What is Ableton Live?

A group in this context is a column of clip slots that are separated from the next group by an empty clip slot. There are two follow-on actions per clip, and you can set the probability of each happening compared to the other.


This sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is, and playing around with these settings generates more or less subtle variations on repetitive patterns that would take ages with conventional beat-slicing methods or MIDI editing. Another use for this function would be the creation of nested loops, which can be achieved by cleverly combining follow-on actions with varying start points in separate clips, using the same piece of audio.

I'd imagine this to be very useful for DJs wanting to create extended mixes of tracks. Live 4 offers two samplers, Impulse and Simpler. The interface is simple and intuitive, using drag-and-drop to assign samples from the browser and featuring a set of controls for each sample. There is a resonant filter, plus drive and tune functions, with additional controls including sample start and decay.

Velocity can be set to control volume, tuning, filter and stretch settings. Again the simplicity of the device is very much in line with the overall design philosophy behind Live, and it has to be said that this is a very effective little sample player. A new sampler instrument: Impulse. Live does not provide a sample editor, and although most people probably have a stand-alone application like Peak for this purpose, I did miss it at times, especially when my ASIO driver would only allow for one application to address the audio interface.

Shutting down the application in order to load Peak, which then has to be shut down in order to return to Live, seems rather a palaver if all you want to do is extract 2ms worth of noise to use in a sampler.

However, you will encounter the same problem with a number of programs, such as Reaktor, and it's not a problem in OS X. A new instrument: Simpler. Each instance of Simpler will only play back one sample at a time, but it provides more sophisticated sound manipulation, such as an ADSR filter envelope, key tracking, sample looping and an LFO which is assigned to pitch. This is obviously designed for melodic or pad sounds, but don't throw out your copy of Reaktor just yet. And, it has to be said, no sequencer application gives you all the sound-generating facilities you'll ever need.

There are also a number of MIDI effects, including one for rescaling incoming MIDI notes in order to make shifting the pitch easy, a chord effect which builds up to six notes around any incoming note, and a self-explanatory Random device that works on pitch. The Velocity plug-in looks and acts like a sophisticated compressor with a random element thrown in — very slick!

These effects can be dragged very much like audio plug-ins into the signal chain prior to the MIDI instrument, with the audio plug-ins being inserted post-instrument. The arrangement chooser looks very much like a conventional desktop hard disk recording package, but it still integrates all the same functions as the Session view. The main difference is that it is used for a more off-line approach, in the way that you might use a Pro Tools setup with copy and paste functions to assemble loops into a structure.

It still allows you to trigger audio using the same sources, but it renders the results visually in the more conventional horizontal track view we all know from other packages. This mode could be used to construct a track from scratch by dragging and dropping parts from the browser onto the track slots, or to fine-tune and edit a performance that was created using triggers. It also allows us to superimpose more linear graphic envelopes that don't repeat with each trigger of a sample as they do in the Session view.

Alesis VI Series - Setup with Ableton Live Lite

Another, obvious reason to use this view is to copy and paste, cut and generally mess with an arrangement. On the subject of copy and paste, though, there were a couple of situations when I was the Arrange view and I had worked on a section in detail using envelopes in the clip view, but then wished for the possibility to paste them back into the Session view. This doesn't seem to be possible, and would be on my wish list for further updates. Live calls the pieces of audio or MIDI data used in a session or arrangement 'clips', and in order for clips to work in the context of a Live arrangement they have to be prepared in the clip view, which — like the effects and instrument editing pages — uses the lower section of the Session or Arrange page.

Here, we decide how a piece of audio is being triggered. There are four launch modes: trigger, gate, toggle and repeat. Trigger is what is also known as 'one-shot' in the world of sampling, whilst gate plays a clip for as long as the key is held down, toggle uses one key-press for on and the next for off, and repeat plays the looped clip until another clip is triggered in the same track.

