Sequencing Modular Synth Drum Modules From Ableton Live

Below is described a sequencing solution for modular drum modules using Ableton Live, a custom Max4Live device that converts MIDI notes to CC gates, and a MIDI to CV interface that can convert MIDI CC to CV. If you just want to grab the Note2CCGate Max4Live device you can grab on my server here or from here.

I recently picked picked up three new drum modules from TipTop Audio; the BD808, SD808 and HATS808. These are clones of the kick, snare, open hi hat and closed hi hat of the classic Roland TR808 drum machine. While I do have a modest sequencing setup in my modular synth and would love to expand that, modular synth gear is not cheap and sometimes it is nice to be able to sequence the modular directly from Ableton.

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TipTop Audio 808 drum modules

The drum modules all respond to triggers or gates; basically any quickly rising signal will do. I have a Kenton Modular Solo MIDI-CV converter that gives me one CV and gate, two clocks and four auxiliaries that can be used to convert MIDI CC to control voltage. Having a MIDI to CV interface that can convert CC to CV is crucial for the sequencing solution described below.

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Kenton Modular Solo with Aux outputs connected to drum modules

The first thing I thought to do to control my drums from the computer was to create a MIDI clip in Live and program in some CC triggers using the pencil tool on one of the clip’s CC envelopes. With the Modular Solo’s Aux1 output set up to receive from a particular CC value, and with the Live MIDI clip sending triggers with that same CC value, it was easy to program in some simple drums. The problem with this technique is that using a pencil tool to draw in triggers using a CC envelope is a tedious way to work and it is far more difficult to get the kind of granularity we are used to when programming drums.

What I needed was a way to program my drum modules from a MIDI clip’s piano roll as I would typically do with drums when working in the box. To do that I needed to convert MIDI notes to CC triggers. I looked at the existing MIDI devices that come with Live but none of these was up to this task. Next I looked online to see if anyone had made a Max4Live device to do this. If it is out there I can’t find it, so I decided to build one myself.

Here is the patch:

The patch takes the MIDI note’s velocity, which is received through a midiparse object’s first outlet and an unpack object, and outputs a CC value of 127 if the velocity is more than zero. If the velocity is equal to zero, which is what a MIDI ‘note off’ message sends, then a CC value of zero is output. The CC messages are put together with a pack object and a midiformat object. By turning the CC up to 127 on a ‘note on’ and to zero on a ‘note off’ we have a CC gate that is the same length as the received note. Even though for my purpose I only needed triggers, not gates, it seemed like a more generally useful device if it could output gates from notes. Currently I am only using it to trigger drums but you could use this for all sorts of fun with a modular synth.

The device has two user facing controls. You can set the CC value for the gates to use and there is a MIDI Panic button in case any notes ever get stuck.

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Note 2 CC Gate Max4Live device

Drop this device on a MIDI channel and any notes you program will be converted to a CC value that sustains for the same length as the programmed note.

I hope some of you will find this useful and would love to hear from you if you do.

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