The simple interface of Ableton’s Operator belies some truly lovely soundmaking capabilities. Our friend Francis Preve, a principle Ableton sound designer who has contributed hundreds of presets since 2004, has a new single out that makes use of some of those sonic possibilities, combining Operator with juicy spectral and granular effects in Live 7. As a gift to Ableton users on CDM, he’s giving us both the rack he used and some tips on squeezing noise out of the Ableton instrument. (By the way, I’m open to tips for other platforms, not just Ableton — ask for what you want!)

First, the EP: “Hasown / Less Cowbell” is out as a Beatport exclusive on Josh Gabriel’s new label, Different Pieces.
Hasown / Less Cowbell EP

Go to Get These Tracks Add This Player

Lots of the sound of “Less Cowbell” comes from some creative recreations Fran made of the 808 Cowbell, using Operator and Live effects (hello, grains). This is the actual patch he used. If you think this is some generic cowbell preset, think again: give the knobs a twist, and some wild sounds come out. I asked Fran to walk us through the patch:

“The essence of the original 808 Cowbell consisted of four simultaneous sawtooth waves at the following frequencies: 1.94 kHz, 1.37 kHz, 835 Hz, 555 Hz. By using the all-carrier Operator algorithm, fixed tuning, and a lot of tinkering with the envelopes, I was able to pretty much nail the original sound. From there, it was just a matter of creating a a bunch of Macros to manipulate as the groove developed.”

Here are the assignments for each Macro:

  • LFO Rate: This controls the rate for the tempo-synced sawtooth LFO, which is assigned to all four operators’ pitch. The range is 1/48th note to 4 measures.
  • LFO Amount: Overall amount of the LFO effect. Note that these parameters work best in conjunction with longer release times.
  • Spectral Volume: Controls the volume of the 1.94 kHz, 1.37 kHz, and 835 Hz sawtooth waves. A value of 0 reduces the sound to just the 555 Hz sawtooth, whereas 127 is the full-on 808 Cowbell.
  • Spectral Spread: Introduces positive detuning, spreading the frequencies from the root 555 Hz sawtooth all the way up to the 808 array. Great for rises and builds.
  • LPF: Lowpass cutoff frequency.
  • Falling Grain: This affects four different Grain Delay parameters simultaneously. The result is a dotted eighth-note delay that descends in pitch. Note that since the Grain Delay comes after the Reverb, some really unusual ambient effects can be created by adjusting both Macros simultaneously.
  • Release: Overall release for the four operators. Range is 174 ms to 60 seconds.
  • Reverb: Controls the decay time and amount of autopanning for a tempo-synced bouncing reverb effect. Used during the breakdowns for Less Cowbell.

You do need a copy of Operator to try this out, but even a demo copy of Operator will do. Live 7 only is needed, though of course Live 8 beta will work, too. (And I do expect we’ll have a load of new things to talk about once folks wrap their heads around the new release.)

Download it exclusively from CDM, right here (please do not directly link to this file; just link to the story):

As for the EP, you can grab this week’s release from Beatport, and next week Toolroom will feature the tracks “Yin” and “Yang”, collaborations between Francis and electro “it-boy” Wolfgang Gartner. Check out Francis’ MySpace page.

Personally, I love the idea. It’s all the rage to release special online toys to play with samples or iPhone apps or remix tools or whatever, but the full-blown preset means you can really make something quite different. (It’s something Ableton co-founders and members of Monolake once did with Max/MSP.)

Let us know how you like the patch, and if it inspires other ideas.

Free Tutorials, Techno iPhone Ringtone from Francis Preve, Celebrating Single “Caboose”
Exclusive: Free Ableton Live Slicing Pack by Covert Operators

  • MB

    Hey Peter:

    I love these kinds of things: having a finished sound that we can deconstruct to learn how and why it does what it does is very educational.

    How about something similar with Logic 8 Channel Strips? I'd be more partial to a well-programmed and well-explained comp/eq/delay or verb strip for vox or guitars or bass, since I mostly do pop/rock production, but would probably enjoy learning from a more electronic-focused discussion as well. Thanks.

  • Excellent coverage of the patch. Operator is ridiculously powerful but it seems sort of overlooked in comparison to synths with flashier interfaces.

  • Jaime Munarriz

    Thanks Francis!

    And I'd love some Reaper or EnergyXT fancy sets, that's where the Force lies right now.

