Ableton Tutorial: What is granular synthesis and why should I care?

Ableton Tutorial: What is granular synthesis and why should I care?


Hey guys. Slynk here with another tutorial.
And lately I’ve been thinking about granular synthesis. What is granular synthesis? Well, if you take a look at
normal synthesis, like Wavetable, frequency modulations, subtractive, additive synthesis,
these types begin with some kind of oscillator like a saw wave or a sine wave.
That’s where the tone generation starts. And then you have filters and whatnot.
Well, a granular synth is more like a sampler. You drop a sample in, but instead of playing the sample
back normally at different pitches etc. on the keyboard, a granular synth will cut a sample up into tiny slices
called grains. And then you can play each grain at different speeds and pitches, and you can pan
this grain over here, this grain over there, you can lay out a bunch of grains together,
stack and play them all at once and the results you get are crazy. They’re super-wild and I wanna show you how it all works. But we actually need a granular synthesizer
to do those cool things. But luckily for us Ableton has recently released the Grain Scanner,
which is an awesome granular synthesizer, made by Amazing Noises. It’s pretty cheap too,
you can get it on the Ableton website, I’ll put a link in the description. So let’s drag the Grain Scanner in. You can see right away
we got 5 pages down the side but this Grains page is really where all the action is.
Over here we’ve got our ADSR, pretty normal. Let’s turn this while we’re here, the Velocity sensitivity.
Then we’ve got Filter, Distortion, Reverb. Not a big fan of the reverb to be honest, but I’m really
into the filter and distortion. Actually this Exciter is pretty sweet. Let’s turn that up.
Then we’ve got our Mod Matrix, and our Mods. And this will be our LFOs and stuff, and the Matrix
is where we sign on to different parameters. And this is a cool indication of what’s happening
with the Mods, you can see a visual representation. The awesome grain stuff is on this Grains page.
This is where all the action happens. So I guess the first thing we need to do is record
some kind of ridiculous sample to put in that, I don’t know: “Slynk grew a mustache, what the hell?” That’ll do, right? I’ll just turn that up. Let’s throw that in here. We can kind of kind of constrain
the granulator to the area of interest. We’ve got silence on either side here, so I just drew
a little box around there. This is our start position, so if we set that to 0
it’ll always start here. And now I’ll just play a note. So you can see it’s repeating this 80ms section
right at the beginning of the sample and it’s not going anywhere, and that’s where
the Scan knob comes in to play. If we turn the Scan knob up a bit. You can see it’s slowly scanning across the whole sample.
If we set this to 100%: it’ll play it at normal speed, as long as you’re pressing
the C1 key, but that’s really determined by this Key-Follow button here.
I’ll turn that off. I can push any key and it’ll always play the sample
at its original pitch. But if I turn this on. So we can mess with the duration,
and this will change the size of each grain. So let’s dial this down to 20ms or so. And we also have this Scan Direction, so once
it reaches the end of our box that we drew, our Start and Length, it’ll decide to do a few different things.
It’ll stop, reverse directions or start from the beginning. Let’s just go with start from the beginning again.
Then we’ll mess with the number of layers. So we can have multiple playheads
going over the same situation here. We can turn the panning variation up.
These are like randomizers actually. Let’s say we want a 50% chance of a new grain starting
or to scan across the sample. We can set up something like that. And there’s a 100% chance
that it’ll be panned wildly from left to right. And let’s say 30% of the time, it’ll start playing in reverse.
And there’s also gonna be an amplitude variation of 20dB. We can also change the position of the beginning
of our playhead. And you can also randomize that position,
so let’s just set it to half-and-half. I’m gonna try singing and throwing that in the
Grain Scanner. That wasn’t awkward at all. Let’s throw that in the Grain Scanner. So… I don’t even know what note
that actually is. I’m gonna use a tuner to figure it out. So I’m pushing a D and getting like C-sharp and a half.
So I might just adjust the pitch here. There we go, that’s basically a D.
Let’s put some reverb on here too. Sounds cool. So that’s kind of cool actually.
That’s actually a useful sound. Yeah, wow, that’s super lush. And it’s surprising
to hear that when this is what I’m saying. You can see that it’s much more than a sampler.
You can actually get some crazy and useful results. Let’s try using the Grain Scanner in a more of an effect
type of way. I’m gonna record my voice again. I’ve got this song, I think I did it in a tutorial or something,
at one point and it sounds like this. Anyway, what we’re gonna try and do is come up
with a little vocal to go right before this drop. So let me just record something here. Maybe I can warp this a little better. That’s perfect. Drag in our sample into the Grain Scanner
and turn the Velocity Sensitivity up. So the idea is to have this right on the drop here
so it’s gonna be like: Alright, we’re gonna do some measuring here.
When you select an amount of time in Ableton you can see it down… I can’t move my mouse
over it but it’s gonna be right here. So put your eyes there. See how it says ‘234’?
That’s 234ms. So if we set the duration of our Grain Size
to match that: 234ms. And we set the Layer to 1. Now we should be playing at the same tempo. What we haven’t talked about yet is the Grain window.
There’s all these different sort of shapes that we can give each grain. This is kinda like, I guess,
volume of each grain and you can see it fades in and out with this Hanning
window. But there’s this one which is more like a saw wave. Yeah, this is sick. OK, I’m just gonna put this note in here. And we’ll automate this Layers bit here to 60 to just 1. We’ll make it a bit longer. I just had a good idea here. Let’s put a new channel in,
I’m gonna set this to ‘Resampling’ and let’s just record some of this song. Let’s put that in Grain Scanner. That’s so cool actually. I think I want it
to play more of this sample though. Yeah, let’s go 469. That could make a pretty cool drop as well. I think I’m gonna put a new MIDI note in there
and then it’ll work a bit better, more in time. Cool. Let’s try something like this. I don’t know if the mic picked that up. OK, there’s definitely some hum in the background.
Let’s clean that up first. We use “Reduced Ambiance” for this idea. It’s basically just like a multi-band gate,
which works really well. We can just freeze that. Flatten, and let’s toss it in the Grain Scanner.
See what we can do with this. Maybe it’ll work better with a different shape. EQ it a little bit. Maybe we change the Amp variation as well.
And the panning will give it some more creepiness. Again, I’m not really a fan of this reverb inside here.
We’ll use a regular Ableton reverb, should be a little better. You could really use this to design video game sounds.
Maybe there’s a creepy sewer level in your game. And you need to… I mean, I just made that in 10 seconds. Otherwise you gotta go out into an actual creepy sewer
and record with the field recorder. And I’m kind of synthesizing that, you know? Now it sort of sounds like I’m pouring a glass of water
or something, almost. Let’s put it in something else like, what about
if we put that sound into something else, like a Corpus? I’ve been recording this whole time,
and kinda forgot that I was making a video and started just screwing around ’cause this is so much fun.
Let me try and explain what’s going on here. I just came up with this cool sound. This is an original
sample we dropped in with me just going (plucking sound). I’ve managed to set up a really really tight loop
using 0.8cys, whatever that is, I’m guessing cycles, like, wave cycles?
So that’s really really short. But the cool thing is, I’ve got Key Tracking on
so this kinda duration changes whenever I change the note. So I can change the pitch independently of the duration
of the grain. So you can kinda hear what’s going on there.
And then I decided to add a Corpus. And I’ve used the MIDI information I’m getting
from the same MIDI channel by selecting it here, and then that’s transposing the I guess, resonance pitch. So as you can see, you can get a lot of different
types of sounds out of that just by messing with the duration and the pitch.
You know what, I think we’ll even dip into the Mod Matrix. There’s a bunch of different options here.
Sample & Hold, what the heck? Let’s use that, we’ll set it to, say, quarter notes. Sure.
And then we’ll use Mod 1 to mess with… what shall we mess with? The Duration, yeah totally. And we’ll get another Mod going.
Let’s make a really slow sign. Then we’ll just connect that to the pitch. Mod-2. It’s almost like the pitch has become the filter.
It’s really bizarre. Well, I’m sitting here editing the video and
I’m going through the clips that I’ve recorded and there’s just large 20-minute chunks of time
where I’m not talking at all. And I’ve got this blank face on and I’m just twisting knobs
in a trance, totally having the time of my life. I was really struggling making this video because
every time I’d have another idea I’d just go off on a tangent and start doing something
completely different and just forget that I was even making a video, so I guess that’s kind of a testament
to how interesting granular synthesis can be, and how deep it goes. And definitely the Grain Scanner
makes granular synthesis really easy. And I guess the fun in granular synthesis
is really in the samples, what sample you put in there can really change where you go, what direction you had
in your sound design journey. So, definitely try a bunch of weird samples.
I was really having fun with recording my own voice, and just recording stuff around the studio,
banging stuff together, whatever. I’ve got a slide whistle over here, that was pretty fun as well. Again, I’ll link in the description for the Grain Scanner.
And I really hoped you enjoyed this video. Peace.

