Make a Little Music: A Starter Kit
I want to transition a little bit to making some stuff. You've probably been here wondering like what's this or is he gonna bring out something pink. And the answer is yes and so I'm gonna move into the Ableton Environment for just a little bit just to kind of give you this is like a go forth and check this stuff out on your own time. We're gonna use a MIDI controller. So there are and if you're looking at this you're looking at it upside down but there are touch pads so if you're kind of more rhythmically inclined wanna kind of tap a rhythm or use something that's kind of more in that realm, you can. The keys are just controllers. You can break yourself out of the idea of they're notes and I don't know the notes you know Think of like okay what if I play a note and then I add another one to it or what if that one doesn't sound good and then I just redraw it in Ableton. So one of the awesome things that's kind of happened in this realm is just that most of the time if you're gonna buy ...
one of these or you know probably if you're starting out you wanna look for one that's maybe a 25-key one as opposed to a 49. I like this spread because I, you know I do have some schooling as a piano player and I like what I can do with both hands but if you're just trying to input something with an instrument then you can really do a lot and you don't need a huge keyboard to do it or you may you know be more interested in the kind of controls that you have with the kind of touchpad you know. These are sensitive. They have a sensitivity. If you're working with MIDI, what you're working with is a tool that says basically how hard are you hitting this I'll respond and and it's trying to internalize your musical performance and turn it into numbers so it feels very abstract until you do it but one of the amazing things is what you're doing here is you can record MIDI note data, you can partner it with an instrument, you can decide I don't like that instrument but I like the idea and you can put it in and feed this to control a new instrument which is just incredibly liberating, you know. if you're someone who's like okay I'm into the sound. I wanna figure out what the sound is but I've got this melodic figure in my head or this rhythmic figure in my head. So you send performance information via this controller usually over USB. There are still kind of legacy with these guys little five pin cables that we use sometimes but you know in this case it's more like you know USB is gonna be just fine for for 90% of your usage of these. So you got piano, keyboards touch pads other control surfaces. There's a picture of me playing something I didn't have enough room to bring, the Ableton Push which is really designed for that software so you see a lot of that stuff these days as well. I'm gonna look at something from native-instruments.com here. I wanna kinda steer you towards whatever you can get without having to pay an arm and a leg for it so they have the contact player with a pretty sizable amount of free instruments. Ableton, if you buy one of these nine times out of ten these days it's coming with some kind of DAW software like Ableton or sometimes with Logic or like a kind of reduced version. They kinda wanna hook you in and get you. And then you know the third-party plugins that you might use and something like Pro Tools also extend your abilities here So I think one thing that's just really simple to get started with is the studio just like making some pads and drones. You can do a lot with a minimum of labor. So I kind of get into the space of this is Contact by the way. We'll pull that up. So this is in the factory library that you can get for free. Just a synthesizer and it'll kind of look at some of the the controls of this. I'm right-handed so I'll need to mouse with my left and go on my right. One thing that you have to check right away is make sure that your controller is actually getting the information to Ableton. So I'm actually having some difficulty with that right now and I'm gonna unplug and replug in and see if it sees it. There we go. So you don't need to worry too much about this but it needs to receive input to be able to work. (plays instrument) And you know a lot of the things that we talked about in the kind of more creating a good dialogue edit world, hold true here too so your EQ is still something f filter is just a kind of EQ. So you're just cutting off the high frequencies. Is that got a resonant peak that kind of wispy windy noise And you know I can do something like record with a click track. Ableton has one built in and I'm just gonna show you what that results in here. (plays music) You're looking to create some tension these seconds intervals of notes next to one another do a really good job of that and then some resolution just moving down So I've gone in and recorded that. If you look in Ableton what you've got is not audio but it's kind of like a little player piano roll of you know notes low to high. I can go in and look more deeply at what are the note velocities or how loud am I playing, how hard am I pressing. You know how much am I using the sustain pedal that I've got in here as well. Every one of those things turns into numbers, all right? So that is awesome. It also puts us into that place of that option anxiety so like you know think more about okay what's the sound that I want? How do I dial that in. And then you know it's also pretty easy too to overdub and bring in some some different textures And we're gonna have a quick chaotic adventure here. Oh you know what, we're not gonna do it with that because the battery has fallen out. We'll get more chaotic. So this is called a Thingamagoop from Bleep Labs that's its actual name. And so what we need to do in Ableton is create a new audio track so there's a distinction here this is an audio track because it's audio that's being fed