October 04, 2013  

Shlomo Meets Ableton Push

Globally-acclaimed human beatboxer and Guinness World Record holder Shlomo had a problem. He loved his live performance hardware-based setup, but it was limited, couldn’t be updated easily, and was difficult to carry around. He wanted to find out what Push could do for him and if it was the right tool for his live setup. So, he enlisted the help of Point Blank and after a few phone calls and a trip to our friends at Vinyl Pimp in Hackney Wick, we were ready to show Shlomo what’s possible using Push, and when we were done, we took his recordings away to try some ideas of our own using Ableton Live 9’s new Audio-to-MIDI feature.

Click here below to watch course tutor and Push professor Ski Oakenfull explain all…

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Video Transcription:

Oakenfull: So we’re here today at Vinyl Pimp records store in Hackney Wick, and Shlomo’s joined us, beatbox extraordinaire, and he’s brought his set up along, he’s also brought Ableton Push, and we’re just going to kind of talk through how you’re integrating your setup with Ableton, and we’re going to have a look at your setup, you know, your existing setup, and then try a few things out. So, yeah, first of all, should we just have a look at kind of what you’ve got.

Shlomo: Yeah, sure, well, I am a hardware person. But you know, I’ve always used hardware, I’m a bit scared of taking software on stage, because I don’t want it to all crash and die, which, to be honest, hardware does most nights, but in a way that I can kind of control. So, all of my life, performance is done using these four pedals, or, actually, this new one’s not even a pedal, it’s built for using your hands, this is the new Loop Station from Boss, it’s called the RC 505. And it’s the first one I’ve seen that’s got five separate loop phrases, and it’s got effects on the in and out, so I love having a play with that. It’s kind of the workhorse of my rig. That does all the hard work, and then the rest of it is just effects and processing.

So I’ve got this little guy, this is the TC Helicon Synth voice tone, which kind of takes your voice and makes it much more [sound effect]. Makes it sound like a robot, basically.

Ski: Mad. Great.

Shlomo: This is the TC Helicon VoiceLive 2, which is a kind of across the board effects and processing. I mostly use it for EQ and compression on the way in to the loop station, but there’s also really nice delays, reverbs, pitch shifting, harmonies, and distortions and things on that. And then on the way out it all goes through this Kaoss Pad 3, which I use for a various kind of granulation, and re-triggering and glitchy kind of noises. It’s really good fun.

This is the kind of setup that I’ve been using for the last six months, and I’ve been playing around a tiny bit with software, because I just understand it’s so much more powerful. Like with the hardware, you’re always limited to what it can do. You can’t upgrade it much, you can’t bolt things on without getting more and more pedals, and this is already quite a lot of stuff to carry around with me. And so, yeah, I was talking a bit with Ableton, and then they sent me this Push to play with, which is really beautiful, because it’s, you don’t really need to look at the screen, and that was the main thing that I wanted to do, was not ever look like I was checking my emails on stage.

Ski: Sure, yeah.

Shlomo: Because I find that’s just offensive to the audience. So, you wouldn’t even need to know there was a computer there. I’d be doing it all with these buttons. So the only reason that I haven’t managed to incorporate this into the rig is just a matter of timing, really, I just need the time to kind of get it all working and get it to all fit in one box. And so I was kind of hoping today maybe you could help me with this journey, from being really confident and within my comfort zone on the hardware, to being a little bit kind of nervous and unsure what I’m doing when it comes to the software.

Ski: Cool. I mean, you said you kind of, you’ve worked out a basic kind of template for recording into Ableton. And was that using the looper?

Shlomo: Yes, I’ve been using the looper. I mean, I could show you all that, I would love to show you what this stuff does first.

Ski: Sure, that’d be great.

Shlomo: I’ve got it all plugged in at the moment, I’ll just do some hardware work.

Ski: Okay. Yeah well let’s give that a go.

Shlomo: Yeah?

Ski: Yeah, let’s just check it out.

Shlomo: Okay, cool. So.

[music 03:16-4:31]

Ski: Fantastic.

Shlomo: Thank you very much.

Ski: So with this loop station here, you’ve got what, like, five channels.

Shlomo: Yeah.

Ski: And if you say, if you record one beat on one channel, can you then kind of record another one and go back to the previous one, or do you, are you kind of constantly overwriting?

