There’s nothing quite like the feeling of physical control of a step sequencer for immediate, musical results. But you’d be forgiven for thinking there isn’t much more you can do with the concept.

Think again. New step sequencers demonstrate how to get more with less, using clever tricks to maximize the musical variations you can get with just a few pads. They’re each free, and they’re each from Ableton Live, coming to us from our friends Sebastian Tomczak aka little-scale, the obscenely-prolific musical inventor in Australia, and Matt Black (UK, of Ninja Tune / Coldcut fame) working with Ableton guru and producer Joey Paranoia of Orlando, Florida.

Three cities, three countries, two great step sequencers for Live.

At top:

Korg NanoPad Sequencer

A simple, proof-of-concept sequencer that can be applied to a range of drum pad controller models.

8 pads are used for sequencing.

4 pads are used for selecting between four different sequences, running simultaneously at different related tempo subdivisions.

The XY pad is used to store MIDI CC data for each step for each sequence, and as thus can be used to automate a range of parameters, increasing the available expression for such a setup.

Download the example Live set that I used here:

Download the Max patch here:

Of course, what’s clever about this is getting out of the one-dimensional quality of step sequencers by allowing easy modulation and multiple sequences with different divisions.

Thanks, Hannes Pasqualini, for the tip!

Meanwhile, from Matt Black and Joey Paranoia:

Whereas littlescale uses four sequences, here you have eight simultaneously; in place of the rhythmic and modulation advantages above, here the primary advantage is splitting into eight mixes and accompanying devices (for more timbral control). The full story:

A while ago Coldcut got Mr. Joey Paranoia to put together a simple 8×8 slice sequencer using Launchpad and Ableton Live. Heres a demo.

-It’s like an 8 track drum machine but each step of the drum can be different
-8 channels using 8x 1 bar loops each sliced into 8 pieces
-hit Launchpad buttons to turn slices on or off
-each channel has an on/off button

Thought we’d give this out as a 2013 present. Feel free to tweak/improve.

download [Dropbox]

Via Synthtopia

I’ll be interested to see what people do with these.

Updated! From a reader: here’s another example. Matt Patey also works with the Launchpad to try poly-rhythmic sequencing – and you don’t need Max for Live to use it, either.

I’ve been spending some more time with my sequencer idea for the Novation Launchpad using only the built-in MIDI functionality included in Live. The latest version makes it possible to play the sequence from step 1 to 8 while at the same time playing the same sequence but from steps 1 to n, where n is <= 8. In other words, it's possible to make a canon out of a sequence. Besides this, each step's on/off, pitch, octave up/down, octave up every 3rd bar, random velocity, high velocity and short/long note length are programmable. Steps on the grid are arranged horizontally, that is, step 1 is represented by the first column, step 2 by the second, and so on. The sequences to play are determined by the last column of buttons on the Launchpad (normally used to play scenes in Live), where the top button plays a 1 step long sequence, and the last 8 steps. And the buttons on the top of the Launchpad are used to repeat the last step of the active sequence(s), which can be useful for hearing changes to steps.

Instructions and download:
Polyrhythmic sequencer

Got other step sequencer favorites? There are loads of interesting step sequencers for Max for Live, certainly, from its community of users:

Bonus video: in the vein of the sands-of-the-hourglass-as-noise-generator, here’s little-scale using a video to create drones:

  • 9b0

    i had a solution like this:

  • Tom thumb

    Looks allot like extra slice from strange agency for the iPad, any relation?

  • Patrick Ijsselstein

    i’m surprised you didn’t mention numerology….

    • Peter Kirn

      That deserves its own article – whole other beast! (and a lovely one) Hope I get some time with the thing shortly, actually…

    • Peter Kirn

      These two just came out in the last 48 hours…

  • peter

    Self-promotionally, I have to mention the Livid Step sequencers for M4L – DrumSteppr, SynthSteppr, and Accent, which integrate seamlessly into a Live Script for CNTRL:R and OhmRGB.

  • chris

    any chance to get the polyphonic sequencer for the apc 40??

    • chris

      PLEASE :)

    • Peter Kirn

      You should be able to adapt the example above. It’s running on a nanopad, but you’ll see he has four 2×8 matrices — no reason you couldn’t use an APC. (You could use the Launchpad ones, too; you just might have to do a little remapping of MIDI assignments.)

    • chris

      thx peter, i was talking about the polyrythmic stepsequencer mentioned below the nanopad thing. I’m really interested in this!!

  • papernoise

    you’re welcome Peter! :)

    Actually I almost regret having sold my launchpad after reading this article!

  • Øivind Idsø

    The most interesting video by far was the last one! I found the max patch on Little Scale’s blogspot page:

  • cassiel

    This is the thing I’ve been gigging with recently: – although it certainly isn’t minimal, and it’s also probably getting on for five years old…

  • mnb

    i like the 8-step sequencers! and since i have a nanopad, i have just made something a little similar in pure data ( in case anyone is interested)

  • Sumsun

    Just a bit off topic but I would love a specialized nanoKey that has MacBook Pro keys on it. I think everyone plays the computer keyboard to jot down ideas when writing a tune. I would love a thin attractive (possibly styled like a monome!) 49 key computer keyboard laid out like a nanoKey. To be honest I have gotten used to the feel of playing melodies on my keyboard and sometimes prefer tapping out notes that way. Machinedrum in a recent interview stated this is his main way of making melodies. Just something I have been thinking about and decided to share. I am sure it would be possible because replacement MacBook keys and their workings are readily available.