sound has been constructed.
5. You can take the inharmonics from one sample, and play them with the harmonics from another sample. So you could take the high samples and use them in the low register and vice-versa. More broadly, I have some inharmonics taken from a 'classic' monosynth, and they contain some of the distortion, noise, intermodulation, mains hum, hiss and other artefacts that give that monosynth it's particular sound. Add them to another harmonic sample and you get a strange combination of the two 'characters'... Hmm, that's me talking myself into releasing inharmonic samples again...

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Monday, 2 December 2019

Free random velocity repeated notes without using MaxForLive!

In the run up to Christmas, I have been known to release something seasonal, and this has usually been in MaxForLive... This year, in a break from that tradition, I'm releasing something that any Ableton Live user can use! Now I have done non-MaxForLive things before (the Quick Arranger 01 Rack was popular and is still downloadable), so until I gather them together and do a 'recap summary' like I did ages ago for my audio effects, then they will remain in that special 'He doesn't do these very often...' bubble universe reserved for such rarities.

I've allowed myself to break my naming rules, since this is NOT a MaxForLive device, and so I proudly present:

Random Velocity Repeater (RVR) - a MIDI Effect rack for Ableton Live

The left-hand 'control panel' part of the RVR rack...

The Random Velocity Repeater Rack for Ableton Live is built from a MIDI Rack and two standard 'factory' MIDI effects, and so should work in any of the intro/standard/suite variants of Ableton Live 10 (I haven't tested it in Live 9...). It has four channels (red, yellow, green, and blue), each of which processes a single specific MIDI note number. It uses the 'Velocity' MIDI Effect to produce random MIDI Velocities for notes, and the 'Apreggiator' MIDI Effect to repeat notes. Any note events that are processed will have their MIDI velocity values changed, maybe even to zero (and thus turning the MIDI message into a Note Off equivalent) - this is because of two vitally important considerations:

1. My rule of thumb has long been: never repeat a note with the same length, velocity...
2. Random velocities sound cool on repeated notes!
3. Sometimes missing notes are good too! (As well as the third point in a list of two!)

To save you the effort of producing your own RVR Rack, it will be available to download from the Interweb. It will not be available from, much as I wish it was possible - and I'm not going to make a MaxForLive version - one of my other rules is that I don't normally make MaxForLive devices that are relatively straight-forward to produce using keyboard shortcuts or standard devices in Racks, unless there's a reasonably good excuse for doing it: simpler UI, less mouse clicks and various other justifications are all acceptable.

As always, in this blog post I'm going to try to provide some basic background information of how my software works. You can now skip to the 'Using it' and then the 'Download' sections if you don't want to grow your own version!

There is also now a YouTube video, which contains several audio examples.

Making it

If you haven't ventured into making Audio (Effects), Instrument, or MIDI Racks, then you may need to read the Ableton Manual first before proceeding, because not everything is obvious. The first thing to do is to create the 'splitter' that extracts out the four notes that will be processed using four separate channels, and a fifth 'Thru' channel that does nothing. To create the first processing channel you drag the 'Arpeggiator' MIDI Effect from the 'MIDI Effects' category in the Browser on the left hand side of Ableton's screen into the gap on the right after the bit that says 'Drag MIDI Effects Here'. (I said it was best to read the manual!) Then drag the 'Velocity' MIDI Effect to the right of it. Then go to the 'Key' view and set the upper and lower limits to a single note by dragging the left and right sides of the green bar left or right as appropriate. Then name the channel - I called it 'Note 1' because it is the first note processing channel. Then 'Duplicate' it three times, using the pop-up menu, and rename them to Note 2, Note 3, and Note 4. Finally, drag and drop the 'Pitch' MIDI Effect, and name it 'Thru' - making sure that for this fifth 'Thru' channel you set the key range to everything - drag the ends of the bar all the way to the left and right so the bar is right across the whole MIDI note number range.

The left hand 'Macro' control panel, plus the 'Drop MIDI Effects Here' middle bit, and the start of the right-hand 'Key' mapping panel...
The four duplicated copies of the Arpeggiator and Velocity channels, which are called Note 1-4, will all be mapped to the same note number, so you need to change them to four different notes (and this is a good time to think about a good colour scheme - mine is a bit rainbow-like...

What the key mapping panel should look approximately like for typical drum note numbers...
The graphics in the key mapping panel are quite small, so here's a close-up of the important bit where the four channels are mapped to four drum notes (shown as red on the keyboard):

When MIDI notes are received by the MIDI Effect rack, the keyboard highlights the appropriate keys on the keyboard graphic in red. Here, three notes (36, 37 and 42) are highlighted, and 38 is not. The 'bar for the Note 1-4 channels should only be 1 note wide, as shown here.
All you need to do is set the narrow bars so that they are underneath the note numbers which correspond to the drum sounds that you want to process. I set the four channels to MIDI note numbers in this way:

42 Closed Hi-Hat
38 Snare
37 Rim shot
36 Kick drum

The velocities of the drums in this pattern clip are not very imaginative! (But remember that they will be randomised...)

The settings of the Arpeggiator and Velocity MIDI Effects are shown here:

The Arpeggiator MIDI Effect is set so that itjust repeats the incoming note several times at a particular rate. The number of repeats and how quickly they repeat can both be set. You can see two small green dots on each of the rotary controls that indicates that I have already mapped these rotary controls to the Macro Controls in the left-hand control panel. To do this, you need to go into 'Map' mode by pressing the 'Map' button (various bits of the UI will go green-tinged at this point) and selecting the appropriate Macro rotary control and the control that you want to map to it. Full details are in the manual! You need to do this mapping process twice for each of the channels: once for the 'Repeats' control, and once for the 'Rate' control, making 8 mappings in total.

