There are a lot of skills to master as an electronic producer – from arrangement to sound design to production, the list of things to learn can seem infinite. One effective strategy to overcoming the hurdle of infinite options is to limit yourself, only using samples from one drum machine, only using one synth etc. One of the best ways to limit yourself when it comes to composition is through using a sequencer. Working within the system of the sequencer you can stumble across melodies and rhythms you would never have thought of with a keyboard.
Max for Live comes with a few sequencers, but we thought we would give a quick rundown on some of the weirder end of the spectrum that you can find as free downloads.
This is a real hidden gem of the Max For Live sequencer scene. The ML-185 appears to be based around the RYK-185, a sequencer that was built to work with the Roland System 100m in the late 1970s. Considering how incredibly difficult it would be to get your hands on one of these, the free ML-185 is the next best thing. One of the unique features of this sequencer is the ability to set the sequencer to a fixed length and then jam around within this fixed length, its hard to explain but it is very useful for creating unexpected rhythmic combinations. The ability to transpose the sequence up and down is also handy if used in conjunction with Live’s built in Midi Scale plugin – keeping everything in key while transposing your melodic sequence up and down.
This sequencer is based off the Rene sequencer module by modular manufacturer Makenoise, a module that costs hundreds of dollars – yours for free as a plugin! The Snake / Rene are fairly esoteric sequencers, set up in a 4×4 grid format, with a knob for each step. When you combine the “random” feature of the snake with Ableton’s “scale” plugin you get some great melodic sequences instantly, which you can then edit to suit your track.
This is an indispensable sequencer available as part of the Max Essentials pack. Developed by producer Alexkid, it does what it says on the tin – provides you with an instant arsenal of house / techno related drum patterns. When paired with your favourite 909 samples you’re up and grooving in one second flat. But the hidden magic is the sequencer’s Breaks mode. Flip it into Breaks Mode and put a breakbeat into Ableton’s Simpler device and watch as Instant Haus chops and flips your breakbeat into something totally fresh. An instant shortcut to UK flavoured drum madness.
This is a dedicated drum sequencer based off another fairly niche module available in Eurorack Modular format. Again, something that costs hundreds of dollars but is replicated for free. Grids is a Topographic drum sequencer, based off the Mutable Instruments Grids module. This means that grids is loaded with hundreds of patterns that can be assigned to different sounds, these patterns can be manipulated and combined to create interesting and unpredictable results. The developers of the original Grids module explain it like this
“a healthy dose of machine learning and graph algorithms, megabytes of drum loops, hours of intensive computations and you’ve got a drum pattern generator like no other.”
It’s a little bit more unruly than most sequencers, but it can be handy for getting really outside your comfort zone.
Theres many other options out there for free on the Max For Live site, this is just a small sample. So dig into it, let a sequencer do some of the hard work and see what you discover.