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Indian E-music – The right mix of Indian Vibes… » Ableton-Live

Ambient music you can time to a sunset, from Christopher Willits

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Artists,Scene | Tue 18 Jun 2019 4:55 pm

Drop the inane Spotify “chill” playlists, forget the meditation app that isn’t working … what you need to really feel some peace is the gorgeous new Christopher Willits outing, Sunset. He even suggests hitting play just as the sun starts to come down.


And, yeah, you could do that. I mean, in my fantasy life, I have an incredible villa just off the Pacific Coast Highway where I watch the sun sink into the waves through my enormous glass-bottomed pool on the cliff.

In real life, I’ve already just scheduled some mental sundowns at any old time. (I might take some listening device that still has a headphone jack and go lie somewhere and watch the sun set here near home, though.)

Have a listen to the opening cut in full:

I’ve known Chris’ music a long time and – I think this is perhaps the most beautiful thing he’s ever done. It’s a real ambient landmark, each fuzzy tide of sound precisely detailed. It’s almost impossible not to experience some unusually focused color synesthesthia as you listen. (It’s not an accident that Mr. Willits is a designer and photographer, too.) There are tonal and textural nods to Brian Eno, but as pads melt into one another and oscillate across the stereo field, this also seems unique to this artist. Rather than chill as opioid as is so often peddled to us in today’s algorithmic streaming effluent waste, here letting go as focus as clarity, like breath.

It makes sense, too – Christopher is a talented musician as well as sound designer, so the sounds here are gestural as well as calculated. His live work builds on instrumental practice and pedals; here that background just reaches some clarity.

Christopher Willits. Photo Alingo Loh.

Reasonable view. Photo by the artist.

It has the sound of something you’ll want to actually keep and listen to with some real intention – the way you did when you first fell in love with albums.

It’s a salve for times when we feel the heat of the sun more than ever. He writes:

“When I was 13, I understood that my life’s path was to make music in the service of love, peace, and spiritual healing. Music is a medicine that allows us to feel, listen and surrender to the present moment. The compositions I create move through my imagination, heart, and hands, like guitar through a speaker, and light through a lens. I am continuously learning and evolving with the process; a practice of letting go of all that I create, as it creates me.”

Living stereo is how you’ll most likely experience this, but of course Chris is also using the Envelop spatial audio system he’s led in San Francisco, too. And sure enough, you can get immersive files that are 3rd order ambisonics for listening in other speaker configurations. (Someday, that should also mean more options for even personal mobile listening, as we get more headphone options.) You can even use Envelop Software in Ableton Live.

He’s also been narrating this release on his Twitter account – and why this is for his dad (and mom):

Try the Envelop tools for Ableton Live here:


And the release:


If that listen hasn’t chilled you out enough, my other favorite has to be the Ryuichi Sakamoto collaboration Ocean Fire – just one of the most gorgeous albums ever. The two make a nice pairing, too, adding some stutters and clicks to Sunset‘s carefully concentrated drones:

The post Ambient music you can time to a sunset, from Christopher Willits appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The ABCs of Live 10.1: 2 minutes of shortcuts will help you work faster

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 29 May 2019 1:21 pm

A is for Ableton Live – and Madeleine Bloom can get you up and running with a bunch of 10.1 shortcuts in just over two minutes.

Madeleine of Sonic Bloom is one of the world’s top experts for staying productive in Live (to say nothing of helping us re-skin the thing so the colors are the way we want).

Live 10.1 actually added a lot of shortcuts to save you time – it’s what 10 promised, but implemented in a way that makes more sense. And she plows through them in a hurry:

via SonicBloom, which has loads more

F lets you get at fades right away.

H makes everything fill space vertically in the Arrangement so you don’t have to squit.

My personal favorite – Z, which zooms right to what’s selected and fills the Arrangement so you can focus and see easily.

And more…

This is all so much better than hunting around.

Z is so much my favorite that it just earned this:

For more on Live 10.1 and how to get started:

Ableton Live 10.1 is out now; here are the first things you should try

The post The ABCs of Live 10.1: 2 minutes of shortcuts will help you work faster appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Ableton Live 10.1 is out now; here are the first things you should try

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 28 May 2019 1:12 pm

Ableton Live 10.1 is here, a free update to Live 10.1 with some new devices, streamlined automation and editing, and new sound features. So what should dig into after the download? Here’s a place to start.

There’s no surprise reveal here since 10.1 has been in public beta and was announced in the winter. Here’s the full run-down of what’s in the release from February (still accurate):

Ableton Live 10.1: more sound shaping, work faster, free update

I’ve been working with the beta for some time, to the point of not wanting to go back even to 10.0 (or even getting a bit confused when switching to a friend’s machine that didn’t have 10.1).

So let’s skip ahead to stuff you should check out right away when you download:

Refresh a track in Arrangement View

I will shortly do a separate story just on getting around Arrangement View quickly, but — there’s a lot of fun to be had. (Yes, fun, not just screaming at the screen as you painstakingly move envelopes around.)

Ableton have accordingly updated their Arrangement View tutorials:

(Video is actually a terrible medium for shortcuts, but more on those soon.)

Here are some quick things to try:

Resize the Arrangement Overview (that’s the bit at the top of Arrangement View)

Draw some shapes! Right click, pick some shapes, and you can draw in envelopes. Try this actually two ways: first, select some time and draw in shapes. Next, deselect time, and try drawing with different grid values – you’ll get different corresponding quantization.

Get at fades directly. Press the F key.

Clean up envelopes. Right click on a time selection and choose Simplify Envelope.

Stretch and scale! Select some time in automation, and you’ll see handles so you can move both horizontally (amount/scale) and vertically (in time).

Enter some specific values. Right click, choose Edit value, type in a number, and hit enter.

There’s a lot more. But all of this is an opportunity to duplicate one of your projects and give it a refresh by going nuts with some modulation because – why not.

You know, conventional wisdom says, don’t mess with your existing tracks too much. The hell with that. If I were a painter, I would definitely be the kind constantly scraping away and painting over canvases. You can always save a backup. Sometimes it’s fun to mess around and take something somewhere else entirely.

Everything Freezes

Go ahead and freeze whatever you want! Track has a sidechain? It’ll freeze. It’ll even still be a source for other sidechains. (There are actually a bunch of things that had to happen for this to work – check Arrangement Editing in release notes if you’re curious. But the beauty is you don’t really have to think about it.)

Here’s a new explanation of how it works:

Try your own wavetables

User wavetables make the Live 10 Wavetable synth far more interesting.

Like arrangement, this probably deserves it’s own story, but here’s a place to get started:

And for extra help exploiting that feature, there are some useful utilities that will assist you in creating wavetables:

Generate wavetables for free, for Ableton Live 10.1 and other synths

While you’re in there, Ableton quietly added a very powerful randomization feature inside Wavetable for glitching out still more:

Added a new “Rand” modulation source to Wavetable’s MIDI tab, which generates a random value when a note starts.

Pinch and zoom

Trackpads and touchscreens (most of them, anyway) now support pinch gestures in Arrangement View, so try that out. It works for me both on a Razer and (of course) Apple laptop; lots of other hardware will work, too. It’s a little thing, but zooming is a big part of getting around an arrangement.

Try Channel EQ as a creative tool or live

There are already a lot of EQs out there. The Channel EQ however has some draw as a potential equivalent for live PA / experimental sets of what the EQ Three has been for DJ sets.

Stop futzing around with sends when you export stems

Okay, see if this is familiar:

You output stems – say for a remix artist or to mix in a different tool – and suddenly everything sounds completely differently than you expected because you used sends and returns and/or master effects.

That’s no longer an issue in 10.1, as there’s now a new export option that addresses this.

So, time to go make some stems, right?

Make some new sounds with Delay

Okay, Delay at first glance may seem like a step backward from the excitement of Space Echo-ish Echo in Live 10. Isn’t it just a combination of Simple Delay and Ping Pong Delay into one Device?

Well, it is that, but it also has an LFO built in that can modulate both delay time and filter frequency.

These modes were there before, but you now surface Repitch, Fade, and Jump modes as buttons.

So put all of this together, and the combination of things that were there that you didn’t notice, with new things that are simple but very powerful, all together in one unit becomes very powerful indeed.

That is, if you’re modulating something like delay time, then changing between Repitch, Fade, and Jump actually gives you a lot of different sonic possibilities. And yes, this is the sort of thing people with modular rigs like to do with wires but… if you’re a Live 10 owner, it’ll cost you nothing to check out right now.

Specifically, maxforcats pointed us to some cool granular-ish sounds when you choose Fade mode and start modulating delay time.

And keep using Echo. The big challenge with an effect like Echo is balancing loudness. As it happens, there’s a little right-click option that solves this for you in Echo:

In the Echo device, the Dry/Wet knob now features a context menu to switch to “Equal-Loudness”. When enabled, a 50/50 mix will sound equally loud for most signals, instead of being attenuated. In the Delay device, the maximum delay time offset is now consistent with the Simple Delay and Ping Pong Delay devices.

