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How to Use Ableton’s Beat Repeat Effect for Live Performance

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It’s not exactly news that a lot of people see Ableton Live as one of the best pieces of software for live performance. After relying on Live and a laptop for loads of gigs around the globe, I can fully recommend it as a tool capable of delivering the results. The interface is clear and luckily it hasn’t crashed on me yet.

With so many effects to choose from I’ve decided to cover one that has seemed to remain a constant crowd pleaser throughout my live career and that’s the extremely usable ‘Beat repeat’ effect. I’ll walk through how to map its key parameters to a control surface and then show some quick examples of how it can be tweaked with only a few knobs for maximum impact when playing live.

Step 1 - A Good Start

Just so you know how I am running Live for this tutorial, I have used a very basic DJ style template, with two ‘decks’, a few auxiliary FX channels and a few EQs and filters on each channel. For the moment the master channel has a few basic processors on it, including a filter, a phaser and a master EQ. I find this is usually a good place to start when constructing a live set or experimenting with mix effects.

Step 2 - Inserting the Beat Repeat Effect

Now navigate to the Ableton effects area using the browser to the left of Live’s interface and grab a Beat repeat plug-in. This can be dragged into the master area before any of the other effects already in place. Once in place you should see the plug-in with its default settings.

Step 3 - Using a Controller for Live Performance

Most of us who own Ableton and use it for live performance will have some sort of controller with knobs, buttons or faders. In the past I have used countless different devices to tweak my sounds in Live but I keep coming back to my trusty old X-Session USB MIDI controller.

This has been right around the world and back and still works, even though it looks a little beaten up! As you can see from the pics I’ve mildly customized it with stickers to clearly mark what does what, although even this has proven to be difficult to pick out in some clubs. The closer shots show my controls for the beat repeat effects and the markings I have applied to show me useful settings.

If you have a similar controller then the following sections should really help you map, not only the beat repeat parameters to your various controls but pretty much any effect you like.

Step 4 - Activating MIDI Map

Activating a mapping mode and assigning parameters to specific areas of your controller is pretty straight forward, once you have done it a few times you can even perform the task on the fly in a live situation.

Simply hit the MIDI button in the top right hand corner of Live’s interface and it should light up blue, many of the controls around the interface will also become illuminated at this point, indicating the system is ready to start receiving mappings.

You can see in this instance I have mapped the Beat repeats ‘grid’ function to a knob on my controller (the one named ‘RPT’ in my photos). This is a pretty crucial parameter for this particular effect and just this one knob will give you plenty of control over the final sound.

Step 5 - Mapping Parameters to Your Controller

Now simply select the parameter you want to edit and then move the knob or slider you want to use for this value on your controller. You will now see a number appear in the parameters surrounding area, this confirms that a signal has been received and the mapping is complete.

You will notice that as you are using this method, the browser area on the left of Live’s interface will display all of the current mappings stored by the system. This is a pretty useful area as you can manually edit any of your mappings or delete them if needed.

It’s not just continuous controllers that can be mapped, switches and buttons can also be used to control on/off functions of effects, mixer parameters and instruments. Here I have mapped the on/off function of the Beat repeat effect to my controller so I can easily kill the effect when needed.

Step 6 - Loading Some Sounds

To demonstrate the effect in action I have quickly mixed a few house drum loops. They are dragged from the browser and one is placed on ‘deck A’ and the other ‘deck B’. The crossfader is then placed in the center and the loops mixed. This gives us a basic rhythm good enough to demonstrate the effect.

Loop 1

Loop 2

Both Loops

Step 7 - Tweaking the Beat Repeat

From here on out all the work is done and it should be fun and games. With the Beat repeat effect set up as it is in the screenshots, ensuring that ‘repeat’ and ‘insert’ modes are enabled, you should be able to mangle your beats with ease.

Manipulating the grid function will give you the best results here and as that should now be mapped to your controller you can get hands on. Starting at the lowest value of 1 bar there will be no change here as the loops are only a bar long. Moving the knob counter clockwise you should be able to hear the effect kicking in. And the smaller the division the more intense the effect.

The processor will loop the portion of audio it reaches when you engage it, meaning if you stop on the kick drum this will be looped to the resolution the grid value is set to. This is great for performance as you can grab any part of a loop and quickly repeat it on the fly.

Once you start to get past around 1/16th of a bar you will notice the effects become less and less musical and more robotic, moving towards 128th of a bar will give you very intense effects. It’s for this reason that I’ve turned the level of the beat repeat unit down a few db. You could always use a compressor or limiter to control these peaks if you really felt the need.

I have supplied an audio file that demonstrates a few of the effects that are possible using just the one knob on mapped to the controller. Once you have this set up try doing the same with some other Ableton Live processors.

Download the Play Pack for this tutorial (797KB)

Contents

  • Ableton Live Source Files
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