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Control Rack Parameters Onscreen, or with External Control Surfaces


by Craig Anderton


One of the great things about analog hardware is that controls are obvious: If there’s a function, there’s a physical control to go along with it. And if you want to alter that function, you just move the control. What could be simpler?

Well, I can definitely tell you what’s more complex—software where all the controls are virtual, especially when you want to adjust one control out of a sea of parameters, or want to change multiple parameters with just one simple control. Fortunately, the same digital technology that gave us all those confusing parameters has, in some cases, also given us the means to make those parameters less confusing. With Ableton Live, you can isolate the parameters you use the most in a typical rack, then bring them out to a consolidated set of Macro Controls.

In case you’re not familiar with what Live calls “racks,” the program lets you create “virtual racks” of audio processors (you can also create Drum, MIDI, and Instrument racks). As these can be quite complex, even encompassing parallel effects chains, it’s easy to get “lost in the parameters,” which is why being able to create Macro Controls for real-time tweaking or MIDI control is so helpful. Macros can also control multiple parameters at once, so for example, you could assign EQ to pull back on the high frequencies a little bit while increasing the amount of overdrive.

Providing real-time control over specific parameters allows for greater expressiveness, but also, parameters mapped to Macros can cover a specific minimum and maximum range. This is very useful if you use a device like a footpedal for control, as you can limit its physical range to the parameter range you want to control.

Assuming you already have a rack set up, let’s go through the steps required to create Macro Controls. We’ll assume you already have a rack set up.


1 showmacros.png

1. Click on the rack’s Show/Hide Macro Controls button.


2 Map Mode.png

2. When the Macro section appears, click on the Map Mode button.


3 Click on Parameter.png

3. After clicking on Map Mode, any parameter that can be assigned to a Macro Control will be highlighted. Click on an effect parameter that you want to assign to a Macro Control (in this screen shot, it’s Drive). Note that the selected parameter’s highlight will have small square brackets in the corners to indicate it has been mapped.


Even better, you can assign multiple parameters to a Macro Control. After assigning a  parameter, click on the next parameter, then click on the same Macro  Control’s Map button.


4 Click on Map Button.png

4. Click on a Macro Control’s Map button. The parameter selected in Step 3 is now linked to the Macro Control.


5 MacroMappings.png

5. When in Map Mode, a list of Macro Mappings is visible. You can set a parameter’s minimum and maximum range as desired.


6 Parameters linked.png

6. Click on the Map Mode button again to exit map mode. The Macro Control defaults to showing the target parameter’s name, and the target parameter has a small green dot in the upper left to indicate that it’s linked to a Macro Control.


7 MIDI Control.png

7. To control a Macro Control with an external MIDI control surface, click on the MIDI Map Mode button in the upper right. MIDI-assignable parameters will be highlighted.


8 Assign Parameter.png

8. Click on the Macro Control you want to link to MIDI, then move the physical hardware control you want to assign. As soon as you exit MIDI Map Mode, the hardware control will change the Macro Control’s setting. Again as with step 3, note that the selected parameter’s highlight will have small square brackets in the corners.


CraigGuitarVertical.jpgCraig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central and Executive Editor of Electronic Musician magazine. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.

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