Discover Simpler, again

Simpler is weirdly a lot of the time a reason to use Ableton Live for its absurd combination of directness and power – in contrast to mostly overcomplicated software (and harwdare, for that matter).

Now you can mess around with volume envelopes (even synced ones) and loop time, previously only in Sampler – for both powerful sound design and beat-synced ideas:

Added a Loop Mode chooser, Loop Time slider and Beat Sync/Rate slider to the Volume Envelope in Simpler’s Classic Playback Mode. Previously, these controls were exclusively available in Sampler.

Oh, and go map some macros

You’d probably easily miss this, too – it means that now mapping macros works the way you’d expect, in fewer steps:

When mapping a parameter to an empty macro, the macro assumes the full range of the target parameter, and will be set to the current value of the target parameter.

— and while using mice for everything is no fun, macros are also a great intermediary between what you’re doing onscreen and twisting knobs on controller hardware (Push, certainly, but lots of other gear, too).

Speaking of which, that nice compact NI keyboard controller works thanks to this update, too, making it an ideal thing to throw in your bag with a laptop for a mobile Ableton Live work rig.

Where to find more on 10.1

Detailed ongoing release notes on Live 10 are here:
Live 10 Release Notes

Ableton’s overview of what’s new:
Live 10.1 is here

And to download the update, either enable auto-update or check your account:

The post Ableton Live 10.1 is out now; here are the first things you should try appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Ableton release free CV Tools for integrating with analog gear, made in Max

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 7 May 2019 6:32 pm

It’s all about voltage these days. Ableton’s new CV Tools are designed for integrating with modular and semi-modular/desktop gear with CV. And they’re built in Max – meaning builders can learn from these tools and build their own.

The basic idea of CV Tools, like any software-CV integration, is to use your computer as an additional source of modulation and control. You route analog signal directly to your audio interface – you’ll need an interface that has DC coupled outputs (more about that separately). But once you do that, you can make your software and hardware rigs work together, and use your computer’s visual interface and open-ended possibilities to do still more stuff with analog gear.

This is coming on the eve of Superbooth, and certainly a lot of the audience will be people with modular racks. But nowadays, hardware with CV I/O is hardly limited to Eurorack – gear from the likes of Moog, Arturia, KORG, and others also makes sense with CV.

CV Tools aren’t the first Max for Live tools for Ableton Live – not by far. Spektro Audio makes the free CV Toolkit Mini, for instance. Its main advantage is a single, integrated interface – and a clever patch bay. There’s a more extensive version available for US$19.99.

Rival DAW Bitwig Studio, for its part, has taken an entirely different approach – you’ll get a software modular engine capable of interlinking with hardware CV wherever you like.

Ableton’s own CV Tools is news, though, in that these modules are powerful, flexible, and polished, and have a very Ableton-esque UI. They also come from a collaboration with Skinnerbox, the live performance-oriented gearheads here in Berlin, so I have no doubt they’ll be useful. (Yep, that’s them in the video.) I think there’s no reason not to grab this and Spektro and go to town.

And since these are built in Max, Max patchers may want to take a look inside – to mod or use as the basis of your own.

What you get:

CV Instrument lets you treat outboard modular/analog gear as if it’s integrated with Live as a plug-in.

Trigger drums and rhythms with CV Triggers.

CV Utility is a signal processing hub inside Live.

CV Instrument, with complements existing Ableton devices for integrating outboard MIDI instruments and effects with your projects in Live

CV Triggers for sequencing drum modules

CV Utility for adding automation curves, add/shift/multiple signals, and other processing tools

CV Clock In and CV Clock Out for clocking Live from outboard analog gear and visa versa

CV In which connects outboard analog signal directly to modulation of parameters inside Live

CV Shaper, CV Envelope Follower, and CV LFO which gives you graphical tools for designing modulation inside Live and using it for CV control of your analog hardware

And there’s more: the Rotating Rhythm Generator, which lets you dial up polyrhythms. This one works with both MIDI and CV, so you can work with either kind of external hardware.

I got to chat with Skinnerbox, and there’s even more here than may be immediately obvious.

For one thing, you get what they tell us is “extremely accurate broad-range” auto calibration of oscillators, filters, and so on. That’s often an issue with analog equipment, especially once you start getting complex or adding polyphony (or creating polyphony by mixing your software instruments with your hardware). Here’s a quick demo:

Clocking they say is “jitter free” and “super high resolution.”

So this means you can make a monster hybrid combining your computer running Ableton Live (and all your software) with hardware, without having to have the clock be all over the place or everything out of tune. (Well, unless that’s what you’re going for!)

If you’re in Berlin, Skinnerbox will play live with the rig this Friday at Superbooth.

They sent us this quick demo of working with the calibration tools, resulting in an accurate ten-octave range (here with oscillator from Endorphin.es).


To interface with their gear, they’re using the Expert Sleepers ES8 interface in the modular. You could also use a DC-coupled audio interface, though – MOTU audio interfaces are a popular choice, since they’ve got a huge range of interfaces with DC coupling across various interface configurations.

CV Tools is listed as “coming soon,” but a beta version is available now.


What do you need to use this?

For full CV control of analog gear, you’ll want a DC-coupled audio interface. Most audio interfaces lack that feature – I’m writing an explanation of this in a separate story – but if you do have one with compatible outputs, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the features here, including tuned pitch control. MOTU have probably made more interfaces that work than anyone else. You can also look to a dedicated interface like the Expert Sleepers one Skinnerbox used in the video above.

See MOTU and Expert Sleepers, both of which Skinnerbox have tested:



MOTU also have a more technical article on testing audio interfaces if you’re handy with a voltmeter, plus specs on range on all their interfaces.

Universal Audio have already written to say they’ll be demoing DC coupling on their audio interfaces at Superbooth with Ableton’s CV Tools, so their stuff works, too. (Double-checking which models they’re using.)

But wait – just because you lack the hardware doesn’t mean you can’t use some of the functionality here with other audio interfaces. Skinnerbox remind us that any audio interface inputs will work with CV In in Pitch mode. Clock in and out will work with any device, too.

The post Ableton release free CV Tools for integrating with analog gear, made in Max appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Welcome to YouTube Hell: A MIDI pack reseller silences criticism

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 30 Apr 2019 9:09 pm

YouTube is elevating new voices to prominence in music technology as in other fields. But the platform’s esoteric rules are also ripe for abuse – as one YouTube host claims.

The story begins with around a product, the Unison MIDI Chord Pack. This US$67 pack is already, on its surface, a bit strange. Understandably, users without musical training may like the idea of drag-and-drop chords and harmony – nothing wrong with that. But the actual product appears to be just a set of folders full of MIDI files … of, like, chords. Not real presets, but just raw MIDI chords. They even demo the product in Ableton Live, which already contains built-in chord and arpeggiator tools.

You can watch the demo video on their product page – at first, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. They claim that this will help you to create chords “with the right notes, in the right order” without theory background – except most of the drag-and-drop material is made up of root position triads, labeled via terminology you’d need some theory to even read.

It’d be a little bit like someone selling you a Build Your Own House Construction Set that was made up of a bag of nails… and the nails were just ones they’d found lying on the ground. Maybe I’m missing something, but I definitely can’t figure out this product from their documentation.

Ave Mcree aka Traptendo, a well-known YouTube host, decided to take on the developers. Calling the product a “scam,” he says he pointed to other, free sources for the same MIDI content – meaning that, as it wasn’t actually original, at best the Unison product amounts to plagiarism.

As if it weren’t already strange enough that these developers were selling MIDI files of chords, they then responded to Ave Mcree’s video by filing a copyright claim. At this point, our story is picked up by Tim Webb at the excellent Discchord blog, who choose a nice, succinct headline:

Fuck Unison Audio [Discchord]

I’ve reached out to Unison for further comment.

Ave writes:

A video about Unison Audio copyright striking my “Unison Audio Chord MIDI Pack Scam” video! This is a channel strike which is affects my monetization rights and could get my channel deleted. I don’t care if that happens because I’m not going to stand for people hustling you. It’s sad that YouTube allows shills and dishonest companies to strike honest reviewers. It’s censorship at it finest! YouTube as a company has lost all of it’s charm when it stop caring about the community on here. Do I like doing videos like these? No, but it’s necessary when people are using their influence for the wrong things. I’m not knocking their hustle by NO MEANS, but offer a product that is 100% YOURS!!!!!

What makes this story so disturbing: not only is YouTube’s lax structure vulnerable to abuse, it seems to actively encourage scammers.

The copyright claim appears to be based on the the pack included for demonstration purposes in his video. While I’m not a lawyer, this should fall dead center under the doctrine of fair use as well as the royalty free license provided by the developers themselves.

Here’s where YouTube’s scale and automation, though, collide with the intricacies of copyright law requirements (mainly in the USA, but possibly soon impacted by changes in the European Union). It’s easy to file a copyright claim, but hard to get videos reinstated once that claim is filed.

