You’ve seen the splashy “sound just like –” headlines in various music magazines. But imitation is, after all, an essential form of musical development. Something magical happens as you try to imitate something – you begin to hear it differently. Sometimes you wind up nailing something exactly, and in the process discover how you might make your own, unique sounds. And sometimes, the process of translation falls apart, and instead of an imitation you go somewhere else altogether. But I do think you learn something by imitating, however successful you may be. You also often gain new appreciation for the track.

By popular demand, our friend and Live performance guru Gustavo Bravetti has unveiled the secrets behind a sound in his own performances, reminiscent of a tune that’s well-loved in certain circles:

How to program a “M.A.N.D.Y vs Booka Shade – Body Language” like sound, on Ableton Live’s Operator.

Note that I’m using Live8’s Operator. Fortunately all used parameters are backward compatible, so you can perform it on Live7’s Operator, and it will sound the same.

As Gustavo points out in comments, this is all about using a simple example as a window into learning Operator. And just as you might learn to solo on the piano from listening to Horace Silver over and over again, this can be a great way to sharpen your ear and learn more about synthesis.

I really happen to love the sounds from these artists and the Gustavian twist in this variation. I’m also struck, as I was when it came out, by the extent to which Ableton’s Operator is economical in its layout and synth parameters. I have other go-to soft synths, but I think Operator is remarkably fast to program – a testament to Robert Henke and the early Operator prototypes in Max/MSP.

Hope this is useful to your synth programming. Gustavo, keep them coming.

Gustavo Bravetti Blog [in Spanish]

  • Just to let it clear,
    This is just a simple synthesis exercise intended to demonstrate basic synthesis tools and it's utilization, that sound/melody besides I really like it, was chosen by popular demand, many people did ask me about that particular melody/sound, so I decide to make it for my students, and public sharing on places where this kind of stuff could be appreciated.

    Before talking about coping against originality, think that when you learn to play an instrument, you don't learn using your own compositions, also you don't need to build your own instrument. In my personal thoughts, I believe in learning by imitation, and that creativeness's capacity grows as you learn new tools, new methods. Look I'm a pure synthesis lover, I think that while a good conventional musician tunes his instrument before to play, a good electronic musician builds them before to play, and that's how I do things but, this is something that takes some time to master. You can't expect this from everybody, specially the starting ones.

    So this video is an attempt to contribute with a bit of the knowledge and confidence needed to build your own, unique, special and magic stuff, just that. Well… may be not everybody wants to build his own, unique, special and magic stuff, but … I care about the ones that aspire to do that and need some starting tips.

    Thanks for the support,

  • Oh, yes, indeed, that's exactly the idea — and I couldn't agree more. Actually, I think we don't talk enough about how learning by imitation can be a powerful catalyst for being *more* original — because you sharpen your ear, you learn where you've come from, and you better understand the mechanics of what you're doing. That can empower your own personal expression. (Hope that came across! On the road so doing this more quickly and more tired than usual.)

  • kkonkkrete

    Almost all the greatest artists in western culture learnt and perfected their art by imitation. You cannot innovate (at least not in an authoritative way) until you can imitate.

  • bresk

    100% Agree with all the comments.
    Thanks for the video Gustavo!

  • contakt

    Another great video Gustavo, thank you again!!!

  • Here's a link to the forum post where Robert Henke says that he used Max/MSP for prototyping some of the audio modules to Ableton Live(such as operator?):

  • My favourite Ben Johnson quote: "observe how the masters have imitated, and imitate likewise"…

  • Is that the operator from live 8 or 7?

    i'm still using 6

  • the story says it's from Live 8 but to my knowledge that's not out yet … it also says the Live 7 Operator should work the same way.

  • great tutorial Gustavo

    you rule!

  • I watched this four times. Before this, I dabbled a little bit in Operator (SawD with Chorus to make a strings-esque sound). But now, just by watching and observing I feel like I know a lot more about a tool that is not recognized enough in the electronic world (or at least to my knowledge.)

    Thanks Peter for posting this video. And thanks Gustavo for the first comment on electronic musicianship and learning through imitation and emulation. I believe learning how to create sounds that others have made helps a lot.

    Anyways, thanks a lot to the both of you for posting this and helping me understand Live's Operator more.

  • chris

    This is great, Live is fun for this kind of thing. one of my favorite things to do is find a section with just the synth line and loop it alongside another track with operator or zebra, and start tweaking away, more often than not you end up with something completely unexpected, but cool nonetheless. Its really satisfying when you nail the sound you were after. Still trying to pin down that windowlicker bass…you know the heavy one.

    @dj professor ben
    He's got the live 8 beta.

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  • bluestan

    thanks for sharing this vid!