Slicing, or chopping, samples is a process that is so common nowadays, and in most genres, that it has become recognised as a genuine engineering process. It is so accepted and widely used that most software manufacturers incorporate this function in their software designs
The most common slicing software are Recycle, Phatmatik Pro, Guru etc, and even audio editors allow for slicing of samples.
But before we get deep with the process, let us examine what slicing actually is.
Simply put, slicing (chopping) is a process whereby a piece of audio recording is taken and cut into shorter segments. This then allows the user to use these segments (slices) to create their own arrangements in their compositions. The beauty of this process is one of versatility and flexibility. Additionally, you can drop Rex files into your audio sequencer and match them to any tempo without having to time stretch etc.
Slicing was originally conceived to allow users to slice drum loops into smaller sound components (kicks, hi hats, snares etc) and to then edit and rearrange the slices to create a new pattern from the original pattern. In fact, sampler manufacturers like Emu used their own generic function called the ‘Beat Munger’, which effectively sliced any sample and afforded the user to treat the slices like any other sample. Akai, Roland etc all have these functions incorporated into their hardware samplers/workstations nowadays, so it has become a tool that is almost mandatory to provide. Software manufacturers were also on the scene at a very early stage and Propellerheads created possibly the most popular and used slicing software called Recycle. This became so popular that many manufacturers now allow for their software to import the Recycle format called REX. Rex files are simply slices with midi data attached to them. In effect, you can load the midi file that was used to trigger the slices into a pattern format, whilst simultaneously loading the slices.
For the purposes of this tutorial, I am going to use Recycle.
Recycle works in much the same way as audio editors when it comes to detecting and creating hitpoints. Hitpoints are merely markers that the user places in any part of the audio sample. In Cubase, when we wanted to extract a groove template, hitpoints were created by a process that searched and detected peak values. You do not have to rely solely on the software finding peak values and assigning hitpoints to them. You can manually input hitpoints anywhere you want. However, it is always beneficial to allow the software to search and mark the hitpoints.This saves time, particularly when dealing with a large audio sample with lots of peak values. You can then add or remove hitpoints to your heart’s content.
Almost all of these software (and some hardware) will allow you to control the detail of the search and marking of these hitpoints using a function called ‘Sensitivity’. Sensitivity allows the software to search for lower peak values. In fact, it can detect and mark just about every single peak value, if that is what you want. Basic rule of thumb is; the higher the sensitivity value, the more slices you end up with. But always bear in mind that your own audio editor will have slicing tools, and even sequencing packages with audio editing features will provide you with slicing tools. So, always check your software (or hardware) to make sure you have this function so as to save you having to spend money buying a dedicated slicing program. Personally, I use Recycle even though I have many other slicing software and hardware.
Let us start with a simple drum loop and slice it. I am going to stick with the Missy beat as it is a simple beat and I’m sure you all like it.
Recycle main window
Important factors to consider are: Bars, Beats and Signature.
If you import a loop into Recycle and do not know these then don’t worry too much. But it is extremely helpful if you can ascertain as much information about the audio sample as possible. If you don’t, then you can take the loop and loop it in your sequencer and find the right tempo, bars and beats. Most of the drum loops that people deal with are in 4/4 signature, so this makes life a lot easier. However, you will come across samples that are both in different time signatures and crossing bars/beats, especially when dealing with musical phrases. So, try to get as much information about the sample you are going to slice as possible. Just above the sample you can see the sensitivity tool that we touched on earlier. By moving the sensitivity slider you can assign hitpoints (image below).
Recycle sensitivity function
As you can see, the sensitivity slider has created hitpoints at the peak values.
By moving the slider further to the right you can achieve more hitpoints but when I tried it I got too many unnecessary hitpoints. So I stayed with what is on offer and I will manually add more hitpoints.
Never relay solely on the software for your slicing tasks as they can have a tendency to miscalculate peak values, as is clearly evident in the image above.
The 5th slice is in the wrong place. I will adjust this manually and add some more hitpoints.
Always audition the slices and make sure that they all start and end where you want. By default, Recycle allows for auditioning slices by using a speaker icon. You draw in hitpoints (markers) by using the pencil tool. You can also ‘lock’ slices so that they will not be affected by any global hitpoint moves etc.
In the image below you will see that I have locked one marker (displayed by a padlock icon), moved the one that was in the wrong place (displayed with a black arrow above) by simply grabbing and moving the arrow (slice) and added more markers by using the pencil tool. I am also auditioning one of the slices (marked with a white line).
Recycle slice editing
The slices above are all drum hits taken from the drum pattern. I can now mix and match these with my own drum sounds, or rearrange them to create a new pattern. It is endless what can be achieved with simple slicing projects.
You can now save your slices as REX2 (.rx2) format and load them up in any software that allows for REX imports. If you use the export function it will export all the slices as Wav files and also export the accompanying midi file.
That was a nice and easy example as drum loops have pronounced peak values and are generally sparse in terms of musical content. Let’s now pick a harder sample to splice. I am going to work on a simple string phrase and show you not only how to slice it but how to then use it and create a new phrase from the slices.
Recycle string slicing
I have manually inserted the hitpoints (markers) because I want precise markers and exactly where I feel the attacks of each string hit are.
The audio sample has so many peaks and troughs that it can be hard to accurately determine where hitpoints should be placed. This is simply because most string phrases will have vibrato etc applied during playing and these will form their own peaks. This is where you need to use the audition tool and listen to where the attack peaks are and then mark those. I have then saved, exactly as the drum loop example, all the necessary files so that I can then use them in my sequencer. The attached audio files above have been compressed to mp3 so as to save space
Recycle strings saves
As you can see, all the Wavs, midi and .rx2 files have been saved by using both the save and export functions. ‘Save’ for saving the .rx2 file and the export for exporting all the Wavs and the accompanying midi file.
I am now going to create a new phrase using the slices. The original tempo of the sample was 120 bpm but because the sample has now been sliced I can use the slices at any sensible tempo I want. The only thing to be wary of when using entire phrases is that if you use a slice that is a phrase in itself then you need the tempo detail. Because I am only using the hits from this particular sample I do not need to worry too much about the tempo. Had any of the slices contained phrases then I would be in trouble. This is why I always recommend that you tag as much information as possible to a sample when slicing. I will be using Cubase as the main sequencer and Battery 3 as the vsti of choice.
Battery string slices
By using Battery’s browser I was able to locate the folder I had save the slices to and loaded the .rx2 file in native Battery format. Because all the relevant information was saved with Recycle I can now load the file and it will place all the slices incrementally (slice 1 in cell 1 and so on). I now have a mini kit of all the slices spanned across the first few cells.
This saves me acres of work in having to individually locate and load each sample to a cell. Here is the new phrase. Nothing too special as we only had a few hitpoints to play with. If you create more varying hitpoints you will have far greater compositional possibilities.
string new phrase.mp3
Here is another but with more hitpoints.
Recycle string 2 slicing
str2 original phrase.mp3
str2 new phrase.mp3
Slicing (chopping) is a great function. It allows the user to isolate individual sounds or entire phrases and rearrange them into their own compositions.
You can also ‘mix and match’ slices from varying sources and use these to create your own compositions. I know of some DJs that are not musicians, or cannot play any instruments, that compose entire songs using only slices from pre-recorded material. Explore this function as it really can get the creative juices flowing, or resolve a compositional problem.