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Create an Experimental Loop From Field Recordings


In this tutorial, I'll show you how to make an experimental loop, based on urban field recordings. The chosen DAW is Ableton Suite 9, and the standard Ableton FX plugins were used. These recordings have a lot of noise, so I'll also show you how to deal with it.

We're going to make this loop.

1. What You'll Need

Recording Gear

I used an ultra cheap (about $65 dollars) Sony digital MP3 recorder, originally intended for recording interviews, and a small stereo microphone which was included in the recorder's package. I chose the places to record randomly—in the streets and parks of Budapest, Hungary—and visited them in the daytime, between 10:00am and 1:00pm.

The golden rule is to use the best quality recorder and microphone, but in my case (and in this context) I didn't think this would be a problem. For example, I can use sounds with a fast attack to color and mix with drums, or I can put longer sections in the background, just to add an organic feel to a track or music. (For this you can also use sidechain compression on the field recording track, triggered by the kick.)

Sony recorder
Sony digital recorder and stereo microphone

Original Raw Tracks

Listen to the raw tracks which are used through this tutorial.

2. Creating the Tracks

Basic Settings

Use a tempo of 120 BPM, and the high quality setting for the samples. Use an eight-bar loop for each channel. The imported field tracks are warped by default (beats mode), which I forgot to disable, but the quality of the main loop is decent enough to be useful.

Main channels
Main channels

Track 1: Knocks

I chose a small section of the whole recording—a knock sound—and inserted it into a track in the arrangement view. Then I placed it onto every quarter note. Every second instance is tuned to +3 semitones to give it some variance.

Use this effects chain:

  • First, an auto filter set to 440Hz (with 24dB roll off)
  • An EQ Eight with a 48dB roll off, and a high pass and low pass filter at 440Hz and 3kHz
  • A limiter to catch any peaks.
Knocks, effects chain
Knocks, effects chain

Track 2: Bass Noise

For this track, I sliced the recording into tiny pieces using the standard Ableton Slice to new MIDI track in the Transient mode. Then I made a custom sequence with the notes, mostly deleting and positioning parts.

Use the same effects chain as for Track 1.

Track 3: Tuned

The track uses three sounds: the first is a mixed noise, and the last two are knocks, but with a different character to Track 1. I placed these directly to the timeline.

Use this effects chain:

  • EQ Eight (same as the previous ones)
  • Chorus (amount 1.33ms, rate 0.94Hz, feedback 24%, dry wet 24%)
  • Simple Delay (both left and right channels in time mode, with 2ms and 10ms, dry/wet 100%)
  • Reverb (decay 3.46s, dry/wet 29%, size 100, pre-delay 40.3ms).

The chorus and delay are used for stereo widening and a minimal modulation, which is handy for sounds with lots of harmonics. The reverb makes a bigger space for the sound. I want to give the impression that it's coming from the background.

Tuned sounds
Tuned track, effects chain

Track 4: Noise Hats

As the heading suggests, I'm using this sound as short hi hats. I dropped the whole recording into an Ableton Simpler instrument, and modified the start and end points. Then I made a rhythm with a small MIDI clip.

Use this effects chain:

  • Limiter to catch any peaks
  • Auto filter at 1.32kHz to remove low end
  • A Ping pong delay to widen the stereo image and add textures
  • And finally, reverb to sound like a small room (decay 1.22s, dry wet 39%, size 1, pre delay 13.6ms).
Noise hats
Noise hats effects chain

Master Channel

For this loop we don't need anything fancy:

  • A Spectrum
  • A backup EQ Eight (with the mid/side part is rolled off with a high pass filter set to about 150Hz to keep the bottom end in mono)
  • And a limiter, with 0dB gain and a -0.3dB ceiling to catch any peaks.
Master effects chain
Master effects chain

3. Tips

Handling Unwanted Noise

In urban field recordings, there's often a lot of disturbing background noise. The first weapon to deal with it is heavy filtering, which rolls off all the noise above or below a specific frequency. The second is EQ, which can decrease specific frequencies in a sound.

Ableton provides great plugins for these purposes, namely the Auto Filter and EQ Eight.

Slicing Field Recordings Before Use

I often make field recordings that are one hour or more in length. To help sort and discover interesting sounds, it's useful to get a program and slice the whole file into 5-10 second blocks.

In my case, I used mp3DirectCut which can cut MP3 files without recompressing.


In this session we have learned about making a loop using samples, either in the timeline way or with a sampler, and also about effects chains. These chains can differ as you may have other ideas or concepts. I encourage you to experiment a bit with your next project.

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