Ableton today released Version 11 of its flagship Ableton Live software, building on the previous update’s virtual sound design tools and workflow improvements. Among the new additions are long-requested instrument expression and recording functions likely to entice live musicians and studio engineers to the digital audio workstation (DAW).
Roll That Tape
Producing music in Live has historically been an experience centered around an “in-the-box” workflow with an emphasis on sequencing, virtual sound design, and dance music-oriented audio processing. While the integration of external hardware instruments and live recording have been perfectly serviceable in Live for many years, studio and recording engineers still prefer alternatives like Pro Tools, Cubase, and Logic Pro for their more comprehensive multitrack toolboxes.
With the new Live 11 release, though, Ableton is taking a firm step in the direction of offering a viable and competitive solution for tracking bands, hip-hop artists, and instrumental ensembles.
Chief among these new features is the brand-new comping architecture for easily recording and compositing various takes of any audio or MIDI lines. Specifically, comping allows musicians and vocalists to record multiple attempts of the same melody or verse, then select the best phrases or notes from each of those takes and combine them into a single perfect line.
Ableton’s implementation is characteristically straightforward and efficient. Looping a set number of beats, the musician or vocalist can lay down a few versions of the same line without pause while the software creates new lanes for each take under a master clip. Then, by simply highlighting the best bits of the individual runs, the master clip integrates those selections into a single best-of audio or MIDI file.
Multitrack recording gets a similar upgrade in the form of Linked Tracks editing. Studio recording of drums and other instruments often involves two or more microphones, and often many more, to capture the full sound of the instrument.
Each of these microphones is recorded into its own audio file, leaving the recording engineer with multiple tracks to edit and keep in time. Live 11 now allows you to lock any number of tracks together, keeping arrangement placement and warp markers consistent across the individual clips, and functionally treating them as a single audio or MIDI file.
Now Play It Back
Instrumentalists and live musicians also have some treats awaiting them in Live 11. The long-awaited integration of MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) recording and editing brings a wealth of expressive note data to the DAW’s existing MIDI functionality, including pitch, timbre, and pressure variation.
Owners of hardware like the ROLI Seaboard and Ableton’s own Push controllers will now be able to record MPE data directly into MIDI clips, with full support for per-note data editing and chord cross-note morphing for some truly wild sounds. As of release, the Wavetable, Sampler, and Arpeggiator support MPE natively, with further integrations sure to follow in future updates.
Device racks also see some welcome improvements in this update. Macros can be scaled down to a single knob for interface simplicity or up to sixteen controls for deep parameter flexibility. Macro randomization, with the ability to lock specific knobs, can certainly yield some interesting sound design results, while the introduction of macro snapshot storing within the device rack grants users a quick and easy way to save the most memorable outcomes and recall them without diverting their attention elsewhere.
Chance and randomization are certainly a focus in Live 11, with the introduction of note and velocity chance within MIDI clips. In addition to the familiar velocity edit interface in the clip edit window, each note can be designated with a specific probability of occurring, generating unusual pattern variations with a single midi clip over time.
Similarly, the velocity of each note can also be assigned a range and probability of triggering. This introduces not only the randomization of patterns, but their humanization too – something likely welcome to producers with limited playback recording capabilities.
Live performance artists also get some useful tools today. Live can now interpret the overall BPM of any incoming audio signal and keep the session in time with that feed.
Helpful in situations where an Ableton user needs to keep time with a live instrumentalist like a drummer, this feature will likely work better with certain genres than others, but is an algorithm likely to be updated frequently.
In a live performance situation, system slowdowns can easily kill the vibe of the show, so the addition of CPU-usage meters under each channel can help quickly identify overloaded tracks and devices. Finally, added functionality for Follow Actions are a welcome expansion for clip-based Ableton DJs.
Live 11 introduces an array of new devices and environmental sound effects, including a Hybrid Reverb, Spectral Resonator, and a jittery glitch effect called PitchLoop89 designed by Robert Henke. A partnership with MaxforLive developer and audio effects wizard Dillon Bastan delivers six instruments and effects inspired by physical and natural modeling. And a new collaboration with Spitfire Audio brings an updated range of classic chamber instruments to Ableton’s audio library.
See the Ableton Live 11 feature page for a full dive into these and other additions and improvements to the software.
Ableton Live 11 might not be the most glittering, feature-heavy update in years, but it does bring a number of new and improved functionalities that greatly expand its viability in both live performance and pro studio recording environments. The addition of comping and multitrack editing will surely turn the heads of entrenched recording engineers, while the added MIDI and note editing tools will help producers create more expressive compositions.
Ableton Live 11 is available for download today via Ableton.com.