Since switching from an Analog Rytm MK1 to an Octatrack MK2 earlier this year, I’ve been using Ableton Drum Racks with the OT MIDI sequencer to act as my main drum machine.
I’ve mentioned this briefly in the context of other threads. However, I want to have a centralized discussion about this solution in a dedicated thread for those who may be interested.
You may be interested in this solution if you have an OT and no other drum machine, or are waiting for Overbridge to arrive for your hybrid hardware/DAW setup to kick into high gear, or simply want to maximize the tools at your disposal.
If this does interest you, read on…
Things you will need:
a MIDI interface, I use a Motu Ultralite MK4 to get the MIDI notes out of the OT and into Ableton Live.
a modern audio interface capable of low latency. While this is less of a “need” and more of a bonus, it certainly helps to get the realtime feel of programming a drum machine if you don’t have to wait for 10-20ms to hear the notes you are programming. Again, I use the Motu Ultralite MK4, which gives me an output latency of 2ms at 64 samples, 44.1khz.
Modern Focusrite, UAudio, Presonus, Apogee, etc. interfaces should all suffice. Just about any Thunderbolt interface will do. Most USB audio interfaces made in the past three years will give you great low “round trip latency” performance.
time to set things up
Configuring your drum racks
What I have found to work for me is to assign the drums sounds in columns 1 and 3 of a given drum rack to corresponding tracks on the OT.
In the 4 vertical column grid of the drum rack, you will see that column 1 corresponds to MIDI tracks 1-4 on OT.
Column 3 corresponds to MIDI tracks 5-8
Vertical columns 2 and 4 are assigned as “auxiliary” sounds, easily accessible in my OT MIDI tracks by simply p-locking a +1 note on the respective tracks.
This makes it easy to identify, at a glance, which tracks on the OT are controlling which tracks in the Ableton drum rack, and to gain some muscle memory and hand eye coordination between the hardware and software.
If you wish to mimic the layout of an Analog Rhythm, for example, your Drum Rack may look something like this:
You will also need to add a MIDI PITCH device before your Drum Rack, to adjust the octave offset of what Octatrack interprets as note “C1”, and what Ableton interprets as “C1”.
Of course you can also assign drum rack macros to MIDI CC#s and dive deeper if you wish. P-lock Ableton parameters (not just in the Drum Rack, but also in other tracks. It’s all just MIDI!
Analog Rytm’s got performance macros, OT can too!
Access to sounds.
Samples From Mars, Ableton, Sample Magic, and many others provide low-cost drum rack sample packs which can be easily reconfigured (literally just moving the sounds around on the 4x4 drum rack grid, and then saving that edited drum rack in Live. I’ll often save a copy of the drum rack with the appendix -OT in the drum rack name).
Offloading some of your drums via the MIDI sequencer can open up the 8 stereo audio tracks on your OT to do more atmospheric, synth, bass, and lead work. Taking advantage of all 16 tracks (8 audio + 8 MIDI) is crucial, and for many people is all they need. It also means more of your project memory is available for non-drum samples. Get the most from that 85.5MB! (also, see “other notes” at the end of this post)
Sample chains are cumbersome for some people. Getting (at least some of) the drums out of the OT’s audio tracks and into a Drum Rack can speed up the utility side of the creative process. Set it up once, save the “PART” on your OT, feel free to copy and paste it around for any new tunes you are working on, and just get to work.
If you’re really into p-locking chain slices on audio tracks, you can also p-lock Ableton the drum rack “sample select” for multi-sampled drum racks from Samples From Mars and others. In fact, with random MIDI LFOs (from either OT or Max4Live) and a good multi-sampled drum machine, you can get the “round robin” effect of every drum hit in the sequence being a unique sample.
Additionally, the Octatrack is the only Elektron that can send MIDI Retrig! Spice that up with trig conditions, micro-timing, per track scale/length and you’ve got a great, hands-on hardware sequencer controlling a very deep software drum solution.
Overbridge-esque, but 96khz+ capable.
The promise of Overbridge is about two things. A VST editor, and (more importantly for most,) multi-track audio from your hardware into your DAW, with very little added latency.
While not the same, this solution does provide similar end-results.
And if 24bit/96khz is important to you, use those samples in your drum rack!
My Motu Ultralite Mk4 goes down to 1.08ms output latency while operating at 96khz and on a 64 sample buffer. USB 2.0 has made leaps. I’m certain the new Overbridge USB driver will be high performance. Just how comparable remains to be seen, but once you get below 6ms, who can really tell the difference? Does the person standing 6 feet from your ear sound “later” compared to the one standing 1 foot from your ear?
With a modern audio and MIDI interface, and accounting for a few ms of added MIDI processing latency, OT sequencing a drum rack feels every bit as immediate with regard to snappiness and latency as a DAW-less hardware-only solution.
For those interested in using this solution as an “OT Expander”, you’ll want to get your OT’s audio output sync’d up properly with your drum racks.
With an audio interface with just 4 audio inputs to feed your 4 OT 1/4" outputs into, you’ll only need to use the track delay feature in Ableton Live to compensate for the input latency of running your OT’s audio tracks into your DAW.
(adding some ms of delay to your Drum Rack channel, equivalent to the amount of ms latency that your audio interface’s inputs add to the signal)
This feature may be greyed out and unavailable if you are using the Ableton live in EXT MIDI Sync mode.
If you wish to use both EXT MIDI Sync, and need to add some track delay, Voxengo provide a free VST/AU plug-in that adds delay to any audio channel it is inserted into.
No solution is perfect. That’s why so many exist.
Yes, this will require a little bit of setup, an OT, a new-ish Audio/MIDI interface (or worse, an audio interface + a separate MIDI interface), and a computer with expensive software on it.
Some of us already have these things though many of us wish we had all of these things.
You can’t really just sit on the sofa with all of these things and get to work, casually.
This is more, or less, a static (physical) solution for a studio-style setup.
Though it is powerful, it is not as simple as a single Elektron and a pair of headphones.
I look forward to any questions or comments, and also to hearing how others are using their Octatrack/DAW hybrid setups.