Start by taking a loop - it doesn’t matter what the content is particularly but it helps to have something dynamic and with a bit of life to it. So in this case we are using an electro drum break rather than, say, a pad sound, although the techniques we will look at can be applied to any sound.
Here’s our basic loop.
Now when you make your loop shorter or longer by picking up either of its edges and dragging it, Cubase will change the speed and duration of the clip without affecting its pitch. This is a good way to quickly create a variation of a beat at for example 50% or 200% of its speed, and keeping snapping activated will ensure that you don’t go out of sync. Moderate stretch values such as these are useful but you can also perform extreme stretching, say by dragging a 4-bar loop out over 40 bars, to create weird textures that sound nothing like the original sound. Here is what happens when I do just that to this loop. This is just a clip rather than the full duration.
Another cool feature is Cubase’s Sampler Track which is incredibly powerful and can be useful here too. Right click on your audio loop and choose Create Sampler Track. Cubase will then create a new, empty audio track that is able to use MIDI to play your loop as if it were loaded into a sampler.
It’s worth muting your original loop’s mixer channel for a moment here so that you can hear what the sampler track is doing. If you play your MIDI keyboard you should hear the loop played back at different speeds and pitches, just like on a hardware sampler. You get hands-on control of tuning and glide in the Pitch section, and the ability to add filtering with multiple types available.
If you want to play your loop in a “stutter” style, again like hardware samplers can do, without doing any audio chopping, simply activate the Fixed Pitch button on the Sampler’s toolbar. Now, the pitch and speed will no longer change when you play a note so you can play any notes to trigger the loop in rapid succession and it will re-trigger but always play at its original pitch and speed. You can also press the R button here to reverse the sample - particularly good with electronic beats like this. Remember that this is still virtual and Cubase is using your MIDI data to trigger the sample and manipulate it in real time. There’s no actual audio clip in the sampler track in the timeline.
If you did want to take your mangled loop and put it into an instrument for further processing or performance options you can use the Transfer button on the toolbar here to send it to any compatible Steinberg plug-in that you have installed.
Another way to play with loops that works particularly well with beats is to use Warp Markers to move beats or transients within a loop without changing its overall duration. In the Inspector panel on the left, go to the AudioWarp tab and select Free Warp (or Musical Mode if you prefer non-freeform warping). Then in the Sample Editor at the bottom, select the Time Warp tool and you will see the waveforms turn orange and gain warp markers. You may be prompted to create a new copy of the original loop and if you are, choose Yes.
You can move the warp markers around to change the timing of beats, or even words inside a vocal phrase. With snapping on you will retain some sense of sync or you can turn it off to have complete free rein. By clicking between markers you can add new ones and adjust those freely, meaning a crazy level of manipulation is possible. Here’s the loop after I have dragged a few hits around the place. Note that the overall duration of the loop hasn’t changed. Essentially you are treating audio a bit like MIDI, with the ability to create syncopation or alternatively tighten up beats or loops with a minimum of fuss. If you decide you want your original back, there’s a reset button in the Inspector panel.
Another thing you can try is batch processing a bunch of things onto a loop. From the Audio menu, select Direct Offline Processing to open the required window. From here you can set up any number of plug-ins and processes like normalisation, resampling, pitch shifting and more and have them all applied at once to create a new version of the loop. Select a few from the Plug-Ins and Processing menus. You can make settings for each process and effect, and drag them to reorder them or remove any item from the processing list. Close the window to apply the processing.
One last quick tip is that if you go back into the Inspector tab for a loop’s channel and go to the Hitpoints tab, at the base you will see an option called Create MIDI Notes. Cubase is able to analyse a clip and use its Hitpoints (which it has already generated) to create a MIDI part from the transients in the sound.
In this case it’s a beat so there’s little melodic information, though there is velocity. In the case of a melodic part like a guitar or vocal, there will be more MIDI information. This can then be linked to any MIDI instrument to duplicate your original melody or beat using completely new sounds!