Over the past few years, K-Devices have released a plethora of max-4-live tools that bring fresh compositional possibilities to your music making in Live, whether it be modular-style plugins enabling modulation of almost any source, audio processing from granular syntheses and delays, through to beat manipulation and sample dicing.
The recently released OOG bundle intrigued me, as it’s all about moving away from the tempo grid that Ableton works off. The grid simplifies the laying out of most music, as the structure of a lot of modern music is based around a regular rhythm. The OOG (Out Of Grid) bundle works against that in several inventive ways, giving you loads of options of manipulating rhythmic patterns outside the strict confines of the Grid.
OOG consists of 5 different max 4 Live effects. (This means they only work in Ableton Live with the Max4live add on. If you write electronic music, but don’t have Ableton Live, or use Max4Live, I highly recommend researching them both as a potential DAW platform – see our Live 10 review)
They all have the family’s good looks – all black and red GUIs with lots of triangles denoting the steps in the sequenced plugins. They’re all clean looking, and once you understand the different symbols, very simple to get around.
There are very defining characteristics that are used across the board, so to keep it simple, I’ll quickly describe the basics of each plugin, and then I’ll talk more about the overarching qualities that make them so effective as OutOfGrid plugins.
Moor (pictured above) is a mono midi step sequencer. You can create steps of varying lengths, and note ranges, and send it to any synth engine. There are various parameters to change the sequence, from step length, velocity, probability, note range, and duration. Once you’ve found a sequence you like, you can save it as a midi file with a simple click.
Twistor is the modulation master in this bunch. It’s a sequencer, like MOOR, but instead of sending midi notes, it sends control messages to modulate any parameter on any plugin within Ableton, including any 3rd party plugin. It’s as simple as pressing the + button, and then selecting whichever parameter you want to modulate. Done.
You can only modulate one parameter with Twistor, but you can theoretically add as many Twistors to a channel as your CPU will allow! You can also store 4 parameter sequences that you can recall with several different methods, enabling even more variation within the modulation. The OOG plugins all contain Push 2 integration, so if you want to change up the sequences directly or live, you can.
Twistor contains many of the same basic parameters as MOOR, sequence length, note duration, probability – most of the standard parameters you would expect from a sequencer.
ESQ is the ‘Next Gen Beat’ creator of the bunch. It’s a 6 – track midi sequencer. When you open ESQ in Ableton, you get two windows. The pop-out window contains the sequencing patterns for each channel, or track. The other window, in the plugin window at the bottom of the DAW contains most of the modulation options for ESQ. To start with, it’s a fairly standard drum sequencer. As with the other two sequencers in the bundle, you can select sequence length, step velocity, step probability, and so on. Selecting steps is as simple as click-drag across the sequence window.
From there, though, it becomes a different beast, as you find that each channel contains 2 midi notes and 2 separate sequences that you can flip between. There’s also a bunch of modulation options that I’ll cover later, that add to the depth of this beast.
Tatat is what I like to succinctly call a random mono mini midi motif creator. it’s essentially a controlled random 4-note melody machine, where you have control over how the randomness is weighted.
There’s a cool couple buttons on it that enable you to play the four notes that are patterning, and also just to play thru the four notes – so you can play your own music over the top of the patterning.
There’s also a live buffer that continually records the last few notes that went in, and locks and loops as soon as you start using it, which is fantastic if you’re wanting the infinite stream, but you want to inject some familiarity to it.
It’s the crazy drunk uncle sequencer of the bunch. You can’t tell it exactly what to do, more like suggest and see what happens. It’s the godfather of happy midi accidents, with a save button. Ok enough awesome analogies. NEXT!
Autotrig is a multi-track pattern generator. It’s not a step sequencer, like ESQ, but more a multi-track version of Tatat with more notes. It can generate Midi patterns, or (and the coolest thing about this plugin), if you add the free Mimu6 plugin, it will change the patterns to trig/gate, so with a DC coupled audio card, you can send the signals to Eurorack, or Synths that take CV.
Ok, So What Sets These Plugins Apart?
…I hear you say. Well, there are a bunch of different control parameters, that feature across most, if not all of the plugins, and focus on controlling randomization, and controlling midi as if you were manipulating audio. ‘huh?’ know. Brilliant. Here are the 3 main conceptual areas that are given several practical applications per plugin to mess with:
K-devices literally bend time with the majority of the plugins here. That’s the objective, right? they’re wanting to create plugins that mess with the ‘between the sticks’ machine sound of the grid. They’ve taken cues from the way that audio is manipulated to create really cool ways of changing the timing of midi.
The primary method, which is in MOOR, TWISTOR, and ESQ, is the BEND parameter. Here it is in action: By moving this parameter, the time weighting shifts forward or backward, giving an impression of starting slowly and speeding up, or vice versa. It’s reflected in the plugin by a line that crosses the window, and curves as you move the parameter, giving you visual clues as to how you’re bending time. This brings a whole new aspect to standard sequencing. It’s effective in the plugins in different ways. In ESQ, you can add it separately to each track. So you can have a Kick and Snare solid on the Beat, and you can have hi-hats, percussion, anything else really, moving all around the beat. It can create some really cool movement within a groove.
Here are some examples of Bend in use within MOOR, TWISTOR and ESQ:
In the OOG bundle, there is an effort in every plugin to move away from the 2,4,8,16,32 mindset. One way of doing this is by choosing a more random step length. This is especially powerful in ESQ as a drum sequencer: it’s easy to create Euclidean patterns and polyrhythm by having different step length for each track.
However, this move away from the obvious pattern numbers goes much deeper than just step length. Each plugin comes with a variation on a theme of Shift or delay or duration function, where you can delay the sequence or pattern, shift it a certain percentage away from the grid, and/or change the duration of each step, and choose to lock it to the overall grid or not. Here’s a video below showing MOOR utilizing each of these time manipulating functions:
Chance, randomisation, probability. This element, and the way you control it, plays a HUGE role in all of the plugins. Most of the elements of each plugin can be randomized to varying levels, either continually, through selecting a percentage probability, or manually, by pressing randomize buttons. Continual randomization is perhaps most evident in the two pattern generators. They will both generate infinite streams of random content. You control how random and when random, for example, you can control the randomness of the midi note. You can control the probability of the note length: in Tatat you control how often each of the four notes occurs. How often it occurs by itself or with other notes as a chord. How often it is any of three note lengths that you’ve chosen.
In ESQ, each track has two midi notes (sounds!) attached to it, and two sequences. You control the probability of each note and sequence occurring. This is brilliant for random open/closed Hihats, for example.
In Moor, there are buttons for randomizing the note value, velocity, duration, and probability of occurrence.
Here’s a video of TATAT using the controlled element of chance to create interesting rhythmic melodies underneath some simple piano playing:
This OOG stuff is awesome. You can use them for subtle variation, or for crazy wild whacky stuff. Either way, they’re worth investing the time in, as they can be a little unruly, and need tight hands on the reins to get them successfully under control. But to breathe life into what can be a stale griddy environment, these tools are absolutely priceless. Highly recommend!!
You can buy them for between $19 and $49 each, or you can get the bundle on sale at the moment for only $99. Great value for 5 plugins that will add great depth to your midi sound!
Composer/Producer, and keyboard player. He has written and recorded soundtracks for a wide variety of media and co-owns DOsounds.com with Jake Owen, a music production company that gives him an excuse to buy more analog gear.