Whenever a new or updated piece of technology hits the ground, it's human nature to want to push boundaries. In the case of Live 11's macro variation's feature, dBs tutors Matt Ward and Chris Pratt have not only pushed the boundaries, they've completely rewritten the rule book.
Live 11 has been hailed as Ableton's biggest and most significant update, boasting a carnival of new and exciting features, one of which is macro variations. Without tumbling into a deep dive, macro variations is a feature that lets you store and recall snapshots of different variations in your macro settings, in a live rack. Check out the video here:
Having the ability to jump between variations of macro settings is a powerful feature, especially as there are now 16 macros available for you to map your instrument's controls to. The sound design possibilities are vast.
Innovations like this, especially in the music tech world, tend to result in two things; creativity and more innovation and this is exactly what happened when BA Electronic Music Production lecturers Chris Pratt (Ableton Certified Trainer) and Matt Ward (course leader) started experimenting with macro variations. A cascade of ideas followed leading to the creation of Variation Stepper, which is available under the duo's Kinesotronic brand.
What is Variation Stepper?
"Variation Stepper is a device for direct control, sequencing and randomisation of Ableton Live 11’s new macro variation features" - Chris Pratt
How does it work?
The image below shows an Ableton instrument rack, its macro controls for the instrument's parameters and its stored variations of the macro control settings, all highlighted in the green box. Variation Stepper (on the left) allows sequenced triggering of each variation snapshot in a number of ways, which massively enhances the capabilities of the macro variations feature.
At the heart of Variation Stepper is a classic 16 step sequencer with the ability to control which macro variation is triggered on each step. In true Ableton fashion, this function is supported by a range of randomisation opportunities. You can randomise the steps in the sequence to be on or off, the order in which each step gets played and the actual macro variation that gets triggered on any given step. You can even override the macro variation snapshots and have Variation Stepper play random macro settings for you using the step sequencer too.
If you have an instrument with some macros loaded, variation stepper will also generate 16 macro variations for you at the click of a button. If Variation Stepper generates a pattern that you really like, you can save and recall it. The pattern sequencer allows you to load your saved patterns and play them in order, one after the other or trigger them manually too. They key features are also MIDI mappable so you can trigger the functions with a controller or MIDI keyboard.
So what does that mean in practice?
Variation Stepper can be used in many ways to create totally unique sounds and sequences but it does have some notable uses regarding specific areas of production. The first being melodic content. Variation stepper can really enhance a melodic pattern by jumping through variations of the sound to make a sequence much more dynamic. If you have a macro that is tied to the pitch of a synthesiser, you could even get it to generate the notes for the melody.
Another obvious use is for enhancing drum sequences and the Variation Stepper excels here too. The random macros function is especially good at mangling and triggering random sounds when used with a sampler. This can lead to some unexpected and happy accidents.
The device is so versatile its uses are only limited by your imagination. It can even be used by VJs for generating sequenced video cuts within Live, for example.
How do I get a copy of Variation Stepper?
You'll be pleased to know that Variation Stepper is currently free to download from the Kinesotronic website and will work with Ableton Live 11 suite.
Show us what you can do with it!
If you download and use Variation Stepper we would love to hear your thoughts and see what you can do with it. Tag us in your videos on the socials, DM us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or drop us an email at email@example.com. Happy producing.