The Korg Nanokontrol makes a great interface for the mixer in Ableton Live, but with a little finesse we can use it to trigger clips as well! The first thing you’ll need to do if you haven’t already is to download Korg’s MIDI Driver utility and the editor for the Nanokontrol, which can all be found at the end of this article. The next thing you’ll need to do is make sure the Nanokontrol is installed and configured properly through the MIDI driver and Ableton Live. Once that’s done, go ahead and open a new session within Live. It’s worth noting here at this point that you need to have the Nanokontrol plugged in before you start Live as it won’t recognize it if you plug it in with Live open.
At the top right corner of Live’s Window, click the “MIDI” button. This activates Live’s MIDI learn mode; anything that is highlighted can be linked to any knob, button or slider on your Nanokontrol. What we are going to do now is designate the the last row on the right (row 9) of the controls on the Nanokontrol to be our master section. If you look closely at the Master column just under the MIDI button, you’ll find that there is an extra box with a set of controls just under the box labeled “Stop Clips”.
The arrow in the image to the right denotes the control for scene selection with a knob. Click it and then move the knob in row 9 of the Nanokontrol. Continue by clicking the play button (the small black arrow in the same box) and then pressing the top button from column 9. Using the same process, synch the fader to the master volume and the bottom button in column 9 to the square in the “Stop Clips” box. I find it faster and more fluid to use the knob for live “Djing”, but you can use the up and down arrows within the box to navigate up and down if you wanted to use buttons (1 for up, 1 for down) instead.
The next thing that we will be doing is setting up the clip controls. This time in the image on the left, the arrow points to another hidden row with a lone arrow in it. This is the play button that will allow you to play a clip from the currently selected scene. Go ahead and synch it to the top button of column 1 along with the fader of the first audio track. The box right above the arrow is the stop button for that column. For this example, synch it to the bottom button of column 1. Setup the MIDI channel on column 2 just as you did column 1 on the Nanokontrol. At the top left of Live’s window you have the transport controls which also correspond to the ones on the Nanokontrol so naturally, synch them up!
Go back up to the top right of Live’s window and click the MIDI button to turn off the MIDI learn mode. If everything went as it should, you’ll see a gray bar move up and down the clip view when you turn the knob in the master section (column 9) on the Nanocontrol. Also, give the sliders a try in columns 1 & 2. If something isn’t working, go through the steps and try it again.
If you have any audio loops or sounds, load one into the top clip of the audio channel. The column next to the audio column on the right is a MIDI channel, so load up one of your VSTis or one of Live’s if you don’t have any. Double click the top clip of the MIDI channel to open the sequencer view in the bottom window and enter a short sequence of notes into it.
Tip – Everything within the gray bar is called a “scene” and using the master play and stop buttons you created in the 9th column on the Nanokontrol will also play and stop everything in the gray bar at once, which is very handy for arranging and launching part of your songs.
Now were ready to test everything out! Click the play button on the Nanokontrol and then the top two buttons in column 1 & 2. If everything was setup right, you should hear both clips playing. From this short example you can see how easy it is to add patterns and audio loops to your compositions and move through them with easy. You’re not just limited to two tracks; you can add as many as you like of either and they’re just as easy to control if you make smart use of the scenes on the Nanokontrol.
There’s two quick things I wanted to mention. The first is that we didn’t assign the knobs in columns 1 & 2 in the Nanokontrol to anything. Using the same procedure you can easily assign them to effects sends, filter cut off and resonance or anything else you like. The second is about button behavior. The buttons on the Nanokontrol come out of the box in the momentary state, which basically means that when pressed they send out the same signal each time. That’s useful for clips when they only need to be clicked once. But there is another state we can put them using the Korg Nanokontrol editor. If you’ll notice in the Live window, each column has a box with the number of the column in it that is colored. This box works as the mute button for the column and by pressing (or clicking) it we can mute and unmute the channel. If you tried this with the Nanokontrol in it’s default setting, the button it would mute and then unmute the column when you release it. That may work for your individual style, but if not there’s another trick we do. In the Nanokontrol editor, you’ll need to switch the button over to toggle. That will change the button over the send out a signal that keeps the button in Live pressed until you press it again. This can be useful for muting and unmuting tracks and clips on the fly.
Once you’ve had a chance to explore the various configurations in Live with your Nanokotrol you’ll probably come to a few of your favorites. Once you get them just the way you want them, you can save the blank template and all of your controller settings will be saved along with the file. You can also choose to save the template as Live’s default template so the next time you open Live your Nanokontrol is ready to go!
Korg USB MIDI driver:
Korg Nanokontrol Editor: