Feb 23, 2024

Ableton Live Exposed!

Published Nov 29, 2005

Live, Live Live....This is all I have been hearing for the last few years. You gotta try it they say, it will change your way of making music. Years ago I briefly looked at the description and it says it is a loop based tool. I'm sick of loops, what is with the loop craze. Doesn't anyone make music anymore? Between ACID and Sonar I can work with loops until my heart is content, and I haven't touched ACID in years (either kind). This is where I made my mistake.

It wasn't until the DJ Expo in Atlantic City this past August that I really checked it out, as M-Audio was holding a seminar on it (yes I knew it was a product sales demo, but I went anyway). And man, all I can say is why didn't I use this earlier. Now, you can read the reviews in the high end magazines, but for the struggling DJ or newbie producer it is all jargon to them, so let me give you the view from the aspect of another DJ. My initial reaction was huge, and I asked every right question I could. Can it do this? Can it do that? And yep it did it all. But my initial idea of using it in the studio for producing just evolved into a secondary use for DJing (Hence the Live name). Let me try to explore both uses.

It will do things that loads of other software out there do, in a fraction of the time

Live's use in the studio was best described to me as “It will do things that loads of other software out there do, in a fraction of the time.” and it couldn't have been better said. Using Live's clip view your song is arranged so that each track has various different clips of audio or midi in them, and they can be mixed and matched around with other tracks, being able to listen to different arrangements on the fly. One clip in your drums track can be the basic pattern, another the break down, another just the kick, and so on. All of these can be listened to on the fly, in real time with any other part from any other track. Clips can consist of either audio data (looped or one-shots) or MIDI tracks (loops that can control soft synths, drum machines, Live's synths, and even external MIDI pieces). But it can go further than that, load up an audio sample, add an echo effect to it, automate volume changes, throw some distortion on it and all this info is saved in the clip. You can now use this clip in any project you want and the effects and everything are all part of the looped sound, which you can still edit at anytime!! To top it off you can even use MIDI tracks to do the same thing. With full support of VST effects and softsynths, the possibilities are amazing. I loaded up Native Instruments Battery 2, loaded up an entire drum kit and then proceeded to make a MIDI Clip. With quantize record, it automatically makes your drum patterns that you do by hand line up. So if you can't drum by finger in perfect time it will take care of it for you. I just cut my drum programming time in half. But what if you don't have loops readily available? No problem.

I loaded up Diana King's “Shy Guy” and Live's Auto-Warp function automatically detects the BPM, and sets up markers to make it sync up with any beat. Even works on rock tracks. How well does it work? Perfectly in this case. I grabbed a looped drum sound and threw it on top, and it lined up for the entire song. This makes making basic edits a breeze for those of you who want to make your own remixes. And you can take that same full length song file and create new loop points with it, new clips from that original file with different effects and loop points, I seriously mean the possibilities are endless. I nailed out a remix of “Shy Guy” in under 45 minutes, and it sounds amazing, I play it out every week. This same mix would have taken me about 2-3 hours in other software, and I have been using studio gear for years. It keeps the technical crud out of your face and allows you to really get back to being creative. If you work with any type of dance material, I can not recommend enough that you pick this up. I even know from first hand knowledge that many of the Select Mix remixers use this software. If you have limited or no experience in studio software, do not fear. Live has a tutorial built into the software. Not just some extra Windows' browser with an Acrobat file or something like that. This has a full blown, hands on training tutorial built into the software, something I wish EVERY manufacturer did. Just remember Ableton did it first.

So ok, you don't really care about producing, or maybe you do but also want to spice up your DJ sets. Live is definitely your tool. As it's name suggests it is perfect for live use. Stable, low on processor power, efficient, intuitive, and basically the only one for the job. Imagine dropping drum sounds from other tracks on top of what you are playing. Or even your own basslines. How about rock tracks on top of a hip-hop beat. You can adjust the BPM in real time and it time stretches it all in real time. I picked up a “Red Sound Voyager 1” piece off of Ebay to take it another step. This unit reads the signal from your cd player, turntable, or right off the mixer and converts the BPM (which is accurate to 1/100th of a BPM) into a MIDI Clock signal which you can then send into Ableton to sync up. I can now be playing Daft Punk on the decks and syncing Live to it, with loops of ABBA or Tone Loc, or even 50 Cent (just giving you an idea of the possibilities). You can even DJ full songs on it, mixing with other songs on it. Live allows you to assign tracks to a built in crossfader just like a DJ mixer, and with a multiple output sound card you can even monitor one side while the other is playing, just like a mixer. And so you don't have to DJ with a mouse, you can assign any function to a MIDI controller (play, stop, crossfader, levels, etc..). If you really want to stick out from the rest of the herd Live is the way to go.

I can't even begin to tell you what this software can do and the possibilities for studio and live use. My purpose is to open the DJs eyes to what may be possible. Going on and on in an article meant for DJs will most likely make your heads spin with talk about studio jargon most won't understand. You need to get into it and see it for yourself. Go to www.ableton.com and download a fully functional demo. The only thing you can't do is save your work. Get this software!!!