The Velocity MIDI Effect does quite a lot of processing of the incoming MIDI. The 'Random' rotary control is set to maximum (64) and the 'Out Hi' rotary control is set to its middle position (63) so that the output velocities will hit the maximum of 127 and all the input velocities will be scaled so that they contribute half their value to the output. So half of the output velocity will be the input, whilst the other half will be random. The 'Out Low' rotary control is set to 0 so that it can produce Note Off messages - you will need to click on the number below the rotary control to change it from the default value of 1. Finally, the 'Lowest' number box can be changed to 0 if you wish. This changes the probabiliity of the output notes slightly - as you can see in the screenshots, I didn't do this, but if you wish to make your own custom version... You could also customise the 'Comp' compression setting as well if you want to compress or expand the dynamic range of the MIDI velocities.

For the 'Thru' channel, you don't need to do anything, and the Thru channel will do that as well!

Using it

Here's the MIDI Effect Rack expanded out to show everything, then the Drum Instrument that makes the drum sounds. In normal use, you would probably only have the left hand 'Control Panel' section of the MIDI Effect rack visible - so just the Macro Controls would be visible:

After the Drum Instrument, you can add any Audio Effects that you want. I used a Reverb Effect. But before the Reverb I added a Limiter, because lots of repeated notes played quickly can be louder than a single instance of the note!

Here's a Limiter Effect before the Reverb
For each note number channel, you need to set a Clip Envelope and map that to the appropriate Macro Control in the left-hand control panel. If you haven't done this before, then you should read the Ableton Live manual because I'm not going to give full and complete details of every mouse-click... 

For Note 1, the Kick drum, the repeats are mapped to a clip envelope that rises from 1 to 8...

This is what the clip envelope looks like... The clip envelope starts at 1 on the left, and rises to 8 on the right hand side.
This means that at the start of the bar, the first Kick drum will be repeated once, the second kick will be repeated twice, the third 4 times and the fourth 6 times. The rate at which the repeats happen is set by the 'Synced Rate' rotary Macro control, which is set to 1/128th note. This is very fast repetition, and turns the Kick drum sounds to  sound more like a pitched note. ( - this is a form of sound synthesis called FOF, and you might be interested in looking up what it means and how it works...)

A slightly more conventional use would be to have a slower repeat rate, and this gives drum sounds where you can actually hear the individual repeats! Here's an example using a Rim Shot drum sound:

The Rim Shot drum sound used with Repeats plus variable Rate - it sounds quite a lot like a Guiro at times...
The clip envelope selection doesn't number the 'Repeat' or 'Rate' parameters, so you have to go by the position: top is Red (1), then Yellow (2), then Green (3), then Blue (4).  This clip envelope is for the Rate at which the notes are repeated.
The Rate starts out slow, speeds up in the middle of the bar, and then slows down again. Unfortunately, I didn't invert the Rate mapping, so faster speeds of repeat are at the bottom, and slower are as you move upwards. You could make your home-grown version do it correctly, of course!

Tints and Hips

Also known as Hints and Tips, but it probably got your attention!

SPARING Ok, so there are four channels to play with, and they are colour-coded in bright colours - this does not mean that you need to use all four channels every time! Sometimes just a single note in a single bar is all you need, or a single note repeated for every chorus. And yes, there are some genres of music where repeating it several times every bar is currently fashionable. But all four channels, all the time, is probably over-kill and may make your music sound ever-so-slightly cliched. 

SUBTLE Clip envelopes can wazz parameters from min to max very quickly, and then wang them back again just as fast. This does not mean that huge variations in the number of repeats, or the rate of those repeats, will sound better - sometimes less is more. Having said that, completely 'way-over-the-top' rate and repeat settings with a Rim Shot sound can occasionally sound just like a Guiro! 

CONFIDENCE Once you have tweaked the Repeats and adjusted the descent of the Rate control so that the Kick drum sounds like an 'FOF' cross between a drum and a monosynth, then you might be tempted to try and hide it deep in the mix. Based on what I hear these days from 'popular beat combos', then you may as well just have the confidence to put your carefully honed special sound effect loud, front and centre. 

CONFLICT When two or more tips contradict each other, as in SPARING, SUBTLE and CONFIDENCE, then just do whatever you want. If you have the Spinal Tap extension fitted to your DAW, then simply turn up all the controls to 11.  

REPETITION I mentioned it earlier, and it bears repeating: Fast repetitions of the same drum sound (particularly if your drum sounds are polyphonic) can be louder than a single instance of the same sound. A Limiter might be useful to keep things under control...

YouTube video!

I have struggled putting videos into blog pages successfully, so I'm going to turn all of this blog post into a YouTube video, so that you will be able to see these happening in a full audio-visual experience!

Getting the Random Velocity Repeater Rack

You can get the Random Velocity Repeater Rack here:

You just need to drop the .adg file onto Live's screen and it should appear in the MIDI Effects folder.

Modular Equivalents

In terms of basic modular equivalents, then the Random Velocity Repeater Rack would probably require four Random Noise Generators plus a quad MIDI Utility module to do the velocity multiplying, plus 4 LFOs to do the repeats, and a final quad MIDI Utility to create the repeated notes, giving a total of about 10 ME (without all the stored memories, of course).

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