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

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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.

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