  • michel

    the tip is really appreciated, but does the fact that there's a new preve ep have to feature so prominently? seems more like an infomercial to me. also explains why people should link to the story, not to the .zip.

    but of course, this is your blog, so you can do whatever you want. and francis is probably a good friend of yours who you'd gladly help to get some more exposure, but does it have to be as obvious as 2 links and 1 beatport player? just one link would've been enough to make claear that free tips and tricks buys you exposure on the internets.

  • michel

    jus' saying. because the pushiness put me off, not even wanting to listen to the guy's music.

    but then again, i might be an old idealist… πŸ™‚

  • Michel:

    I thought the EP was relevant to the story. Francis is a friend, but I wouldn't post his stuff if I didn't personally like it and believe in it.

    When CDM benefits financially, we disclose that. That's not the case here. (I'd be pleased to share that if we were; I'd love to have music sales give us more resources to expand the site.)

    Putting in two links was a mistake.

    The player is there so you can hear the track in question. Is it promotion for the track? Absolutely. And you know that over the course of this blog, I've repeatedly advocated musicians doing direct or boutique sales of their tracks, and benefiting from the free exchange of information. So, am I advocating free tips as exposure, and buying tracks by musicians you like? Hell, yeah; I've always thought that was a good thing. Is that in some way disingenuous or hypocritical? No. I've made my position on this pretty clear.

    Just for the record, if I were to take your advice:

    * You'd have to click away from CDM to hear the track and know what I'm talking about. (And, hey, I expect many people won't like the track, which is fine.)

    * I'd encourage people to link directly to the file, thus costing the site bandwidth which I pay for out of pocket with no one actually reading the site.

    The basic idea here is that we assume people will use these tools to make music, and, under optimal circumstances, may even make money on that music. (Not always, but it's nice work when you can get it!) I don't mean to get defensive. I'm just puzzled when this turns out to be a problem.

  • Paul N

    Preve's remixer's bible is an old favorite. Was just flipping through it before work this morning… funny to see preve front and center here so soon after!

    Peter- I love anything like this- especially giving coverage to the oft overlooked suite instruments- which have become my weapons of choice since making the upgrade in early 08.

    The more I work with Operator the more aware I become of how disgustingly powerful it is- can't wait for the retooled version.

    I personally would love to see more stuff like this for Sampler as I find it to be such a logical instrument choice for sound design if one is ableton savvy.

    I know there are other sampling tuts out there- but as I so often discover new joys under the hood in the integrated nature of ableton suite, I have to assume there are "better thans" who have discovered even more.

    Sure, it can't all be ableton- but man is there a lot of ableton to talk about. πŸ˜€

  • Jack

    Very cool. It really is neat to see how an established producer and sound designer utilizes their tools. This is just a nice lesson in properly and creatively taking advantage of ableton.

    I don't see the fuss in posting the EP link either. It's nice to fiddle with the instrument and macros, but I also want to hear how it was used in the context of a track as well.

    Thanks for posting Peter and Francis!

  • Well, in fairness, the fact that anyone reacted to me proves the point I try to make to folks about how things look online — i.e., use more informal snaps, not promotional images. And the Beatport player could actually be less branded.

    So, given that, if anyone reacts that way, do say how you react.

  • michel

    hey peter,

    the ep is absolutely relevant to the story as the patch inspired a track. so mentioning it is totally normal. and i wasn't assuming you got payed by francis. i suppose you did it because it's just something you do for good friends. and that's totally cool.

    it's just that to me it felt like an infomercial. pointing to tracks or offering tips is in no way hypocritical. and i wasn't saying that.

    as a professional techno musician i run a blog myself where i give people free goodies in the hope of attracting some attention for my music. i would never make the 'i offer something for your attention' thing so obvious. that's because in these times of hyper-commercialization, pushing too hard apparently just makes them indifferent. i'm not looking for cold sales, i'm looking for customers who care. (1000 true fans?)

    but maybe that's just me. i just offered my opinion here, and it's up to you to decide how much validity it has in the bigger picture of things.

    but before we forget: i really appreciate the operator patch. it's an inspiration. i just don't want to be pushed (too much) in how i say 'thank you' to francis.

    maybe i'll just say: "thank you, francis!" πŸ˜‰

  • Well, no, on that we agree. They're two different things. There's the sound patch, and the song (which happened to be created with the patch). You certainly don't have to go buy the song, because you could love the patch and hate the song. (Or, alternatively, love the song but have no use for the patch.)

