Article on Ableton's recent Live 9 Update and PUSH from Point Blank Blog

This article was written by Ski for the Point Blank Blog and published on 29th October 2012

Live users have been anticipating the announcement of version 9 for over 3 years now, causing some intense speculation about what new features might be added. So when it was finally announced last week, you can imagine the frenzy of excited tweeting and status updating that took place. Ableton's biggest surprise however, was the announcement of a brand new hardware controller entitled 'Push'. On reflection it seems like natural move for Ableton to introduce their own controller, especially when you consider other companies such as Native Instruments andAkai who have been doing this for a quite a while now. Both NI's Maschine and Akai's new MPC Renaissance come with their own standalone DAW software, providing some real competition for Ableton. Push however, raises the bar, and by benefiting from it's predecessors, the APC40 and Launchpad, has combined all the best features to create what seems to be a unique new controller. Let's have a look at what it has to offer..

For me, both the APC40 and Launchpad have their shortcomings. Firstly, the Lauchpad's Pads aren't velocity sensitive, which limits the amount of expression when programming drums for example. Also, to get 'Visual Feedback' working, you need to set up an extra channel in Live to send back the midi data. The APC40 is primarily a clip launcher and mixer controller, and even though various customizations exist, you would generally still need to use a keyboard controller when composing with Ableton. Also, due its limited 5 x 8 grid, you have to rely on the cursor keys to view a large number of clips.

All of these issues have been addressed with Push. The main 8 x 8 grid consists of velocity and pressure sensitive pads which respond with various colours to provide great visual feedback. This is much more akin to the Maschine and Akai MPC pads, especially with features such as Note Repeat and Event Deleting. Step Sequencing seems to be a breeze as well, making this a very attractive input device. Other features include a Ribbon Controller, Touch Sensitive Encoders, 4-line alphanumeric display and a whole host of buttons to control every aspect of Live software.

The buzz word with DAW software these days seems to be 'workflow', and Push exploits Ableton's already great software workflow by allowing you to compose music independently from the computer while harnessing all the powerful devices and features of Live. You really can start a track from scratch, and see it through to the end without having to look at your computer screen. There is also a real emphasis on defining Push as an 'Instrument', especially with the ability to map the pads in a logical way to play Scales and Chords. By learning shapes and patterns, you can effectively play in any key and be writing 'modal jazz' without realising it! This throws up loads of exciting compositional possibilities, and makes Push a truly unique Instrument both in a Live and Studio situation. I feel that the music theory taught with our 'Electronic Music Composition' course will be an essential foundation for working with Push. I'm sure once you become familiar with this new way of playing, Push might be the only thing you need to pack with your laptop when traveling.

Ableton have a real eye to the future, especially with the announcement that Max for Live is being integrated into the Suite version of Live 9. I would imagine that Push could potentially provide limitless possibilities for Max integration, and will be a wonderful vehicle for third party development.

If you want to use Push, then you're going to have to upgrade to version 9 of the software. What exciting new features can you expect? Three new features I personally would have liked to have seen, are the ability to work on dual screen, an extended mixer channel view allowing you to view what devices you had inserted on each channel, and a 'take' function for audio recording. I'm sure they have their reasons for not including these, and to be honest it's never going to stop me loving Live. Here are a few of the new additions that I'm excited about..

Convert Audio to Midi. This is something you have been able to do in Logic for a while, and is also a major selling point of Melodyne, but Ableton's take on it seems to be far more comprehensive with the ability to extract chords and harmonies. This is going to be great as a compositional tool and also extremely useful for interpolating tracks (something we use a lot on the EMC course).

Glue Compressor. Ableton have collaborated with Cytomic to include their 'Glue Compressor' as a native device in Live 9. It is based on the classic 80's British Big Console buss compressor, and is designed to 'Glue' together your mix. Cytomic have also developed a new algorithm for Live's EQ8 device. I see this as a real concerted effort by Ableton to encourage users to stick with its DAW from the conception of a track right through to the final mixdown.

Recording Automation in clips in Session view. This makes me very happy! Previously you had to manually draw in the automation using the clip envelopes, but now you can record it in using your control surface of choice (including Push which it has obviously been included for). It's also worth noting that you can create automation curves now, and create breakpoints by single clicking. All very useful.

There are some other nice inclusions too, and seeing as the software will remain in Beta until it's launch in the first quarter of 2013, there may still be a few more hidden surprises. For the time being though, I am very excited by last week's announcement, and I can see Live's fan base increasing rapidly well into the future.