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This week in Lessons from the Modular, we look at stepped modulation (also known as sequencing) of different parameters, and how to apply that concept to our productions in Ableton Live and beyond. Stepped modulation is common in the modular world, different than using an LFO or Envelope, which generally create comparatively smooth changes over time. By using stored voltages, parameters can be set to certain values at specific times.

Stored voltages are effectively what we use to control pitch from a sequencer. Each step is a steady current, with the amount of current defined by each step knob. If the pitch was not a stable, DC signal, the pitch would sound wobbly and uncomfortable. So these direct currents are used to hold a certain voltage until the next step is triggered, similar to what we have seen with Sample & Hold.

We can use sequencers or stored voltage sources (like the Make Noise Pressure Points or René, or the Sputnik 5-step or 16-step Voltage Source) as modulation sources for other parameters as well. Of course, using the same voltage source for both the oscillator pitch and filter cutoff, we can make the filter “key track” the pitches, opening up for higher frequency tones, and closing down for lows. But we can use stored voltage sources to modulate anything, a function we can duplicate in Ableton.

Using Clip Envelopes or Automation, the same function can be achieved in our music productions. I prefer Clip Envelopes, which will automatically convert to automation when clips are moved from Session view to the Arrangement view. By enabling Clip Envelopes using the “E” show/hide button in the clip options, you gain access to every parameter on every instrument or effect on that particular channel.

Using the pencil tool will ensure that we get stepped modulation from beat to beat, according the the current grid settings in the clip. This can instantly add some motion to your clips. Try using different length clip envelopes as well, by “unlinking” the envelope loops and changing the loop lengths. Your shorter loops will become less fatiguing to the ear by using different length envelopes, creating the effect of variation in the repetitions.

How are you interacting between your modular system and Ableton? Let us know in the comments!

Our next round of courses starts in about a week, including The Many Faces of Maths! Join us!!

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Stepped Modulation-Lessons From The Modular

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