Open the Gates: Ian Chang's Creative Use of Sidechained Noise Gates with Sensory Percussion
A photo of Ian Chang playing Sensory Percussion

Sensory Percussionists probably already know Ian Chang as a longtime innovator who made his solo album Belonging using Sensory Percussion. And movie fans might know Chang as one third of the band Son Lux, who wrote the soundtrack for the movie 'Everything, Everywhere All At Once'. But now he's stepping into a new role of educator in his Soundfly course: Warped Rhythms and Abstract Beats. In it, he gives some great exercises for creating interesting textures from the drums with and without Sensory Percussion. In this post, we'll focus specifically on how he uses Sensory Percussion to open up noise gates, adding a nice human feel to pre-recorded samples.

Get 15% off a Soundfly monthly/annual subscription when you sign up here with code: SUNHOUSE

What Is A Noise Gate?

An Ableton noise gate

A noise gate is an audio device that attenuates noise below a given threshold level. Gates are often used to get rid of unwanted background hum between words of an vocal track. Just set the threshold to sightly above the level of the unwanted sound and the gate will "open" for the louder sounds that you want to keep and "close" once the level returns to below the threshold. This concept of gating is almost the inverse of compression. While a compressor only acts on audio above a given threshold, gates only act on audio below a given threshold.

Ian uses this technique all over his track "Audacious," which you can see performed live in its entirety below. Almost all of the melodic elements in this performance are played with Sensory Percussion-controlled noise gates:

Ian performing his track 'Audacious' live with Sensory Percussion

How 'Audacious' Uses Sidechain Gating

You might have heard the term sidechain compression. This is a technique where the amount of compression applied to one audio track is controlled by the signal level of a second audio track. Probably the most common application of this technique is to sidechain a bass track to a kick drum track, so that the bass ducks out every time a kick is played, making the kick sound punchier and more noticeable without having to raise its volume level. Well, this same sidechain technique can be used on a noise gate, and that's exactly what Ian does in 'Audacious'. His bass, flute, and synth tracks have gates that are sidechained to a specific percussive sample inside of a drum rack. These percussive samples are assigned to different zones of different drums in Sensory Percussion, so you don't hear the gated tracks unless you play a drum.

Ian showing the different gated sounds he uses in 'Audacious'

So what's the point of all this? Why not just bring the flute/bass/synth samples into Sensory Percussion and control them directly? Well, with this technique, you're getting the best of both worlds: you can use Ableton's timeline to keep a pre-determined song structure with chords that change at the song's tempo, and you can use Sensory Percussion to add variation to the rhythm of these gated tracks. So the overall structure of the song is repeatable, but you can switch up the feel every time.

We think Ian's saxophone analogy really captures why this technique is so cool:

"Imagine two different people playing one saxophone. One person is picking the notes, but you don't hear what they are unless the other person blows into the sax. In this case, Sensory Percussion is the mouthpiece that one person is blowing through, and the tracks I have set up in Ableton are the keys of the sax that the other person is fingering."

How to Set Up Your Own Sidechained Gates

1. Download our templates

In the downloaded folder, you will find:

  • Ableton Live project folder
  • sps file (Sensory Percussion v1)
  • sp2 file (Sensory Percussion v2)

You'll only need one of the Sensory Percussion files, depending on which version of the software you're using.

2. Open Ableton + Sensory Percussion

The Ableton .als file has five tracks: four with gated chord samples, and one named "Drums" that contains a drum rack instrument. Just like Ian how does it in "Audacious," we're not actually hearing any of the drum samples in the drum rack; they're only used to open the gate on the other tracks. The 4 audio tracks contain the same chord progression played by 4 different instruments: a harp, a synth, a piano, and a bass (playing the root notes). Each of these tracks is sidechained to a different instance of the kick sample, which in turn are each being controlled by a different drum in Sensory Percussion. They follow this layout:

snare = harp gate

tom 1 = synth gate

tom 2 = piano gate

kick = bass gate

You can test the gates without even opening Sensory Percussion. First, press play on the timeline and you shouldn't hear anything. With the timeline still playing, go to the "Drums" track and press play on any of the drum pads. You should hear the gate on the corresponding track momentarily open and then close again every time you do this.

The Sensory Percussion file has no samples in it, since we're only using Sensory to send MIDI to Ableton. But you can always layer your own drum sounds over the gated tones for extra spice!

3. Route Your MIDI Signal

All of the MIDI notes, channels, etc. have already been set up in the templates. They follow this layout:

snare = C3

tom 1 = C#3

tom 2 = D3

kick = D#3

The only thing left to do is to make sure that the "IAC Bus Driver" is selected as a MIDI output in Sensory Percussion and a MIDI input in Ableton. This can be found in the audio settings window of both Ableton and Sensory Percussion. Our user manual also has a more in-depth guide to sending MIDI out of Sensory Percussion.

4. Press Play And Let Your Drums Open the Gates of Your Creativity!

The Sunhouse Logo in yellow and white
Stay up to date
© 2024 Sunhouse Technologies, Inc. All rights reserved.