53 thoughts on “Ableton Tutorial: What is granular synthesis and why should I care?

  1. Awesome, love them effects on the second vocal. Like Tippers sound fx, and that underground sewer sounded ace. I’m away from my computer for a few days so can’t check but do you think Granulator can achieve similar sounds or is it better/easier in Grain Scanner?

  2. Great to have you back (taking a break from climbing?) with another inspiring video. Your Ableton tutes are the best.

  3. I’ve brought grain scanner, Quanta, Portals Granular synth and I can say that Abletons granulator 2 and Simplers Granular modes are by far the best granular synths. However, Quanta is very good at making pads!!!

  4. Awesome, you sold me on it! You mentioned you had a tutorial to create the project at 7:30; can you post the link for that? I'm new to Ableton so trying to figure out how to create some of those sounds.

  5. you are the best, cool technology. And , so, but, your fake oversurprising reactions are pretty plastic and pseudoreal, sorry. Maybe mext time.

  6. Maybe for videos like these, increase the zoom (in Preferences) so we can see the instrument on small monitors, e.g. laptop.

  7. Thanks for making this video on this new Grain Scanner.
    For me Granulator II is still the favourite granular synth with Live. I've used it in many of my own sound design and ambient noise texture videos.

  8. Thank you Slynk, I very apreciate a lot your great ableton tutorials. They are very pro, usefull and inspiring. Best teacher ever!

  9. That note at the end is totally relatable!! Wishing I wasn't working on friday so I could come see you play! We'll meet someday for sure!

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