    But yeah, I can't really think of a softer sell for the track. It was relevant to the story and it made sense to really talk about it and have the player in there. I mean, I believe it's possible to go to the opposite extreme and be over-sensitive to commercialization, and I don't think that really benefits you. I actually wouldn't mind some artists I love doing more promotion so I can go grab their stuff, because I'm hungry for it. πŸ™‚ I'm listening to Cornelius now; good example. I'd pay up for that guys random studio jams.

  • Paul N


    I think I might pay to hear Cornelius sample his own bowel movements- if for no other reason than that I know he would first sample them en masse, then individually, then from different mic angles and then he would make a small composition from the results and bring some fantastic "miracle poo tour" to the US.

  • Paul N

    Yeah- I DID say "miracle poo tour."

    Apologies for any site sullying I may be held responsible for…

  • glow

    As a non-professional musician, I don't have anything but appreciation for the fact that I can listen to EP's sounds while reading michel's honest comments. The internet makes me dizzy that way sometimes.

  • lou b

    Very cool. Makes me wish I had Operator. How about some Reason tips. Still haven't wrapped my head around building some of the things I can imagine it'd do….

  • Love the new tracks Francis, and thanks for giving away this patch! Most dj's/producers never give away anything! thanks also for the macro assignments info.

  • poopoo

    roll up, roll up for the miracle poo tour!

    The 808 cowbell is a bizarre circuit. I'd love to hear the story of how the roland engineers arrived at that particular combination of sawtooth frequencies. I wonder what other sounds/circuits they found that they didn't include in the machine.

    Thanks for the instrument.

  • michel

    i totally agree that sitting at home, just waiting for people to call you is not healthy either for a professional artist. maybe the fine line between being too pushy and being too easy is not as fine as i think. heck, i might even have learned something from this post πŸ˜‰

    atticus… interesting comment. i'm curious whether most people here would say that it's special for a producer/dj to share tips and tricks.

  • festival

    a artist never would share sounds.

    this Operator 808Cowbell patch is NOT good… time mark this post under "infomercial".

  • @festival: Well, that's just ridiculous. An artist can do whatever the hell the artist wants. I believe in sharing and I'm really not interested in who is or isn't a real artist.

    Michel, I get your argument and as always want people to be honest. I don't see what part of this is "pushy" – I mean, yeah, I don't like that either, but I'm assuming you've read other sites / magazines?

    Anyway, bottom line is, you know, I can't please everyone. I think adding a player and talking about the track makes sense. And honestly, Michel, will go check out some of your work, too.

  • michel

    i hope festival was just being ironic…

    this post is nowhere near pushy, we all know it can be much, much worse. i just used the word pushy to describe the extreme side.

    anyway, thnx for considering my point!

  • Recreate the 808 ride & i'll be impressed.

  • Trevor M

    Wait a minute…

    If an established artist SELLS their components, no one should blog it?

    Or a club/label SELLS an iPhone app that allows users to make their own track using classic samples, no one should blog it?

    Or if Basement Jaxx SELLS an acapella for fans to remix, that's uncool?

    Call me crazy, but I think GIVING away the original patch used in a new release – whether the track is cool or not – is both innovative and generous.

    Cheers Peter! Cheers Francis! I certainly hope we see a lot more of this in the future.

  • theau

    nice patch, thanks for sharing. Keep up the good vibe Peter. Some comments makes me mad.

  • deastman

    Peter, as always, thanks for the interesting, informative post. I don't have Operator, but now I'm going to go take a shot at tuning some of my Eurorack modular oscillators to the 808 cowbell frequencies πŸ™‚

  • RCUS

    Okay I haven't even gotten a chance to dowload the operator patches or listen to the music, but michael and festival are out of line. Of course it's promotion! And there's absolutely NOTHING wrong with promoting yourself. The whole idealist/purest vibe is so played out. Deal with your inner artistic psycholigical conflicts on your own time. I applaud anyone making money from their art, from the "sellouts" making music for car commercials, to the "sellouts" packing arenas. Creative minds should be rewarded for what they do.

    And seriously…FREE operator patches?! Fuck you peter for bringing us free operator patches and helping someone promote their music. What an asshole you are for giving us an awesome blog to read and inspire us with news and information everyday! LOL! I crown you king-fuckbag peter seriously.

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  • Tim

    Nice 808 cowbell Skream's LoveDontComeEasily.

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    Can someone re-up this?