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  • ABLETON LIVE 6

    Anyone who has followed my writings over the years, or come to my live performances, knows that I'm a huge fan of Ableton Live -- and have been since V1.0.

    The first time I saw Live, it was one of those "moments"...like the first time I did an overdubbed harmony in a multitracking environment, stretched a clip in Acid, recorded an audio track to a hard drive, sang into a DigiTech Vocalist, or experienced any other of those other truly innovative moments in music technology. It seemed brilliant. Yet, it took a while for me to bridge the gap between an intellectual understanding of why it was cool, and actually using it to make music.

    Fact is, Live is NOT based on the "let's replace a two-inch analog tape multitrack" paradigm that lies at the bottom of most programs (Pro Tools, DP, Sonar, Logic, Cubase, etc.). It has a different worldview that was the product of musicians needing software tools that didn't exist up to that point.

    I'm fond of saying that Live is a musical instrument disguised as a piece of software. I still feel that way. Although quite a few people see Live as a DAW, I just don't get that viewpoint. Just because it CAN be used like a DAW doesn't mean, at least to me, that's the best way to use the program. You can also use an Alfa Romeo to go to the supermarket, but I don't think that's the reason why Alfa Romeos were invented.

    I just wrote an analysis of Live 6 for the April issue of EQ magazine. It's not out yet, but here's a preview that seems like a good way to start this review.

    THE TAO OF DUALITY: INTO THE MATRIX
    Live’s most important aspect is that it offers two different ways to interact with the program, Session view and Arrangement view. You can use one, the other, or switch between the two. Arrangement view is like working with a conventional DAW, as there are tracks for audio and MIDI, visible waveforms, envelopes, automation, etc. Session view is what sets Live apart: This is a matrix of tracks (arranged as columns), and scenes, arranged as rows. Each row/column intersection has a clip slot into which you can drag audio (usually loops, but one-shots work too) or MIDI files from a Browser pane, located toward the left of the program’s window. You can also record audio or MIDI data into a slot.

    Each track plays only one slot at a time, so if you want multiple clips to play simultaneously, you put them in the same row but on different tracks. Then, when you click on a row’s “Launch” button to turn on the row, any audio in that row — on any track in that row — begins playback. The ability to trigger a bunch of loops instantly and simultaneously by launching a row is very powerful.

    Additional details, such as timing, make this matrix concept even better. Loop playback can be quantized to any of several rhythmic values, so that, for example, if quantization is set to 1 measure, you can launch a row up to several beats before a measure starts — the loops won’t trigger until the precise start of the next measure.

    For figuring out arrangements, this is brilliant as you can set up individual rows to be sub-sections of the tune (intro, build section, verse, second part of verse, solo, etc.). But you’re not limited to triggering wholesale groups of clips, either. In fact, you can play any piece of audio in any track at any time, in addition to whatever’s playing in a row (within the constraint of one piece of audio per track, and with a start consistent with whatever quantization you’ve selected). For example, you can select a row, then add in audio from a track that doesn’t have audio in the selected row. Or, build a song a loop at a time: Enable a loop in track 1 to start, then another in track 3, then another in track 5, then switch to a more complex loop over in track 1 . . . then select a completely different row with a whole other collection of loops.

    Want to turn off a track? Click on an empty track slot to stop a track from looping. Or, let the loop run, but mute the audio; and if you want a quick breakbeat, hit the solo button for that track.

    This may sound confusing in print, but in practice, you have a very hip playing field laid out in front of you that is extremely flexible. I’ve done songs in Live with 30 or 40 rows, with each row representing a particular section of a song, and gone from row to row — sometimes in order, sometimes skipping around depending on how the audience reacts — but I’ve also done tunes with a single row containing multiple loops that I enable or disable as needed.

    And that’s only how I use the program . . . some musicians use it to build up songs, a loop at a time, then improvise on top of what they’ve created. I’ve also played with musicians who used it as a sort of “ultimate JamMan” signal processor; Live is one of the few pieces of software I’ve seen embraced by rockers, avant-garde types, rappers, groove-oriented musicians, and DJs alike.
    _____________________________________________
    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

  • #2
    My favorite kind of pro review is one where you can "follow along." In this case, you can download a demo version of Live 6 to see if it works for you and if you do end up liking it, you can unlock it for unlimited functionality. The demo does not include the Essential Instrument Collection from Sonivox (more on this later) due to the sheer size of the sound library, but that's not necessary to understand Live's gestalt.

