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Chopping and Slicing/Splicing Samples

Chopping Samples - Creative Splicing  

What is a Splice?

A splice is a segment or part of a sample that has been ‘cut’ from the whole sample. A good example would be that of a drum loop: The user will take the drum loop and open it up in an audio editor or specific splicing software like Recycle, Garage Band, Phatmatik etc and then cut the loop into smaller segments. These segments, called splices, are then used to create a new drum loop or pattern.

Now let us look at how you should splice the loop, how to organize the splices, how to trigger them, and how to use them creatively and musically.

How to splice a loop

I always try to recommend a dedicated splicing software, like Recycle, that has midi and multi format file export functions, rather than a general audio editor, although that would also suffice. To understand how to use Recycle and, in fact, gain some knowledge on the splicing process, please read the Recycle tutorial on this site.

The best way to splice a drum loop is to cut just before and after the segment you want to splice. You continue this process with all the segments until the loop splices are completed. Do not abandon any area of the loop, keep all the splices. If you are using audio editing software, you need to open up the loop as a file. Make sure the file peaks at just below 0dB, so that you have a strong and dynamic loop. If it doesn’t peak well, or is low in gain, then use the normalize function in your software to Peak or RMS normalize, depending on the ultimate requirement, the audio file to just below 0dB. I have discussed the topic of normalization in my normalization tutorial in detail, so please refer to that if you need in depth information on normalization.

Next, you simply highlight the area that needs to be spliced by using the left and right cursors (markers). You can then ‘cut’ these highlighted areas and save them for later use. Certain software, like Fruity Loops, will automatically splice a loop that is imported or opened, thus doing a lot of the work for you. However, in this instance, the software looks for peaks in the loop and gauges those peaks as splice points. Personally, I prefer to manually select splice points as I often splice the same segment with different start/end points. That way, I have variety and a wider selection of choice when it comes to using the splices later to form my own loop. Where you set the markers for the splice points is down to common sense and taste. For example, if you are splicing a kick off a loop, then it makes sense to have the first marker set at just before the attack of the kick and the second marker just after the end of the kick decay.

I am well aware that most people like to go ‘digging’ (searching and taking) for samples and then splice these samples. Personally, I create my own loops and then splice the loops for variations on the same loop. The other reason that I splice my own loops is that of compatibility, in other words, mixing and matching splices from one loop with splices from another loop.

Using the splices

The trick to using spliced samples, is in how you splice them so that they are fluid in movement and can be inserted anywhere in a beat and not sound as if they have been spliced. The other, and equally important trick, is to make sure the splices, once rearranged and strung together, are not out of time, irrespective of the tempo (BPM) of the original loop that the splices came from. However, the abrupt start/end of a splice also has its uses, so plan your creative ideas prior to getting happy with the 'blade'

Here are some tips on how to use splices:

Create the splices that appeal to you, then go back and repeat the same thing again but this time with the following conditions:

1. Make sure that the kick splice is a clean kick. The second splice should be the kick, with the first segment of the hi-hats that go to create the initial body of the beat. These two splices will give you the option of being able to interchange between the two splices and maintaining the flow of the beat.

2. Make sure you have a clean hi-hat splice. The second hi hat splice should have a snare at the end. This can then be used with the kick or on it's own for additional variations for a beat. The clean hi-hat splice can be used rhythmically to add to a beat and the hi-hat with the snare splice can be used with any kick to form the body and tail of a beat.

3. Create a clean snare splice that is on it's own. The second splice should have the hi-hat tail-off that will allow the snare to go back into the kick and thus restart the beat. You now have a snare splice and a snare splice with a hi-hat pattern after it as a splice.

4. Reverse every one of your splices so that you can use them to layer with the original splices, funky and makes for some real dynamic movement.

5. On each one of the 2 splices, have one version that has an instant release and one that has a long release. This is usually the area a lot of people screw up on, the release. If you have a longer release time, it makes the beat more flowing as the individual components will sound as if they are being played, since they will still be active when you play the next splice. This takes away that choppy effect, the staccato/robotic type of effect.

6. Make sure that all your splices are not dependant on the BPM so you are not committed to using the original BPM that you lifted the beat from. A splice that plays too much of the beat will invariably be BPM dependant. So, keep the elements (kick, snare, hi-hats) separate. By only having small portions of the next element in the next splice gives you the freedom to fit the splices into any BPM. It's also a great asset if you can use individual elements to create fills within the beat. For example, create the hat splices and play them over the beat as you would if they were kit samples, that way you get the authenticity and also be able to apply your own BPM.

