One Knob Wonders in Ableton

Once again I find myself back with Ableton Live. A couple of posts ago, my sounding board was set and I was starting to put some things together in Elektron: Model Samples along with Ableton and the Neutron. Then a couple of the trigger keys on the Model Samples started sticking. This is comparable to a sticking piano key. At first, I was OK with having this be another random possibility within my workflow, but more triggers got in on the act, and I couldn’t tell which keys were sticking, and that random possibility became a more fixed probability. So for now the Model Samples is boxed up waiting to go to the technicians at Sweetwater whenever they get Elektron techs back at the shop. This is my last purchase from Sweetwater! I am miffed that this is taking months to resolve and I am left with several ideas in early development within the Model Samples that are now on hold. Instead of wasting energy being miffed, I am turning to some new ways to play in Ableton.

Under the Audio Effects subfolder DJ and Performance within Ableton Live, there are One Knob effects racks capable of creating dramatic changes to any sound when the One Knob is turned. The changes are achieved by placing several different audio effects in a rack and then using midi map to attach a variety of parameter changes from each effect onto the One Knob. The parameter ranges can even be adjusted as to how big a change the knob sweep brings. After working with Audio Animation Clips/Envelope Generators, this seems like a promising new direction to explore.

My favorite One Knob Rack is Fade to Gray, which houses a three band EQ and a Ping Pong Delay. Here are pictures of each of these effects:

Turning the One Knob lowers the mid frequency band of the EQ Three by 6dB while the low frequency and high frequencies sweep toward the midrange as the wet signal and feedback swoop up to 95%. Now a tiny slice of mid-range frequencies feeding back on itself goes into the Ping Pong Delay, where the signal and feedback go to 95%. All of these changes are happening over time and in relation to each other. While the end result is a thin and distant decaying echo of the completely subdued orginal signal, every stop along the One Knob sweep renders new sonic terrain. So cool!

Now I am inspired! What sorts of changes can be wrought in this environment? I want to make One Knob Racks that sculpt the sound in interesting ways! Start simple: made a few changes in the Fade to Gray letting in some lower range frequencies on the EQ3 and bringing the crossing frequencies together at a lower bandwidth. So this Fades to Throb rather than Gray. I suppose I should have picked a color- it would be Blue, Fade to Blue. Throb describes the end result more clearly, so that is the name!

For several weeks now, I have been making, testing, throwing away and saving One Knob Racks. My project contains an audio track with sound samples from Ableton and from Library dejacusse. That track is routed into another audio track which contains the One Knob Racks and is routed to the Master output track. With this setup, the original audio track signal goes directly to the One Knob track, so the original audio is heard through that track. When I close all the One Knob Racks (there are seven so far but I forsee hundreds) no sound comes out the Master track. All the frequencies have been gathered and are being held within the racks. One type of improvisation might be to slowly unveil the original audio by opening the One Knob Racks a bit at a time. When they are all completely at 0, the original signal and all its frequencies are now sounding through the One Knob track and out to the Master. So much potential here!

But wait, there is more! There are a couple of tracks hanging around over beside the Master Track. These are Return Tracks. The original audio track and the One Knob track both have two Sends knobs that send signal to the return tracks. This is another way to add some effects processing to a signal and also have it be available for all the tracks. As it turns out, the send knob on the original audio track can bring that signal forward through the return track even when all the One Knob racks are closed! This is sooooo cool, because as the One Knobs are opening, some of the original sound can be brought up into the mix to give listening ears some direction and excitation. The return tracks can also have effects on them. WoW!

This is exciting for me because it aligns with everything I am creating right now. I seek methods for including all frequencies in the sonic pallette, for rendering frequencies in as many dimensions as I can tune into, for conveying information/data/quanta via sound, and for creating diffuse, diverse sonic delights. I tune into joy and delight in many strange waveforms.

I am drawn to the idea of unFolding, uncovering, and revealing which this method opens up to. Also, the idea of integration and disintegration, which I started exploring over 10 years ago with Unhinged Melody (which later became Circuslocution with iBoD). The idea was an 8 bar upbeat riff that started as individual random sounding notes and slowly came together. Every note has its place and it eventually gets there with some extra notes for good measure! Each One Knob Rack will shape the sound into particular forms, then as one Rack feeds into another, the various level settings create new sonic relationships within the original audio.