    There's a product landing page for Ableton's products, and an online shop. Actually there is a somewhat confusing set of options for Live: Download or boxed, with the EIC or without, with the EIC as a later add-on, the Sampler instrument (which you don't need to use the EIC, as Live comes with Simpler, a sampling-type instrument that can load the EIC sounds...with me so far?). There are also several upgrade options, so rather than go through all that stuff here, you can do directly to the online shop and sort it out for yourself.

    To get up to speed on Live in general, check out the Ableton Live 5 Pro Review right here on Harmony Central. An interesting piece of trivia: Live 5 was the very first Pro Review ever done. I chose it to review because I felt that 1) it needed the Pro Review format in order to fully explore all it could do, and explain its uniqueness in a way I couldn't do with print; and 2) Dave Hill of Ableton was the ideal manufacturer representative in that he could talk about the program as a user, not a "marketing guy," and therefore set a precedent for how manufacturers should contribute to a Pro Review.

    Dave has moved on to a different role within Ableton, but David Cross of Ableton (apparently, if you want a gig with Ableton, it helps to be named "David") will be checking in to answer any questions you might have.
    _____________________________________________
    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

    Comment


    • #3
      Click on the picture to check out Session View, which at least to me is what Live is all about. This shows tracks 7 - 18, along with two "return" tracks (as in send/return) and the master section. Tracks 16 and 17 are set for the narrowest track width possible because in this particular song, I used them as live audio inputs (for guitar and vocals, respectively). Yes, Live will let you use "live" inputs. The other tracks are for loops that provide rhythm beds.

      Here's how Session View works, in the most basic terms. Check out the "master" section. If you click on the triangle marked "+BF1" (well, at least the names mean something to me ), that will trigger the loops in tracks 7, 10, and 18. 18 is just a 16th note snare drum roll that gets brought in and out on occasion with the track's associated fader.

      Clicking the triangle marked "+BF2" brings in an additional loop by triggering the loops in tracks 7, 8, 10, and 18.

      Now go further down the master section and check out row "8-11<"; this triggers tracks 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, and 18. That's a lot of sounds, and it's a more climatic part of the song.

      When I say that clicking on the triangle triggers these loops, actually the loop starts are quantized to a value you set. For example, if you set the quantize value to a measure, you can click just before you want the loops to begin (e.g., beat 3) and the loops will start with the next measure downbeat.

      It's also worth explaining that loops from any number of tracks can play simultaneously, but only one loop in a given track can play at the same time. But this also means that you aren't forced to play back only loops that are in a given row. For example (follow along here!) in the above example where triggering "8-11<" triggers tracks 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, and 18, note that you could also click on a loop in, say, track 12, or a different loop in track 8, 9, 10 etc. in a different row (this still satisfies the requirement that only one loop per track can play back at a time).

      This may sound complicated, but play with Live for five minutes and you'll get the concept. I should also add that when you trigger a loop, it's subject to the same quantization as when triggering a row in the master section.

      Make sense so far?
      _____________________________________________
      There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

      Comment


      • #4
        Okay, so you click around, trigger loops, record audio, move faders on your control surface to alter levels, and so on. Cool, that's fine for live performance...but there's more. If you click on Live's record button before you do this, your moves will be recorded (except, unfortunately, for solo button clicks...more on this later). Then you can switch over to Arrangement view, and what you did will end up looking like you recorded it in a DAW, and can be edited as such.

        The picture shows the same project as above in Arrangement view after recording a bunch of moves. A loop is represented by a rectangular bar for as long as it plays, but also note that you can increase the track height and see the actual waveform. Also take a look at Track 11; note the automation data, which of course, is editable.

        You switch between Session view and Arrangement by clicking on one of two buttons (one for each view). In a way, this reminds me of the famous "tab" key in Reason, where you can switch between the front of Reason's "rack" and the back.

        But that's enough for tonight. It's late, I'm in a dreary but functional hotel room in northern California, and I need to get up early tomorrow. But in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of this fair state, "I'll be Bach." Or was it "I'll be Beethoven?" I can't remember...
        _____________________________________________
        There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

        Comment


        • #5
          Well how about that...Live is up to V 6.0.5. So, time to update.

