Synthesizing in Ableton Live: Envelope Generators

My first pass at working with Ableton as a modular synth was to explore “dummy” clips. These are tracks that contain an audio clip with the actual content muted. The clip is then transformed into a container for audio effects automation that can be applied to any audio routed through whatever audio track the clip is in. The clip becomes an Envelope template that can be pulled into other projects.

Ableton Live allows the sound designer to see and manipulate many parameters within each individual clip. This is most amazing, and something I have not paid enough attention to. Here is a picture of the clip console from the Ableton Manual:

For Audio Animation Clips, the focus is on the Sample box and the Envelopes box. The slider in the sample box is used to mute the audio by simply turning it completely down. Now the clip is ready to be shaped into an envelope. (That is how Audio Animation Clips will function in my Abeju Synth Station – as Envelope Generators (AAC/EG). The two drop down windows in the Envelope box give the sound designer access to all the effects and mix processing available on the track for this clip only. So whatever I draw onto the audio clip itself only happens when that particular clip is playing. In the case of AAC/EG, the clip will play the animation of the envelope and the envelope will be applied to any audio routed through the track.

In order to create an AAC/EG, we need an audio track and an audio clip. The length of the clip doesn’t seem to matter cause it loops. (Currently, I am sticking with 8-12-24 bars and I hear potential for longer clips with more complex movement in the automation in the future). Use the volume slider to mute the audio within the clip. (Addendum: Experience has taught me that the original audio in the clip should be low volume. I am going to start experimenting with creating audio specifically for these clips.) Then assemble a rack of audio effects you want to use to shape sound and insert them on the track. In the orginal audio clip, use the drop down box in the clip to access each effect, and turn them all to Device Off by moving the red line in the clip box to the off position. Now you have an open audio sleeve with no effects enabled. When source audio is routed through this clip, the audio will sound as is, with no effects present. Next, duplicate the clip. This will be the first AAC/EG. Go to the drop down box and turn on the devices you want to use. The top box takes you to the main effect, and the second will bring up every adjustable parameter within the effect. When you identify a parameter that you want to change, go to the red line in the audio clip window (on the right above) and draw in the animation you want.

Once I finally understood all this, I began to design AAC/EG Modules. Each module is a track with 2 to 4 different envelope template clips. Each instance of the clip can be shaped by adjusting the automation (I am calling animation) of the effects that are on the track. One technique I like is layering three effects over three clips. The track contains three effects (a delay, an EQ and a reverb), so the first clip has one effect on, the second has two, the third has three. Initially, I tried linking several modules (tracks containing the clips) together but found this too cumbersome. The option to layer modules is in the routing in each particular set.

To use the modules, insert another audio track that will hold the samples you are using. I label this track Source. Now there are several routing options, but the main idea is that the AAC/EG modules need sound coursing through them in order to perform. On the In/Out tab on the track, audio can be routed from someplace and routed to some place. The best mixing option so far is to have the AAC/EG modules receive audio from source and then everybody sends audio to the Master Volume. This allows the faders to act as dry/wet attenuators. The Source can be heard as is or through the AAC/EG Modules and Clip Templates.

So far, I have created four modules. Combed, Mangled, Stutter Delay and Harmonics Flinger. [Post Publication Addendum: More modules are added to above and all are being fined tuned. Our April 14th SITES event was rained out (rescheduled for May 19th) so the debut of Abeju Synth Station will be tonight as part of Electronic Appetizers program at Arcana. I am playing a piece called Perimeter Centre, which will feature the Ripplemaker semi-modular ios synth as my sound source for the Abeju Synth Station. Come listen!

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!