Creating these One Knob Racks is teaching me so much about each audio effect in Ableton and what it does. The other part of this will be the sounds that pass through the Racks, what will they be? And then there is the order that the Racks are placed in to maximize the interplay of the Racks as they pass the sound around and through themselves.

Here is a quick journey through some of the sonic territory these knobs can uncover! The original audio is Eleanor Mills playing harmonica and me talking and playing uke. Listen for those times when the original sound is hard to distinguish.

Today I worked with a 8 second clip of Jim Kellough’s digital horn and here is the result:

Mercury Retrograde (or don’t fight it, surrender)

Right in the midst of the most recent Mercury Retrograde, I decided to dive into MAX MSP, a visual computer coding program for controlling sound and light for performance. After downloading the software, I started a class online and was working with some patches when my computer audio stopped functioning. No sound out of the computer. Then the computer and sound card stopped talking. All of this right before an iBoD rehearsal when we were recording Carnatic Water Music.

Using the Windows Troubleshooter, I discovered the problem “audio services not responding” and that this problem was “not fixed”. Online, there are multiple fixes for this message. After cancelling our recording session, I tried all the suggested fixes several times – from inspecting the Services to make sure Windows Audio and Windows Audio Endpoint and all their dependencies were automatically running to entering very specific commands into Command Prompt as Administrator. The first thing I did was update the ASIO4ALL audio driver, so no problems there!

After several days of trying different fixes, I was able to get the computer and sound card talking again! Ableton Sets and Projects were now audible! Yayyyyy! But the computer would not play audio WAV files. Outside of Ableton, audio services still not responding. Finally, I uninstalled the ASIO driver and uploaded the driver for the soundcard. I have a Native Instruments Komplete 6 soundcard, which has been a great device. (I had audio dropout problems with the NI driver about a year after I purchased it, which was when I switched to the ASIO driver and all was well.) Well, changing back to the NI driver solved the audio problems completely and I am back to sounding again!

A friend mentioned Mercury Retrograde as I was working through this process. Dang, I forgot about that current astronomical phenomenon. If I had remembered, would I have done anything different? As things turned out, it is very good that I did not! While I got thrown off of MAX (for the moment) I redirected my energies toward creating synth sequences in Ableton. Since purchasing the Behringer Neutron, I have been unsuccessful in getting Ableton set up as a sequencer for the Neutron. The Neutron has processed audio signal, but never midi signal. Low and behold the NI Komplete 6 driver allowed Ableton to see the midi ports for the Neutron. Suddenly, I was hearing the synth voice and all the modulators. When I made a patch or tweaked a knob, the sound was changed as I expected it to be! WoW! I feel like this is the first time I have heard the instrument’s true voice!

Today I am working on a soundscape for the next Human Origami Jam at ADF Studios in Durham on December 6. Very excited to finally get going with the Neutron.

This is what I will make in the soundscape!

Audiorigami Phase 2

Since releasing Audiorigami (Meditations on the Fold), my sonsense as to how to explore the Fold has shifted. This shift is in sync with Glenna Batson’s return to Durham and the start of a monthly Human Origami Jam. Glenna is interested in exploring folds through a variety of deep somatic frameworks. She narrates the biomolecular potentials that the body travails from utero through the many modulating intersections of growth . My own sonsense of the Fold is opening to the quantum aspects of sound and further harmonic interplay. I sense that these sonic realms might possibly allow access to some basic templates of life. Perhaps sound, in the form of patterned frequencies, guides life into being. Perhaps harmonic frequencies are part of a templates for the growth and movement of life forms through space and time. That is what I am playing with here.

The focus of Audiorigami will now be to explore the changing shapes of sounds themselves. Audiorigami will propogate, excavate, and modulate the folds that emerge from and disappear into the waveforms that are the vehicle of sound. Modular/ Granular Synthesis and Frequency Modulation are the methods for engaging with sound media. I plan to more carefully curate the sound sources I use and to do more sampling from my own recorded sounds.

Here are some excerpts from the Human Origami Jam which happened last month at ADF Studios. Glenna leads an exploration of lines and trajectories, corners and angles. The soundscape is my first rendering with some of the Abeju Synth Station modules I created from “dummy clips” in Ableton, coupled with TAL- Noisemaker VST synth plugin and Ripplemaker on the iPad.

Next Human Origami Jam will happen THIS FRIDAY March 15th at Joy of Movement Studios in Pittsboro NC from 4:30 to 6:30 pm.

Come join us!