As a result: there’s almost nothing stopping someone from filing a fraudulent copyright claim just because they don’t like your video. In this case, Unison can simply use a made-up copyright claim as a tool to kill a video they didn’t like.

You can read up on this world of hurt on Google’s own site:

Copyright strike basics

After all the recent fears about the EU and filtering, automated filtering doesn’t result in a strike – strikes require an explicit request. The problem is, creators have little recourse once that strike is processed. They can contact whomever made the complaint and get them to reverse it – which doesn’t work here, if Unison’s whole goal was removing the video. They can wait 90 days – an eternity in Internet time. Or they can file a “counter notification” – but even this is slow:

After we process your counter notification by forwarding it to the claimant, the claimant has 10 business days to provide us with evidence that they have initiated a court action to keep the content down. This time period is a requirement of copyright law, so please be patient.

Counter Notification Basics [Google Support]

It was only a matter of time before music and music tech encountered the problems with this system, as YouTube grows. Other online media – including CDM – are subject to liability for copyright and libel, as we should be. But legal systems are also set up to prevent frivolous claims, or attempts to use these rules simply to gag your critics. That’s not the case with YouTube; Google has an incentive to protect itself more than its creators, and it’s clear the system they’ve set up has inadequate protections against abuse.

What kind of abuse?

Fuck Jerry, the Instagram “influencer” agency that ripped off memes and helped build the ill-fated Fyre Festival, used copyright strikes to remove a video critical of its operation.

And the system has produced a swarm of copyright trolls.

And it gets worse from there: the system can result in outright extortion, with Google proving unresponsive to complains. The Verge reported on this phenomenon earlier this year, and while Google claimed to be working on the problem, observed that even major channels needed their woes to go viral before even getting a response from the company:

YouTube’s copyright strikes have become a tool for extortion

This isn’t the only problem on YouTube’s platform for music and music technology. While the service is promoting new personalities, disclosure around their relationships with sponsors are often opaque. Traptendo also observes that videos touting various tutorials on working with harmony may be sponsored by Unison Audio, with little or no acknowledgement of that relationship.

That same complaint has been leveled at CDM and me not to mention… okay, all the print magazines I’ve ever written for. But we at least have to answer for our credibility, or lose you as readers. (And sometimes losing you as readers is exactly what happens.) YouTube’s automated algorithms, by contrast, mean videos that simply mention the right keywords or appeal to particular machine heuristics can be promoted without any of that human judgment.

YouTube has unquestionable value, and to pretend otherwise would be foolhardy. Traptendo’s videos are great; I hope this one that was removed gets reinstated.

At the same time, we need to be aware of some of the downsides of this platform. And I’m concerned that we’ve become dependent on a single platform from a single vendor – which also means if anything goes wrong, creators are just as quickly de-platformed.

And regardless of what’s going on with YouTube, it’s also important for humans to spread the word – at least to say, friends don’t let friends spend their money on … chords.

I don’t believe all music “needs to be free,” but I would least say triads are. Actually, wait… I could use some spare spending money. Excuse me, I’m going to slip into the night to go sell some all-interval tetrachords on the black market.

The post Welcome to YouTube Hell: A MIDI pack reseller silences criticism appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Free Downgrade turns Ableton Live into lo-fi wobbly vaporwave tape

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 17 Apr 2019 8:05 pm

Fidelity? High-quality sound? No – degradation! And if you don’t have a ragged VHS deck or cassette Walkman handy, these free effects racks in Ableton Live will sort you out.

Downgrade is the work of Tom Cosm, long-time Ableton guru. There are five effects:


— plus if you give him literally US$1 or more (you cheapskate), you get an additional Stutter rack.

Basically, you get loads of controls for manipulating downsampling, tape effects, saturation, distortion, modulation of various kinds, echo, vocoder, and more. It’s a sort of retro Vaporwave starter kit if you’d like to think of it that way – or an easy, dial-up greatest hits of everything Ableton Live can now do to make your sound worse. And by worse, I mean better, naturally.

Ableton have been gradually adding all these digital downsampling features (early on) and simulated analog tape and saturation effects and nonlinear modulation (more recently). Tom has neatly packed them into one very useful set of Racks.

Notice I say “Racks,” not Max for Live devices. That means these will mostly run on different editions of Live, and they’re a bit easier to pick apart and adjust/modify – without requiring Max knowledge.

Go download them:


The post Free Downgrade turns Ableton Live into lo-fi wobbly vaporwave tape appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Max TV: go inside Max 8’s wonders with these videos

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 11 Apr 2019 8:20 pm

Max 8 – and by extension the latest Max for Live – offers some serious powers to build your own sonic and visual stuff. So let’s tune in some videos to learn more.

The major revolution in Max 8 – and a reason to look again at Max even if you’ve lapsed for some years – is really MC. It’s “multichannel,” so it has significance in things like multichannel speaker arrays and spatial audio. But even that doesn’t do it justice. By transforming the architecture of how Max treats multiple, well, things, you get a freedom in sketching new sonic and instrumental ideas that’s unprecedented in almost any environment. (SuperCollider’s bus and instance system is capable of some feats, for example, but it isn’t as broad or intuitive as this.)

The best way to have a look at that is via a video from Ableton Loop, where the creators of the tech talk through how it works and why it’s significant.

Description [via C74’s blog]:

In this presentation, Cycling ’74’s CEO and founder David Zicarelli and Content Specialist Tom Hall introduce us to MC – a new multi-channel audio programming system in Max 8.

MC unlocks immense sonic complexity with simple patching. David and Tom demonstrate techniques for generating rich and interesting soundscapes that they discovered during MC’s development. The video presentation touches on the psychoacoustics behind our recognition of multiple sources in an audio stream, and demonstrates how to use these insights in both musical and sound design work.

The patches aren’t all ready for download (hmm, some cleanup work being done?), but watch this space.

If that’s got you in the learning mood, there are now a number of great video tutorials up for Max 8 to get you started. (That said, I also recommend the newly expanded documentation in Max 8 for more at-your-own-pace learning, though this is nice for some feature highlights.)

dude837 has an aptly-titled “delicious” tutorial series covering both musical and visual techniques – and the dude abides, skipping directly to the coolest sound stuff and best eye candy.

Yes to all of these:

There’s a more step-by-step set of tutorials by dearjohnreed (including the basics of installation, so really hand-holding from step one):

For developers, the best thing about Max 8 is likely the new Node features. And this means the possibility of wiring musical inventions into the Internet as well as applying some JavaScript and Node.js chops to anything else you want to build. Our friends at C74 have the hook-up on that:

Suffice to say that also could mean some interesting creations running inside Ableton Live.

It’s not a tutorial, but on the visual side, Vizzie is also a major breakthrough in the software:

That’s a lot of looking at screens, so let’s close out with some musical inspiration – and a reminder of why doing this learning can pay off later. Here’s Second Woman, favorite of mine, at LA’s excellent Bl__K Noise series:

The post Max TV: go inside Max 8’s wonders with these videos appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Use Ableton Live faster with the free Live Enhancement Suite

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 11 Mar 2019 6:30 pm

Day in, day out, a lot of producers spend a lot of time editing in Ableton Live. Here’s a free tool that automates some common tasks so you can work more quickly – easing some FL Studio envy in the process.

This one comes to us from Madeleine Bloom’s terrific Sonic Bloom, the best destination for resources on learning and using Ableton Live. Live Enhancement Suite is Windows-only for the moment, but a Mac version is coming soon.

The basic idea is, LES adds shortcuts for producers, and some custom features (like sane drawing) you might expect from other tools:

Add devices (like your favorite plug-ins) using a customizable pop-up menu of your favorites (with a double right-click)

Draw notes easily with the ~ key in Piano Roll.

Pop up a shortcut menu with scales in Piano Roll

Add locators (right shift + L) at the cursor

Pan with your mouse, not just the keyboard (via the middle mouse button, so you’ll need a three-button mouse for this one)

Save multiple versions (a feature FL Studio users know well)

Ctrl-shift-Z to redo

Alt-E to view envelope mode in piano roll

And there’s more customizations and multi-monitor support, too.

Ableton are gradually addressing long-running user requests to make editing easier; Live 10.1 builds on the work of Live 10. Case in point: 10.1 finally lets you solo a selected track (mentioned in the video as previously requiring one of these shortcuts). But it’s likewise nice to see users add in what’s missing.

Oh, and… you’re totally allowed to call it “Ableton.” People regularly refer to cars by the make rather than the model. We know what you mean.

Here’s a video walking through these tools and the creator Dylan Tallchief’s approach:

More info:

LES Collaborators:
Inverted Silence: https://soundcloud.com/invertedsilence
Aevi: https://twitter.com/aevitunes
Sylvian: https://sylvian.co/


Give it a go – will try to check in when there’s a Mac version.


PS, Windows users will want to check out the excellent open source AutoHotkey for automation, generally.

The post Use Ableton Live faster with the free Live Enhancement Suite appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

This free Ableton Live device makes images into wavetables

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 28 Feb 2019 7:46 pm

It’s the season of the wavetable – again. With Ableton Live 10.1 on the horizon and its free Wavetable device, we’ve got yet another free Max for Live device for making sound materials – and this time, you can make your wavetables from images.

