Using your sampler as a synth

In this blog Im going to show how a sampler can easily be used a synthesizer with some interesting effects using granular sampling techniques. This can be done with any sampler software or hardware, in fact many hardware samplers used to come with standard analogue waveforms of Triangle, Saw and Square for this purpose. However one advantage to using a sampler as a synth is the complex asymmetrical waveforms that a conventional oscillator wouldn’t generate (at least without some serious modulation) that can be found in nature.

In these examples Im going to use Ableton Lives Simpler, but as Ive said above, this will work on most samplers.

Single Cycle

Load in a sample, any that sounds interesting to you, and zoom in as far as possible,  until you can find one cycle that goes between the centre line, the peak, the trough and finally back to the centre line, as in this example

Simpler 1

Immediately we can see over this one cycle that the waveform is quite interesting. Important point is to set the beginning and end pointers to the points where the wave crosses the centreline- if not one can get some annoying clicks as the wave will suddenly go from a value to 0, which generates the click. As you can see here, I have a <snap> option enabled which does this for me-

Tune it

Once you’ve found an interesting sound you need to tune it if you’re going to use it harmonically with other instruments- most samplers will allow you to tune in cents, and if required, transpose, therefore you can tune it to C on the keyboard, or in fact any other note. Sometimes its best to tune to the note its closest to and use that as a root, so if its closeset to Bb for example, tune your sample to Bb, then the sampler will transpose every note to the left and right of Bb. One thing to note is if you widen the window of the sample that your playing, you often have to re-tune it.

Play it

You are now ready to set filters and amp/ filter ADSRs as you would on any synth. Try chords to check if you need to fine tune either the sample loop selection or the tuning.

Multiple cycles- Widening the loop window

Of course one doesn’t have to be restricted to single cycles; you can widen the window more and more until you’re playing the full sample, however on the way some interesting effects will appear, and they will be unique to where the sample loop is played on the keyboard

Simpler 2

In this example, the selection is more complex and the effect can be less predictable, but as a rule as the selection gets wider rhythms/ beats can appear, and these will change in speed/ depth depending on what notes drive the sampler- these can make some really interesting pad sounds, given the right effects or even used as rhythm tracks. Thong to do is experiment and see what takes your fancy, then develop it.

Note: If you keep transposing up a rhythm it ultimately becomes a timbre (sound), if you keep transposing a sound (timbre) downwards it becomes a rhythm and thus here something rasping, buzzing in the upper end of keyboard, will be much slower down to the left of the keyboard, and can become a rhythm of some sort.

Other things you might like to try:

A granular sampler will have the feature of being able to move the loop window though the entire sample as you hold a note down, which means you can get a constantly evolving sound- and there are often features to run more than one at a time, enabling “clouds” of sounds to be generated

Granulator II by Monolake is a free granular sample for Max4Live/ Ableton which has some really cool features

Theres a fair few around in VST format- (though as I use granulator Ive not checked them out, but a quick google search will get some results)

Run it through an analogue synth if you have one.  If you have an analogue synth with an input, send the output from sampler into the analogue synths input and use the real analogue filters, if the synth has an envelope follower set it to incoming signal level then you can use ADSR on the synth instead of sampler- see which works best for you.





About stuartrussellcomposer

Composer/ sound artist. Electronic musician. Modern classical composer
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