Chapter 8 - Odd-Meter Loop Warping
By Darwin Grosse
Many users of Live are probably creating stock dance, trance or groove music. However, with its increasing popularity and improved functionality, musicians from other walks of life are now using Live for loop-based recording. Since Live depends on audio loops, and most available audio loops are in standard 4/4 time, there doesn't seem to be much available loop material for someone interested in odd-meter music.
In this edition of LiveAlive, we will discuss creating an odd-meter loop track (in this case, 5/4 time), but using existing 4/4 loops and "forcing" them to fit in. First, a few notes about odd-meter music:
- Odd-meter compositions tend to "groove" the beat more than typical 4/4 compositions.
- Odd-meter compositions also tend to accent certain beats more.
Both of these could probably be debated by experienced composers, but the tendency is there - some of the most well-known odd-meter compositions (Brubeck's Take Five, the Theme to Mission Impossible, many of the tracks on Sting's Soul Cages) certainly follow these guidelines. And perhaps it makes sense - you need to overcome people's resistance to non-4/4 timing by pushing groove and accent a bit more.
This has an impact on creating an odd-time Live track - you probably need to start with a strong basic track that was done in the meter chosen before you start warping 4/4 loops to fit. The typical backbeat simply will not give you the basis for the over-the-top odd-meter accents and groove that you would be looking for.
For our example track, I've created three simple loops (drum, bass, Rhodes) that follow the typical odd-meter path - fairly strong grooves, and fairly heavy accents on the beats and sub-beats that I want to emphasize. You can hear the basic track at this link. Simple, to the point, and pretty heavy on the accents, all in 5/4 time.
Now, let's say I want to add some conga-heavy percussion.You'd be hard pressed to find many latin percussion loops in 5/4 time - virtually everything I've ever heard has been in 4/4 time. What to do? As you might expect, we are going to use Warp Markers for force-fit a 4/4 conga loop into our 5/4 track.
The first, and most important step, is to begin our Live Set by defining it as a 5/4 session. This is done by changing the "Signature Numerator" and "Signature Denominator" at the top left of the Live session screen. In this case, we change the Numerator from 4 to 5, giving us a 5/4 timing base.
Now that we have a 5/4 track, I add the three 5/4 tracks I've created (the results are provided by the link above). Next, I search around my sample CD collection, and find a track on Steinberg's "On A Latin Tip" CD that has the feel I like. Of course, it's in 4/4 time, but it sounds nice and I want to make it work. When I drag it into the session and play it with the earlier tracks, it sounds like a train wreck. What's going on? Well, looking at the Sample Display in the Clip View tells a pretty clear story:
None of the beat markers are matching up with the percussion transients, and the loop's 4/4 timing is being laid over a 5/4 beat. Ugly as sin...
To get out of this, we need to make some Warp Markers. This is done by double-clicking on any of the existing beat markers. Once this is done, you can move the Warp Marker around and force the loop playback to adjust it's playback speed to match. Here is the end result of my Warp Marker experiment:
The first thing you will notice is that I've moved all of the Warp Markers that are on beats to percussion transients. This prevents a lot of the train wreck sound that we encountered above. However, another more subtle effect is that I've made some of the segments much longer than others. This has two purposes - first, the stretching and compressing that will occur will have an interesting effect on the sound of each segment. Secondly, I want loud segments (such as the beat at 1.3) to occur on an accent point, further reinforcing the accents of the base tracks. The end result of this exercise is that the conga track now fits into the meter of the session, and can be mixed, effected and sequenced just like the 5/4 tracks I'd recorded earlier. You can hear the final result at this link.
While this track is not necessarily the finest work I've ever done, it certainly sounds better than the un-warped version, and gives an insight into using the vast number of straight-time loops within an odd-meter session. This isn't something everyone is going to want to do, but it certainly opens a new palette of time and signature possibilites for the adventurous artist.