Let’s catch you up first.

Ableton Live 10.1 will bring Wavetable as a new instrument to Standard and Suite editions – arguably one of the bigger native synth editions to Live in its history, ranking with the likes of Operator. And sure, as when Operator came out, you already have plug-ins that do the same; Ableton’s pitch is as always their unique approach to UI (love it or hate it), and integration with the host, and … having it right in the box:

Ableton Live 10.1: more sound shaping, work faster, free update

Earlier this week, we saw one free device that makes wavetables for you, built as a Max for Live device. (Odds are anyone able to run this will have a copy of Live with Wavetable in it, since it targets 10.1, but it also exports to other tools). Wave Weld focuses on dialing in the sounds you need and spitting out precise, algorithmic results:

Generate wavetables for free, for Ableton Live 10.1 and other synths

One thing Wave Weld cannot do, however, is make a wavetable out of a picture of a cat.

For that, you want Image2Wavetable. The name says it all: it generates wavetable samples from image data.

This means if you’re handy with graphics software, or graphics code like Processing, you can also make visual patterns that generate interesting wavetables. It reminds me of my happy hours and hours spent using U+I Software’s ground-breaking MetaSynth, which employs some similar concepts to build an entire sound laboratory around graphic tools. (It’s still worth a spin today if you’ve got a Mac; among other things, it is evidently responsible for those sweeping digital sounds in the original Matrix film, I’m told.)

Image2Wavetable is new, the creation of Dillon Bastan and Carlo Cattano – and there are some rough edges, so be patient and it sounds like they’re ready to hear some feedback on how it works.

But the workflow is really simple: drag and drop image, drag and drop resulting wavetable into the Wavetable instrument.

Okay, I suspect I know what I’m doing for the rest of the night.

Image2Wavetable Device [maxforlive.com]

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Generate wavetables for free, for Ableton Live 10.1 and other synths

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 26 Feb 2019 10:08 pm

Wavetables are capable of a vast array of sounds. But just dumping arbitrary audio content into a wavetable is unlikely to get the results you want. And that’s why Wave Weld looks invaluable: it makes it easy to generate useful wavetables, in an add-on that’s free for Max for Live.

Ableton Live users are going to want their own wavetable maker very soon. Live 10.1 will add Wavetable, a new synth based on the technique. See our previous preview:

Ableton Live 10.1: more sound shaping, work faster, free update

Live 10.1 is in public beta now, and will be free to all Live 10 users soon.

So long as you have Max for Live to run it, Wave Weld will be useful to other synths, as well – including the developer’s own Wave Junction.

Because wavetables are periodic by their very nature, it’s more likely helpful to generate content algorithmically than just dump sample content of your own. (Nothing against the latter – it’s definitely fun – but you may soon find yourself limited by the results.)

Wave Wend handles generating those materials for you, as well as exporting them in the format you need.

1. Make the wavetable: use waveshaping controls to dial in the sound materials you want.

2. Build up a library: adapt existing content or collect your own custom creations.

3. Export in the format you need: adjusting the size les you support Live 10.1’s own device or other hardware and plug-ins.

The waveshaping features are really the cool part:

Unique waveshaping controls to generate custom wavetables
Sine waveshape phase shift and curve shape controls
Additive style synthesis via choice of twenty four sine waveshape harmonics for both positive and negative phase angles
Saw waveshape curve sharpen and partial controls
Pulse waveshape width, phase shift, curve smooth and curve sharpen controls
Triangle waveshape phase shift, curve smooth and curve sharpen controls
Random waveshape quantization, curve smooth and thinning controls

Wave Weld isn’t really intended as a synth, but one advantage of it being an M4L device is, you can easily preview sounds as you work.

More information on the developer’s site – http://metafunction.co.uk/wave-weld/

The download is free with a sign-up for their mailing list.

They’ve got a bunch of walkthrough videos to get you started, too:

Major kudos to Phelan Kane of Meta Function for this release. (Phelan is an Ableton Certified Trainer as well as a specialist in Reaktor and Maschine on the Native Instruments side, as well as London chairman for AES.)

I’m also interested in other ways to go about this – SuperCollider code, anyone?

Wavetable on!

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Magenta Studio lets you use AI tools for inspiration in Ableton Live

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Tue 12 Feb 2019 8:34 pm

Instead of just accepting all this machine learning hype, why not put it to the test? Magenta Studio lets you experiment with open source machine learning tools, standalone or inside Ableton Live.

Magneta provides a pretty graspable way to get started with an field of research that can get a bit murky. By giving you easy access to machine learning models for musical patterns, you can generate and modify rhythms and melodies. The team at Google AI first showed Magneta Studio at Ableton’s Loop conference in LA in November, but after some vigorous development, it’s a lot more ready for primetime now, both on Mac and Windows.

If you’re working with Ableton Live, you can use Magenta Studio as a set of devices. Because they’re built with Max, though, there’s also a standalone version. Developers can dig far deeper into the tools and modify them for your own purposes – and even if you have just a little comfort with the command line, you can also train your own models. (More on that in a bit.)

Side note of interest to developers: this is also a great showcase for doing powerful stuff with machine learning using just JavaScript, applying even GPU acceleration without having to handle a bunch of complex, platform-specific libraries.

I got to sit down with the developers in LA, and also have been playing with the latest builds of Magenta Studio. But let’s back up and first talk about what this means.

Magenta Studio is out now, with more information on the Magneta project and other Google work on musical applications on machine learning:



Artificial Intelligence – well, apologies, I could have fit the letters “ML” into the headline above but no one would know what I was talking about.

Machine learning is a better term. What Magenta and TensorFlow are based on is applying algorithmic analysis to large volumes of data. “TensorFlow” may sound like some kind of stress exercise ball you keep at your desk. But it’s really about creating an engine that can very quickly process lots of tensors – geometric units that can be combined into, for example, artificial neural networks.

Seeing the results of this machine learning in action means having a different way of generating and modifying musical information. It takes the stuff you’ve been doing in music software with tools like grids, and lets you use a mathematical model that’s more sophisticated – and that gives you different results you can hear.

You may know Magneta from its involvement in the NSynth synthesizer —


But even if that particular application didn’t impress you – trying to find new instrument timbres – the note/rhythm-based ideas make this effort worth a new look.

Recurrent Neural Networks are a kind of mathematical model that algorithmically loops over and over. We say it’s “learning” in the sense that there are some parallels to very low-level understandings of how neurons work in biology, but this is on a more basic level – running the algorithm repeatedly means that you can predict sequences more and more effectively given a particular data set.

Magenta’s “musical” library applies a set of learning principles to musical note data. That means it needs a set of data to “train” on – and part of the results you get are based on that training set. Build a model based on a data set of bluegrass melodies, for instance, and you’ll have different outputs from the model than if you started with Gregorian plainchant or Indonesian gamelan.

One reason that it’s cool that Magneta and Magenta Studio are open source is, you’re totally free to dig in and train your own data sets. (That requires a little more knowledge and some time for your computer or a server to churn away, but it also means you shouldn’t judge Magenta Studio on these initial results alone.)

What’s in Magenta Studio

Magenta Studio has a few different tools. Many are based on MusicVAE – a recent research model that looked at how machine learning could be applied to how different melodies relate to one another. Music theorists have looked at melodic and rhythmic transformations for a long time, and very often use mathematical models to make more sophisticated descriptions of how these function. Machine learning lets you work from large sets of data, and then not only make a model, but morph between patterns and even generate new ones – which is why this gets interesting for music software.

Crucially, you don’t have to understand or even much care about the math and analysis going on here – expert mathematicians and amateur musicians alike can hear and judge the results. If you want to read a summary of that MusicVAE research, you can. But it’s a lot better to dive in and see what the results are like first. And now instead of just watching a YouTube demo video or song snippet example, you can play with the tools interactively.

Magenta Studio lets you work with MIDI data, right in your Ableton Live Session View. You’ll make new clips – sometimes starting from existing clips you input – and the device will spit out the results as MIDI you can use to control instruments and drum racks. There’s also a slide called “Temperature” which determines how the model is sampled mathematically. It’s not quite like adjusting randomness – hence they chose this new name – but it will give you some control over how predictable or unpredictable the results will be (if you also accept that the relationship may not be entirely linear). And you can choose number of variations, and length in bars.

The data these tools were trained on represents millions of melodies and rhythms. That is, they’ve chosen a dataset that will give you fairly generic, vanilla results – in the context of Western music, of course. (And Live’s interface is fairly set up with expectations about what a drum kit is, and with melodies around a 12-tone equal tempered piano, so this fits that interface… not to mention, arguably there’s some cultural affinity for that standardization itself and the whole idea of making this sort of machine learning model, but I digress.)

Here are your options:

Generate: This makes a new melody or rhythm with no input required – it’s the equivalent of rolling the dice (erm, machine learning style, so very much not random) and hearing what you get.