7. For each splice, it makes for great playability, if you make a copy and put that next to the original splice. You then loop the copied splice so that it sounds like a snare roll or a kick repeating itself. Make this nice and tight and in time with the BPM. Apply a filter that opens as the note is held (time) and you can use this to play alongside or intermittently with the original splices.

The idea is to splice loops that will then have individual components and components with only a small portion of the loop, so you can create your own loops and fit them into a BPM. The speed is not crucial unless you are lifting the whole beat, then that negates this topic. In fact, I prefer to splice fast beats, because once slowed down, they sound even funkier and the individual elements like the hi-hats are easier to separate from the original high tempo beat. So, with DnB or hard Trance or Garage beats, that run into 140+ BPM, just sample them at C4, then play them at C2 and you have the same loop but much slower. Splice the elements and you're ready to go. The way DnB programmers create beats is to take RnB loops and splice them, put the splices in an order they like, and speed the whole thing up. That is why you get that stop start feel to DnB. Do that in reverse for RnB and Hip Hop. Take the fast loop, slow it, splice it and then use the splices.

It is also far easier to time stretch/compress smaller splices than to do so with a whole loop, that way you remove all the artifacts that come with stretching/compressing. It's also a great way to mix and match splices from other loops, that's where the creativity comes in.

Placing the splices

It can get a little confusing when you have a great many splices and want to put them in an orderly fashion, that can then be played as if they were a kit preset on a keyboard or drum machine. How I do it is to use them alternately. For example, I will have all my main splices, that is the ones that are the originals and not the copied splices, on the white keys, once spread across the keys I usually find that I end up at about the next octave, so C1-B1, and all the copied splices on the black keys.

Let's take an example.

Kick 1 is on C1, so kick 2 would be on C#1, snare 1 on D1, so snare 2 would be on D#1 and so on. On the next octave I will have the looped versions of the splices, so if at any time I need to come in with a crazy fast machine gun snare, I just hit D2 where the looped snare is. That way I don't lose the kit structure on the first octave. If I have more than 2 splices per sound, then I start to spread it out more evenly, having 3 kicks on C1, C#1, D1, 3 snares on E1, F1 and F#1.....that way I can change between a sharp quick kick to a nice lengthy one or one with the hi- -hats on the tail end. If you have a logical order, and group the relevant splices together, then your mind will always remember where the sounds are, keeping them in the same format for all your digs ensures that it becomes second nature and you instinctively know where your hands go when you are ready to ‘play’ the splices. I generally have a policy of keeping my hi-hats on the F-B ranges because it's easy to play a kick and snare with one hand and play the hi-hats with the other. You will find that you don't lose your rhythm and that you can keep the time with your left hand and that your right hand can always play variations of the hi-hats without you losing a beat. I often leave the rest of the keyboard octaves for either, complimentary spliced kits, or for wacky effects that I can drop into the beat at any time. The choices you make will determine the simplicity and versatility of using the splices for beat creation. Order and logical grouping is a must, so always bear that in mind when you are creating splices, and stick to your format for all your splicing tasks.

Creative programming of splices

If you're into programming then you can take this a step further. I usually assign velocity layers and switches to my keys/samples and splices. For example: I will have the sharp quick kick on C1 at a velocity of 0-60, then the reversed splice of the same kick on the same C1 but at a velocity of either 61-127 (for velocity switching) or 0-127 for velocity layering. Basically, for the first example, if I hit the note at a lower velocity (below 60) the snappy kick is triggered, if I hit the key harder the reversed kick is triggered (61-127). For the second example: if I hit the key at a low velocity (below 60), I get the snappy kick and the reversed kick triggering together, if I hit harder, I get the reversed kick. You can, of course, vary these to taste.

There are many other cool tricks you can perform on splices, once they have been spanned across the keys. One of my favourite tricks is to have the mod wheel opening a filter. Of course, you will need to programme the filter to open by the mod wheel first. This trick is used all the time in Trance music. The other little gem of a trick is to have the mod wheel assigned to pitch, with a very broad range. Once the mod wheel comes into play, the splices pitch right down or right up for some really dynamic movement. I use the mod wheel, instead of the pitch wheel, because the mod wheel does not usually have a spring action whereby it returns to 0, on the contrary, the mod wheel can stay where you leave it, so that makes for better control over the chosen dynamic.

It is endless, what you can do with programming splices.

Experiment and have fun. Digging is not just about lifting samples but about using the splices to be creative. You will soon find that you have your own ready made kits that are useful in any situation and at any BPM and for any genre.