Saturday, 27 October 2018

Flamming, Fluttering and just plain echoes...

Lots of other people have already noted the 'slightly less immediately obvious' devices inside the Ableton Live 'Max For Live Essentials' pack (for Live9!), but there is often an interesting alternative angle, and that's where I come in. In particular, Note Echo caught my eye, because it is a MIDI-domain echo, and it is programmed in MaxForLive...

Here's what I'm working towards in this post:

But first, some more background... 

Note Echo looks very similar to the long-established, factory default 'Audio Effect' called 'Simple Delay', but instead of processing in the audio domain, it processes the MIDI messages that control the production of the audio itself. So instead of having an Instrument produce a note that then gets echoed, Note Echo gets the Instrument to play several notes, delayed in time. So the echo happens before the audio is produced (which makes me think of the amazing fictional substance called thiotimoline...). 

Sometime during my Live9 to Live 10 updates, I got two versions of Note Echo. (Notice that the two Note Echo devices are MIDI Effects, so they go BEFORE the Instrument, whereas Simple Delay is an Audio Effect, and so goes AFTER the Instrument):

Producing echoes in the MIDI-domain enables some interesting special effects that aren't easy to achieve in the audio domain. The 'Feed Delay' rotary control in Note Echo allows you to control the amount of the incoming note's velocity parameter that is used in the delay section, and if timbre is influenced by velocity, then this means that the echoes that are produced are going to sound different depending on the velocity! In the audio domain, then an echo can merely work with whatever audio it receives at its input, but Note Echo transcends that limitation. I often program lots of velocity sensitivity into my sounds, and so I tried a few of my more extreme DX7 FM sounds that use velocity to make radical changes to the timbre, and these sounded really interesting when driven by Note Echo.

Another advantage of doing delay in the MIDI-domain is that you can control precisely what it is applied to. A few edits (Note Echo is programmed in MaxForLive) later, and I had a stripped down version of Note Echo that only affects a single MIDI note and had the pitch shift removed. After adding an LFO and a control mapper, I had an M4L device that does flutter echoes, but only on a single chosen MIDI note number. Now, you could use a separate track with just a single note on it, and process that using 'Simple Delay', but having a purpose-built device that works on an ordinary track is much quicker and more convenient, and I quite like both of those features!

My grateful thanks go to Ableton and Cycling '74 for Live and Max For Live - having example devices like Note Echo are a great inspiration for further exploration, and the ability to extend/enhance/tweak existing devices is wonderful!

Drum Flammer - as shown up at the top of this post!

What I found my quickly-hacked-together device very good for was producing 'flams', something which I hadn't really used since back in the 1990s, when drum machines first started to have enough polyphony to allow clusters of time-overlapping sounds.  Back then I used to create flams by manually editing MIDI Notes to give notes that rapidly repeated, in a brute-force approximation of the drumming technique where the name 'flam' comes from - which is kind of a cue for some of the flam rudiments...

There's quite a lot going on in that user interface, so here's the same thing split out into the major sections:

As you can see, the left hand side is very similar to the source M4L device, Note Echo. I have added the lower set of electors, which control the range of time change that the LFO can make, plus at the very top, there is the incoming MIDI note number indicator (on the left), then a 'Copy' button, and then the 'Note Selector' (with the blue triangle) that lets you choose which note will be echoed. The 'Copy' button just lets you set the chosen MIDI note number to be the one that is being displayed. So you just play a MIDI controller or keyboard to send the appropriate MIDI Note On message, and then click on the 'Copy' button. (I first used the technique in my MIDIQuantCC controller quantiser... But this was for MIDI Controller numbers, of course!)

The middle section is the LFO. Having produced some wild and totally-over-the-top LFOs recently ( example 1, example 2 ), this one is rather ordinary by comparison. Perhaps the only feature of note is the 'Random' waveform, where I haven't used the traditional Sample-and-Hold waveform, but instead I have used a rate-multiplied piecewise-linear waveform that seems to give good results in this application (and now that I have it done and dusted, I may well use it when I next revisit my other LFOs...).

The right hand side is just the standard parameter mapping controls that I have gradually been adding to my devices. It allows you to use the LFO to control the internals of the device itself, AND to control another parameter somewhere else in Live. This can be very useful for all sorts of interesting and unusual effects.

User Tips

For flams, turn the Offset rotary control (in the middle of the device) almost all the way anti-clockwise ( the shortest times) and set the time buttons on the left to '1'. Use a little bit of LFO Depth to give some movement to the sound, and set the two feedback rotary controls as far clock-wise as you dare. You will find that Drum Flammer can eat up processing power, so you may find that little bar in the upper right hand corner of Ableton Live is higher than you normally see!  

For flutter echoes, then higher values of Offset and the time buttons will suffice. Even slower times will give echoes, but without many of the artefacts that you normally associate with delays. I have to say that Note Echo is a wonderful device, and well worth the processing power that it can consume sometimes - and Drum Flammer is slightly more specialised, but I love the way it can add all sorts of unexpected variability to sounds.

Despite the name, Drum Flammer can also be used for non-drum sounds! There's an example on my SoundCloud pages that very eloquently shows how you can bury an interesting sound in way too much echo... Blame it on my formative years being spent adding too much reverb to synths. 

The best tip is to get familiar with Ableton's 'Note Echo' device first. It can do some very cool effects on its own. Me, I just like to go that little bit further...


Here are links to two SoundCloud examples of Drum Flammer in action.

Coming Up

Yes, there's a typo in the UI. I will fix it in the next update. 

Getting Drum_Flammer_mr_0v01

You can download Drum_Flammer_mr_0v01 for free from

Here are the instructions for what to do with the .amxd file that you download from

(In Live 10, you can also just double-click on the .amxd file, but this puts the device in the same folder as all of the factory devices...)

Modular Equivalents

In terms of modular equivalents, then reproducing this functionality in my modulars just required the sort of MIDI note mapping to 'round-robin' synth 'voices' that is quite widely available, plus a digital delay, an LFO, and the usual Utility modules. Overall, the core is about 4 ME, but that flamming is going to eat up synth voice modules, so you would need to add 1 ME for a simplistic synth voice module per overlapping flam note... At a minimum, that would be 2 extra ME, making 6 ME in total.

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