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Music

Designing Sounds With Ableton Collision

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About Collision

Collision is a physical modelling instrument for creating mallet and creative percussion sounds. 

With this plugin I can reproduce instruments such as xylophones, marimbas and glockenspiels, but also provides enough depth to create truly dramatic new instruments and sounds. 

The sound it creates will sound more organic and natural compared to sampled sounds.

Drumkit illustration
We can create simple drum sounds with Collision / Photo from Wikipedia / Public domain by Ofirka991

The exciter section has got two sound sources and there are several resonator models:

  • beam
  • marimba
  • string
  • membrane
  • plate
  • pipe
  • tube.

For more info, visit the dedicated Ableton Collision page. It’s also worth consulting the official Collision manual.

Recommended Workflow

Arrangement view in Ableton
These are the instrument tracks we will be working with

For beginning the learning of Ableton Collision I recommend that you start with an empty Collision instrument. It is important to tweak one parameter at a time and listen closely what it does to the sound. 

For example the most obvious change is when you select a different resonator type. This can be interpreted as a default program for starting a patch.

Understanding Physical Modelling With Collision

Start here to get a general overview of the usage:

  1. The instrument uses pair of oscillators / sound sources called Mallet and Noise
  2. This goes into a pair of resonators which will add the character of the sound
  3. Similarly to synths the LFOs are there to modulate the parameters
  4. You can use the global section to set simple main parameters like routing, volume, polyphony and retriggering
  5. On the MIDI tab, you can set Pitch Bend, Modulation Wheel, and Aftertouch. Both the Modulation Wheel, and Aftertouch can be set to have two different destination at the same time.

Kick

This is a subby kick with some attack using the G-0 musical note.

Kick patch
Creating the kick sound

Patch settings:

  • mallet volume -19 db
  • mallet noise 50%
  • mallet stiffness 50%
  • mallet color 45%
  • noise volume 0 db
  • noise filter HP, 1.4 kHz, 0.13
  • resonator pitch 100%
  • resonator time 60 ms
  • resonator type tube
  • resonator decay 300 ms
  • resonator radius 30%
  • structure 1 > 2
  • voices mono
  • retrigger enabled

Effects:

  • Saturator drive 3 dB, analog clip
  • Compressor ratio 1.73:1, attack 2ms, release 22 ms
  • Limiter, default settings

Snare

The snare is a noise based simple sound, similar to a clap sound.

Snare patch
Settings for the snare sound

Patch settings:

  • mallet volume -19 db
  • mallet noise 72%
  • mallet stiffness 13%
  • mallet color 45%
  • noise volume 0 db
  • noise filter HP, 1.4 kHz, 0.23
  • resonator pitch 100%
  • resonator time 60 ms
  • resonator type tube
  • resonator decay 300 ms
  • resonator radius 30%
  • structure 1 > 2
  • voices mono
  • retrigger enabled

Effects: Saturator drive 18.9 dB, soft sine mode, soft clip enabled, output -6.8 dB.

Hat

A short decayed sound is used with 100% noise and 100% color in the mallet section.

Hihat patch
These are the settings for the hihat

Patch settings:

  • mallet volume -40 db
  • mallet noise 100%
  • mallet stiffness 0%
  • mallet color 100%
  • noise volume 0 db
  • noise filter HP, 3.8 kHz, 0.23
  • resonator pitch 100%
  • resonator time 60 ms
  • resonator type tube
  • resonator decay 300 ms
  • resonator radius 30%
  • structure 1 > 2
  • voices mono
  • retrigger enabled

Effects: Simple Delay both sides in Time mode, 1 ms and 8 ms, feedback 0%, dry wet 100%.

Percussion

The percussion sounds like a sine wave from an old drum machine.

Percussion patch
This is how the percussion sound looks in Collision

Patch settings:

  • mallet volume 0 db
  • mallet noise 56%
  • mallet stiffness 83%
  • mallet color 81%
  • noise disabled
  • resonator pitch 0%
  • resonator time 100 ms
  • resonator type pipe
  • resonator decay 1.32 s
  • resonator radius 50%
  • structure 1 > 2
  • voices 4
  • retrigger disbled

Bass

The bass is a string type sound using a low pass filter to delete the top end above 104 Hz.

Bass patch
This is the bass sound

Patch settings:

  • mallet volume -30 db
  • mallet noise 50%
  • mallet stiffness 50%
  • mallet color 50%
  • noise volume 0 db
  • noise filter LP, 104 Hz, 0.2
  • resonator pitch 100%
  • resonator time 100 ms
  • resonator type string
  • resonator decay 1.08 s
  • resonator material 29.69
  • structure 1 > 2
  • voices mono
  • retrigger enabled

Lead

Marimba is the basic type of this sound and I added an Auto Filter and a Ping Pong Delay to it to spice it up a little bit. At the end of the effects chain there is also a Utility to give it more volume.

Lead patch
The lead patch based on a Marimba resonator

Patch settings:

  • mallet volume -30 db
  • mallet stiffness 100%
  • mallet color 50%
  • noise disabled
  • resonator pitch 0%
  • resonator time 100 ms
  • resonator type marimba
  • resonator decay 1.32 s
  • resonator material 0
  • resonator quality full
  • resonator hit 16%
  • structure 1 > 2
  • voices 4
  • retrigger enabled

Effects:

  • Auto Filter low pass, cutoff frequency at 2.71 kHz and 1.14 resonance
  • Ping Pong Delay feedback 50%, dry wet 33%
  • Utility +6 db gain

Exotic

The exotic patch consists of two different material resonators (plate and string) in 1 > 2 mode and a mallet. The noise is disabled for this sound, because we don't need it.

Exotic sound patch
The patch of the exotic sound is based on two different resonators

Patch settings:

  • mallet volume 0 db
  • mallet noise 14%
  • mallet stiffness 60%
  • mallet color 69%
  • noise disabled
  • resonator1 pitch 0%
  • resonator1 time 100 ms
  • resonator1 type string
  • resonator1 decay 753 ms
  • resonator1 material 0
  • resonator2 pitch 0%
  • resonator2 time 100 ms
  • resonator2 type plate
  • resonator2 decay 835 ms
  • resonator2 material 0
  • structure 1 > 2
  • voices 4
  • retrigger enabled

Mixing the Drum Group

I grouped all the drum sounds to a group. The group is using a short Reverb to give a more natural feel (small size, 710 ms decay, 25% dry wet, 100 stereo, lo cut on, high cut on).

Reverb effect
The common Reverb has got a small size and short decay time

Bonus Tip: Tuning

For some of the sounds, setting the proper tuning can be a bit of a challenge. The important thing here is going up or down in 1 semitone steps or about 10 cents units until it sounds good. A proper piano instrument is helpful to tune against.

Conclusion

Bass marimba instrument
Photo of a marimba / Wikipedia / Photo by File Upload Bot (Magnus Manske) CC BY-SA 3.0

In this tutorial I described creating sounds with Ableton Collision. I programmed drums, percussion, bass lead and an exotic sound. I mixed the drums with a common Reverb, to give them an organic sound. 

Despite being aimed at creating real sounds, like marimba, drums or strings, it is very capable of creating never heard noises. Tell what your main choice of physical modelling plugin is in the comments.

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