Stupid name. Cool rack.
This thing is for playing arpeggios with a drum pad. It’s a cool live-show trick. I use an Alesis Control Pad, which is a bare-bones trigger thing that you can beat with sticks. Once you get the sensitivity dialed in for your playing style, you can get pretty easy access to the whole range of note velocities, which this rack translates into note data. There may be more graceful ways of acomplishing this. I haven’t given it a ton of thought, because this works for me, but if anyone’s got a good twist on it, let me know!
Create a Midi Effect Rack with three or more chains. Mine has four. This example uses a single drum trigger transmitting on C3, so the keyrange is limited to that note for all chains.
My chord for this arpeggio is a C minor, so Chain 1 has no Pitch plugin, Chain 2 has a +3, Chain 3 has a +7 and, what the hell, let’s put a minor seventh on Chain 4 with a +10. Create a Velocity plugin with Out High and Out Low values set to 64. Copy and paste this to each chain, so that all your notes have the same volume.
So…now this thing works. Different velocity ranges produce different notes. Put a monophonic synth on the track with a long release time and bang away. Playing a song with multiple chords? Nest this rack in another Midi Effect rack and duplicate it a few times, adjusting settings to taste. Each drum pad will correspond to a different chord. There are actually a number of ways to do this, which is why I’m not going to get too deep into it–by the time you’re at that point, it’s really about your own workflow and what’s going to work best for the type of performance you do. I prefer to keep subracks as discrete units that can be hot-swapped–more of a modular approach–than building one giant rack with all the settings mapped out, but that won’t work for everyone.
There’s a lot of other cool stuff you can do with this rack. Here are a few ideas:
Random: Use this plug to randomly shift notes by an octave, or some more creative interval. A semitone up or down from your root note can yield interesting results if it’s not overused. Or, for a bigger leap, let’s say you make a nested rack with a randomizer that will only feed 1 of every 5 notes to a different pitch, which has a Chord device on it and another pitch device to tune it back down to the correct key ..if your synth is polyphonic, your otherwise-monophonic arpeggios will periodically have chorded bursts. Very cool stuff.
Velocity: Increase the Random amount on the Velocity plugs we created earlier, then map velocity to something on your synth other than volume. Envelope release times, filter cutoff, oscillator detuning, pitch envelope time, FX wet/dry control, noise osc level, etc….Ableton’s MIDI effects are great, and often overlooked. With a little forethought, the modulation possibilities they make available can turn a ho-hum synth patch into something with some real character. Take the time to learn what each of them do!
Arpeggiator: Put a note-length plug on a chain, set to something like 500ms. Follow it with an Arpeggiator with the Decay and Target values set to where you’ll notice their effect. This can quickly devolve into nonsense, so it’s best to use these things sparingly, but there’s a ton of good stuff here if you’re willing to dig.
In the meantime, here’s some light bedtime reading courtesy of international R&B superstar K-la Vie. For when the USPS fails us, as a hobby, as an institution, or both.