Bandcamp CD Release: Audiorigami (Meditations on the Fold)

Human Origami is an ongoing movement/sound project to which I contribute along with Glenna Batson and Susan Sentler. On our website,, you can explore who we are and all the ways we are playing with folds. This project was inspired by a seed idea from 20th Century French philosopher Gilles Delueze’ The Fold. In this treatise on the Baroque period, Delueze asserts that the smallest unit of matter is not the point, but the fold. He describes the fold as a unit of oscillation, along with the point and the wave. My interest is the intersection between sound and movement within and throughout the fold.

For the past several years, Glenna and I have offered a series of workshops where folds were investigated in depth and breadth. I have written about these experiments in three blog posts linked here: ( ( ( Now it is time to manifest what I have learned.

After much experimentation and reflection, a number of ways to find and create folds in sound became apparent. After all, sound is oscillating air, so the very form of sound involves folds. From there:

Rising and falling, overlapping, and reaching back (all actions associated with folds) can be orchestrated musically. One technique used to create “reaching back” is to feature overtone harmonics. By this I mean, playing the interval notes to a fundamental tone in the octave in which they naturally occur in the harmonic overtone series. For example, the first harmonic in a series is the octave above the fundamental. In the second octave above the fundamental, we hear a fifth then the next octave tone. In the third octave we hear the third, fifth and flatted seventh. The fourth octave layers in the second and the raised fourth and the sixth. Normally when these intervals are played over one or two octaves they are heard as scales and chords. Articulating them in their natural harmonic series “home” octave creates a harmonic reach over multiple octaves, and a fold back in reference to the fundamental tone.

Other techniques for more concrete renderings of folds are melodic lines that reach out from and come back to a fundamental tone. On the page, one can see how the melodies move up and down notationally. Percussive sounds are used to define the edges of a fold. A formal quality of folds is repetition. For example, two types of audio folds are 1. an echo, where the sound comes back on itself like two halves of a folded sheet, and 2. a spiral, where the feeling of the sonic movement is a perpetual reaching towards the fold, but never completing it.  Folds require a doubling back that is repetitive and ever shifting.

With these gestures in mind, here are the track notes for Audiorigami (Meditations on the Fold):

First Folds is in two parts and accompanies¬†Glenna’s meditations on the primal unfolding of body from spine in utero. It begins with the sound of heartbeat and rushing blood. Then waves of lovely tones intermingle, slightly muted, rising up and down in a short, repetitive theme that will return in later sections. The piece begins in a still, enfolded place and moves out into form.(12:53)

First Folds Part Two begins with the percussive edges of folds then leads into an emphasis on harmonics -melodic and dissonant. The earlier theme returns to intermingle with alternative themes, all weaving into the fabric of sound as we expand out into extremeties and beyond into ethereal fields. The fold, as articulated oscillation, travels far beyond our corporeal realms. (10:03)

11th Harmonic stretches over four octaves of harmonic overtones. This piece was based on some experiments that demonstrated a particular harmonic interval that could break up stuck cells (i.e. tumors). And while the interval used in the experiments is out of the audible range, the Law of Octave allows the interval to be reduced into the range of human hearing. The primary tonal relationship is rendered as a fundamental frequency and its fifth in the fourth octave above the fundamental. My experience is that this piece is capable of stirring things up on multiple levels. It uses the fundamental to 11th harmonic interval as its basic fold, then builds from there. I played with propagation dynamics in the final mix as a way to move the soundscape closer in and further from the listener. (11:00) An 11/11 wink- I did not plan 11 minutes. I noticed it after the fact.

Folding the Edges (5:15) and Accordion Breathing (6:13) were prompted by Glenna’s idea for a “squeeze box/accordion folds event.” From this I began exploring what makes an accordion fold? This type of fold follows geometric lines, has more symmetry and presents repetitively. Accordion folds have edges – in order to BE an accordion fold there must be two edges that fold away from each other. They hold their shape as they move. The smallest unit of an accordion fold is, interestingly, a tryptych. In these two pieces, there is a strong sense of expanding and contracting, of opening and closing, of breathing with accordion folds. Both soundscapes have edges, repetitive patterns, triad/triplet relationships and breathing space.

Floating Enfolded (10:18) and Floating Downstream (7:02) did not evolve from Human Origami workshops, but were added as part of an online class in Human Origami to be offered in March 2019.

Here is a link to the album:

Continue reading