Shlomo: No, so you can basically, there’s five phrases and you can stack as many layers up on each phrase as you want, so you can keep looping, you know, you can have as many harmonies on each one of these as you wanted. And then you can separate them into five things, so that, tune, I just had, the first one’s just hi-hat there, and then you’ve got the bass line there. There’s three harmonies in there. I can undo it to just like the first one.

Ski: I see. Okay.

Shlomo: And then put them back again. And then I did the beat and the lyrics on the same track. That’s because normally I’d then go in to do another layer here, as that track expands, but I just did the first part of that track. Having the separate undos for each file actually makes it much more powerful, because it’s almost like having ten different elements that you can bring in, you know. It’s just wonderful, really powerful.

Ski: Yeah. So as far as using Push goes, we can basically record each part into a different clip. And then kind of build up scenes. Is that how you’ve sort of approached it? In a similar way to that, but you can actually isolate things.

Shlomo: Yeah. You get a bit more control. I’ve found it a bit frustrating that with the loop station, if you want to keep just recording layers, it will just keep, once you’ve got it on overdub, it will just keeping going, like, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. So then if you need to do that on live, you have to use the looper app, not app, what’s it called? Plug in?

Ski: Device.

Shlomo: Yeah, device. That’s right. But then, I was a bit disappointed that they’re not separated into separate files. They’re all bounced together as one audio file.

Ski: Right, okay.

Shlomo: So, to be able to stack layers up as quickly as I do with the hardware, I’ve got to hit record and stop. See what I mean, to trigger into a new clip each time, and that means I use up my eight banks pretty quickly.

Ski: Right, sure.

Shlomo: Yeah, it’s quite exciting really, they just, the amount of control you can have with this, especially when you then take it offline, and I think that’s what I’d really like to do today, is just try doing this kind of spontaneous form of composition, which I’m used to doing. And then taking that offline, and using Push to then tidy it up and make it into much more of a finished product, rather than a jam.

Ski: And then of course you’ve got the whole audio to midi functionality of this in nine.

Shlomo: That would be great to play with that, too.

Ski: Definitely, yeah, yeah. And, you know, I’ve also had mixed results with it sometimes. But I think, you know, your beats, certainly, they’re so kind of pronounced, I would have thought that it would have pick up on that audio pretty well, you know. But, I mean, we should give it a go, you know. I’m really up for testing it out, and maybe, you know, bass line or whatever, as well it could be quite cool.

Shlomo: Okay.

Ski: I’ve done a bit of re-patching.

Shlomo: Yeah.

Ski: Now we’ve got your setup going into a sound card, going into Ableton.

Shlomo: Yeah, so we can now record, I can still use my effects and stuff, but I can record it into live, and then I’ve got it coming back out again through the Kaoss pad, so I can, it’s quite a nice little marriage between software and hardware, in theory. If it works.

Ski: Yeah. And you’ve got some kind of midi-sync, as well, so your effects are now kind of in time.

Shlomo: Yeah, I just, in the last two minutes, just had an idea, which was to run out midi-output from my sound card to this pedal here, which then goes into this one, so these guys are in sync, so if I wanted to do a delay effect, after I’d set the tempo within Ableton, it would all be in time. In theory.

Ski: Again, in theory. It’s like more and more leaning towards you using this live, maybe. You never know.

Shlomo: Yeah, exactly.

Ski: And just remind me as well, you said you’re using the looper, and is that how you start off? That’s the first thing you record, yeah?

Shlomo: Yeah. So basically, I’ve mapped these buttons here to control the looper device within Live, so I can start, and that kind of sets the tempo, really, and sets the kind of precedent for the rest of the song.

Ski: Okay.

Shlomo: This is all built from a live performance perspective, rather than a studio perspective, although it is useful for writing in the studio, too. So I can start with just like a –

[music 08:40-10:10]

Ski: What was that?

Shlomo: That’s just a couple of effects on the out I’ve got here.

Ski: Okay.

Shlomo: So here, it’s all a little bit unpredictable for me, and like, this is all quite predictable, and this is, you’re never quite sure.

Ski: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Shlomo: What it’s going to do, which is kind of fun.

