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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > Jun-16 > Envelopes and automation in Ableton Live

Envelopes and automation in Ableton Live

It’s time to augment your live shows and productions with a more organic, evolving vibe by using envelopes and automation to the max! Martin Delaney maps his MIDI…

Ableton Live: Live In Depth – Part 4

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Accompanying project file included on the DVD

Automation is the process of recording mixer or device moves for playback later. The recorded movements appear inside Ableton Live as red objects called envelopes and breakpoints.

We can use automation in the mixer, in MIDI tracks, for instruments, MIDI effects, audio effects and in audio tracks for audio effects. We can add automation by drawing it with a mouse or recording from a MIDI controller like a Novation Launch Control or Ableton’s Push; we can apply automation at clip and track levels.

We use automation for three reasons: because there are jobs where we just don’t have enough hands or fingers to move everything that needs moving; because we often need to recall and repeat certain actions; and because the sound of movement, the sound of controls being tweaked, is a vital part of electronic music production. Synth sounds and effects without some kind of movement can be horribly sterile, so automation becomes part of the arrangement. Throughout this tutorial, we’re mostly using Session View, but rest assured that Arrangement View automation works along the same lines.

Automation can be applied to anything that responds to MIDI. As well as using it within Live’s audio and MIDI tracks, it can be sending out to external software or hardware, like VJ applications, synthesisers, and lighting rigs. Our example Live set contains both MIDI and audio tracks and clips – they can all be automated to various degrees. If you can’t see the clip envelopes, you’ll need to click the little black ‘e’ button near the bottom left of the screen, and then click on the Envelope’s box name to make sure you’re editing in the right place. You can run tons of automation on a single clip at the same time which is a great way to experiment and see how much movement you can get from just one little sample or MIDI part. As mentioned in the tutorial, you can draw curves as well as straight lines, something that I use to get fades to behave the way I want.

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The new issue of MusicTech magazine is on sale Thursday May 19th, and this month we bring you a glimpse of a dynamic new touchy-feely music making future in our whopping cover feature looking at getting literally hands-on with your music. Also we bring you 6 ways to create a cool studio, 6 of the best mixers, the latest reviews, tutorials for every major DAW and a sad farewell to the Moog Voyager…
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