          One thing I've found is that you can uninstall the old version and go ahead and install the new one. (Within certain limitations, depending on the previous version you had -- you may need to copy over your library manually. This is discussed on the Ableton forum.)

          The update is about 68MB, and as far as I can tell, it basically installs the entire program. The update is downloading right now on my other computer...hopefully I'll be back in a couple minutes with a shiny new version.
          _____________________________________________
          There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

          Comment


          • #6
            Upgrading is simple: Double-click on setup, start program, enjoy. You don't need to re-enter your activation codes or anything. All the extra library packs are in place, and the library stayed in place.

            Okay, what to cover next...the instrument rack thing is a big deal, as is the configurable mixer and the video window. Come to think of it, let's do the mixer first, for the benefit of all the people who want to know if Live can be used as a DAW. As I've said before there's no traditional mixer view and the metering was kind of lacking in terms of defining the extent of how much a signal goes over or under 0; let's see if that's changed.
            _____________________________________________
            There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

            Comment


            • #7
              The first picture shows the smallest possible height for the mixer channels. Basically, you have the fader, channel active/inactive, solo, record, and pan (the numeric field to the left of the fader). Note how the panpot has an orange stripe that sits to the left of the field of the pan control goes left, and to the right of the field if the pan control goes right. This is a very cool and quick way to parse a bunch of mixer channels to see their basic panning situation.

              Also note in the first picture that you can vary the width of the channel. For live use, where you're not going to be tweaking a lot, you can often get away with a narrower width in order to fit more tracks in total on the screen.

              The second picture is quite instructive. The top of the fader strip has been dragged up to the maximum possible fader height, and has resulted in several changes. But let's also see how changing the width really alters what you can see.

              Channel 1: This is set to the narrowest possible width. You can no longer see the pan control, and the fader sits on top of the track active/solo/record buttons to save space. The small circle at the top of the fader is your "overload LED." When it's chartreuse, you know the signal has gone above 0.0 for that channel at some point since playback began, but you don't know by how much. When it's white, the signal has not gone above 0.0. for that channel since playback began. You can click on the overload indicator to reset it. The channel strip is too narrow to show any send controls, as evidenced by the blank gray zone above the fader, nor can you see the track delay control.

              Channel 2: This is slightly wider. There are now numerical fields for send controls (click and drag to change values), the panpot is visible above the active/solo/record buttons, and the fader now has a longer throw.

              Channel 3: By going wider, the sends now have labels (A and B, in this case) and are somewhat wider. The "overload LED" now shows a more precise indication of how close the signal is to 0.0. The rectangle below it gives a precise readout of the fader position. This is a useful pair of indicators; for example, if the overload box shows that the signal went over 0.0 by 2.1dB, you can reduce the fader by 2.2dB to avoid distortion. Finally, as the panpot is a bit more expanded, you can see a letter that indicates if the panpot goes to the right or left. The track delay parameter is now visible as well.

              Channel 4: More changes with additional width...the send controls are now knobs instead of numerical fields, the signal level indicators are taken out to another significant digit, and the panpot has become a knob.

              Channel 5: This is the widest meaningful size (you can make it wider, but nothing extra will be revealed). The overload indicator now goes to two signifiacnt digits, and there are calibrations to the right of the fader.
              _____________________________________________
              There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

              Comment


              • #8
                The mixer in Session view is most like a conventional mixer, unlike Arrangement view, which has more of an Acid/Sonar/Vegas kind of feel. So, will the configurable mixer satisfy those who want Live to be a DAW?

                For some people, yes; for others, no. The improved metering is a big help in terms of knowing what's actually going on with your levels, and the "longer-throw" faders make it easier to dial in an exact value. I don't really care about seeing knobs -- fields work okay for me -- but if they make people comfortable, fine.

                I'm a little surprised that when you expand a channel to show the panpot knob, then the numerical value for the panpot disappears. I would prefer to have a numerical value sitting on top of the panpot; there's certainly room for it. But this isn't a deal-breaker.

