Sound Design with Inspired by Nature: Emit

Posted by James Cullen on

Welcome back to our collection of guides focusing on the wonderful plugins contained in the Ableton Live Pack Inspired by Nature.

There are some really cool devices in this pack, and we've already covered what Bouncy Notes can do; it's a wonderful generative arpeggiator-like MIDI effect which allows you to create some really cool melodies and timbres.

In this guide, we are going to take a detailed look at Emit, a granular synthesiser which is great for getting some creative results out of your samples.

If you haven't checked out our guide on Bouncy Notes, be sure to do so, as it will introduce you to the overall concept of the Inspired by Nature pack.

So, let's dive right in and talk about....


As I mentioned in the first part of this guide, I came across this pack on ELPHNT's YouTube channel. This is the second device he goes over in his video, and just like with Bouncy Notes, as soon as I saw it in action, I had to try it for myself.

Emit is a visual granular synthesiser, that uses Particles shooting across a spectrogram to show the grain of the sample being played. Vertical movements of particles represent filtering and panning. 

It contains a wide variety of controls, and uses phase vocoder synthesis for playback, meaning particles can move across the sample at any speed without affecting the pitch. This is a great feature when working with samples. It can be frustrating when playing with samples when they are played back at different speeds and pitches. Keeping the pitch consistent regardless of speed allows you to generate some really nice harmonic textures.

Let me just say: this is a really beautiful instrument. 

The way Emit works is that it's a granular sample playback device. If you're not familiar with what Granular synthesis is, let's quickly define it.

Granular Synthesis uses samples at its heart. It breaks a sample into individual pieces - or grains- and then loops them, and allows them to be sustained without altering the pitch. Typically used to create ethereal or glitchy sounds, the end result will vary depending on the sample used.

So, that's essentially what's happening with Emit. It works like a regular sampler or looper, just using the grains we've discussed, instead of playing the sample back in its pure form. The real beauty of this instrument lies in the sheer possibilities; all of the controls it contains are complex and exciting, but each of these will create vastly different results based on what sample is loaded in to Emit. You could have the exact same settings in minute detail in two different instances of Emit, but entirely different samples would yield entirely different results!

Just like Bouncy NotesEmit can either trigger sound automatically as long as Live's transport is running, or you can use MIDI notes for the input. When using MIDI notes, there are options for the notes to follow the incoming MIDI pitch, or to disable this so only the rhythm is used.

The Spectrogram is a visual display of the sample you've loaded in, with time running from left to right and frequency running from bottom to top. You'll notice there's an orange box with a circle inside it. This is an Emitter.

The Emitter generates particles that playback the sample. These are the small blue balls, just like in Bouncy Notes, only now instead of bouncing up and down on a piano roll, they move through your sample, playing the part of the sample they are passing over. 

The cool thing about this is that you can click and drag to move the Emitter around, resize it, and even have more than one running at the same time. Resizing the Emitter is great because each particle is generated randomly somewhere inside the borders of the Emitter. So, the bigger the Emitter, the more variation you'll hear between the grains.

These controls can also control the size of the Emitter, and you'll see them change as you resize it and move it about.

The Edge option has a few controls which dictate a particle's behaviour when it hits the edge of the UI. It can either bounce off, or jump through and come out the other side.

The controls under this (pictured below right) allow you to control how particles are created, more specifically, some detailed information about where they come from, and where they go.

Angle allows you to control the angle at which the particle is sent from the Emitter. Bearing in mind that left to right is time based, and up and down is filter based, this can create some interesting results.

The Bipolar control dictates whether or not particles are generated in both

directions. This means that if a particle is moving from the emitter towards the left, it is playing a reversed portion of the sample. 

The Width is the range of angles in which particles can be emitted. 

Already, you should be seeing the almost limitless possibilities of sound design and creation within Emit. 

Each of these controls gives drastically different results when using the same sample, so imagine how much variation is possible when changing the source samples!

There are a variety of other controls which dictate the behaviour of the particles once they've been created, and they're in the section below. These are quite similar to what we saw in Bouncy Notes

Particle Particulars

We have the rate at which particles are created, as well as their lifetime, which is how long they exist before being removed. 

The Burst control sets the amount of particles emitted per emit interval, while the Spread parameter determines how close or far apart the group is emitted over the course of the interval.

The Grains knob determines the maximum number of particles (or grains) an Emitter can produce. The number of particles that are active depends on the rate of emission, the lifetime of the particles and the number of bursts. 

The Force controls the initial magnitude of the particle when it is created, and the Friction is the amount the particle is slowed down once it's been emitted.

So, you can see that there are a lot of similarities here with how the particles behave in Emit and Bouncy Notes. They're essentially doing the same thing, since the point of the Inspired by Nature pack is to emulate physical forces in the natural world.

Bouncy Notes gives bouncing balls affected by gravity, while Emit gives us particles flying across a UI.

So, if you head over to the Grains tab in Emit, you can have some more control over how the particles work. 


In this tab, you can apply a pitch shift, which transposes the output by either semitones or a fine tune option, which you can toggle by clicking the F button next to the Pitch control.

You can also add a spectral blur effect using the Blur control. This works by adding an envelope follower in the frequency domain, and sets the time of the decay of that envelope, which creates the blur. 

We mentioned earlier than when particles travel vertically in the UI spectrograph, they control a band pass filter. The Filter section here controls the parameters for that filter. You can adjust the width and the Q of the filter, fine tuning the quality of the sounds produced by any of those vertical flying particles.

Below this, there is the Y-Axis switch, and you'll see a yellow button next to it saying Filter. If you toggle this, it will change to say Pan and then the vertical movement of particles in the UI will control the panning within the stereo field, rather than a filter.

Within this screen, you can really fine tune how your particles behave, and this is really intuitive and fun because each change has an audible effect on the sound you're creating. As I always recommend, play around in this section!

You'll also notice that there are two tabs labelled Emitter 1 and Emitter 2. This means you can have two emitters running simultaneously, creating even more interesting effects!

Modulation is where you can get even more creative with the sounds you can create with Emit

There are two built in LFOs and Envelopes, which you can route to various parameters within Emit. The Routing tab allows you to route the LFOs and Envelopes to all sorts of parameters.

For example, you can send your LFO to the angle of an Emitter, which means the Emitter will rotate back and forth within the spectrogram, sending particles flying in all sorts of directions!


Emit Overview

As we mentioned earlier in the guide, the possibilities with Emit are staggering. You can get such wonderful results from adjusting the various controls. 

Using the LFOs, you can have rotating emitters, sending particles out in a circular array of directions, giving really unique timbres.

What's even better, is adding more effects to Emit to create some really lovely soundscapes and textures. I've been using Output's Portal to create some really nice soundbeds on top of which more music can dance.

Changing the sample changes the game, and you can really stretch Emit to get varied sounds. Experiment til your heart's content!


As always, thanks for checking in with us here at Top Music ArtsLet us know down in the comments if you've been trying the plugins out and what you think of them, and while you're here, be sure to check out our deals on Ableton Live project templates, which are a great way to get yourself acquainted with how professional productions are put together.

Keep your eyes out for the next post in our series on the Inspired by Nature pack for Ableton Live.

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