Thursday, May 19, 2011

Less Cowbell Operator Patch

Back in 2009, I released a track on Different Pieces/Armada called Less Cowbell

Earlier this month, I rebooted the track with updated drums and used it in my May podcast. [Update: I've since posted the full reboot as a free download.]

The core sound in Less Cowbell is based on an custom Ableton Live Operator patch that deconstructs the original TR-808 analog cowbell sound.

To commemorate the original release in 2009, Peter Kirn's Create Digital Music blog posted a piece on the making of the track - along with a downloadable version of the Operator patch - so producers could see how it was done and tinker with the sound itself.

I was going to post a link to the original article here, but I've since made a few revisions to the info and download, so I'm posting a new Live Set that includes the patch - and a sequence to get you started with the macros.

The set is compatible with Live 7.0.18 or higher - and requires Operator (but it will still work in demo mode, even if you don't own this little wündersynth).

The essence of the original 808 Cowbell consisted of four simultaneous sawtooth waves at the following frequencies: 1.94 kHz, 1.37 kHz, 835 Hz, 555 Hz. By using the all-carrier Operator algorithm, fixed tuning, and a lot of tinkering with the envelopes, I was able to pretty much nail the original sound. From there, it was just a matter of creating a a bunch of Macros to manipulate as the groove developed.

Here are the assignments for each Macro:

LFO Rate: This controls the rate for the tempo-synced sawtooth LFO, which is assigned to all four operators’ pitch. The range is 1/48th note to 4 measures.

LFO Amount: Overall amount of the LFO effect. Note that these parameters work best in conjunction with longer release times.

Spectral Volume: Controls the volume of the 1.94 kHz, 1.37 kHz, and 835 Hz sawtooth waves. A value of 0 reduces the sound to just the 555 Hz sawtooth, whereas 127 is the full-on 808 Cowbell.

Spectral Spread: Introduces positive detuning, spreading the frequencies from the root 555 Hz sawtooth all the way up to the 808 array. Great for rises and builds.

LPF: Lowpass cutoff frequency.

Falling Grain: This affects four different Grain Delay parameters simultaneously. The result is a dotted eighth-note delay that descends in pitch. Note that since the Grain Delay comes after the Reverb, some really unusual ambient effects can be created by adjusting both Macros simultaneously.

Release: Overall release for the four operators. Range is 174 ms to 60 seconds.

Reverb: Controls the decay time and amount of autopanning for a tempo-synced bouncing reverb effect. Used during the breakdowns for Less Cowbell. 


  1. This is really great. Thanks for sharing :-)


  2. It would be great to have some embedded examples of this plugin directly playable on this page, just to preview before downloading.

  3. reminds me of the track from 2003 by phat kid, "cowbell"

  4. @Anonymous #1 - Since it's an Operator patch, the *entire* Live file is a 25kb download (not a typo - 25 KILObytes).

    An audio preview would be several MBs. Not sure what else to say here.