                However, Live still lacks some major DAW features. As far as I can tell, you can't group faders or panpots, invert phase, or select pre/post options for each send. (Although you can change a set of sends from pre to post, and with the ability to insert up to 12 sets of sends - A through L - it's not a big deal to insert one set of sends specifically for, say, pre-fader send.) Nor can you do crossfades between clips in the Arrangement view, or use "clip handles" to add fade-ins and fade out to clips -- although you can do fades by drawing in envelopes while in clip view.

                So does this matter? Not to me, I have DAWs As I mentioned, to me Live's charm is that is isn't another DAW. In fact, until doing this Pro Review, it never occurred to me that you can't group track volumes or pans because that's not how I use Live. It doesn't do surround, either...so what? Or perhaps more pertinently, who cares? To me, the bottom line is it has enough DAW-like features so you can overlay that sort of editing on top of what Live already does so well.
                _____________________________________________
                There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                Comment


                • #9
                  I was about to start talking about the video capabilities, and loaded a video to work with. But as I moved it around, the video image in the window got corrupted -- the edge of the window would "tear," and occasional chunks of window would just kind of melt. Granted this would have been a really great feature back in the 60s , but I found it annoying.

                  This was on Windows, so I tried turning off Write Combining (Display Properties > Settings > Advanced > Troubleshoot) but this didn't make any difference. However, moving hardware acceleration down a notch ("Disable cursor and bitmap acceleartions. Use this setting to correct problems with the mouse pointer, or to correct problems with corrupt images") fixed it...so if any of you experience this problem, you don't have to put up with it any more.
                  _____________________________________________
                  There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Hi Craig (and all you lurkers) - this is David Cross from Ableton. I handle press for our company in the US and UK, and will be Ableton's Pro Review representative in this thread. I'm happy to help with any questions or comments you may have.

                    The "is it a DAW" question has been popping up with increasing frequency in the past year, especially with the release of Live 6. Some users actually feel it's too DAW and not "live" enough, while others have the exact opposite belief. It's a tough call, and it seems to depend most on the needs of each individual user.

                    By the way Craig - you could MIDI map multiple faders and pan pots to the same control and create a virtual group, but you'd have to re-map every time you wanted to change that group. Regarding phase - have you explored the phase settings inside our Utility Audio effect?
                    <div class="signaturecontainer">David Cross<br />
                    Public Media Coordinator<br />
                    Ableton Inc.<br />
                    <br />
                    <a href="mailto:cross@ableton.com">cross@ableton.com</a></div>

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      The "is it a DAW" question has been popping up with increasing frequency in the past year, especially with the release of Live 6. Some users actually feel it's too DAW and not "live" enough, while others have the exact opposite belief. It's a tough call, and it seems to depend most on the needs of each individual user.


                      Well I think the balance has been handled very well, actually; you can pretty much ignore what doesn't apply to you.

                      Personally, I think the "DAW" issue is a little silly, but I felt I needed to cover it The real question is whether Live represents a valuable tool for making music, and if so, is it unique -- because if it isn't, why would you need a separate program? I think it qualifies on both counts.

                      I think the people who complain too much would have been unhappy when the 12-string guitar was invented -- "So is it a guitar or not?" And of course, the answer is, it's a somewhat different and unique take on the guitar.

                      Bottom line: Those who feel Live is not "DAW" enough should get a DAW too! No law says you can't have a pickup truck and a sports car. Those who feel it's too "DAWish" should simply ignore the features they don't like -- stick in Session View, don't mess with the configurable mixer, and you have all the basics of Live.
                      _____________________________________________
                      There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        By the way Craig - you could MIDI map multiple faders and pan pots to the same control and create a virtual group, but you'd have to re-map every time you wanted to change that group.


                        Which seems too much like work for me. Actually, most grouping in software seems too much like work. My favorite implementation so far is the Quick Group function in Sonar, it lets me do what I want to do, then get the hell out I mostly use it to Quick Group all volume faders, and bring the overall level down so I can keep the master volume at 0. I would actually prefer this type of limited grouping functionality in Live compared to a full-blown grouping option.

                        Regarding phase - have you explored the phase settings inside our Utility Audio effect?


                        Yes, and it certainly does the job. But I'm an inveterate phase flipper back to the days of multi-miking and analog consoles; I'm always checking for phase issues, so I like the convenience of having a button just sitting there. But I wouldn't request that you put this in Live, it seems less relevant than in a traditional DAW.

