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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > May-16 > Audio-to-MIDI conversion… and back the other way!

Audio-to-MIDI conversion… and back the other way!

Live’s audio-to-MIDI conversion provides mind-blowing ways to create new musical parts. Martin Delaney shows you how separate the notes from the samples…

Ableton Live Live In Depth – Part 3

We’re looking at audio-to-MIDI conversion, which is one of the most fun activities in the Ableton World. Introduced in Live 9, ‘Convert…to MIDI’ gives us new ways of disrespecting samples and creating new sounds. Used with the ‘Slice to New MIDI Track’ and Freeze/Flatten commands, you can get amazing results.

These handy commands let us transform an audio sample or recording into an editable form, without having to do any programming; we can create a MIDI track from an original recording or we can create parts to play in parallel with the original part. We can even venture far deeper into substituting different instrument sounds and applying MIDI effects. The source material can be, well, anything. For more conservative uses, it’s typically drums or bass sounds, but it doesn’t take long to get into more left-field territory by converting field recordings, miscellaneous noise, and speech samples into rhythmic or melodic MIDI parts. Some complain that Live’s MIDI conversion tools aren’t as accurate or sophisticated as those in Melodyne, for example, but that’s missing the point. With Live it’s all about immediacy and creativity; with these tools you’ll get results you wouldn’t have dreamed of – never a bad thing.

In this tutorial’s example Live set, we’ve provided a few audio clips that’ll give straightforward illustrations of how audio-to-MIDI conversion works. You should really start using your own audio samples as soon as possible though – that’ll be much more rewarding. One usage example that comes to mind is with drums. You’ve recorded a beat that you liked at the time, but now you want to use different kit sounds while keeping the notes and timing of the original beat. Or maybe you’ve taken a beat from a record, and instead of using it as a straight sample loop, you just want the parts from the beat. You might also use it to create a second part that plays along with the original. The conversion process can work very well, but it’s dependent on the quality and character of the source recording. If there’s a lot of sounds playing at once, audio effects in use or other influences like audience noise– anything else in the background – of course it’s going to be harder to get a clean clip. You might have to tidy the notes afterwards but the idea is this can still be faster than programming the part from scratch. It’s not dissimilar to Slice to New MIDI Track except that command keeps the original sample sliced across different chains in a rack, while this discards the original sound altogether. Bass is typically easy to convert with the ‘Convert Melody to MIDI’ command, because for the most part, bass tracks are monophonic, and reasonably clean. Bass guitar can be harder to process because there’s variation in dynamics and clarity, as well as finger/fret noise. In this context, ‘Harmony’ refers to any audio sample with more than one instrument note playing at the same time: piano, guitar, synthesiser and so on. This is harder for software to decipher, but Live does a good job as long as it’s presented with a clean-ish recording. So as not to make things too easy, the piano clips in the example set include distortion, delay, and reverb so you can see and hear how they affect conversion. I’ve also provided a voice sample, but you can also use any sound. If you’re the sort of person who likes to use their own sources for everything, but also favours MIDI programming over plain sample manipulation, then why not snag a few recordings using your iPhone or other recorder, and create an album’s worth of songs using MIDI conversion to create all of the parts? Furthermore, it’s really unpredictable and exciting to take one original audio recording and apply all of the conversion options to it in turn, creating a beat, melody, and chords, from that single sample. If necessary you can use Live’s MIDI effect devices to squeeze the notes back into some kind of semi-organised timing and pitch. I dare you, go on, it’ll be good!

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About MusicTech

Make a track today! That's the focus of the May issue of MusicTech as top producers reveal their secrets and top tips to starting, arranging, mixing, finishing and mastering your music. If you've ever needed inspiration, had trouble taking a tune beyond its initial ideas, never known how or when to stop, or needed a pro mastered sound, this is the issue to get! On top of this massive set of features there's a huge studio interview with the legend that is Gary Numan, 1.22GB of free samples and all the latest modular synth and music production news.