In recent years, sidechain compression has grown from surgical mix tool to genre-defining dynamic effect. The widespread appeal likely has something to do with the interaction between different elements in a composition, as determined by the sidechain assignment. As conventionally deployed however, this effect only takes place in the amplitude domain, pulling the volume of one sound down according to the input of another.
What if we could create similar interactions between different elements in a mix, influenced by incoming audio on one track, but able to control any parameter, such as filter cutoff or delay time, instead of just volume? Luckily for us, Live 10’s Envelope Follower Max for Live Audio Effect can do just that.
First, navigate to the Max Audio Effect section of the Max for Live Browser and grab the top Envelope Follower option; the latest version is what we’ll be working with here. Be sure to add it to the track generating the impulse you want to be followed; in this case I’ll put it specifically on the kick drum pad of a Drum Rack so as to only be triggered by the kick.
Three controls govern the shape of the Envelope Follower. Gain strengthens or reduces the signal input, exaggerating the resulting envelope as needed. Rise softens the attack, but in doing so tends to reduce the peak value. Fall softens and extends the decay slope, effectively elongating the resulting envelope. You can adjust both in combination as needed. Finally, the entire envelope shape can be delayed from the initial input, either in milliseconds, or perhaps more usefully, in note intervals.
Classic sidechain effects tend to be offset by around an eighth-note or so, and that’s what I’ll set it to here. I’ll soften the Rise and the Fall to make it a bit more organic, but will need to increase the Gain to compensate. I’ve set all this up with an idea of how the results are likely to sound, but you may find it easier to adjust these settings by ear after you’ve assigned a target.
Now that I’m happy with my Envelope Follower settings, I’ll click the Map button at top left, above the waveform display. As it blinks, I’ll navigate to the Wavetable position slider for Oscillator 1 on my Wavetable to Map it for modulation.
I want to make things a bit more interesting, so I’ll click the Envelope Follower’s Multimap button at upper right: the box with three horizontal lines contained within. Now I can map up to seven other parameters to the same Envelope Follower, each with constrained ranges defined by the minimum and maximum percentage values to the right of the parameter mapped. Parameters can be easily unmapped by clicking the circled X next to their respective title rectangle; click the Multimap square, now with a single line through it, to return to the main view.
Now I’m going to map the wavetable position of Oscillator 2 on the same Wavetable instance to the second mapping, but I’ll invert the behavior by setting the minimum value to 100% and the maximum to 0%. I’ll assign the Envelope Follower to the panning of both oscillators, and invert those as well, which should create some nice stereo movement to go along with the wavetable motion.
I’ve now put an Operator on a third MIDI track, and I’ll assign the snare’s Envelope Follower to both the LFO Rate and the Spread, both with inverted ranges so as to intensify along with the snare’s initial spike, and mellow out as it decays.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of what Envelope Follower can do here, but I hope you can see the potential for dynamic interactions between any audio source and any parameter in your set. With just a bit of creativity, it create fluid connections between disparate elements – possibly even inspiring new styles in the process.