User Manual

For audio clips, the clip view shows a waveform display, and is where playback parameters such as 'warp mode' the type of time-stretching algorithm that is most appropriate for the job in hand , level and tuning can be set. A clip is more than just a bit of audio, though, since it can be prepared for playback in the clip view in a multitude of non-destructive ways, setting a host of playback parameters such as pitch, trigger points, panning, levels, warp modes, warp markers which can be thought of as quantisation anchors within a piece of audio, corresponding to slice points in an application such as Recycle and even the grain size of the time-stretching cycles over time interesting for textural variation , with the aid of controls as well as envelopes.

This way, the same piece of raw data can be made to sound completely different without the need to create a new audio file, and the variations are virtually limitless. A nice feature is that the length of the envelopes can be decoupled from the sample length, in order to have variations in the envelopes over multiple cycles of the sample.

This way a one-bar audio loop can be turned in something more interesting using envelopes that repeat over a longer period. Since there is no need to render each variation to disk, Live is very efficient in terms of hard drive load. For some more extreme manipulations, and when doing a lot of crazy warping to a lot of material, it becomes necessary to switch clips to RAM mode, which stores them in RAM ready to be triggered, thus reducing disk traffic and CPU load.

This is a very useful function introduced with the release of version 3. Mixing and routing is handled in the Session window. The mixer part of the Session view has undergone a significant revamp since version 3 and allows for more complex routing. Audio channels can get their signal from a number of sources such as the individual outputs of Impulse or any other multiple-output plug-in, other audio channels for subgrouping purposes, the master out for resampling, external sources, and so on.

This routing is done via the In Out section of each track and in general works very well. By default, solo cuts all other signals and sends the selected track to the main output, which is quite restrictive, meaning that you cannot switch a number of tracks into solo mode together, and you never hear the effect returns when in solo.

However, this behaviour can be changed by disabling the Solo Exclusive preference, whereupon any number of solo buttons can be activated and these signals are all mixed together. Alternatively, the Solo Exclusive preference can be overriden by using the Command Mac and Ctrl PC modifiers when soloing multiple sources. This works fine but I still feel that there is room for a couple of improvements: when multiple signals are routed to a group track both the source and the group track need to be in solo in order to hear anything, and the same applies when you want to listen to a signal with its aux effect.

A real solo-in-place configuration would be more comfortable in this case. Conversely, if you want to hear only the Aux return you need to solo it with the source and then lift that from the mix buss, and listening to just a group return entails selecting solo on all its sources as well as the return channel. I feel that a true PFL mode would be the more efficient solution. The MIDI routing works along similar lines to the audio, with the inputs and outputs of each track effectively functioning like a patchbay.

It is also possible to bounce several MIDI tracks together in this way, but interestingly this is the only way of combining MIDI tracks destined for the same sound generator. There is something to be said for the good old glueing tool to do this job, since that doesn't have to be done in real time. New to version 4 of Live are MIDI clips, which are handled in a similar way to their audio counterparts, with the clip view offering some of the same parameters such as volume and pan, plus MIDI-specific parameters, some of which depend on the sound source.

Ableton's design philosophy of simplicity and instant gratification certainly comes into full force here, and they have improved on some aspects of traditional MIDI editing windows. I like the way the pencil tool acts as an eraser when you click on a space that's already taken — why should you have to switch tools for such an obvious task?

The 'fold' button is also worthy of mention: this condenses the display matrix to show only the MIDI notes that are actually used in the clip, thus reducing scrolling up and down to get to two adjacent notes that might be a couple of octaves apart. Notes can be selected in all the usual ways, including rubber-banding the mouse over an area of multiple notes, or shift-selecting them individually. It is also possible to click on the field to the left of a row of notes and select all notes of the same pitch, which is useful, especially when you want to adjust the overall level of one drum sound in a part while retaining the dynamic variation between individual hits.

