Ableton Live 11

REVIEW: Ableton Live 11

Will Ableton Live 11 be the version that tempts composers away from other music-based software? Music technology lecturer and author Stephen Bennett delivers the Audio Media International verdict…

What is it?
Live 11 is Ableton’s latest version of their music creation and performance software.

Whats great?
Some useful improvements for performance and recording. Live is still as unique a tool as ever. Spitfire’s orchestral packs are great.

Whats not?
MPE not available on all Live’s Instrument—yet. It’s a steep learning curve for the new user, but patience reaps rewards.

The bottom line
Live 11 is an essential upgrade for all Live users, while improvements in the ‘linear’ elements of the software might tempt others to join the Live community.

Although a process of convergent evolution has taken place in the world of Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs), Ableton Live has always stood out from the crowd. Eschewing the ‘tape recorder’ paradigm of most DAWS, Live‘s Session view allows the musician to create and manipulate audio and MIDI clips without the constraint of a linear timeline.

The addition of Max for Live, an Ableton-specific offshoot of Cycling 74’ Max/MSP DSP software, took the software into areas that other DAWs cannot follow. Over the years, Live has also developed into a fully functional recording and mixing environment while retaining the unique features that make it popular amongst performers. and EDM and experimental music makers.

Build quality
Happily, Live 11 looks and feels very similar to earlier versions, so old hands should have no problems finding their way around. But there are many improvements under the hood, many of which have been requested by the Live users community. The most welcome (to me at least) is the new Comping feature. In the Arrangement view, you can now record audio or MIDI ‘take lines’ into Live and then swipe across the parts of the recordings you wish to keep, thus creating a composite ‘perfect’ track.

Two or more Tracks can be linked together for phase-locked Comping which is essential for editing drum and percussion tracks. Live has always been a useful tool for real-time performance, so the new Chance Tools offer ways to add some randomness to velocity or probability of the note playing. Each note can have its own Chance value and velocity ranges. It’s a powerful tool that could ensue each night’s performance isn’t a clone of the previous one. Speaking of performance, Live 11 can now follow an external Tempo in real time, which should make working live with so-called ‘real musicians’ easier as well as allowing you to add to synchronise Clips to previously recorded material.

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The Follow actions feature has been improved to allow you to fix the playback of Clips and jump to Scenes. Collections of effects in Live can be grouped into Racks and Macros can be set up to group together the most commonly used parameters. Previously, Live offered eight Macros but I found this quite a limitation, so it’s nice to see this upgraded to sixteen in Live 11.

There’s also a new ‘variation’ randomisation function that can be applied to the Macro controls. Live now supports the MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) protocol which allows the capture of many different MIDI data at the same time using MPE-enabled controllers such as the ROLI Seaboard. As I write, only Sampler and Wavetable support this relativity new protocol, but I suspect more of Live’s Instruments capable of multichannel expression will be updated over time.

Many of Live’s audio effects have been updated (though older versions remain in the Legacy folder) Some have been consolidated into a single effect, such as the Phaser-Flanger, and many have been expanded with more options and extra graphical elements. There is also a brace of new effects. The Hybrid reverb is a convolution/algorithmic reverberator where both processing options can be used in series or parallel.

The Spectral effects consist of a Resonator, which generates harmonics from incoming audio and Time which uses pitch shifting and delay to modify time-frozen audio. Some really nice glassy/bell and granular sounds can be coaxed from these. PitchLoop89 is a Max for Live Device inspired by the classic 1970s effects processor, the Publison DHM 89. It’s an unusual delay-based effect and I found it really useful for developing ambient textures. Spitfire Audio, the respected UK-based creator of some of the best orchestral libraries around, has developed Strings, Brass and Piano packs for use in Live’s Sampler.

These sound as beautiful and playable as Spitfire’s other libraries and are really the icing on the cake of Live 11. Also included with the Live 11 suite is the ‘Inspired by Nature’ collection of visual Max for Live Devices, developed in collaboration with Dillon Bastan. For creators of experimental and ambient music, these can be used to produce generative and evolving soundscapes. They’re certainly going to be handy if you are doing sound creation for video games.

Logic Pro now has a feature called ‘Live Loops’ which works in a similar fashion to Live’s Session view, so it’s a kind of a payback that the latter programme’s new Comping feature is very similar to that found in Apple’s software—it’s that convergent evolution in action again. But programmes like Logic Pro and Pro Tools are really different beasts to Live and many composers use Ableton’s software alongside a more ‘traditional’ DAW.

The latest version features improvements for those using Live for performance, while there are some also many upgrades in the software’s useability as a general digital DAW. I can’t imagine why any Live user would not want to update to version 11, but even if you are ‘embedded’ in another DAWs ecosystem, Live is a complimentary program that can help inspiration strike—long live Live!

Available now

Live Intro, £71/$99
Live Standard £323/$449
Live Suite £539/$749

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