Practising Sound Morphing in Ableton Live

College, experiments, sketch

So, having a lot of ideas about what I wanted my piece to say, I took to learning how to say thing with this new medium I’ve become interested in – sonic art, particularly electroacoustic music. My first experiments were in Adobe Audition, however I had to abandon that piece of software as automating the individual parameters within different effects is incredibly time consuming – it’s clearly not designed for a non-destructive automation workflow. I’ve been getting to grips with Ableton Live for the last few days, and it’s incredible intuitive. In this post I will be discussing my process using this software to transform sounds I obtained from Freesound into the piece you can hear below.



This (above) was my forth attempt at building The River (see other post on The Willows and my FMP). In this iteration I cause it to morph into the sounds of a road towards the end. I am quite happy with the result, though I feel the white water stage isn’t present for long enough and doesn’t properly assert itself as a stage in the lifetime of the river. This isn’t the exact transformation the river will take over the course of my finished piece – nor are the sounds necessarily the ones I will be using – but it was a chance to practice.

The process – step by step, sound by sound
  • The first sound you can hear is the sound of a drop of water falling onto a metal pan. My idea for this was to start closer to a footsteps within a large space – though I didn’t totally achieve this, and should’ve probably used that sound as well as the drip if I wanted that sound event to be clearer – then move this sound closer to an legible dripping. The first thing I did was to loop a single drip, as I thought the footsteps would be more uniform than normal dripping. I attempted to allude to the footsteps by panning the dripping left to right with each drip, representing how each foot would be a different side – although one is never between footsteps as to hear them like that, but I wanted use that motion as I enjoyed the idea of an nearly-impossible movement being believable, something I enjoy about sound. I also used an eight band equalizer to take out the highest frequencies and boost to lowest tones, then I automated these tones back into the sound as we get closer to the legible dripping. I also used a reverb on this sound, with a long delay to create a large space for the ‘footsteps’ and automated it out towards the end to place the drips in a smaller space – this also had a low-cut filter applied, in an attempt to isolate the mid-tones a little more to create a more impactful sound.
  • There is also a recording of an electric guitar that I added some reverb to and then faded the track in after the guitar attack just so we had the sound resonate. This recording was on analogue cassette tape – a lo-fi set up – and I just used and equalizer  to bring out a little bit of the hiss in the upper mid-tones. This hiss, and the whole sound, builds as the dripping does, in an attempt become symbolise the wind building as we go from an indoor space – with the high levels of reverb – and the location of the river.
  • The next sound is dripping into a body of water. This time I looped seven drips, so it was already less uniform than the dripping that started as footsteps – or my allusion to footsteps. I synced these drips with the first set of drips, then faded them in. I started with a little reverb on these to match the reverb on the first drips, but it fades to a dryer mix quite quickly. Then I added a simple delay that just fades from in, after the dripping has been established. The delay was set to two different time delays on the left and right channel, and slowly drift further out of sync, filling the stereo image. This sound also had an equalizer add some bass tones in the beginning, to match the first sound more closely, then fades them out as the dripping becomes more intense.
  • The next sounds were two separate recordings of the same river, I simple panned one hard left and the other hard right, just to fill that stereo space. I’m not sure how it worked really, but I do like the sound I ended up with, and I did notice that when listening through loudspeakers I no longer experience the phenomenon of locating all the sound to the closest speaker – my mind seemed to locate the river as two separate sounds, which gave me a fuller experience when moving within my listening space (between two speakers) – which I will bare in mind when creating omnipresent sounds for playing through stereo speakers. These sounds simply fade in, however they were equalized to match more closely to the first sounds, and that equalization fade back to their natural sound over time. The same goes for a small amount of reverb. These sounds stay present until the car sounds are heard, when they are faded out quickly.
  • This next sound is a fast flowing river – a simple sound that I looped about twenty seconds of. This sound was, again, equalized to match the other sounds then faded in – then, of course, allowed to drift back to its natural tone. This equalization mainly tackled the high frequencies and the low frequencies, leaving the mid-tones intact. Once the faster river was established I brought in more of the bass tones and dropped some of the higher frequencies, alluding to its gaining mass. This sound fades in slowly, then even more gradually increases in volume until the end, which is when it is panned right with the stereo recording of the car and increases in volume drastically before fading to nothing as the car takes the foreground.
  • The final sound is a stereo recording of sound cars on a fast moving road. All I did for this recording was to fade it in at the peak of the previous sound, and panned it from slightly left to centre as the first car came in – just accentuating that movement a little. I also used an equalizer to remove some of the highest frequencies to take attention away from the engine sounds and rely more on the movement, this was just to help the crossfade sound more natural.

ableton river one test