What Is Warping?

Featuring Loops In Worship Posted on July 21, 2011

If you’ve used Ableton Live for a small amount of time, then odds are the mention of the word “Warping” probably makes you cringe a bit. But NO FEAR! Warping isn’t that bad after all, in fact Live’s Warp Engine is our friend. It allows us to do some really great stuff with audio, really quickly. If you aren’t sure what Warping is exactly, odds are you’ve faced the effects of it before and probably found yourself scratching your head, wondering what’s wrong with Live. If my inbox and twitter feed is any indication then most of us stuggle with Warping. Here’s a quick post to help you understand what Warping is.

*Feel free to click the pictures below for a full-size view. I’m working from Live 8.2.2 so if you’re using an earlier version of Live the warping process may be a bit different, and clip view will look a little different.*

What the heck is Warping Anyways?

Ableton Live treats audio like it’s Elastic. We can speed up and slow down our audio without drastically altering the quality. This makes tweaks to our loop’s tempo in rehearsal (or *gasp* LIVE) very easy to do. Live performs these tempo changing feats of strength through a process called Warping.

When you drag audio into Ableton, it has to “analyze” your audio. When it does that it’s going to automatically  guess at the tempo of your audio and depending on your settings it will try to “auto-warp” your audio file. If you’ve ever dragged a song into Ableton Live and tried to adjust the tempo, you’ve experienced one of two things:

  1. Your Audio doesn’t change tempo
  2. Your Audio changes tempo but sounds really crappy

Either outcome doesn’t make us much of a believer in this incredible thing called warping does it? Here’s one tip that will help. You have the option to turn Live’s “Auto-Warping” option on/off. Most likely you’ll probably want to turn this function off. Here’s how:

  1. Go into Live’s Preferences (Cmd , or Ctrl ,)
  2. Go to the Record/Warp/Launch tab
  3. You’ll find the “Auto-Warp  Long Samples” option under the Warp/Fades sub-header. Turn that option to “off”

Now that Auto Warp is turned off things should be better. But what do we do when we want to change the tempo of our tracks? We’ve got to Warp our Audio. Here’s a quick 2 minute run-down on how to do that. For more detailed info check out Live’s manual, it’s pretty great for this stuff.

The Warping Process

The Warping Process is essentially this:

  1. Show Live where the downbeat of “1″ is
  2. Warp the audio to the right of “1″
  3. Make sure the audio is sync’d to your Metronome
  4. Correct any changes in tempo (Always work left to right)

Pretty simple.. so step one:

Find the Downbeat

Once your audio is in Live (I’m working in Arrangement view in this case) Double click on your clip to open up Clip View. Zoom in on the begining of your clip. You can zoom by placing your mouse over the white area of your clip and clicking and dragging down to zoom in, and move your mouse to the right, to go towards the beginning of our clip.

Press the “Warp” button to  ”warp” our clip. Now find the strong downbeat of “1″. Double Click on the waveform to create a “Warp Marker”. This pins that part of the audio to Live’s Grid. At this point, the playback of the audio shouldn’t improve. We haven’t really warped anything yet. You can see in the example clip I’m using about that beat four is not in the correct spot. We’re about to fix that.

Warp From Here Commands

Right click on the Warp Marker you just created and select “Warp from Here” from the context menu. There are a few “Warp from Here” commands but in most cases the Warp from Here command works fine. This runs Live’s “Auto-Warp” Algorithm on the content to the right of the Warp-Marker.

You can now see in the example above that beat four is in the correct place. BUT.. notice that our song is playing too slow. This is because Live’s Current Tempo is set to 72, and the Clip’s Original tempo is 100.99 (101). It’s important to note here that we’re experiencing the effects of Warping. Even though our clip is originally recorded at around 101, Live is playing it at 72 bpm. It may still sound a little wacky..we’ll fix that in a moment.

For now bring Live’s tempo back up to 101 and take a listen. If you want to turn on Live’s Metronome to see if everything is locked into the click. Everything should be functioning properly now. If everything is working properly with the track then let’s look at adjusting our tempo. Again if we drop or raise our tempo now, odds are it’s gonna sound wacky. We’re going to fix that by using a different Warp-Mode.

Choosing the Proper Warp Mode

This is a piece of cake. We have 7 different Warp modes. Depending on what version of the software you’re using, and if you’re using a REX loop or not, you could have 4-5. Changing the warp mode, helps Live determine how to best interpret the content it’s trying to warp. Here’s a quick run down of the warp Modes and what is good for what:

  • Beats-Great for Drum Loops. Adjusting the Preserve and loop modes can offer some great sounds
  • Tones- For Clearly Pitched Audio. I use this for Full Songs if I’m working with Live Intro
  • Texture-Good for Polyphonic sounds/Noisy Sounds. Also good for changing your audio to something unique.
  • Re-Pitch- Treats tempo changes like a DJ speeding up and slowing down his turntable. Pitches audio up/down.
  • Complex-Perfect for Full Songs. It’s not available in Intro so use Tones. It can also use up to 10x the CPU of other Warp modes.
  • Complex Pro-Great for full songs where you want to transpose the audio. Tweak with the Formants/Envelope to get some crazy sounds or better represent the original song.
  • REX-Only available when using a REX loop.

If you’re using a Full Song set your  Warp Mode to either Complex or Tones (if you’re using Intro). It will give you the best results. Now you should be able to adjust the tempo of your  song pretty freely and the track should still sound pretty close to the original. If you make a crazy tempo change, i.e. 120 bpm to 72 it’s gonna be more noticeable, but for the most part it should work great!

On the Other side

pshh…We made it! Warping isn’t really that bad now is it? Just remember, find the downbeat of 1 and select Warp from Here. 95% of the time everything will be all good. Remember this is only the tip of the iceburg and one specific song. We could really dive in deeper if we wanted and look at other issues, but there’s only so much time in the day and so many words this post can hold. If you’re interested in learning more about Warp Modes check out Live’s manual. If you have any further questions ask them below in the comment section, or if you’d like some one on one training drop us an Email.

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