They may sound like intergalactic road signs, but Ableton’s Warp Markers are the key to bending and moulding audio at will, muhahahaha!!!
Once upon a time, recording was done on magnetic tape. Though its unique, warm sound was very desirable, it presented a few problems when in use. Once recorded to tape, there really wasn’t a lot you could do to chance a performance.
Sure, you could add effects, EQ and mute things on a desk, and if you were really brave, you could splice tapes to change an arrangement (literally cutting the tape to pieces and sticking it back together in a different order).
Other than that, well, you just had to re-record…
Then digital audio came along. Everyone cheered, and threw their razor blades in the bin. Now, chopping up recorded tracks was just a few clicks of a mouse. Plus, you could copy sections at will, to create a perfect take out of a slightly imperfect one.
There were still, limitations, though. If you wanted to try a different tempo after the recording, you had to process all of the audio tracks individually offline, which was incredibly time consuming.
Aside from killing your creative flow, it also meant that it was very difficult to judge whether the change was a positive thing or not.
This all changed with Ableton Live…
Audio at Warp Speed
Ever since the very first version of Ableton Live, the astonishing way in which it locks audio to tempo has been a key part of its appeal.
Over the years, this functionality has been supercharged. Nowadays, when an audio file is run through Ableton’s ‘Warp’ (the process it uses to encode and tempo sync audio), it becomes completely elastic. The user can bend and stretch it in pretty much any way they choose.
How? It’s all done with Warp Markers.
Unless you’ve told it to do otherwise, Ableton will automatically warp any audio that you import. When it does this, it places warp markers at key points. At its most simple, this will be a marker at the start and end of the audio clip. These are shown as yellow arrow markers above the audio clip (see above).
By analysing the music, it will try to ascertain how long the clip is in beats. Once it has this information, it uses the warp markers to correctly lock them into the tempo of the track. Simple.
However, generally when clips are warped, Ableton will try to pick out transients (the bits where a sound wave changes from being quiet to being loud), and place markers at these points (shown as tiny grey arrow markers). So, if you have a drum loop, it will generally place markers at the start of every discernable drum hit.
This opens up a world of possibilities.
Bend me, shape me, any way you want me…
The addition of warp markers at key points means that audio can be edited in ways that are difficult in just about anything else. This is because they can be picked up and moved at will, adjusting the audio accordingly.
Consider a section of a clip that contains 3 markers. We want to move the middle one to the left (closer to the start of the clip). Double clicking on each of the three markers will turn them into yellow warp markers.
Grab the middle one by clicking and holding. This will allow you to move it.
Move this to the left, and the area between it and the marker to the right will stretch (meaning that it will play back slower than the original clip), whilst the area to the left will compress (meaning that it will play back quicker). You can also add warp markers anywhere in an audio clip.
All very cool, but why would you need this?
Imagine you’ve recorded a vocal, and one note is just slightly out of time. Rather than re record the whole thing, you can now just insert a few warp markers and fix it.
Changing the groove
The elastic qualities of warped audio means that you can completely change the rhythmic feel of an audio clip to fit the project that you’re working on.
And all without a razor blade in sight…
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Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.