Continue: This is actually a bit closer to what Magneta Studio’s research was meant to do – punch in the beginning of a pattern, and it will fill in where it predicts that pattern could go next. It means you can take a single clip and finish it – or generate a bunch of variations/continuations of an idea quickly.

Interpolate: Instead of one clip, use two clips and merge/morph between them.

Groove: Adjust timing and velocity to “humanize” a clip to a particular feel. This is possibly the most interesting of the lot, because it’s a bit more focused – and immediately solves a problem that software hasn’t solved terribly well in the past. Since the data set is focused on 15 hours of real drummers, the results here sound more musically specific. And you get a “humanize” that’s (arguably) closer to what your ears would expect to hear than the crude percentage-based templates of the past. And yes, it makes quantized recordings sound more interesting.

Drumify: Same dataset as Groove, but this creates a new clip based on the groove of the input. It’s … sort of like if Band-in-a-Box rhythms weren’t awful, basically. (Apologies to the developers of Band-in-a-Box.) So it works well for percussion that ‘accompanies’ an input.

So, is it useful?

It may seem un-human or un-musical to use any kind of machine learning in software. But from the moment you pick up an instrument, or read notation, you’re working with a model of music. And that model will impact how you play and think.

More to the point with something like Magenta is, do you really get musically useful results?

Groove to me is really interesting. It effectively means you can make less rigid groove quantization, because instead of some fixed variations applied to a grid, you get a much more sophisticated model that adapts based on input. And with different training sets, you could get different grooves. Drumify is also compelling for the same reason.

Generate is also fun, though even in the case of Continue, the issue is that these tools don’t particularly solve a problem so much as they do give you a fun way of thwarting your own intentions. That is, much like using the I Ching (see John Cage, others) or a randomize function (see… all of us, with a plug-in or two), you can break out of your usual habits and create some surprise even if you’re alone in a studio or some other work environment.

One simple issue here is that a model of a sequence is not a complete model of music. Even monophonic music can deal with weight, expression, timbre. Yes, theoretically you can apply each of those elements as new dimensions and feed them into machine learning models, but – let’s take chant music, for example. Composers were working with less quantifiable elements as they worked, too, like the meaning and sound of the text, positions in the liturgy, multi-layered quotes and references to other compositions. And that’s the simplest case – music from punk to techno to piano sonatas will challenge these models in Magenta.

I bring this up not because I want to dismiss the Magenta project – on the contrary, if you’re aware of these things, having a musical game like this is even more fun.

The moment you begin using Magenta Studio, you’re already extending some of the statistical prowess of the machine learning engine with your own human input. You’re choosing which results you like. You’re adding instrumentation. You’re adjusting the Temperature slider using your ear – when in fact there’s often no real mathematical indication of where it “should” be set.

And that means that hackers digging into these models could also produce new results. People are still finding new applications for quantize functions, which haven’t changed since the 1980s. With tools like Magenta, we get a whole new slew of mathematical techniques to apply to music. Changing a dataset or making minor modifications to these plug-ins could yield very different results.

And for that matter, even if you play with Magenta Studio for a weekend, then get bored and return to practicing your own music, even that’s a benefit.


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Ableton Live 10.1: more sound shaping, work faster, free update

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 6 Feb 2019 12:17 pm

There’s something about point releases – not the ones with any radical changes, but just the ones that give you a bunch of little stuff you want. That’s Live 10.1; here’s a tour.

Live 10.1 was announced today, but I sat down with the team at Ableton last month and have been working with pre-release software to try some stuff out. Words like “workflow” are always a bit funny to me. We’re talking, of course, mostly music making. The deal with Live 10.1 is, it gives you some new toys on the sound side, and makes mangling sounds more fun on the arrangement side.

Oh, and VST3 plug-ins work now, too. (MOTU’s DP10 also has that in an upcoming build, among others, so look forward to the Spring of VST3 Support.)

Let’s look at those two groups.

Sound tools and toys

User wavetables. Wavetable just got more fun – you can drag and drop samples onto Wavetable’s oscillator now, via the new User bank. You can get some very edgy, glitchy results this way, or if you’re careful with sample selection and sound design, more organic sounds.

This looks compelling.

Here’s how it works: Live splits up your audio snippet into 1024 sample chunks. It then smooths out the results – fading the edges of each table to avoid zero-crossing clicks and pops, and normalizing and minimizing phase differences. You can also tick a box called “Raw” that just slices up the wavetable, for samples that are exactly 1024 samples or a regular periodic multiple of that.

Give me some time and we can whip up some examples of this, but basically you can glitch out, mangle sounds you’ve recorded, carefully construct sounds, or just grab ready-to-use wavetables from other sources.

But it is a whole lot of fun and it suggests Wavetable is an instrument that will grow over time.

Here’s that feature in action:

Delay. Simple Delay and Ping Pong Delay have merged into a single lifeform called … Delay. That finally updates an effect that hasn’t seen love since the last decade. (The original ones will still work for backwards project compatibility, though you won’t see them in a device list when you create a new project – don’t panic.)

At first glance, you might think that’s all that’s here, but in typical Ableton fashion, there are some major updates hidden behind those vanilla, minimalist controls. So now you have Repitch, Fade, and Jump modes. And there’s a Modulation section with rate, filter, and time controls (as found on Echo). Oh, and look at that little infinity sign next to the Feedback control.

Yeah, all of those things are actually huge from a sound design perspective. So since Echo has turned out to be a bit too much for some tasks, I expect we’ll be using Delay a lot. (It’s a bit like that moment when you figure out you really want Simpler and Drum Racks way more than you do Sampler.)

The old delays. Ah, memories…

And the new Delay. Look closely – there are some major new additions in there.

Channel EQ. This is a new EQ with visual feedback and filter curves that adapt across the frequency range – that is, “Low,” “Mid,” and “High” each adjust their curves as you change their controls. Since it has just three controls, that means Channel EQ sits somewhere between the dumbed down EQ Three and the complexity of EQ Eight. But it also means this could be useful as a live performance EQ when you don’t necessarily want a big DJ-style sweep / cut.

Here it is in action:


The stuff above is fun, but you obviously don’t need it. Where Live 10.1 might help you actually finish music is in a slew of new arrangement features.

Live 10 felt like a work in progress as far as the Arrange view. I think it immediately made sense to some of us that Ableton were adjusting arrangement tools, and ironing out the difference between, say, moving chunks of audio around and editing automation (drawing all those lovely lines to fade things in and out, for instance).

But it felt like the story there wasn’t totally complete. In fact, the change may have been too subtle – different enough to disturb some existing users, but without a big enough payoff.

So here’s the payoff: Ableton have refined all those subtle Arrange tweaks with user feedback, and added some very cool shape drawing features that let you get creative in this view in a way that isn’t possible with other users.

Fixing “$#(*& augh undo I didn’t want to do that!” Okay, this problem isn’t unique to Live. In every traditional DAW, your mouse cursor does conflicting things in a small amount of space. Maybe you’re trying to move a chunk of audio. Maybe you want to resize it. Maybe you want to fade in and out the edges of the clip. Maybe it’s not the clip you’re trying to edit, but the automation curves around it.

In studio terms, this sounds like one of the following:

[silent, happy clicking, music production getting … erm … produced]

OR ….
$#(*&*%#*% …. Noo errrrrrrrgggggg … GAACK! SDKJJufffff ahhh….

Live 10 added a toggle between automation editing and audio editing modes. For me, I was already doing less of the latter. But 10.1 is dramatically better, thanks to some nearly imperceptible adjustments to the way those clip handles work, because you can more quickly change modes, and because you can zoom more easily. (The zoom part may not immediately seem connected to this, but it’s actually the most important part – because navigating from your larger project length to the bit you’re actually trying to edit is usually where things break down.)

In technical terms, that means the following:

Quick zoom shortcuts. I’ll do a separate story on these, because they’re so vital, but you can now jump to the whole song, details, zoom various heights, and toggle between zoom states via keyboard shortcuts. There are even a couple of MIDI-mappable ones.

Clips in Arrangement have been adjusted. From the release notes: “The visualisation of Arrangement clips has been improved with adjusted clip borders and refinements to the way items are colored.” Honestly, you won’t notice, but ask the person next to you how much you’re grunting / swearing like someone is sticking something pointy into your ribs.

Pitch gestures! You can pitch-zoom Arrangement and MIDI editor with Option or Alt keys – that works well on Apple trackpads and newer PC trackpads. And yeah, this means you don’t have to use Apple Logic Pro just to pinch zoom. Ahem.

The Clip Detail View is clearer, too, with a toggle between automation and modulation clearly visible, and color-coded modulation for everything.

The Arrangement Overview was also adjusted with better color coding and new resizing.

In addition, Ableton have worked a lot with how automation editing functions. New in 10.1:

Enter numerical values. Finally.

Free-hand curves more easily. With grid off, your free-hand, wonky mouse curves now get smoothed into something more logical and with fewer breakpoints – as if you can draw better with the mouse/trackpad than you actually can.

