Live 8 – where the puck is headed

There’s no shortage of coverage on Ableton Live, so this is more of a commentary on the general way in which Ableton is using their releases of Live to drive the DAW industry in new directions.


Look at any other DAW package (especially the expensive ones) and you’ll see a plethora of sampled instruments.  Logic Studio’s box set is one of the more expansive collections, taking over 20GB of hard drive space for all of these highly detailed, recorded instruments.

Ableton Live 8 comes with some sampled instruments (if you buy the boxed version) but they’re not the highlight, either in the marketing or the software itself.  To Ableton, modeled instruments are the future and are seen as an obviously better choice.

It seems it would come down to this: once a set of instruments becomes widely recognizable (like the ones in GarageBand have), it’s very difficult to use them in a way that doesn’t give away what program/package you used.  Ableton’s way of addressing this is saying “OK, so you want to sound unique?  Here’s the most extensible set of instruments we could come up with – make whatever sound you want.”

The only thing conceivably separating one modeling synth from another is UI.  Tension, for instance, could easily be combined with Collision in a similar way to Logic’s “Sculpture” synth (using a materials grid to define the medium for wave propagation.”  I think this is important for Live 8 and future versions, because Ableton could decide to combine/split these modeling algorithms into whatever product mix they’d like.  You can’t do that with sampled sounds, which are usually sold in genre-related packages.


Another thing Ableton is ardently pushing is the Session View, which is simultaneously the coolest and most fear-inducing feature of Live for new users.  Once someone new to Live learns how to use Session view, it’s like the clouds lift and the world is spread before them, but the first time someone sees Live, they will invariably say “where’s the timeline?”

I like that Ableton is not backing down on this.  Session view is the default, and they’re highlighting it first and foremost in all of the marketing for Live 8.  Heck, the video on doesn’t show too many new features; it shows a guy making music with Session view.  Any Ableton user already knows how to use this, so this feature is obviously being used to introduce new users to Live.  I’m guessing that Ableton is anticipating a huge increase in users after the high degree of media coverage at NAMM when Live 8 was announced.  This is great news for anyone who already uses Live, as more users generally equals better support for all (look at how much better Logic was after a few years of Apple fans jumping onboard).

I’m honestly surprised there aren’t any companies trying to outright copy Session View from Ableton.  It’s their sleeping giant.  We’ll wake up one day and everyone will be composing music like this, and all the other companies will wish they had gotten on board earlier.


Or not.  The most disappointing thing about yesterday’s news was the exclusion of Max for Live, though it was admittedly already planned as a separate release.  I feel pretty strongly that patching is an important tool in audio creation, and it would have been nice to see it spotlighted alongside the rest of the new features.  Then again, doing this might have the effect of scaring off users who think it looks too difficult; I don’t really care – I’m just way too excited about this feature to hold back in saying I really wanted to try it out like NOW.


Also, it would seem that Ableton is following the Apple style of marking new releases with a plethora of slick-produced video segments designed to walk new users through the program.  Live 8 will benefit more from this than many other products because there are still quite a few people in the audio field who haven’t used it yet.

A year from now at NAMM it will be interesting to see if the Ableton keynote becomes the “Stevenote” for audio professionals.  Here’s hoping.

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.

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