Ski: And that’s basically down to the sort of, the clip length, is when it’s kind of looping around, so if you just catch it after the start of the next bar-

Shlomo: It will go around.

Ski: Yeah.

Shlomo: You’ll add an extra half bar or something.

Ski: Yeah.

Shlomo: If it was just the hardware, it seems to be a bit more controllable, really, you can kind of tell it what you want it to do, and it’ll stick to it.

Ski: Yeah. And so you’re using duplicate, right, or are you using new? When you were kind of, when you wanted to kind of go onto a different scene? You weren’t duplicating the whole scene that you’d already recorded, were you? Or how was that-

Shlomo: Not really. I don’t really know what happened here. I think, my idea was that I was going to build something up, break it down a bit by taking stuff out, and you duplicate it, and you can have more and more layers. And then when you kind of want to drop back to where you were before, you can bring back that whole thing.

[music 11:06-11:12]

Shlmo: But actually, those two scenes are very similar.

Ski: Yeah.

Shlomo: I don’t even know what that is. Because I could have gone like-

[music 11:17-11:50]

Shlomo: Say, could take out the beat and the bass line, just get left with that. Duplicate that.

Ski: [laughter]

Shlomo: And then there, that’s the idea.

Ski: Cool. Well, I tell you what might be really cool, is we kind of save this session, and then maybe I can take it back and, you know, try a few things out. With some more of those parts. You know, when we’ve got a bit more time. And then kind of send it back to you. And, you know, yeah, because there’s some fantastic parts in there.

Shlomo: That would be wicked, yeah.

Ski: So I’ve got Shlomo’s project here, the one he created on Push, and I thought it might be quite interesting to try out some of the audio-to-midi capabilities of Ableton Live. So, let’s start off with the beat, and I’m going to have a look at that here. The first thing I’m going to do, actually, is I’m just going to take off all the midi mappings, he had something that was controlling the looper, and the various mixer controls, as well. So I’ve just clicked on this midi button here, and I’m just going to highlight all those, and delete them.

The other thing, as well, is I can see that there’s some tempo automation on there, as well. So I’m just going to delete that automation, there, that’s very easy, and that’s gone back to 87.80. So let’s just play this scene here.

[music 13:00-13:04]

Ski: And you can probably hear there’s some sort of timing discrepancies there, and that could be a number of things. It could just be the way that Shlomo had his looper set up, or maybe some latency, I’m not too sure, but I think first thing we should do is try to fix that. So, let’s focus on the beat, I’m just going to take all these off record, arm, there we go. And this is the beat here. I’m just going to solo that. In the center. So you can see this first transient here is not lining up with the start of the bar. So let’s have a look at that. First thing I’m going to do is just hover over that transient there. Right click, and I’m just going to set that to 1.1.1. There we go. And then I’m just going to increase the length of this loop. And then just drag this loop end brace, there, set the start of that on the bar, and then just play that now. Okay, so that’s going bang on the start of the bar now, let’s just put the metronome on ti set that. And you can hear that this last snare that he’s creating is also not falling exactly on the beat, so I’m just going to drag that over there. Cool. And this, maybe try out some of the Quantize with warping. So if we just select over this whole loop, and then right click here, and just do insert warp markers, there we go. And then I’m just going to go up to my Quantize settings, just check, okay, they’re set to sixteenth, so there we go. And I’m just going to do CMD+U. Cool.

Cool. And I’ve actually got some grooves already in here, I’ve got the swing 1655, so let’s just try that out on here. Put some of the swing back into it. Okay. That’s working really nicely. So, I’m just going to take the quantize off, and yeah, let’s try converting that to midi. So I’m just going to right click on the clip, and select convert drums to new midi track, all right. It’s doing it’s business. Okay. And solo that now. And press play. Golly. So we can see the midi notes it’s created there. Fantastic. And it’s put that onto a 606 kit. I think that’s quite cool, but maybe we can try adding a break to that. Maybe we could slice up a break, and then replace the 606 with a kick snare and hat from the break. So, let’s have a go at that. I’ve got a few drum crazy loops here. That’s pretty cool. Quite hip hop sounding. So, let’s try that out. I’m just going to create a new audio track, just going to drag that over. There we go. And let’s just solo that for the moment, we just want to get the loop right on that first.