in. It's not the MIDI note data. And what's going to record for this? I need to adjust my put it up here and so what we've got here is a line input versus a mic input so I had to make that adjustment. So happy. Okay. All right. That's enough (instrument making sharp noise) Okay, all right. So we've got our MIDI note roll data on the first file. I don't know why it recorded over that but we're just gonna drop it into the time line and make sure that we've got that settled out. I'm gonna bring the level down on on this guy. Okay. So one thing that's ridiculously cool about Ableton is just the ability to kind of do this this warping or stretching in interesting ways and so I'm gonna do that right now to the extreme (plays instrument) All right. And right now that's a really dry sound that doesn't work really well with this at all and it might never work with this but it is something like okay I'm gonna set up set myself up with a little bit of a creative challenge here How can I make it work. So I'm gonna go into my lovely buttery reverb. (plays instrument) And I can transpose bring this up a couple pitches and see if that helps. (plays instrument) It's a little more kind of tonally related to what we're hearing. You don't need to again know everything about music to just use your ears and and find what sounds more agreeable to you. You know this is just like seriously just messing around with toys but I have found some pretty cool things happening just in in the zone of like to try the things that I would get rid of. I wanted to look at something from this World War II show that that we did just before we get going today. And one of the things that I really wanted to pull off in this show, there's a specific moment where there's a talk about a war crime in in Germany and the story is about American war crime that was committed toward in the sort of tail-end days of the war and in this piece there's a moment where they talk about the gunshots. They talk about then they opened fire and said this and I found this little bit of just long-held tone guitar playing of like and you know I was like okay this is just stuff that would have been cutting room floor stuff for the most part and what I did was I did some intense time stretching kind of like you just saw me do there. I also threw it through this kind of incredible amount of reverb and then I pitched it down an octave. So this is really formidable kind of massive haunting sound I almost thought of like okay the massacre in this story is like the monster in a horror film. It's something I can't you know, this person can't stop. They don't have any control over it and it's just thinking about it through that lens allowed me to not do something like okay we have this orchestral score for the show. We have okay maybe some like you know drums or like something kind of more military or martial in its connotations so I wanted to try and do something a little bit different.
And reserved any words. Well there I saw the guy. He was killed.
American soldiers shot the medic trying to surrender.
Second one was maybe a young Belgian boy. They didn't fire of course.
The boy made it out alive. Then another German emerged from the cellar steps trying to surrender. With the basement on fire one by one German soldiers emerged trying to surrender and one by one they were shot. Roger turns and I--
Just a transitional device there to helps us out of this hard moment but we're still at or we're still living the heaviness of that, right? So you know just a lot of tracks to stack this up and place it to make the entrances a little unpredictable sometimes to punctuate what he said the brump I get like the first note that I got from the editor is like oh can we do something like you know like a you know snare drummer or like a gunshot sound effect And I was like I don't know that seems kind of stock to me, let's think about another way to do this. So just a long story short, you know, you can make really big things out of very small things and small moments and to just play and get the idea that tools have intended uses and uses to be explored but this is really the lab. It is the playground. It's a great place to just take a little bit of time to make something. So there's no substitute for listening like I said I mean I could probably figure out mathematically what that harmonic relationship was to get this to agree a little better with the piece of music that I had alongside but there's also just something that I can intuit given that I'm a listener lifelong listener to music and I'm just tweaking. I'm just adjusting things til they end up in the right place So I hope that that gives you a little bit to start to investigate for yourselves. I really invite you to go back, watch, pause, kind of stew in some of these concepts a little bit and if I have a recommendation just for a place to start find yourself a MIDI controller that comes with a version of Ableton Lite. Get yourself Contact. You're gonna like immediately have a kind of powerful engine to do some interesting things and if you're like me you'll probably get addicted and buy about 30,000 more instruments but that's not an endorsement of that idea. It's just telling you that it happens. So I just wanna say thank you for your time today. If you're interested in any of the other classes for those of you watching at home. There's post-production workflows for podcasting, mixing and sound design for podcasting and this was the conclusion of our kind of tech in podcasting, tech in the post production side of podcasting. So by all means just get to work start playing and if you wanna hear more about the work that I'm doing and work with people from The Center for Investigative Reporting, Reveal is stations nationwide and on podcast and I'm @jimbriggs3 on Twitter if you got a question and I'm big on knowledge sharing so I hope you will take me up on that. Thank you.