Simplify automation. There’s also a command that simplifies existing recorded automation. Again – finally.

So that fixes a bunch of stuff, and while this is pretty close to what other DAWs do, I actually find Ableton’s implementation to be (at last) quicker and friendlier than most other DAWs. But Ableton kept going and added some more creative ideas.

Insert shapes. Now you have some predefined shapes that you can draw over automation lanes. It’s a bit like having an LFO / modulation, but you can work with it visually – so it’s nice for those who prefer that editing phase as a way do to their composition. Sadly, you can only access these via the mouse menu – I’d love some keyboard shortcuts, please – but it’s still reasonably quick to work with.

Modify curves. Hold down Option/Ctrl and you can change the shape of curves.

Stretch and skew. Reshape envelopes to stretch, skew, stretch time / ripple edit.

Insert Shapes promises loads of fun in the Arrangement – words that have never been uttered before.

Check out those curve drawing and skewing/scaling features in action:


You can freeze tracks with sidechains, instead of a stupid dialog box popping up to tell you you can’t, because it would break the space-time continuum or crash the warp core injectors or … no, there’s no earthly reason why you shouldn’t be able to freeze sidechains on a computer.

You can export return and master effects on the actual tracks. I know, I know. You really loved bouncing out stems from Ableton or getting stems to remix and having little bits of effects from all the tracks on separate stems that were just echos, like some weird ghost of whatever it was you were trying to do. And I’m a lazy kid, who for some reason thinks that’s completely illogical since, again, this is a computer and all this material is digital. But yes, for people are soft like me, this will be a welcome feature.

So there you have it. Plus you now get VST3s, which is great, because VST3 … is so much … actually, you know, even I don’t care all that much about that, so let’s just say now you don’t have to check if all your plug-ins will run or not.

Go get it

One final note – Max for Live. 10.0.6 synchronized with Max 8.0.2. See those release notes from Cycling ’74:


Live 10.1 is keeping pace, with the beta you download now including Max 8.0.3.

Ableton haven’t really “integrated” Max for Live; they’re still separate products. And so that means you probably don’t want perfect lockstep between Max and Live, because that could mean instability on the Live side. It’d be more accurate to say that what Ableton have done is to improve the relationship between Max and Live, so that you don’t have to wait as long for Max improvements to appear in Max for Live.

Live 10.1 is in beta now with a final release coming soon.

Ableton Live 10.1 release notes

And if you own a Live 10.1 license, you can join the beta group:

Beta signup

Live 10.1: User wavetables, new devices and workflow upgrades

Thanks to Ableton for those short videos. More on these features soon.

The post Ableton Live 10.1: more sound shaping, work faster, free update appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Akai Force: hands-on preview of the post-PC live-in-a-box music tool

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Thu 17 Jan 2019 4:24 pm

The leak was real. Akai have a standalone box that can free you from a laptop, when you want that freedom. It works with your computer and gear, but it also does all the arranging and performance (and some monster sounds and sequencing) on its own. It’s what a lot of folks were waiting for – and we’ve just gotten our hands on it.

Akai have already had a bit of a hit with the latest MPCs, which work as a controller/software combo if you want, but also stand on their own.

The Akai Force (it’s not an MPC or APC in the end) is more than that. It’s a single musical device with computer-like power under the hood, but standalone stability. It’s a powerful enough sequencer (for MIDI and CV) that you some people might just buy it on those merits.

But it also performs all the Ableton Live-style workflows you know. So there’s an APC/Push style interface, clip launching and editing, grids for playing drums and instruments, and sampling capability. There’s also a huge selection of synths and effects (courtesy AIR Music Technology), so while it can’t run third-party VST plug-ins, you should feel comfortable using it on its own. And it integrates with your computer when you’re in your studio – in both directions, though more on that in a bit.

And it’s US$1499 – so it’s reasonable affordable, at least in that it’s possibly cheaper than upgrading your laptop, or buying a new controller and a full DAW license.

First – the specs:

• Standalone – no computer required
• 8×8 clip launch matrix with RGB LEDs
• 7″ color capacitive multitouch display
• Mic/Instrument/Line Inputs, 4 outputs
• MIDI In/Out/Thru via 1/8″ TRS inputs (5-pin DIN adapters included)
• (4) configurable CV/Gate Outputs to integrate your modular setup
• (8) touch-sensitive knobs with graphical OLED displays
• Time stretch/pitch shift in real time
• Comprehensive set of AIR effects and Hype, TubeSynth, Bassline and Electric synth engines
• Ability to record 8 stereo tracks
• 16GB of on-board storage (over 10 gigs of sound content included)
• 2 GB of RAM
• Full-Size SD card Slot
• User-expandable 2.5″ SATA drive connector (SATA or HDD)
• (2) USB 3.0 slots for thumb drives or MIDI controllers

Clarification: about those eight tracks. You can have eight stereo tracks of audio, but up to 128 tracks total.

And there’s a powerful and clever scheme here that lets the Force adapt to different combinations of onboard synths and effects. Akai tells us the synths use a “weighted voice management” scheme so you can maximize simultaneous voices. Effects are unlimited, until you run out of CPU power. Since this is integrated hardware and software, though, you don’t fail catastrophically when you run out of juice, as you do on a conventional computer. (Ahem.)

All that I/O – USB connectivity, USB host (for other USB gear), CV (for analog gear), MIDI (via standard minijacks), plus audio input / mic and separate out and cue outs.

US$1499 (confirming European pricing), shipping on 5 February to the USA and later in the month to other markets.

I’ve had a hands-on with AKAI Professional’s product managers. The software was still pre-release – this was literally built last night – but it was very close to final form, and we should have a detailed review once we get hardware next month.

The specs don’t really tell the whole story, so let’s go through what this thing is about.

In person, the arrangement turns out to be logical and tidy.

Form factor

The images leaked via an FCC filing of a prototype did make this thing look a bit homely. In person with the final hardware, it seems totally logical.

On the bottom of the unit is a grid with shortcut triggers, looking very much like a Push 2. On the top is a touch display and more shortcut keys that resemble the MPC Live. You also get a row of endless encoders, which now Akai call just “knobs.”

The “hump” that contains the touch display enables a ton of I/O crammed onto the back – even with minijacks for MIDI, the space is needed. And it means the displays for the knobs are tilted at an angle, so they’re easier to read as you play, from either sitting or standing position.

There are also some touches that tell you this is Akai hardware. Everything is labeled. Triggers most often do just one thing, rather than changing modes as on Ableton Push. And there are features like obvious, dedicated navigation, and a crossfader.

In short, you can tell this is from the folks who built the APC40. Whereas sometimes functions on Ableton Push can be maddeningly opaque, the Akai hardware makes things obvious. I’ll talk more about that in the review, of course, but it’s obvious even when looking at the unit what everything does and how to navigate.

Oh and – while this unit is big, it still looks like it’d fit snugly onto a table at a venue or DJ booth. Plus you don’t need a computer. And yeah, the lads from Akai brought it to Berlin on Ryanair. You can absolutely fit it in a backpack.


What impresses me about this effort from Akai is that it takes into account a whole range of use cases. Rather than describe what it does, maybe I should jump straight into what I think it means for those use cases, based on what I’ve seen.

It runs live sets. Well, here this is clearly a winner. You get clip launching just like you do with Ableton Live, without a laptop. And so even if you still stick to Live for production (or Maschine, or Reason, or FL Studio, or whatever DAW), you can easily load up stems and clips on this and free yourself from the laptop later.

You get consistent color coding and near-constant feedback on the grid and heads-up display / touch display about where you are, what’s muted, what’s record-enabled, and what’s playing. My impression is that it’s far clearer than on other devices, thanks to the software being built around the hardware. (Maschine got further than some of its rivals, but it lacks this many controls, lights, and display.)

That feedback seemed like it’s also not overwhelming, either, because it’s spread out over this larger footprint. There’s also a handy overview of your whole clip layout on the touch display, so you can page through more clip slots easily.

Logical, dedicated triggers and loads of feedback so you don’t get lost.

Full-featured clip launching and mixing.

It’s a playable instrument – finger-drummer friendly. Of course, now that you can do all that stuff with clips, as with Push, you can also play instruments. There are onboard synths from AIR – Electric, Bassline, TubeSynth, and the new multifunctional FM + additive + wavetable hybid Hype. And there are a huge number of effects from lo-fi stuff to reverbs to delays, meaning you can get away without packing effects pedals. It’s literally the full range of AIR stuff – so like having a full Pro Tools plug-in folder on dedicated hardware.

That may or may not be enough for everyone, but you can also use MIDI and CV and USB to control external gear (or a computer).

The grid setup features are also easy to get into and powerful. There are a range of pitch-to-grid mappings, from guitar fret-style arrangements to a Tonnetz layout (5th on one axis, 3rd on another) to piano and chromatic layouts. There are of course scale and chord options – though no microtuning onboard, yet. (Wait until Aphex Twin gets his, I think.)

And there are drum layouts, too, or step sequencers if you want them.

