It doesn’t happen very often that an instrument comes along that changes the way we look at music, let alone an entire recording environment. When Ableton launched their first version of Live in 2001, electronic music as we knew it underwent a complete and total makeover. This revolutionary DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) was the first of its kind concentric to loop-based musician and performer. With this new environment, musicians could finally record, jam, edit and create sounds, without ever having to stop the sequencer. This environment also marked the end of the era for the hardware sampler. Since computer technology was years beyond the guts of a hardware sampler, there will always be infinite more space to store and edit sounds in a computer. With Live 9’s unique audio Warping functions, you could now edit the pitch, length, tonality and tempo of any sound you drop in, without ever hitting stop, making this the most powerful sampling interface ever developed.
Fast forward to 2013, and Ableton is here to deliver version 9 of their coveted DAW, and with several years elapsing since the last revision, this release received a host of powerful upgrades. To guide through the many layers of sound, effects and instruments in Live 9, the application’s browser received a major facelift, making it much easier to find what you are looking for with minimal fuss. MIDI clips can now be auditioned without having to load them, instrument presets can be heard with just a click of the mouse, and the immensely influential search function is simply amazing. While the previous versions had some level of ability to modulate certain parameters within the Session View, you can now fully automate any parameter of anything you are working on, all in your individual clip in Session View. This makes performance while recording much more fluid, and when arrangement time rolls around, much faster to get the song moving in the direction of your inspiration. Automation can now be curved throughout, creating even more flow and fluidity while crafting sounds.
One of the major selling points of Live has always been the excellent effects suite packaged with the software; in fact, there are many major producers out there who only use Live plugs on their tracks. This round, Live 9 got a steroid boost in the effects category, adding to the already colossal offering within this DAW. Notably so is the new Glue Compressor. Ableton partnered with Cytomic on this release, and added their popular bus compressor to the effect lineup, which was normally a $100 plug-in, has really made a major improvement. The original compressor in Live is great, lots of ability to squash and pump audio, however this new Glue comp is the perfect icing on gluing together drums or whatever, leaving them with a nice clean transparent dynamics modification. While Glue Compressor is the only “new” effect, many of the traditional Live effects have been revamped and updated to today’s demanding standards.
Bundled with the Suite version of Live 9 is Ableton/Cycling ‘74’s own Max for Live plug-in host and development environment. What Max for Live basically brings to the table is everything and anything you could ever imagine in a plug-in, and then some. Ableton basically opens their doors to the software design world, and allows skilled craftsmen and innovative thinkers to create and design the plug-ins of their dreams, all within a platform that is fully compatible and integrated into Live. For those of us who are simply just here to make music and not here to redesign the delay processor, Max for Live is still a very useful feature. With a little time spent online looking at various creations from Max for Live users, you can download (for free) any of the thousands of plug-ins that users have created, just do a quick search and you will see the endless creations. Ever want a filter that sidechains to a tempo-synced delay that gradually introduces green noise over time? Well, look to Max for Live for creating this effect, the possibilities are endless.
What is probably the most anticipated feature in the new version of Live (besides Push, more on that later), is the ability now to convert audio directly into MIDI information. In the past, we could always record a MIDI performance, and then use it to play audio from a VSTi or hardware MIDI instrument. Now, Ableton is here again to change the way we make and look at music: Audio to MIDI. In a nutshell, this function allows you to take any piece of recorded audio and convert the sounds into MIDI data, allowing you to use your own sounds with the notes (or drums) from the original piece of music. There are three algorithms for this conversion; Drums to MIDI, Melody to MIDI, and Harmony to MIDI. The drum function is simple; just load a drum loop and Live will convert your clip into all of its individual parts, then launch a drum rack with drum sounds already loaded up. Have two very different drum loop samples that you would love to use? Just drag the new piece of audio on the already converted drum rack, and your new audio loop is instantly readapted to the MIDI environment. Melody to MIDI is best for monophonic conversions, or audio that goes from note to note and does not contain chord information. If you have sounds that contain chords however, the Harmony to MIDI algorithm works best. While these functions aren’t 100% flawless, you will be very surprised how accurate they are at conversion, and with all of the serendipitous mistakes along the way, you may find yourself behind a fresh new idea. Although it takes a bit of fussing around for you to make what you want to happen, it is well worth the time invested. I would however like to see some conversion parameters added to future revisions, as this may make for more predictable results. All in all, this is one of the most amazing functions of the new Live 9.
Last, but hardly least, is Ableton’s new Push instrument. This new hardware device is the first of its kind from Ableton direct (there have been many Ableton specific controllers over the years), and is revolutionizing the way people work on music. What makes Push so amazing is several different key features. First of all, with this new controller, you can now access all of your instruments, effects and sounds directly from the controller, allowing for less screen and mouse play, and more performance and groove design. With a LCD across the top, several rows of buttons, and of course the MIDI encoder knobs, you can easily access all of Live 9’s guts with less time staring at the monitor. The controller has a 64-button grid (8×8) similar to Novation’s Launchpad; however, this is the real magic to this beast.
Integrated into this matrix is a clip launching function, step sequencer, unique MIDI keyboard, and several MPC-styled effects. While launching clips is nothing new to a Live controller, what is new is the integrated isomorphic MIDI keyboard. What this basically does is let you change the grid from reading as a chromatic scale, to a user-defined scale of your choice (ie. A# Minor, etc.). This makes the grid buttons only display notes that are directly in key with the scale you define. So instead of remembering all the interval changes when running chords up and down a chromatic scale (very difficult by the way), you just have to remember the pattern of your chord, making it much more intuitive for the non-concert pianist. Add a ribbon touch strip to manipulate pitch bend when in Instrument Mode and to load different banks of sounds when in Drums Mode, and you are on the way to creating the music of the future.
Having changed the face of music today through the release of previous versions of Live, this complete bundle of sounds, instruments and effect is your ticket to the future of music creation. While the basic features have been displayed in this review, this is nowhere near fully describing the limitless possibilities of Ableton Live 9. Proving as the industry standard for live performance stability, the summing engine of the software has improved as well, making Live a standard installation in any professional studio as well. If you are looking to get into producing music, or are a producer looking to capture that forward-thinking sound, then this timeless audio workstation is the fuel for your passion.