Monthly Human Origami Jam

Glenna Batson is back in town and we have started a monthly Human Origami Jam at ADF Studios on Broad Street in Durham. Join us this Friday, February 15th for an exploration guided by the foldings of cells – the building blocks of nature. While Glenna guides you through a macroscopic to microscopic sense of the cell, dejacusse will sculpt sonic forms in the atomosphere of the room. The soundscape will swath you in harmonics, whispers, bounce and back to the ambient sound of the room. Sound as water is my theme, and since cells are mostly made of water…

Human Origami Jam

TODAY! Friday February 15th

4:30 pm to 6:30 pm

ADF Studios Broad St. Durham NC

Donations accepted

I would love to see you there!!

Human Origami Soundscape Dec 7 2018

Today at 3 pm, Glenna Batson will lead an exploration of folds and resistances. In her words:

What happens when awareness meets a curved line, a folding surface, a deepening crevice within the body’s interior and the surround? Is the quality of this first contact fixed or free? Is the conversation open or resistant? Is there a clear beginning and ending? It’s at this junction between folding and unfolding where new possibilities for negotiation arise – where a boundary can become more porous and transparent. In this session, movers will uncover the rub of resistance within themselves and open the conversation to new movement possibilities.

The soundscape for today’s playshop will be a piece from Audiorigami (Meditations on the Fold) interspersed with modular synthesis play in formless to form and back again. The Audiorigami track is called 11th Harmonic and consists of overlapping 11th harmonic intervals. This harmonic at extremely high frequencies has been shown to break up tumor cells! The Law of Octave allows us to bring the high frequency into the audible range, and benefit from the entangled resonance with the higher frequencies.

11th Harmonic is a kind of smudge soundscape. It has the capacity to clear stuck energy in a space, in a body, so is perfect for the suggested intentions Glenna has put forth. This piece has five or six movements, and the parts are layered in and shimmered over each other. This is an example of how I have created audiorigami to this point. Now there is new direction in the form of Ripplemaker – even the name suggests the Fold!

Ripplemaker is an iOs semi-modular synthesizer. Synthesizers play electrical signals or control voltages. These voltage-based signals are shaped by waveforms, oscillators, envelopes, filters and effects into sound sculptures. Modular synthesizers can illustrate the journey from the formless into form in amazingly beautiful ways! And the journey is accomplished through folds. The basic structure of this sound material is the waveform, and each waveform highlights the harmonic overtones in different ways. The waveshape is then propogated, expanded, attenuated, filtered, timbrally-morphed through oscillators, envelopes and filters. The journey is amazing and intense, so each mod synth excursion will be followed by a bit of room resonance and breath. Then 11th Harmonic will return.

Very excited to give this voice today at 3pm at ADF Studios. Please come and play with 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

The World is Sound @ The Rubin Museum

Last year, during a Human Origami movement workshop, the son of one of the participants added vocals to the soundscape. This was a spontaneous offering on his part and I was delighted. I tend to favor the bright and shiny high end of the spectrum with bells, chimes, vibes, etc. Matthew’s voice is deep, gravily and provided a beautiful balance to the scape. His voice became an integral part of the larger Nested Soundscape.

On a recent trip to NYC, Trudie and I went to the Rubin Museum in Chelsea to listen to their exhibit The World is Sound. It was an interesting and moving exhibition pointing to sound as the alpha and omega of existence! Yes, WoW! The Rubin is a museum devoted to artifacts and teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, so the installations included The Collective Om, which was a long loop of voices sounding Om. (Later we were delighted to find out that our hosts, Winnie and Phil Richmond, old friends of Trudie’s, had been among the Oming voices.) Le Corps Sonore presented ambient waves of sound that enveloped the spiral staircase at the Rubin. Here is a short sample going down the staircase:

I particularly loved the soundlings that are part of this section of the exhibit:

The human voice and spoken language played a large part in many of the sound offerings, so I listened intently to each one. One piece distorted the sound of spoken words, rendering them meaningless, but not before imprinting a verbal message that remained in my brain as the words failed. I am particularly interested in exploring the second question in my own sound work.