                        BTW welcome David! I can vouch to the people reading this review that David is a hardcore Live aficionado who is much more interested in talking about cool aspects of the program than giving marketing spiels. We're fortunate to have him monitoring this thread, so this is your opportunity to talk directly to Ableton with comments, concerns, praise, or whatever.
                        _____________________________________________
                        There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I think the people who complain too much would have been unhappy when the 12-string guitar was invented -- "So is it a guitar or not?" And of course, the answer is, it's a somewhat different and unique take on the guitar.


                          Hmmm . . . well I enjoy a good 12 string guitar from time to time so I'll play. I have also used Live for several years and watched it evolve. I think a better analogy might be that Live was once a funky, tricked out, reso-ukelelee and then began adding stuff that made it capable of acting like a 6 and later a 12 string guitar.

                          Now that's cool and I still love and use Live on a regular basis. However, my question to Ableton is "what is the long-range vision for Live?" Earlier versions of Live had a minimal but refined set of tools. There was a clear focus on being a sleek, "live" performance instrument. However, now that Live pricing and features have moved it ever closer to DAW territory, it seems like a good time to ask "what are they trying to do here?" If they are going to add DAW-ish features, then they are inviting comparisons. I can't see blaming the people who just point out that Live is starting to look like a DAW.

                          I, for one, would rather they only add features when they can bring a fresh perpective to them. Why just add MIDI? Give me some crazy, cool, Ableton-ized MIDI. There were some aspects of this in Live 4's feature set. However, they seem to have stopped short on these and moved on to track freezing, virtual racks and bundled instruments, etc.. Hmmm . . . where I have I seen these features before?

                          Don't get me wrong. I'm very happy with Live. It has a fast workflow and I can sketch out ideas quickly. I repeat. I love Live. It is still a cool performance tool and it makes a wonderful sketchpad. I'm not bashing. I'm just hoping to get a sense of where Ableton feels Live is heading.

                          Wayne

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Just a quick opinion here. I've always felt that at many levels, sample-based synthesis really represents the REAL major next step electronic music-making can take, past the conventions of subtractive synthesis we've concentrated on over the past 36 years. The only problem with it has been its real or perceived relatively "static" nature, especially in a performative environment.

                            Live is one of just a few things (along with Reaktor, and Vsynth, in my opinion) that has begun to change that. The more the developers can move in the direction of bringing sample-based synthesis -- using the ability to manipulate samples, in real time, and get musical and expressive and performative results out of that -- the more I feel Live is being true to its original value and uniqueness as a kind of instrument to play music on. The more it moves towards just competing with conventional DAW features, the more it's at risk of losing focus on one of the key things that really makes it unique.

                            The problem is that I'm not sure people see the incredible power of approaching sample-based synthesis this way; in many ways, until we get a lot more experimental with what we consider acceptable music in the popular and commercial media (people found "Forbidden Planet" cool in the '50's, why not such a breakout success now, too!), we're not going to hear what's possible with this kind of technology and instrumentation.

                            Thanks for allowing me to contribute!
                            <div class="signaturecontainer"><font face="Franklin Gothic Medium"><font size="4"><font color="seagreen"><i>A Gadibus usque ad Auroram</i></font></font></font></div>

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Very good point, actually. I really think that Live itself is a pretty neutral platform, it's what you make it. People use Live in so many different ways, that speaks well of the fact that Live doesn't "push" you in a particular direction. The way I use Live seems incredibly obvious to me...until I see someone else use it in a completely different way It seems to me the DAW tools aren't about making it into a DAW, but allowing people to use Live in yet other, perhaps as yet unanticipated, ways.

                              Good point about VSynth, too, I always appreciated that it let you get "inside" the sample.

                              I'd also like to add that while I'll be covering the video support next, I'm very, very intrigued that the first few comments in this pro review have been of a philsophical nature. Every Pro Review takes its own direction as time goes on; there's no way to predict at the beginning how it will end. I do know that manufacturers really find the feedback they get from pro reviews helpful, and in this case, I suspect Ableton will find the philosophical comments as valuable as the more tech-oriented comments. So, back atcha, and thanks for contributing!

                              This is going to be fun ...
                              _____________________________________________
                              There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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