So same principle, start of this first kick, transient, I’m just going to set 1.1.1. There we go. Let’s drag the start of that loop there, as well. And this is the start of the second pass. I’m just going to drag that over. And then drag the loop over, as well. Let’s set the warp to beats. Okay. So I’m just going to try out a sliced midi. I’m going to do it with the transient setting. I haven’t put any warp markers in at the moment. The main thing is just to extract the actual individual drum hits, and have them map to a drum rack. So, let’s do slice to new midi track. There we go. Cool. Let’s just listen to that now.

Okay. So the first thing to do is I’m just going to take the attack down to zero, so we’ve got a nice, tight attack on all of those drum hits. I’m also going to take the release right up as well, so it plays as much of the sample as we can. Okay. So, it’s created a midi clip for us, but I’m just going to get rid of that. I don’t really want that anymore. So I’m just going to highlight that, delete, and then this is the midi clip that the audio to midi created here. So I’m just going to drag that over to that, just copy that. There we go. Okay. So, you can see it’s not sounding very good. The midi notes aren’t assigned to the correct sounds. So I’m just going to put this preview button on here, so we can hear the sounds, and let’s just change this snare to a decent snare. That’s not bad. I want one with as much release as possible, so that’s pretty good, that one, I think. Also, this should be a hat, so let’s just assign that to a hat. And let’s see if we can get a better kick, as well. I think that’s pretty cool. Let’s play it with the 606. So remember, this is a beat completely created by Shlomo, and we’ve now got it in the midi domain. Nice.

So, let’s now have a look at the bass line. I think that’s here. Okay, so same thing. It doesn’t sound like it’s starting at the start of the bar. So, let’s apply the same principal. I’m assuming this is first note. So let’s do the same thing. Set 1.1 there, and then just increase this loop length so that we can make that a two bar loop. Lovely. So let’s try some more audio to midi conversion. I’m going to use the convert melody to new midi track this time. Let’s see what it comes up with. Just solo it. Okay. So, it hasn’t done a bad job, to be honest, but I think that I can manipulate these notes just to sort of make it work a bit better. So, I’m just going to bring up my keyboard here, virtual midi keyboard. And let’s just look at the first note here. Okay. So that’s a A flat, or a G sharp. I think that should be the bass line. So it’s just a case of moving a few notes around. So this note here is playing a B flat, so let’s just move that up to the B. Back down to the A flat. It’s up to the B. It’s down to the B flat. And I quite like it, that C there, but maybe let’s just take off this extra note there, and just extend that out. Let’s listen to that. Cool. And let’s quantize that, we can apply the same groove. Let’s put the same swing on. And let’s try a different sound. I think it’s on a road sound at the moment. Oh, it’s actually an analog, but let’s try something from my library, let’s just have a look at my bass sounds here. Okay, let’s try this Norsespace. Okay. Let’s put the octave up, it’s a bit low, isn’t it. Press SHIFT. Cool. Let’s just change the length of some of these notes, so it’s filling a bit better. Okay. I’m just going to make this monophonic. So now, let’s try that with the beat that we’ve got. So there’s his beat. Now what we can do is maybe take out those original elements that he created, and just try the stuff that he put on top of that.

[music 22:50- 23:18]

Ski: I think it’s cool. I can see so much potential with Push, you know, it’s just really getting familiar with it, isn’t it, and you know, being able to rely on it in a kind of live way.

Shlomo: Yeah, I think it’s just like, the amount of hours that go into mastering any instrument and you can’t take that lightly. So I’ve obviously put lots of hours into mastering this thing, put the hours into mastering the beat-boxing, and composition, and so, really, you’ve got to think of Push as an instrument in the same way. You wouldn’t just sit down and be able to instantly play a double bass without practicing it first. Just a matter of time, and I’d love to be able to do that. That would be amazing.

Ski: Yeah. But wicked, thanks a lot, man.

Shlomo: Pleasure, man. Thanks for having me.

Ski: Brilliant. Cheers.

[music 23:56-24:08]

Danny J.
Lewis: At PointBlankOnline, you’ve got two methods of interaction with your tutor. Firstly, you’ve got the weekly online master class, which is in real time. And then also we’ve got feedback on your assignments, and that’s known as DVR.

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