For those of you that need the detailed info here you go:

  • Complete sequencing, combination and reorganization of MIDI clips
  • Straightforward MIDI recording, editing and pattern creation
  • MIDI bank and program change settings for individual MIDI files
  • Graphical MIDI controller data for intuitive drawing and editing
  • Play MIDI notes with the computer keyboard
  • Manipulation of MIDI timing through adaptive quantization and swing/groove settings
  • Drag and drop import of Standard MIDI files and their individual tracks
  • Export of MIDI tracks and patterns as Standard MIDI files

Audio and Remixing

  • Preview and combine AIFF, WAV, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC and MP3 audio files of any sample rate, size and bit depth
  • Real-time time-stretching of any audio file to play in sync with the project tempo
  • Auto Warp — automatically detects the tempo of audio material and sets Warp Markers
  • Sample reverse of individual audio files
  • Rhythm and time warping for audio tracks, notes and sections within audio files
  • Real-time swing and groove manipulation of audio files
  • Clip Envelopes — complete control of volume, pitch, timing and effects for segments or notes within audio files through drawn curves
  • Flexible audio file exporting
  • Clip Transport — scrubbing, nudging and navigation within files
  • Live Clip format for easy storage and retrieval of musical ideas, including associated devices and settings

Recording and Sequencing

  • Comprehensive audio and MIDI recording and sequencing
  • Unlimited 32-bit/192 kHz multitrack hard disk recording
  • Detailed on-the-fly recording and editing (with continuous breakpoint envelopes) of automation for mixer, effects control movements and song tempo
  • Complete nondestructive editing with unlimited undo
  • Track Freeze for conserving CPU resources and simplifying project sharing
  • Track Delay controls for managing human, acoustic and hardware delays
  • Drum machine-style loop/overdub recording for building MIDI patterns
  • Punch-in and -out points for recording
  • Count-In recording
  • Creation of perfectly cut samples and loops through optional record quantization
  • Launchable Arrangement Locators
  • Instant resampling of audio and MIDI while the music plays
  • Multi-selection clip editing
  • Mackie Control support

Playing and Performing

  • Nonlinear audio and MIDI file organization and triggering for imaginative recombination and improvisation
  • Audio and MIDI files can be mapped to MIDI keyboard ranges and computer keys for instant triggering
  • Detailed control over the launch and play properties of individual files
  • Follow Actions — create groups of files that can trigger each other to generate specific or random output
  • Scenes — configure groups of files that play simultaneously, store tempo changes and advance automatically
  • DJ-style crossfading between any number of tracks
  • Hands-on control of any interface element with a MIDI controller or the computer keyboard
  • Flawless recording of all aspects of a set for later in-depth editing

Effects and Instruments

  • Ableton Audio Effects: Auto Filter, Auto Pan, Beat Repeat, Chorus, Compressor I, Compressor II, EQ Four, EQ Three, Erosion, Filter Delay, Flanger, Gate, Grain Delay, Phaser, Ping Pong Delay, Redux, Resonators, Reverb, Saturator, Simple Delay, Utility, Vinyl Distortion
  • Ableton MIDI Effects: Arpeggiator, Chord, Pitch, Random, Scale, Velocity
  • Ableton Instruments: Simpler, for creative sample-based synthesis, and Impulse, for dynamic percussion sound design
  • Endless expansion through VST and Audio Units Plug-in instruments/effects and ReWire
  • Automation and remote control of all instrument and effects parameters
  • Device groups for saving multi-effect combinations together with instruments
  • Plug-In Delay Compensation automatically compensates for delays caused by effects and plug-ins

Routing and Sync

  • Track-to-track I/O routing for complex mixes, post-effects recording, MIDI-to-audio conversion, submixing and synth layering
  • Individual instrument outputs and multi-timbral instrument input and output routing capabilities
  • Private cueing and previewing through separate audio outputs
  • Complete MIDI control of ReWire clients
  • Intuitive signal flow management of effects and instruments by drag and drop
  • Pre- or post-mixer effect grouping/bussing on up to twelve sends/return tracks
  • Tempo sync to any external source through MIDI Clock master or slave; MIDI Timecode slave
  • Audio and transport sync through the ReWire protocol as master or slave
  • Unlimited audio and MIDI tracks
  • Unlimited audio and MIDI inputs and outputs
  • ASIO, MME, DirectX and CoreAudio audio interface support

Also includes...

  • Valuable Live Pack library of clips, device presets and Live Sets
  • Built-in program tutorials and starter sets
  • Printed reference manual*
  • Multilingual program help and PDF manual in English, Japanese, German, French and Spanish
  • * Available in Live 5 boxed version only.

Macintosh System Requirements

  • Any G3 or faster
  • 512 MB RAM recommended
  • Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later

Windows System Requirements

  • 600 MHz CPU or faster
  • 512 MB RAM recommended
  • Windows 2000/XP
  • Windows-compatible sound card

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