HEXO – Driving multiple instruments

It’s a common practice, when playing around with different ideas for a track, to bring in and out multiple sound sources and manipulate each one of them in order to fit within the mood we’re looking for.

On the other hand, when laying down sequences and progressions on the fly, having a playground made out of scattered devices around the project can kill the flow a little. A good habit to keep that from happening is to setup a routing that allows for a single instance to control different instruments.

HEXO’s powerful sequencer is perfect to twist an idea and turn it into something incredibly complex, unpredictable and dynamic. Its arpeggiatior-like core nature makes it really useful to write interesting progressions for single instruments, but it’s actually possible to use its six tracks as a sequencer to control several devices at the same time and write down the foundation of a track without leaving its view. All that is required is a bit of preemptive setup.

Being it a MIDI device, HEXO needs to be assigned to control some kind of instrument. In this example, we’re gonna use Ableton Live’s Operator as our sound source (more precisely, a couple of Operator), along with a backing track of drums to create a bit of context (with which we’re not gonna interact though).

1 – Let’s start by adding HEXO to a MIDI track, as usual. Set it to ‘RIFF’ mode and put our two Operator on a different MIDI track each. This means we now have HEXO on MIDI track 1, Operator 1 on MIDI track 2 and Operator 2 on MIDI track 3. If we now start our sequence, we’ll hear no notes to be played by HEXO: that’s because we need to route our MIDI signal properly to each Operator. Let’s do that by clicking on Operator MIDI tracks ‘MIDI From’ first tab and select HEXO. Let’s also make sure to arm them, either by using the arming toggle or setting their monitoring on ‘In’. Starting the transport now will cause the two Operator to play HEXO sequenced notes in unison and we’ll be finally able to listen and tweaq the parameters of our sequence. This is a very first basic approach to use it to play the same progression on different instruments, allowing to stack various sound sources on the top of each other.

2 – Now that we have all of our instruments set up and responsive, its possible to distribute groups or individual HEXO’s sequences between different Operator instances. To do so, we’re gonna take advantage of Ableton Live’s Pitch MIDI effect. Pitch is commonly used to transpose incoming MIDI notes, but it also features settings to filter them out beyond a certain range. Let’s place it on both Operator tracks. Up to this point, nothing changes, since we’ve defined neither transposition nor filter range. To understand how to do so, we need to take a look back at HEXO’s notes settings.

In this example, we’re gonna split HEXO in two sequencers with 3 tracks each (the 3 sequencers from bottom are going to control Operator 1, whilst the remaining 3 from the top are going to drive Operator 2). A possible scenario might find us using the bottom 3 rows to control a bassline and the upper 3 rows to play some kind of lead sequence. Let’s take a look at the notes values on the left of HEXO’s sequencers and adjust them according to this idea. We’ll keep it fairly simple and clear this time: our bassline notes are going to be C1, D#1 and G1, and our lead ones are going to be C4, G4 and A#4.

Now that we have our notes set up in HEXO it’s clear that both bassline and lead are not exceeding beyond an octave, therefore we can use Pitch on each Operator track to filter out notes we’re not interested in, setting it up as follows:
– Pitch on Operator 1 (bassline) : ‘Range’ +12, ‘Lowest’ C1;
– Pitch on Operator 2 (lead) : ‘Range’ +12, ‘Lowest’ C4.

If we now play our sequence again, we’ll hear each Operator playing a different group of tracks from HEXO.

3 – Adjusting Pitch settings on each track makes it possible to jam around with HEXO more freely. If an idea requires a wider range of notes, the only thing we need to do is to modify the respective track Pitch ‘Range’ parameter, so that changing notes on the fly in HEXO won’t have them falling outside the desired boundaries. It’s important to think about the relationship between Pitch settings and HEXO note messages more as a connection setup rather than in proper musical terms: in fact, we can always transpose our sequence by using Pitch ‘Transpose’, rather than, for instance. having our melody forever confined between C4 and C5 and our bassline between C1 and C2. Of course, by setting up HEXO this way, we can add different effects on each instrument as well.

It’s always important and rewarding to focus on one device at a time, especially if such a vast field of different combinations is possible, like it is in HEXO. Using its flexible sequencer to control multiple instruments this way makes it really inspiring to sketch out entire tracks while jamming and having fun, exploring its parameters and getting to know it more and more deeply. In this example, we split its sequencer only in half, but it’s really easy, starting from here, to push this concept even further and set up all different kind of connections, from fixed individual tracks up until routing that changes dynamically according to MIDI input.

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