Join Rick Schmunk for an in-depth discussion in this video Introduction to Operator, part of Learning Ableton Operator.
- Operator is an FM synth that is perhaps the most powerful and useful of the Ableton software instruments. Let's get started with an overview of Operator. So, I've got Ableton open to a default set, and I'm going to go into the browser, and I'm going to click on instruments, come down and select Operator. Now, Operator can be added to a track in several different ways. You can just grab operator and drop it on a track and let go, you can see it down there at the bottom. We can actually drag it to the selected track and drop it directly in the device area.
Get rid of that. Or we can go over here to the Drop Files and Devices area and let it go there. Adds another track. I'll just delete that track. And lastly, if a track is selected and you just double-click it in the browser, it's going to add the device to that track. Now, if you decide to get rid of it, all you need to do is select the title bar of the device and go ahead and hit your delete key and it's gone. Also, if you have Operator on a track and you want to use a different device, you can just select that other device and drop it right on top of Operator, and it will replace it.
And I'll bring Operator back. Now, if you make some changes and you decide you want to save your preset, you could just click the little icon over here on the upper right-hand corner of the device, the Save button, and notice that it jumps you into the browser into the User Library, into an Operator folder, and it shows us that we've got Operator about to save a preset, and it's highlighted the name so that we can actually change the name of that. So, we can call that My Best Operator Preset.
And hit enter, and that's saved. Now, let me go back into the Instruments area, and Operator. At the top level, where we see the name Operator, we're looking at the default preset. But if we click the little triangle, that's going to open up and we can actually go into Categories and we can see Presets. So if I want, I can click one of these presets and audition it. Now, if the Audition button here is already highlighted, all I have to do is click that and it will play a short little phrase.
(electronic note) If I use my down arrow, I can go down to the next preset. (deep electronic note) If I want to hear that again, I can just hit my right arrow (deep electronic note) and continue to go down. (distorted notes) So you get the idea. Now, you should know the difference between the different things you might see in the browser here. So, where you just see this rectangle shape, that represents a single Ableton device, and if I drag the browser out here, we'll actually see the extension adv, which stands for Ableton Device.
Now, if I go a little further down, for example with this Boffner Bass Preset, we can see that it's the rectangle that's got a line dividing it in half, and that actually designates an Ableton Device Group, which is denoted by the extension .adg So let me grab that one and drag that onto the track in place of the preset we currently have. And now we can see the rounded edges of a rack, and I can still see Operator here on the middle.
On the left, I am seeing the macro that's associated with the rack, and I can also see that there's one more device over here that's been minimized, and if I double click on the title bar of that, we can see that that opens up and lo and behold, it's actually another rack. We've got a nested rack in here. So, let me click one of the device chains in that rack. I'll click the next button there, and we can see that we've just got a bunch of processing here.
I've got a compressor, and then an EQ3, and a chorus and then an amp plugin, and again if I double-click any one of those it will maximize it so I can see what's going on. So that represents a device group or rack. Now, if you've never created one of those, let's do it really quick. So, I'm going to select the macro and hit delete. Get rid of all that. I'm just going to go back up and I'm going to grab a default Operator, and I'll click the title bar there and I can right-click on that and choose Group or I can use the key command command+g on a Mac or control+g on a PC, and that puts the device into a group.
Now, there's only a single device in this group or rack at this point. If i open up the chain list, I can see that the name of that single device and I can see that device chain. Now, if I want I can go into my Audio Effects, and I can grab a compressor or something, and I can add that inside the rack after Operator and now I've got multiple devices. So this'll be something that we explore later on in more detail. Now, if I want to, I can rename this or I can save it just like we did with the other preset.
So if I click the top of the group there and go command+r, I can give that a name. My Best Rack. If I want to save that as a preset, I'll need to click the Save button here on the actual group, not on Operator. I'll click that. That kicks me into the browser again, and notice that I'm now in a category that says Instrument Rack. And it's already got a name. If I just hit return, that's now saved into the User Library, into the Presets and into the Instrument Rack area.
So now that we've taken a look at just the basics of adding and saving with Operator, let's take a little deeper look at the actual interface. So, the Operator interface is really made up of two parts. We have the outer edges here on the left and on the right, that are called the shell, and then the inter-area, which has got a display. Now, if I click on any one of these, the parameters that we see in the middle and the things that display relate to the selected part of the shell.
Now, as I click on where it says A and B and C, we're not seeing anything change, and that's because we have four oscillators on the left-hand side that are identical, so the parameters that we see in the middle are going to be identical. But if I click one of the areas on the right side of the shell, for example, the LFO, we can see that this starts to change. Now, that is not showing much here in the middle. It's all greyed out because right now the LFO is not enabled. But if I click that, you'll see that that all lights up.
And if I go to the filter, we see it's a little bit different, and then down to the pitch area, I'll enable that and we see it's even a little bit more different, and then down here in the global area it changes yet again. So, what do we actually see here? Well, if I go over to one of the oscillators, we see that there are tuning options here and level options for each one, and then in the middle, we have two important things. We can actually set the wave shape and aspects of the wave, and if we want to see a graphic view of that, you can click on the little button here that says Oscillator and you'll notice that the display at the top changes.
If we want to see things related to the envelope of that, we can click the left-hand side, and now we see a graphic display of the envelope. The parameters below where it says Attack, Decay, Release, and so on, those correlate with the settings here, and I can change those by either clicking and grabbing one of these handles, and below that you see the values changing, or we can go into one of the parameter fields and click and drag there. For example, if I grab on the sustain you can see that coming down.
If I go over to the Filter area, it's similar. I can click on the Filter button, and now as I change the cutoff frequency, you can see the display's changing. I can also grab it here and move it there, and as I do that you see the Frequency and Resonance parameters changing. If I click on the envelope button, then again these parameters here on the lower left correspond to the graphic display up on top. For example, if I grab one of the handles we can see values changing.
Same thing in the LFO area. We've only got one display here. There's kind of an assignment area on the right and then the actual parameters on the left. Similar down in the Pitch Envelope area. There's only one display assignment stuff here on the right. We can turn on and off Glide. That's one that you'll use a lot, and then Parameters that correlate to the display at the top, and then on the bottom we have the Global Shell, and this is important because this is where you can set the total number of voices for a patch, so if we're going to be doing a bass or a solo patch, you might set that to one.
And we can set Pan and some options there, and then up in the middle, there's actual MIDI routing possibilities that you can set, and then one of the most important things in this area, up at the top we have these options for routing the four oscillators, and these are called the Algorithms, and there's 11 of them. The one that's selected, and that's the one on the left here, actually displays here on the shell. So if I click one of the others, you'll see that that display changes. So now that we've taken a look at Operator, take some time to review what we discussed here.
Familiarity with Operator's interface will help in the following videos.
- Choosing an oscillator waveshape
- Customizing oscillator waveshapes
- Sculpting sound with filters and filter envelopes
- Creating motion with LFOs
- Creating process EP, house bass, ambient FM, and other synth sounds