How to Make a "Ghost Pianos" Rack

What are Ghost Pianos?

This is a concept borrowed from the amazing Ólafur Arnalds and his Stratus pianos. This setup usually involves two self-playing pianos on the left and right sides of the room, which play different rhythmic patterns and react to what Ólafur is playing on his piano. Here's an example of Ghost Pianos in one of Ólafur's songs, Doria.

Loom and Eden were both initially inspired by this concept, so we can make a close sound using both devices. Before we explain how to make a Ghost Pianos with Eden or Loom, it's important to understand a few things.

  • The basis of ghost pianos is the polyphonic sequencing that can achieved by Ólafur's Stratus plugin. The Stratus plugin was co-created by him with Halldór Eldjárn (who by the way makes awesome plugins over at Inorganic Audio). Unfortunately, the Stratus plugin is not available to the public. But the good news is that you can create the same effect with Eden and Loom!
  • A key feature of the Ghost Pianos sound is the stereo image that it creates. This requires that the left and right pianos play slightly different, yet similar patterns. Also, hard panning left and right is not recommended since the stereo crossover creates a very musical effect.

Steps to make a "Ghost Pianos" rack

Create an instrument rack with a piano plugin + Loom or Eden

A piano with a good response to velocity changes is recommended. We personally love the ones with hammer/ felt noise but that's a personal choice. Love the free LABS Tape Piano for this.

Use Loom if you are after a rhythmic, steady pattern. Use Eden if you want swarms or a particle-like effect. Add the device and program in a pattern you would like for the rack. Or you can use one of our presets.

Group the piano and the selected device into an instrument rack. If you are new to instrument racks in Ableton you can learn more here.

Duplicate the chain and pan them. Flip order in one device.

Instrument racks can have multiple chains. You should open the chain view and duplicate the first chain to create two similar chains.

Now you can have two identical racks on the left and the right. But we need them to be a little different, so you can turn on the "Flip Order" button on one of the devices. What this does is change the starting pattern to the last one instead of the first one, and reverse the order of triggering patterns.

Add effects to spice it up

Now you can add some effects to spice up the whole thing. A dotted-eighth delay and a plate reverb are our go-to effects for this kind of rack, but you can get much more creative than that!

Note: you can of course try out this configuration with other instrument VST's. Guitar harmonics and FM synth-plucks work well with this.

Video Guide

This is a short video guide for the process. Note that the device may look a bit different since the video features an older version.

Here's a demo that uses a ghost piano's configuration with a thrid main piano track. There are only two piano tracks in the whole song and the "arpeggios" you are hearing: that's ghost pianos!