There was a time when the tempo of a band's performance was left in the capable hands of the drummer. But as pre-programmed, sequenced music started to creep into both studio and live work, the beat-master found himself being shackled by the pace set by the invader's metronome-like click track. Now researchers at Queen Mary, University of London's Centre for Digital Music have developed some clever software that puts the power to control tempo back into the mighty limbs of the band's time-keeper.

The latest version of the Beat-Keeper software – or B-Keeper for short – syncs with Ableton Live as a MaxForLive plugin and works by feeding the click track of the sequenced music, or Live's internal click default, and the sound from both kick and snare drums into the software. It then compares both inputs and adjusts the output of the pre-programmed music now commonly integrated into songs to match the pace set by the drummer – within a five per cent variation margin either way.

B-Keeper needs to be able to register the starting tempo of a track (by clicking sticks or using a preset), after which it allows drummers to speed up or slow down the tempo of any piece of pre-programmed music. A pitch-tracking algorithm ensures that the tempo can be altered without affecting pitch. The software can also detect fills, swing and syncopation, although the developers recognize that this functionality may not be foolproof.

The end result is said to offer a more human, live feel to recordings and stage performances, breaking through the confines of the predetermined rhythm set by the sequenced music and allowing for more improvisation and spontaneity. The software developed by the Centre for Digital Music has been given a thorough testing in both live and studio situations by project leader Dr Andrew Robertson's own band.

"We've used B-Keeper at gigs in the UK, Belgium and Luxembourg, and it makes a noticeable difference in terms of helping to create a better atmosphere and letting the band feed off and bond with the crowd," says Dr Robertson. "Our studio work is also benefiting from the flexibility B-Keeper gives us when we're recording our material."

The software plugin is available now for download, but you will also need some additional applications to get it to run. Full details are available at B-Keeper.

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