After last week’s maybe-intentional-maybe-not leak/fumble, the inevitable announcement of Ableton Live 9 came today along with an unexpected extra…
Lots of the time, people in positions like mine (usually like mine but with slightly fewer fried egg stains on their t-shirt) hear wind of new things in hushed tones a while before they happen, and often a little bit more on top as long as they’ve signed a non disclosure agreement. The best thing about NDAs is you can be pretty elusive about what you’ve been privy to after the fact and gain some mystique points in the process, but I’m going to come right out and say that today’s Live 9 announcement took me a little by surprise.
Not Live 9, of course – that’s sort of been inevitable for a while and most of the features are very much obvious, logical steps forward. I’m a little surprised by Push, a new controller engineered by Akai. Let’s look at Push and Ableton Live 9 – what we know, what we think, cost, availability, and videos:
Includes Ableton Live 9 Intro
64 RGB colour Velocity & Pressure sensitive pads
16 RGB multicolour buttons
11 encoders, lots of buttons
2 Footswitch inputs
Four line text screen
USB Bus powered
Live 9 Prices
Ableton Live 9 Intro – €79
Standard – €349
Suite – €599
Available: ‘soon’ (both).
Push: the Ultimate Ableton Live Controller?
Just as we thought it would be Akai and Native Instruments battling out the hybrid market with MPC and Maschine, Ableton throw their cap into the ring with Push.
This really does have me curious, because Akai’s Renaissance and forthcoming Studio controllers might not be in direct, box ticking, feature set competition with Ableton Live but it certainly seems that there’s enough crossover to put Akai into competition with themselves (oh, wait, now I get it!). Now, Akai are legendary for their pads and save for a little misstep with their early controllers (which weren’t as bad as a lot of people made out, they just weren’t great), which has been firmly put behind them with the MAX49′s excellent new design, this is a good sign for Push. Similarly, MPC Renaissance is very well built, and with Push’s €499 price tag I’m sure everyone’s bringing their A game.
The 64 full RGB pads look stunning (along with two rows of thinner, but still multicolour, on/off buttons) and if they have the response necessary for expressive playing I don’t think their slightly smaller-than-usual-for-a-pad-controller will be much of an issue. They’re certainly not tiny, as Push itself is a big, almost imposing unit.
Eschewing the full screen dot matrix display route, Ableton have plumped for an ASCII screen that will show control names and values as well as, it looks like, allow menu switching and navigation. Combined with the new browser in Ableton Live 9, this will allow you to browse and load sounds into tracks from the controller itself – there are things that keyboard and mouse are good for, but quickly switching through sounds whilst playing isn’t one of them so this is a huge deal for Ableton Live fans who wish there was a little more of a classic hardware feel to Live.
Along with the browsing, playing, navigation, and step sequencing can all be done with Push. This kind of thing has been done before with previous Ableton collaborations (Akai’s APC20 and APC40, and Novation’s LaunchPad), but multi coloured pads and new capabilities in Ableton Live 9 mean that I would be extremely surprised if this isn’t the most tightly integrated Ableton Live controller ever made.
Ableton Live 9 – Detailed MIDI Information from Audio
Slice to New MIDI Track has been expanded upon, and now not only timing information but also pitch can be guessed from an audio source. Beatbox a drum loop and Ableton Live 9 will automatically pull it apart, guessing your kick, hat, and snare sounds. Hum a melody and Ableton Live 9 will transcribe it to MIDI notes. Ableton aren’t the first people to include functionality like this direct into the DAW but (and I could be wrong about this) it strikes me that more users that would want to regularly use this will be using Ableton Live anyway because of other features and workflows that very much go hand in hand with it.
Ableton Live 9 - Improved MIDI Transcription and Integration
Ableton Live’s journey into the land of MIDI is still maturing, and this update gives us some power user features for editing MIDI, like transposition, invert and reverse, double and half speed, legato, and so on. Automation in session clips is now possible, automation is warped along with audio, MIDI notes in general can be ‘warped’ with the new MIDI note stretch feature, there’s true curved automation envelopes,and no doubt a few more things here and there. Combine these features with the audio to MIDI analysis of Ableton Live 9 and it looks like even the most demanding MIDI users will be catered to.
Improved MIDI Mapping?
For most users, Ableton Live’s MIDI learning is just fine. There are some annoying bits though, and when you start to get to intermediate and advanced usage, especially for setting up a studio control surface or a live performance set that relies on a lot of complicated pairings, its limitations start to become apparent. Now, this is pure speculation at the moment but three very interesting words popped up in the debut video: MIDI Transform Tools. Those three words are sat atop a MIDI interface, and my inference is that there’s going to be a much more advanced translation/transformation layer between Ableton Live 9′s engine and its MIDI ports – something along the lines of Bome’s MIDI Translator would be amazing, but MidiPipe or MidiOX level tools would be very exciting too. Take this with a pinch of salt for now – but if we’re bang on remember where you heard it first!
Ableton Live 9 - New and Improved Effects and Instruments
Without listening and playing around it’s tough to speak on the new Glue Compressor effect, but it’s encouraging that Ableton have looked at their EQ Eight, Compressor, and Gate effect and tightened them up. It’d be great if they’d look at a few more things – true transparency in Auto filter, for instance, would have been nice – but it’s good that ‘core’ effects that Ableton Live 9 standard edition users will get have been upgraded.
I don’t know whether Ableton are still paying off the R&D for Sampler or not, but I’m a little bit surprised to see that it’s not included in Live 9 standard edition. Perhaps some of the frustrating light feature set in Simpler (one shot mode and time stretch are two features Simpler lacks off the top of my head) has finally been added to, or perhaps the workflow of most people just doesn’t call for anything more than Simpler’s very simplistic functionality.
Other than that, nothing’s a big shock when it comes to the tiering of Ableton Live 9 Intro, Ableton Live 9, and Ableton Live 9Suite. Everything’s more or less as it’s always… wait. Max for Live is now in Ableton Live 9 Suite? This is a big one. There’s never been a problem with Max for Live per se, but I think it’s been hindered by its pricing as it’s essentially only really enticing to people who want to get under the bonnet of Live themselves, not people who just want to get into the Max community as a user. Ableton Live 9 Suite might have a generous stock of instruments out of the box, but Max for Live compatibility extends that a gazillion-fold (and with Bitwig’s promise that direct in app framework editing of Bigwig Studio is on their roadmap, it’s certainly a box ticker for feature comparisons… not that you can feature compare two pieces of software that aren’t out yet).
The Look… and the Price
Everybody seems to be refreshing their image lately, and Ableton’s swanky new website and general ID is much more refined and classy. The same goes for Live 9 too; a tweak here and there makes, on top of the practical changes, Ableton Live 9 a prettier DAW. It’s subtle, but it’s there. I wonder whether the new engine will support user definable colour schemes, although it’s probably not at the top of many peoples’ lists and rightly so. It’s really nice to see Max for Live absorbed into Ableton Live 9 Suite without it bumping up the cost, and is it just me or is Ableton Live 9 Intro cheaper than Ableton Live 8 Intro? I forget.
As for Push? Well, it’s pretty gorgeous if you ask me. It’s bound to be extremely well built, as Ableton will be keen to make a good impression. The price is pretty eye watering, but bear in mind there are 64 multi coloured, velocity and pressure sensitive pads, a four line, 72 character display, a touch strip, and more than a handful of buttons. Let’s put it this way: I’m looking forward to having a play.