Two major, major deviations from Push, though. You know how easy it is to accidentally change parts on Push when you’re trying to navigate clips and wind up playing the wrong instrument? Or how easy it is to get lost when recording clips? Or how suddenly a step sequencer turns up when you just want to finger drum a pad? Or…

Yeah, okay well – you have none of those problems here. Force makes it easy to select parts, easy to select tracks, easy to mute tracks, and lets you choose the layout you want when you want it without all that confusion.

Again, more on this in the review, but I’m thoroughly relieved that Akai seems to understand the need for dedicated triggers and less cognitive overhead when you play live.

Tons of playing options.

It can replace a computer for production, if you want. There’s deep clip editing and sampling and arrangement and mixing functionality here. Clips even borrow one of the best features from Bitwig Studio – you can edit and move and duplicate audio inside a clip, which you can’t do in Live without bringing that audio out into the Arrangement. So you could use this to start and even finish tracks.

The Force doesn’t have the same horsepower as a laptop, of course. So you’re limited to eight stereo tracks. Then again, back in the days of tape that bouncing process was also creatively useful – and the sampling capabilities here make it easy to resample work.

Powerful clip editing combines with sampling – and you can use both the touchscreen and dedicated hardware controls.

Or you can use it as a companion to a computer. You can also use Force as a sketchpad – much like some iPad tools now, but of course with physical controls. There’s even an export to ALS feature coming, so you could start tracks on Force and finish them in Ableton Live – with your full range of mixing an mastering tools and plug-ins. (I believe that doesn’t ship at launch, but is due soon.)

Also coming in the first part of this year, Akai are working on a controller mode so you can use Force as an Ableton Live controller when you are at your computer.

There’s wired connectivity. You can set up MIDI tracks, you can set up CV tracks. There’s also USB host mode. Like the grid, but wish you had some MPC-style velocity-sensitive pads? Or want some faders? Plug in inexpensive controllers via USB, just as you would on your computer. You only get two audio ins, but that’s of course still enough to do sampling – and you get the sorts of sampling and live time stretching capabilities you’d expect of the company that makes the MPC.

For audio output, there’s a dedicated cue out as well as the stereo audio output.

On the front – SD card loading (there’s also USB support and internal drive upgradeability), plus a dedicated cue output for your headphones.

The full range of AIR effects is onboard.

Powerful audio effects should help you grow with this one.

And there’s wireless connectivity, too. You can sync sample content via Splice.com – which includes your own samples, by the way. (Wow, do I wish Roland did this with Roland Cloud and the TR-8S – yeah, being able to have all my own kits and sample sets and sync them with a WiFi connection is huge to me, even just for the sounds I created myself.)

There’s Ableton Link support, so you can wirelessly sync up to your computer, iPad, and other tools – clocking the Force without wires.

There’s even wireless support for control and sound, meaning that Force is going to be useful even before you plug in cables.

Yeah, it’s a standalone instrument, but it’s also a monster sequencer / hub.

Bottom line. It replaces Ableton Live. It works with Ableton Live. It replaces your computer. It works with your computer. It’s a monster standalone instrument. It’s a monster sequencer for your other instruments. It does a bunch of stuff. It doesn’t try to do too much (manageable controls, clear menus).

Basically, this already looks like the post-PC device a lot of us were waiting for. Can’t wait to get one for review.

The post Akai Force: hands-on preview of the post-PC live-in-a-box music tool appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Like a studio onstage: Orbital tells us their live rig synth secrets

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Fri 4 Jan 2019 7:57 pm

It’s a dazzling audiovisual show, with eye-popping visuals, plus an overflowing connection of synths. Orbital share their secrets for live performance and jamming with CDM’s David Abravanel.

The timing is perfect: Monsters Exist was a 2018 production highlight. Now we get to hear how all that studio complexity translates to live jamming: -Ed.

Photos: Matthew Bergman for CDM.

Orbital live in New York. Photo: Matthew Bergman

As soon as the two men wearing glasses with headlights on the side come on stage, there’s no question that you’re at an Orbital concert. Even before brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll take the stage, however, they’re preceded by another tell-tale sign: a live set up featuring copious hard- and software at their fingertips.

For decades, the Hartnolls have made a name for themselves defying expectations for live electronic performance – bringing a sizable chunk of their studio on tour and deftly weaving through live sets that allow them the flexibility to jam. It’s only fitting that Orbital have started releasing regular recordings of their live shows since their 2017 reunion.

Orbital’s live US rig:

Arturia Matrixbrute
Roland Jupiter-6
Sequential Prophet-6
Access Virus TI
Novation Bass Station II
Novation Peak
Roland TB-303
iPad x 3 (two for Lemur, one for timekeeping)
Novation Launch Control x 3
Ableton Live 10

Ed.: Got to watch a similar – even slightly larger – rig for Amsterdam Dance Event. This is a truly epic stage show from the kind of veterans with the chops to pull it off. -PK

I caught up with Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll for a walkthrough of their stage setup before a recent show at Brooklyn Steel. It was the group’s first set of American dates in six years (accounting for a lengthy hiatus during which the brothers weren’t in communication), and, despite jetlag, spirits were high.

CDM: Between the Wonky tour and this one, you’ve switched from using Liine Griid on your iPads (now discontinued) and using the original [JazzMutant] Lemur hardware. What are you using now?

Paul: The original replacement for the Alesis MMT-8 [sequencer] was the old-fashioned Lemurs, which – this is better. The touch screens were a bit iffy on those, it was early technology. Then we went on to Griid on the iPad, and now we’re back to Lemur, but on the iPad.

Each track is a Lemur template along the top. The buttons trigger Live – the big buttons are scene changes, and the little buttons are clips.

Paul with Ableton Live.

One of the Lemur templates for “Halcyon”, featuring the infamous Belinda Carlisle/Bon Jovi sample triggers.

And a little more dynamic than the MMT-8s?

Oh yeah. When you look at the Lemur, the big buttons that do the scene changes – that’s like changing a pattern on the MMT-8, but we can also turn things on and off within.

Also, you’ll notice that this [points to three Novation Launch Control XL controllers] pretty much looks like an MMT-8 as well. These are our virtual mixing channels, and each song gets threaded through to these channels. It’s a combination of bringing things in and out on the iPads and the Launch Controls.

What I can do – depending on different parts of the set and how I’m feeling – is go through and mute [the Launch Controls] and do it old-school MMT-8-style as well. You trigger things on the Lemur and obviously they start where you want them to, whereas on the Launch Controls, if you’ve got something muted, you might lose count and bring it in halfway through a riff.

I’ve got the drums broken down here [gestures to Launch Control], to punch them all in and out if I want to, and the “stop all” button which is great.

So you’re mixing on stage with the Launch Controls and the Ableton Live set?

It’s all coming out of here [points to interface] and going to the front of house. We’ve got control of volume of all the channels, so we can ride things – if we know that something’s coming in, we might want to pump that up a bit. And then that happens over the PA, but if it’s too much, [our front of house mixer] can bring it down. Or he can EQ each channel to suit the room. Obviously, front of house is the best place for the overall EQ for each channel because he’s hearing it through the PA and we’re not. We’ve got control of the mix of the balance of things, but then it’s also a safety thing. If I push the drums too much, and it’s too much in the room, [the mixer] can tweak it.

How do you decide which synths come on the road with you internationally? I know you’ve performed with the MacBeth M5, but it’s not in the rig this time around.

I still like the MacBeth – I’d love to bring it! But I’d need to do something do it, because we can’t fly with it. Most of the MacBeth box is empty, it’s just part of Ken [MacBeth]’s thing of, “it’s a performance synth, it needs to stand up and be proud!” So what I want to do is take the case off and put it in a different box, a really thin box. Maybe put a gilt-edged picture frame around it? [Laughs]

This tends to replace the MacBeth – the [Arturia] MatrixBrute. It’s kind of angry, like the MacBeth. It’s got more drive stages and things like that than the MacBeth – it’s probably angrier but kind of thinner, but that’s good because it cuts through in the mix live. Whereas the MacBeth is just – it’s fun, bringing something like that, because it hasn’t got any presets so you’ve got to work on the fly, and I love that. The MacBeth kind of forces you to make each sound tailor-made for each gig. But [the MatrixBrute] is good fun live! And of course, so much control – so much fun to be had.

[Starts playing the beginning of “Tiny Foldable Cities”] Most of the sounds in this track come from the MatrixBrute.

And is that how you did it on the studio version as well?

Yeah. [Cycles through sounds]. Obviously I have to sample some of them live.

Do you have audio backups of all of your hardware synths in case one of them goes before or during a show?

We say we’re gonna do it, but we never do it. [Laughs]

We’ve got a backup computer if that one goes down – but that’s, y’know, “hello everybody, sorry we’ve had a computer failure, we’re just going to be five minutes while we change computers. Talk amongst yourselves, and have a drink at the bar.”

Paul points to the essential crossmod section on Orbital’s Roland Jupiter-6.

So are these the more robust synths that you tour with then – like the Jupiter-6?