But the most amazing sound I heard that day was in a room on the fourth floor that held a reconstructed altar from a Tibetan monastery. A recording of chanting Tibetan monks plays in the room. As soon as I entered the room, I heard Matthew’s voice. The same gutteral resonance and shades of overtones that Matthew brought to the soundscape were permeating the room. I made a short recording, and have coupled it with an excerpt from Matthew’s accompaniment to illustrate:

It is amazing how we do not know who lives and loves among us!

TRIC Question #1 for 2017

One of the dejacusse/iBoD projects for 2017 is TRIC Questions, a sonic hacking of Terry Riley’s In C or TRIC. TRIC is comprised of 53 rhythmic/melodic riffs based in Nature’s Scale and set against an 1/8th beat pulse. My first pass through this piece was in 2014, when In C turned 50 years old. My approach was more historic then, so I listened to different versions of the piece, read about the composition process and wrote about the initial performances in 1964. Musician friends presented a slice of In C in performance that year, but mostly I explored In C through the Ableton Live DAW using different voices and tempo variations. For more on this, read the blog: My Year In C –here:

During that year, questions continually jumped out of the piece. As I became more familiar with the patterns, they each took on a unique and identifiable voice. Then one day, while looking at the score of TRIC, I saw that this is simply one way these patterns can be put together.

What if each of the 53 packets of tones stands on its own, AND in relation to any and all of the other packages?

Using the patterns of In C as little Lego blocks of sound and putting them together in different combinations has become my approach to “playing” In C.  I want to hear all the sonic possibilities within this musical universe-for what else can you call it? It is not a song, but it makes songs. It is not a symphony, although it has movement and motifs. In C questions all the assumptions we have about in tune and in time when making musical sounds in the world. When we loosen our grip on what we think things should sound like and give our attention to what we are hearing, and what is emerging from our articulations within that hearing – whole other worlds open up. Those are the worlds I want to continue exploring.

My first experiment with the long tones of TRIC was in November 2014. The question was how to use the long tone phrases to express tension and release. To hear the result of this experiment, go here On listening again, I hear the C pulse frenetically undermining any possibility of release. One of the TRIC Questions I have answered is to drop the 1/8th note C pulse. Scoring the patterns precisely in Ableton Live creates a rhythmic underpinning for improvising musicians to play with/against, so the C pulse is unneccessary and unhelpful. Another reason to drop the pulse is that it is an integral part of playing TRIC, and I am no longer playing that particular iteration of these sound modules.

The eight long tone patterns  range in length from 6 pulses to 32 pulses. If all eight modules begin at the same time, there will be a sustained 6 pulse EF#GC [C(add#4)]chord. This could be achieved by triggering all the modules at once. Then, it would be interesting to peal away the patterns till only two remain. Which two patterns will be the final pair that plays this iteration out? One possibility is P30 and P21, which carries the tritone tension through to end. The other pair is P29 and P42, which creates the more consonant C major sound. Let’s try those two ideas. First, we end with P30 and P21. This sketch feels tense throughout. The denseness dissipates, but the tension stays high.

Next, we end with P29 and P42. Here the tritone tension is folded into a more harmonious blend by the end.

I have been so focused on the tritone carrying the tension, that I ignored the tension that half-tone, whole tone and minor third intervals inject into the scape. The final voices in the harmonious sketch create as soothing a combo as exists within this overlayering of fourths and minor seconds and thirds. So while it is soothing, there remains a sense of alertness within the release.

And, for my next trick, I set off that initial C (add#4) chord over and over, each time pealing away different layers to create a longer soundscape. Here is a 6 minute sound piece with five versions of pealing back to two patterns by the end. Each iteration ends with a different pair.

I love the feeling of fireworks exploding into that C (add#4) then the subtle changes that pealing back one part at a time makes to that chord. Then finally, there is a falling off of the expansiveness of the sound field and we are left with just two patterns rocking back and forth. Then – BAM – the C (add#4) explodes again. I love this!