Generative Music - Part 1: Generative Bass

generative synthesis

Lacking inspiration?  We all do at times but how can we overcome this creative impediment?  Well one approach that can give rise to fresh ideas is 'Generative Music' .

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series exploring this approach whilst being great way to take a tour of many of Live's instruments and MIDI effects.


I'd not heard of the term 'Generative Music' until recently thanks to a great article and Live Pack courtesy of Steve Angstrom.  I've also learnt how it can be done within Ableton Live.  I would recommend taking time to read through his article as well as checking out the Live Pack from his website.

The concepts in Angstrom's tutorial have been extended by a tutorial from SonicState which I would also highly recommend.

I certainly don't claim to be a generative music guru but thought it a good first topic for my Ableton Live technique post.  It's said the best way to understand a concept is to explain it so maybe I'll have a better understanding of it by the end of the blog series too.

What is Generative Music?

The term generative music was created by Brian Eno to describe a piece of music characterised by it's randomness and uniqueness which, with each listen, never sounds the same twice.  Think about random sounding chimes and the varying velocities at which they collide depending on the wind speed.

Ok, so without any further ado, here's the recipe:


I'm not breaking any new ground here and am simply using the approach others have used.  Here's the list of ingredients:

Instrument Racks

Audio Racks

Midi Effect Racks


Note Length









...well, it would be rude not too eh?  


If you have checked out Steve Angstrom's & the Sonic State tutorials, you'll notice that the first puts all instruments on one track, the latter splits them out into separate tracks.  For example, the bass has it's own track in the Sonic State tutorial.  I suppose this gives more granular control over the 'randomness' and 'uniqueness' of each track.  We'll follow that approach in this series, so we'll create separate tracks for bass, mids, & highs.  In Part 1 of this series let's begin with the bass....


Generative Bass

~ Create a new Ableton Live set, call it something meaningful like GenerativeMusic

~ Create a MIDI track called GenerativeBass

~ Create a clip with a looping single note.  This is what will trigger the note of your choice.  I used a C3 but any note will do as long as its sound works within the range of your instrument

~ Now add an instrument rack and drop a sample on the Sampler. I used the korg square.  Press play on the clip and you'll here this


Hmmm...we'll need to work with this wave a little.  I made some changes which I have shared in Figure 1, 2 & 3 but you're welcome to follow you own ears to create a bass sound more pleasing to yourself.

Fig 1. Sample Zone

Fig 1. Sample Zone

Fig 2. Pitch / Osc Zone

Fig 3. Filter / Global Zone

I tuned the note as close to C in the sample tab using the detune parameter.  After adding a splash of delay and reverb through my sends and adding a Saturator and EQ8, I ended up with something like this:

Now we have our bass, let's add some randomness and uniqueness to how it's played:

~ add a MIDI rack to the GenerativeBass track

~ add the Random midi effect to the MIDI rack with the settings in Figure 4.  This will randomise the notes which are played

Add Random Musicality

~ add the Scale MIDI effect to the MIDI rack after the Random midi effect.  I chose the Minor Pentatonic Scale.  Our now randomised looping notes, will be mapped to the note on the Y scale which will give it some musicality.  All notes played will now be only those of the C minor scale

Add Random Timing

~ add a Velocity MIDI effect after the Scale Midi Effect.  Rename it Random Velocity and configure as in Figure 4.  This will randomise the velocity of the notes

~ add another Velocity MIDI effect after the Random Velocity.  Rename it Velocity Conditional and configure as in Figure 4.  Using the Gate mode means that only the notes that fall inside the range between 1 & 64 will be played, those outside will be blocked and not played thus achieving a more random timing

Fig 4. Midi Effect Rack

Fig 4. Midi Effect Rack

Press play on the clip and you'll here something more random:

Ok.  Now what ?  Let's add some more randomisation to it.

~ add another MIDI rack after the Velocity Conditional...yes...another MIDI Rack.  So we'll have a MIDI rack within in a MIDI rack.

~  In the MIDI effect rack you have just added, create 6 chains.  Each chain will cover a range that make up the 64 velocity range earlier, therefore triggering whichever chain the velocity happens to fall within.  This way, different effect MIDI effect racks will  be played through pure chance

For example , the chain named 'Chain 2 -12 Octave' covers the lowest velocity of 13 with a range of 12.  If the velocity is >= 13 and <= 25, then this chain will not block the incoming note (see Figure 6).  This chain hosts a Pitch MIDI effect lowering the note by 12 semi tones (an octave)

~ Some of the chains also have a Note Length MIDI effect as the notes played are now fewer.  Feel free to get creative and experiment with using other MIDI devices on these chains

Fig 6. Midi Effect Rack With Multiple MIDI Effect Chains

Fig 6. Midi Effect Rack With Multiple MIDI Effect Chains

So there you have it, a randomised musical bass line.  Here is the the Ableton Live Pack I used to create this tutorial:



Look out for Part 2 where we'll be adding some other frequencies to help layer up our random piece of music.