This is actually a new one to us. My old one I bought in ‘92, and it’s kind of died now – it still works but it’s a bit flaky. We bought this [new synth] to replace it, because it’s been live with us since ‘92. Is the Jupiter-6 the best synth in the world? No, but it’s got a lot of character, and a lot of our old songs rely on it. I’ve tried to replace with things, but it doesn’t quite work.

Orbital – “Lush 3-1” and “Lush 3-2”, featuring Jupiter-6 on the airy lead sound.

What are some of the Jupiter-6 sounds?

[Starts playing lead sound from “Lush 3”] That! I can never get that out of anything else. Not like that.

Orbital – “Impact” live, with the Jupiter-6 sync/crossmod sound.

The other one that I cannot do without is in “Impact” [Starts playing] when you sync it and then crossmod it stays in tune – it would be a terrible noise if you had it synced the other way. I just had my Jupiter-8 modified to sync the right way; Jupiter-8’s sync in the other direction. In this bit it’s kind of like a wavefolder, you know? Crazy sounds that you can’t get anywhere else – very techno-y, kind of clangy.

Orbital – “Belfast”, featuring ascending bubbly arpeggios from the Jupiter-6.

The last thing is in “Belfast” [starts playing], I always need a Roland synth to get that. That’s three of my big sounds.

Phil Hartnoll’s notes for tweaks to the Novation Peak.

What’s the division of labor like between you and Phil when you’re performing live – do you have defined roles, or are you often reaching over each other?

We do have roles – I arrange. I’m in charge of a lot of the synth manipulation around this end [points to left side of the stand]. We keep this and this [points to Novation Peak and Roland TB-303] exclusively for Phil, he plays with them.

Orbital’s TB-303 – yes, this is the original one from “Chime”.

Is that your original 303?

Yeah [laughs] can you tell? It’s not even silver any more, it’s brown, it’s like a lot of our gear. Our 909 is held together with love and tape.

So Phil does those. I leave him in charge of the drums at this end [points to Launch Control on the right], but I kind of use these here [points to left Launch Control iPads, and synths]. You know this [points to middle Launch Control] is our crossover point.

If I’m busy arranging then Phil might lean over and do some more mixing – [the Launch Controls and middle synths] are the grey area between the two of us.

Orbital live, main table, front-facing view – Paul stands to the left, Phil to the right.

I would like to start bringing the 909, but it’s just a box too far at the minute. I will do it, it’s the only thing I miss live – we use it a lot in the studio.

Instead of using generic 909 samples, I’ve meticulously sampled my own 909. I think they all sound different, 909s – I can spot mine.

They say the same thing about 303s – that’s why no one emulator gets it totally right.

That’s interesting, because I haven’t noticed that with 303s. We’ve got two and I can’t tell them apart – but maybe they’re from the same batch?

With 909s, there’s definitely different batches of them that sound different. I think it’s more like, there’s three different sounds to 909s, and I’ve had two of them in the past. When I sample my 909 – I don’t round robin it, I keep it very simple – but it sounds right, because it’s my 909.

I do notice the difference if I plug a real 909 in. They drop out as well – they do weird shit! They just lose a kick every now and then, and you kind of turn around and it goes “no no, I’m still here!” [laughs]

So you’re playing the Prophet-6 and the Virus TI a fair amount.

It’s weird – it’s a strange old synth, I like it. It tends to thin woolly pads and sharp things quite nicely. I use it in some tracks quite distorted, as well – I really use the distortion on it. It cuts through like a guitar.

The horn sounds on “Hoo Hoo Ha Ha” from Monsters Exist, is that a wavetable from the Virus?

That’s actually samples from a session we did for the 2squared album with Vince Clarke. I just cut tiny bits of it, and made a new riff with it.

[Starts playing “Hoo Hoo Ha Ha”, mixing in parts and effects]. One of the things that I really like is this side chain kind of effect. One of the send effects is a big delay, another is a big reverb. But this [points to knob on Launch Control channels] is a sidechain from the kick, but it isn’t sidechaining any of the instruments, it’s just sidechaining the effects return.

What’s playing the “Hoo Hoo Ha Ha” chords?

That’s a lot of people, actually, that I recorded coming out of the pub. I got them all to go “uh”, “hah”, “huh”, and then I made a round robin kind of thing and processed it in Kontakt to make it sort of a robotic constant-pitch thing. And then played chords on it.

As a musician, you’ve got Orbital, you’ve got your solo albums, you’ve got 8:58, you’ve got soundtracks, and a couple years ago you had the album 2squared with Vince Clarke. Is there a difference in the compositional mindset when you’re working on material for different projects?

I’d like to pretend there was but there isn’t. I just go and do my thing, wherever I’m doing it.

Clarke:Hartnoll – “Do A Bong”

There’s a kind of Paul Hartnoll sound signature – like on “Do A Bong” with Vince Clarke, I thought “oh, it’s got Orbital chords”

[Laughs] Yeah! That’s what I said to Vince when we were doing that. He played with these kind of…for want of a genre, “nu disco” kind of things, and he said “what can you do?” I said “I wanna bring some live, sort of wild synth passes” – what I call “stadium house” – to it. You know, that kind of big rave, big chords – with a lead line that’s kind of simple over the top.

Paul next to the Ableton Live set (visual trigger clips to the right), Arturia Matrixbrute, and Jupiter-6.

How does the live set work visually?

[Points to Ableton Live set] There’s some video triggers here. When I hit certain scene changes, it triggers off a run of a certain visual. So we can set up things perfectly in time, and [our VJ] doesn’t have to worry about when we’re going to do drop downs.

A show like no other

Ultimately, I’m left with the same thought I had when I saw them in 2012 in Berlin, or when watching the DVD of highlights from their 90s/00s Glastonbury sets: Orbital put on an incredible show. The technology might change – and the visuals are certainly more engaging and impressive than ever – but at the core, it’s the same gorgeous stadium-sized emotional melodies that have kept audiences enthralled for nearly three decades.

With the release of the excellent Monsters Exist, Orbital are exiting 2018 on a high note – and 2019 sees 30 years since the release of “Chime”. We’ll certainly be keen to see what happens next!


The post Like a studio onstage: Orbital tells us their live rig synth secrets appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Ableton Live as standalone hardware? Leaked Akai APC Live

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Wed 2 Jan 2019 3:55 pm

It’s what a lot of people wanted – an MPC crossed with an Ableton Push – which could mean it’s too good to be true. But the APC Live leaked in images looks viable enough, and it could signal big changes for electronic performance in 2019.

Standalone hardware that does what software does – it’s a funny thing. It has seemed inevitable for a long time. But lots of hardware remains tethered to the ubiquitous computer (Ableton Push, Novation Launchpad, Native Instruments Maschine, Native Instruments Traktor) … or is exceptionally expensive (Pioneer CDJ). Then there was Akai’s own MPC Live, which seemed to be both affordable and flexible – you can use it with or without a computer – but failed to catch on. That may be because the MPC Live was too late to win people over to a new workflow. It wasn’t really like the original MPC hardware, and computer users had opted for Maschine, Live, and other tools.

That makes these leaked photos of the supposed Akai APC Live so interesting. Ableton, with a user base literally in the millions, doesn’t have to convince anyone of a new workflow. If the APC Live does what the MPC Live does – work as a controller with your computer plugged in, but then switch to standalone mode for onstage use – it could be a winner.

The ever leak-savvy sequencer.de get the scoop, in a forum post (which seems to get these from an FCC filing):



It seems to have everything you’d need:

A Push-style grid surface with shortcuts.
Encoders and heads-up display for parameter editing.
An MPC-style workspace with edit buttons.
USB connection (locked, so it doesn’t come out accidentally) and 2-port USB hub for expansion (or storage, hard to say).
SD card slot (load samples, sets?).
Separate cue mix for your headphones.
4 outs (so you can also have a separate cue line mix/monitors out, or easy quad output, or whatever)
CV and gate, MIDI – though crammed on minijacks, so you’ll need some dongles, no doubt.
XLR input for a vocal mic.

The only thing that’s odd about this is that the MPC-style screen is tacked rather awkwardly on top, giving this a really tall footprint.

The other big question will be what happens with plug-ins. Akai for their part first came out talking about embedded Windows on their MPC Live, but eventually shipped a Linux-based application. That makes their MPC software behave the same as a self-contained app on the hardware as it does on your computer. But Live users are accustomed to using third-party plug-ins; will they have to stick to Live internal devices when running in standalone mode?

Another possibility – maybe the “live” moniker doesn’t really mean this works on its own. This could just be an oversized controller for Ableton Live, but still tethered to the computer. That would make sense, too – it would be a lot of work to get Live to run on its own, and just shipping another controller would be an easy solution.

Just don’t rule out standalone as a possibility. It’s technically possible, and we know Ableton has posted some Linux and embedded engineering jobs on their site – plus Akai has done this once before, meaning they have the talent in-house to work on it.

I expect we’ll know later this month, either at the NAMM show or slightly before.

The post Ableton Live as standalone hardware? Leaked Akai APC Live appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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