Ableton Tutorial – Learning Impulse Fundamentals

June 12, 2012

Ableton Live Tutorials

Understanding the nuances of Ableton (or any DAW) takes time and effort but is well worth the reward.  In today’s article we look at Ableton’s Impulse drum machine and dive into exploring its features.

At its core, Impulse is a drum sampler with sound shaping and modulation capabilities.  You can load samples into any of the eight slots and each sample can be time-stretched, saturated, filtered, processed and more.

Impulse is primarily used for housing one-shot drum samples, but it’s worth mentioning that you could drop any sample type (of any sound type) into its slots.  A good example would be loops that you wanted to trigger or randomize in a particular manner.

Ableton’s library contains many drum kits for Impulse.  We chose to work with the kit ‘Upetty’ from the ‘Electronic’ folder but essentially you can choose any kit or sample source you like.

Let’s take a look its features…

Start, Transposition, and Stretch

Start determines where Impulse begins playing a sample.  For example, if you only wanted to catch the tail end of a sample you could adjust your Start time, so it bypasses the desired amount of the samples beginning.

Transposition allows for tuning and pitch-shifting (+/- 48 semitones).  This feature is great for quickly tuning your samples so they gel with your mix and also for creating quirky pitch effects.

Stretch controls the length of your sample.  Reducing the Stretch will shorten it, whereas lengthening the Stretch will lengthen your samples. Increasing the Stretch by large amounts results in a granular type of effect.

Here’s an audio example of the effect stretching has on this snare:

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Transposition and Stretch can be modulated by note velocity.  This is expressed in %, and basically just means that the force at which the sample is triggered will have an impact on modulating these parameters.  Random is another way to add some variation.

Take a listen to the effect Random has on modulating the Transposition feature:

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Mode refers to the time-stretching algorithm used.  Use Mode A for lower sounds like kick drums, whereas Mode B is better for higher sounds like cymbals.

All of these parameters are available for each sample so they can be tailored to your suit your individual needs.

Saturation and Filtering

Saturation allows you to add some Drive and distortion to your samples.  This is great for an extra bit of grittiness and crunch.

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The Filter section offers a nice selection of different filter types.  It’s ideal for tweaking the sonic characteristics of a sample by removing unwanted frequencies.  The Frequency determines the frequency point at which the filter is applied, whereas the Resonance boosts certain frequencies near that point.

The Filtering section can also be modulated by note velocity and Random percentages just like our Stretch and Transposition controls.

Mode determines the Filter type.

The Saturator and Filter are available for each sample.

Volume, Panning, and Decay

As expected, Volume controls the amplitude of each sample.  Often times, you’ll need to reduce the volume of a sample if you’ve added a good bit of Saturation and Drive to it.  This parameter can also be modulated by note velocity for more dynamics and expression, which has a significant impact on realism in sequenced drums.

Panning allows you to adjust the stereo positioning of your samples.  It can also be modulated by note velocity and Random values.

Here’s a drum loop example of the Pan control being modulated by a Random value.  It’s applied to the hi-hat.

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The Decay envelope has two different modes:  Trigger Mode reacts so that the Decay ensues upon triggering the sample; Gate Mode makes the Decay wait until the sample note is released before kicking in.  Use Gate mode when you need to vary your Decay lengths, as with hi-hat sounds.

Global Controls

Global Controls affect all of the samples within Impulse.  Based on the information we’ve already covered you should understand what Volume and Transposition functions do.  Time is basically the Stretch feature we have also discussed previously – except it applies to all samples within Impulse’s domain.  Increase the Time for global, granular stretching effects.

Take a listen to our example with the Time maxed out.

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Wrap Up…

Impulse is a drum sampler with flexible controls for manipulating sounds (individually and globally).  It can’t hold as many samples as the Drum Rack, but it has some manipulative features the Drum Rack does not.  Its biggest strengths are ease of use and flexible sound shaping parameters.

Get used to learning the components in Ableton – often times they are more powerful than you initially think they are. As always, we hope you found this tutorial helpful and be sure to check back regularly for more great info from Samplepacks.ca!

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