Sound Design Workflow with Octatrack

I mostly set out to use the Octatrack for percussion and manipulating sounds I recorded or have designed.

I think about these sounds in two buckets, roughly sounds that perform a traditional drumkit role and sounds that do not. It’s a similar concept to “diegetic” sounds in the context of music where drumkit sounds are clearly recognizable and familiar sounding.

I want to work with breakbeats in the Octatrack like this one:

Percussion loop made from break (Amen Break, I believe)

I want to work with isolated percussion sounds, like kicks, snares, hi-hats like these:

First attempt exporting kick / snare hits to Octatrack
First attempt exporting hi-hat hits to Octatrack

Octatrack “Parts” as Sound Pallettes

The Octatrack has a function called parts which can be used to switch between different sound palettes. So my idea is to set up a few different drum kits for the “diegetic” percussion sounds as parts, this way I can switch between the drumkit sounds by switching banks for different palette.


I also enjoy playing with dynamics. I strive for music with lots of variations and this means dynamics too. So I want the percussion sounds to have some “velocity” control. First attempt is to have three samples with three levels of velocity.

So both of these kicks have 3 levels: soft, med, hard. This means that when they are sliced in the Octatrack, slice 1, 2, and 3 of each kick sample correspond to the soft, med, and hard. So switching parts on the Octatrack will maintain the “velocity” of the selected sample.

Kick & Snare

The limitations of the Octatrack force us to consider how we want to group samples into its 8 tracks.

For me, I am rarely driving a kick and snare together – so I’ve put the kick and snare together in the same sample.

Here, 3 kicks are followed by 3 snares.

Again, this is the “standard” for all of the kick / snare samples, which means that switching to parts with a different kick / snare sample should work.

Slicing & Exporting

First try I was lining up the samples in Ableton’s arrangement view. This is very error-prone because all of the samples need to be the same size (or you need to manually slice them up in the OT later). Instead, using the OctaChainer app helps tremendously and the samples can be of any length. This also saves memory in the OT as I can make the samples exactly the duration they need to be and no more.

Live Matrix Mixing

I am aiming to use only hardware synths and trigger all samples with the Octatrack. Ableton acts as a matrix mixer for the synth channels into Luke’s awesome reverb and quadraphonic panning. My SuperCollider environment acts as a generative MIDI system with some delay effects (routing also controlled via Ableton).

So far I have not made use of both inputs to the OT, I think that will eventually go.

Here is the midi map for the FaderFox PC12 I am using to control sends in Ableton.

around this time, we stopped moving forward with this structure

we learned a lot up until this point and decided to integrate our learnings in building a new structure, Prototype V1. we kept the general concept and structural design of the communication device the same, and made some detail oriented changes.

we used a dremel to drill holes for our sequencer buttons. this process was imprecise. we are currently in the process of having all of the pieces for our current prototype laser cut for more accuracy, including the button holes.

drill station