MIDI controllers are manipulated using the envelopes, which can be drawn in using the pencil tool from the main control bar. Despite Ableton's claim to have developed a completely new way of handling MIDI, though, it has to be said that it is hard to completely reinvent a format so well established, and as a user of Logic who is used to having at least two simultaneous displays, I find Live 4's MIDI slightly on the frugal side. I really do miss having some numeric information about position, velocity and so on, since purely graphic manipulation is not my thing.

But this is a personal choice, and I know plenty of musicians who would say the opposite. Put it this way: it is hard to imagine Sir George Martin doing his next orchestral arrangement using Live, but then again I don't see him scratching beats either. Live's MIDI is great for simple, pattern-based music such as is found in most dance styles, while people who want to be able to approach the subject from a more musicianly point of view will want to stick to Sibelius or Logic.

They will, however, still love the possibilities Live gives them in the audio domain, and of course it's still easy to run Live as a Rewire slave to a more mainstream MIDI program. Also in the clip view section, we prepare the timing and tuning aspects of a clip. Live's ability to time-stretch audio in real time depends on preparing clips and storing information about the transients they contain as 'warp markers'. One drawback of Beat mode is that it introduces artificial transients on hits that are longer than the selected resolution.

If, for example, a loop is essentially made up of 16th notes with the occasional eighth in between, the longer notes will acquire a slight peak halfway through. This leads to audible signal degradation, depending on how extreme the time-stretching is. In some cases this can be a good thing when you are trying to create interesting sounds, but the compound effect can be quite severe, and anyone trying to achieve natural-sounding tracks needs to watch out.

I found that one way around the problem is to layer stretched loops with clean samples in order to mask the effect. This effect also becomes quite obvious when dealing with clips that consist of whole tracks when these contain some non-rhythmic passages, such as ambient drops or a cappella vocals. Setting so-called 'warp markers' within a piece of audio determines which points of the clip will be quantised to the tempo.

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For this purpose Live writes another file, associated with the original audio file, onto disk. Having prepared clips in this way you can combine any piece of audio with any other and the software will automatically play them in time with each other. It's in this instant matching of material that Live is so different to any of the other software around. Even when auditioning clips from disk that have not been made part of the session in the browser window, Live will play them back in time, provided they have been truncated and warp-marked at some point.

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If they have not been prepared the software takes an educated guess, which sometimes works if the sample has at least been cut to the nearest bar. Apart from the DJing applications, these features make Live a very powerful composition and beat-generating tool as well.

How to Install and Activate Ableton Live Lite

In the so-called legato mode, for example, all loops get triggered at the same time, and switching from one clip to another in this mode means that playback switches from one clip to another mid-bar rather than retriggering the new loop on the downbeat. Combining a number of drum loops in this way makes Live a great groove-creation tool. Another welcome addition to the feature list in Live 4 is the swing function, which globally adds swing in percentage points to all MIDI clips and audio that has 'warp' enabled and isn't set to Repitch mode.

Unfortunately Live still doesn't allow for user-built groove templates, but compared to the options available in previous versions straight quantise or no quantise this is a vast improvement that in all fairness will be good enough for most situations. Loops with an inherent swing need to be straightened out first by setting the warp markers to each swung hit , because otherwise there will be a compound effect when you apply additional swing. While we're on the subject of new features, Live now allows for reverse playing of clips by writing temporary files onto the hard disk.

Apart from the above-mentioned launch modes there is also the legato setting in the clip view, which allows the player to vary the pitch of a clip during playback — if you like, superimposing a melody onto a piece of audio that is continuously playing. Its intuitive blend of MPC controls and technologies mesh with easy USB connectivity to bring the feel of classic beat making into the world of computer music production.

Here is a guide to show you how to set this up with the included Ableton Live Lite software. If you haven't already, download and activate the included version of Ableton Live Lite.

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The video below will walk you through this process:. Once Ableton is installed, refer to our guide below for instructions on installing and authorizing the included Big Bang Cinematic Percussion and Big Bang Drums if you plan on using these with Ableton:. This will tell the pads to match correctly with the software you're using. Download and install the editor from the product page. To do this:.