by Craig Anderton
Many people use Live, Ableton's groove and digital recording software, as a musical instrument - even more so now that Ableton's Push controller has been released. But it also makes a fine host for signal processors, whether in the studio or for live performance.
The only real caution is the same caution when using any computer-based setup: If you plan to feed real-time audio into a Live track, you need as low latency as possible. Multiple processor cores and plenty of RAM are key, as are using interfaces with well-written drivers. Once you have a low-latency system you can process the signal with Live’s built-in effects, or other compatible effects (VST with Windows, Audio Units with Mac). What’s more, it’s easy to set up parallel processing chains.
We’ll assume you have an audio interface and have patched an instrument like guitar, voice, hardware synth, etc. (and if needed, a preamp) into a spare audio interface input. We'll treat a track as your signal processing “rack” that holds the processors.
You'll need to see the I/O section in order to set everything up properly. If the I/O section isn’t currently visible, click on the I/O button (Fig. 1) toward the right-hand side of the Arrangement view or Session view.
In the Audio From field for the selected track, choose Ext In (Fig. 2). In the field below that, choose the audio interface input to which the signal connects. In the screen shot, interface input 1 is being selected.
Under Monitor, as the main goal here is to do real-time processing, select In (Fig. 3); this means that Live will listen only to the input, not the contents of a track. A small mic symbol appears above the Audio From field to indicate that Live is listening exclusively to the input. (Note that if you also plan to record the signal feeding this input, Auto is usually best so you hear the audio input while recording, and the track out on playback.)
If you set Monitor to In, you’ll hear the input regardless of the record/playback status. But if you selected Auto for the monitor function because you also want to record what's coming in to Live, click on the track’s Record button (Fig. 4) so you can hear the audio.
To create additional parallel effects chains, repeat what you've done so far with a different track, and set them all to the same input. If you want to select one effects setup at any given time, for example because you want to edit some of the settings without being distracted by what's happening with the other tracks, click on the Solo button (Fig. 6) for the associated track.
Another possibility is that you might want to set up different chains for different types of sounds and select a particular combination. In that case, you can ctrl-click on the Solo button to solo multiple tracks, and use the track faders to adjust the balance of each parallel chain.
One more thing: If you have effects that sync to tempo but you're using Live by itself and there's no timing signal, you can always use the Tap Tempo button in the upper left of Live’s screen.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.