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Ableton Live 7 Workshop
Tension synth Of the three synths bundled with Live 7, it is Tension that arguably offers the most to the musician. Jon Margulies considers just some of its rather impressive qualities...
Live 7 is a major release for the world of Ableton instruments. While decidedly slow to release add-on instruments, Ableton has suddenly jumped ahead with the introduction of three new
synthesizers developed in conjunction with Applied Acoustic Systems, a company known for its pioneering work in acoustic modelling. While the aptly named Analog models the behaviour of analogue oscillators, fi lters and the like, Electric and Tension concern themselves with a somewhat more complex and esoteric realm – ‘mechanical’ instruments: those that produce sound not just through electricity, but through real-world physical events such as hammers hitting strings.
Of the three new instruments, Tension is probably the most interesting and certainly the most unusual. As a ‘string-modelling’ synth, it mathematically re-creates the physical properties of various instruments that make sound with vibrating strings. Along with the many realworld instruments that can be approximated using a tool like this, some very interesting sound design possibilities are offered as well. Not only can you make odd variations of real-world instruments – such as a piano that is played
Something you’ll discover when creating sounds with Tension is that it’s possible to find settings that don’t generate any sound at all. For example, when working with the Bow Excitator, lowering the Force parameter may make the sound disappear until you lower the Velocity as well. With the Hammer, a very low Stiffness will require a higher Velocity in order to produce sound.
The trick to working successfully with Tension is to understand how the various parameters interact.
with a guitar pick – you can also stretch this synth to create otherworldly sounds like no instrument you’ve ever heard before.
The trick to working successfully with Tension is to understand how closely the various parameters interact. Unlike subtractive synthesis, where it is fairly easy to trace the signal along its path from oscillator through the fi lters and envelopes that create the fi nal sound, modelling requires using your imagination more like a acoustical engineer than a sound engineer.
In this Workshop we’ll introduce you to this fascinating instrument and show you how to think about sound design. While it won’t be possible to cover every control, we’ll demonstrate how various parameters interact with each other and get you in the mind-set for creating sounds using modelling.
In the fi rst example we’ve started with Tension in its default state. Tension’s interface is divided into multiple sections that model various aspects of a stringed
There are numerous ways to make Tension velocitysensitive, enabling it to be played with dynamics. You can’t, however, simply map volume to velocity, which we could with a conventional synthesizer. Instead, you must choose a parameter such as Force, Stiffness or Velocity. Sometimes you’ll get the best results by controlling more than one of these parameters with Velocity.
instrument. At fi rst, only one of these sections is enabled – the Excitator section, which controls the object that ‘excites’ the string into motion. 1
Each section has an on/off switch next to the section name, enabling you to bypass parameters completely with one exception – the string itself. Not surprisingly, this section can’t be disabled. After all, you can’t have a stringed instrument without a string... 2
The Excitator section handles a fundamental aspect of any stringed instrument – the force that causes the string to vibrate and produce sound. There are several factors that come into play here: the type of object that contacts with the string; the object’s physical properties; the amount of force that is used; and the location in which the string is contacted. Without changing any of these parameters, try playing a few notes. The sound you’ll hear will be a relatively convincing (if somewhat generic) imitation of a string being played with a pick.
Damp it down Looking at the Excitator menu, you’ll see that the object being modelled is a plectrum. Before you start experimenting with different Excitator types, let’s jump down and take a look at the String section. Try adjusting the Damping parameter. You’ll notice that as you increase the value, the string becomes almost like a harpsichord, while at the lower end of the range you get a sound more like a muted guitar or bass. Sounds created with low Damping values will have very little sustain in the high register, while lower notes will ring out more – as you might expect. 3
A good way to understand Damping is to think of it as the mass and overall tension on the string. For example, imagine the bright, open sound of the high E string on a guitar. Now imagine tuning the guitar’s low E string up to the same pitch (something that’s defi nitely not recommended!). In this theoretical scenario, the low E string would have much less sustain and fewer high harmonics than the high E tuned to the same pitch – in other words, much greater damping.
44 Ableton Live MusicTech Focus