The Wavetable Instrument in Live is an amazing tool for synthesizing complex sounds. In Live 10.1 they included a new feature that lets you add your own custom User Wavetables. In this article, I am going to show you different techniques for making Custom Wavetables.
DRAG AND DROP AUDIO SAMPLES
Ableton Live made it really easy to just drag and drop samples into the Wavetable Synth. The audio file can be dragged from the Browser, from a clip slot in the set, or directly from anywhere from your computer (Just like dragging in samples). If you add an audio file from a folder, you can use the Next/Previous arrows to move through those samples in Wavetable.
How are the samples processed?
Ableton Live has to process the file to make it work as a Wavetable. You have to keep things in mind like sample size, phasing, and many other things. Most of the time just dragging a file in works great, but let’s look at how Live processes it.
- Wavetable only reads the first few seconds from the Sample. Since it can only use up to 256 waveforms to make a wavetable, it just takes the first bit and chopped it up.
- Live makes the wavetable from 1024 samples per wavetable. That is the total length of the wavetable (that is a really really small file).
- Serum makes files at 2048 samples per wavetable, so Live downsamples it to 1024 if you drag it in.
What is the new “Raw” mode?
When Raw Mode is on it doesn’t process the sound and just chops it up into equal sized 1024 sample waveforms. If the sample is not prepared properly this will cause lots of clicks and phase issues. It’s best to only turn Raw Mode on when you made the wavetable to the 1024 sample per wavetable spec.
With Raw Off, Live add extra processing to make it work better as a wavetable. Live will ignore any silence parts in the sample, edges of each wavetable are faded to zero to get rid of clicking, process the sound to avoid phasing, and normalize the wavetable.
CREATING NEW WAVETABLES
Audio Samples are a fun creative way to make new sounds but don’t always turn out as musical as you would like. Sometimes you just got to get nerdy and make your own wavetable from scratch. So… how do you do this? The best way to make your own Wavetables is by using a Wavetable Editor and Software. I will preface this by saying we are going down a pretty nerdy rabbit hole… but for those that are brave, let’s do this. I am going to run down my top three.
Clunky software… Strange interface… but cool results? Yeap, that is Audio term. The software looks like it was made in the late 90’s on DOS. It has little support, so why use it? Well, it has some really amazing edit functions. Once you get past the initial confusion of the GUI. I have made some really interesting wavetables based on mathematical equations, F_Type, with this one. This is a Windows Only Program.
One of the other issues is it renders the sounds as 128 – 4096 samples. Live Wavetable is best used with a 1024 sample, which means you have to downsize this. You can do that in Serum or with other editors. Or alternatively, use it with Raw Mode Off.
Ok… I know some people are laughing with this one. It is ironic to edit wavetables in Serum just to use it in Live’s Wavetable. I think Serum is an amazing synth, and I use it in production a lot. I, however, find Live’s Wavetable to be a lot faster for 80% of the tasks I am looking at as a Sound Designer. To me, it’s worth making these wavetables and using them in Live’s Wavetable. Besides, I can render them and share the wavetables with producers that don’t have serum so they can use it in there music.
With that, let’s have a look at Serum.
Serum has a Wavetable Editor window. To open up the editor, just press the pencil tool next to the wavetable on the oscillator 1 or 2. It will open it up.
In the Editor, you have all sorts of parameters and options for editing the Wavetable. I have found this to be one of the smoothest ways of making a new Wavetable. You can draw things in by hand, use some advanced automation, and other tools. There is just one problem, Ableton Live’s wavetable is half the length (1024) of serums ones (2048) so you need to go to “Process ->Resize tables to be Double (1/2 total number)”. It will then when you export the Wavetable it will be the proper size.
Synthtech is a free program (Mac and Windows). It is an amazing editor. It was designed to work with hardware made by Synthtech, but can work great for what we need. Visit: http://synthtech.com/waveedit/
There is one problem though, it doesn’t allow you to change the sample size. You need a 1024 Sample for Wavetable, so if you just load one up and edit it, it will not be optimized for Ableton Live’s Wavetable. The workaround I have found is to either load one of Ableton Lives pre-existing Wavetable’s and just edit it or find a 1024 Sample Wavetable, load that, and create from there. It will then export it to the right samples. Glitchy workaround, but it works. Just make sure it’s 16bit.
The caveat is that the editor is designed for tables that are 256 samples long and only 64 of them. So you get really small tables out of this (16 at 1024 samples if my math is correct :)
Another gem is the community of sound designers making wavetables with Waveedit. Check out the waveedit online community to download tons of free Wavetables. Remember, these are just 256 sample wavetables, so you will have to either use them with Raw Mode off, or load it into Serum to process it into a 1024 sample wavetable.
Serum FM Wavetable Studio:
The last Wavetable Editor is the Serum FM Wavetable Studio. This is an easy and free way to generate some pretty simple and interesting wavetables. This is a utility to generate wavetables for Xfer Records’ SERUM using FM synthesis (or, more properly, “phase modulation” synthesis). Once you export the wavetable you will have to process it in Serum to make it 1024 or just use it with Raw Mode Off, like many of the other Wavetable Editors/Generators I showed.
BUILDING YOUR ARSENAL
With these tools, you should have everything you need to start making unique wavetable to use in your sound design. I also suggest trying to mash up these tools. Make something in Serum FM Wavetable Studio, add some flare in Waveedit and do the final go in Serum. Lot’s of crazy things can evolve.
To help you get started, I have a collection of 50 custom user wavetables for free download. Follow the link below to grab them and use them in your sound design.