If you are into music technology and already making music at home using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) then I am sure this scenario will be familiar. You sit down to start making some music but faced with a blank timeline, inspiration deserts you and you are left feeling creatively uninspired. Music software packages such as Cubase, Logic or Sonar have all evolved along similar lines and operate in a similar way. Unfortunately they offer only one approach to the music making process which doesn’t necessarily encourage experimentation and spontaneity.
The good news is that Ableton Live has been designed to offer a genuine alternative way to work and is growing in popularity amongst those of us who are bored of working in the traditional way. Interestingly Live takes a similar approach to the old hardware sequencers that were popular with live electronic acts such as Orbital and Underworld. These sequencers used looped sections of a track (see Ableton Courses info for more detail) which would be triggered by the acts on stage and manipulated via FX and EQ to provide the audience with a live, spontaneous remix of tracks they already know and love.
Ableton Live has two modes or “views” in which to compose your music. The arrangement view will be familiar to anyone who has used some of the traditional sequencer packages mentioned above. But where Live really comes into its own is the Session View. The Session is used to organize and trigger sets of sounds, called clips. Think of it as a kind of musical sketch pad where you can experiment with audio loops, samples and MIDI sequences before arranging them into a track.
Another unique feature in Live is its ability to manipulate audio as if it was elastic. Live's Time Warp feature can be used to either correct or adjust the timing of any piece of audio from a sample to an entire track. This means that tempo becomes completely fluid and you can fit any audio sample to the tempo that you are working at. “Warp Markers” allow you to push and pull individual beats to correct (or destroy) the timing and create unique effects. You can choose from several Warp Modes depending upon materials you work with.
Ableton Live also features an array of built–in instruments and effects:
Impulse is a basic drum sequencer instrument Simpler is a relatively easy to use sampling instrument.
There are a number of additional instruments which can be purchased separately or as part of the Ableton Suite package:
Sampler is an enhanced sampler
Operator is an FM synthesizer.
Electric is an electric piano instrument.
Tension is a string physical modelling synthesiser.
Analog simulates an analog synthesizer.
Drum Machines is a collection of emulators for classic drum machines.
Session Drums is a collection of sampled drum and percussion instruments.
Essential Instruments Collection is a large collection of acoustic and electric instrument samples. Orchestral Instrument Collection is a collection of four different orchestral libraries, which can be purchased individually or as a bundle.
Audio effects included in the package include:
Chorus Compressor I
Gate Grain Delay
Ping Pong Delay
Additionally there are a handful of MIDI-only effects including arpeggiator, chord, pitch, random, scale, and velocity. Live is also compatible with VST and AU plug-ins so you can utilise additional software instruments and effects.