Still evaluating Live 8 – or want to learn more about how to use it? You can now read my review of Ableton Live 8 free on Keyboard Magazine’s site:

Ableton Live 8 Review [Keyboard Magazine]
See also (via comments) Nick Rothwell’s review for Sound on Sound June [subscription or US$1.49 fee required]

Keyboard doesn’t yet have comments, so feel free to discuss – or disagree – here.

I wanted to back up a little bit and consider Live as if for the first time. Now, I had also personally heard at least Robert Henke complain at one point that reviews of Live were uncritical. That to me would be a flaw as a reviewer, because all software designs involve compromises, so no software can ever be perfect. Here, I still feel there’s legitimate room for improvement in terms of the way Live handles interactive clip triggering and how it assigns control. Of course, we’re not just passively complaining about it – there’s also a community of Live users working to hack in functionality they need using the Live API, both via Python and forthcoming Max for Live.

Also for the review, I shot some quick video demos of features that were easier to show than describe, namely the new instrument Collision and the Vocoder effect. These are basically mini-tutorials on these creations. See Collision at top, Vocoder after the break at bottom. Fixed! Now the top video is actually the Collision video. (Oops.)

I’m a huge fan of physical modeling and Applied Acoustics, and Collision is one of the best percussion models I’ve seen. It starts to approach some of what’s possible in Apple’s Sculpture in Logic, but in a much more focused context, and with some unparalleled resonators (which you can also use on their own in the form of Corpus). See the top video for a walkthrough of the interface.

We may need to revisit the vocoder issue as there’s a new vocoder in FL Studio (Vocodex in the current beta), plus the existing vocoder in Reason. Sounds like there’s an article here waiting to happen. I like Ableton’s vocoder, though; it’s a different implementation and coupled with their unique Frequency Shifter, you can get some really unusual sounds.

For more Live 8 learning (and a more in-depth discussion of different ways of approaching the Frequency Shifter):

Live 8 Videos: New Warping Explained, APC + ReMOTE SL Integration

Ableton Live 8 Misuse: Ping Pong Psuedo Scratching Effect Video Tutorial

Ableton Live 8 Creative Tutorial Videos: Using and Misusing Groove Extraction

Ableton Live 8 Creative Tutorial Videos: Misusing Frequency Shifter

  • I wrote the Live 8 review for Sound On Sound (UK) – (subscription to) article here:

    so I'll definitely read yours when I get a spare moment and compare notes (especially about how we respectively try to explain the new warping machinery…!).

  • Cody

    We have dishwashers and microwave ovens…

    We also have Drum Racks 😀

    Nice to see impulse again though… been ages..

  • Lloyd Barrett

    Both videos are the vocoder one Peter!


  • Marquis-boy

    (Is it just me, are are the two videos here the same? Might need a link check.)

    The one shown (on vocoder to effect timbre) is great. I find with Ableton Live the limits are not in the software but in your imagination. So many great sounds can be conjured up just by experimenting with effects, puttign them where they weren;t designed to be, breaking the rules. I see online tip videos all the time and think "now why haven't I tried that before!". I guess the real limit is time – I could lose myself forever playing in Ableton!

  • @Lloyd + Marquis-boy — thanks for the catch! Sorry about that! 😉

    It was SO great, I embedded it twice. (Actually, ironically, I was happier with the Collision video.) 😉

    But Marquis-boy, I absolutely agree, and it's really what I love about Ableton's design aesthetic. I really wish we'd see more focus in instruments and effects on this kind of focus, because it leads to play. It's something for the rest of us when building Max/Pd patches at whatnot, even if just for ourself — to engineer the thing, but design it in a way that allows you to easily experiment.

  • Actually, maybe one of the vocoder videos was the carrier. 😉

  • Danny

    Can anyone confirm that Live 8 is no longer buggy and somewhat unreliable? I was deterred from buying the upgrade when it first came out after some friends said it was crashing a lot and didnt think they could perform with it. They use Macbook Pros.

  • @Danny: I've heard that complaint. The short answer to "can anyone confirm … is not" is… no. No one person can confirm something isn't buggy. Unfortunately, this is a big issue any reviewer faces.

    That said, I've used it live on both Windows and Mac with some success, which makes me think the variable may be plug-in-related.

    There's a free demo, so the best bet:

    1. Try it with all your plug-ins

    2. Try it with all your plug-ins disabled

    If #2 doesn't work, you can either stick with 7.x if you're happy, or start trying to work through your plug-in folder.

  • Danny

    Thanks for the response Peter. I guess it almost always comes down to plugin related issues with DAWs. I will try out the Demo sooner or later to see how reliable it is. I think Max for Live will be the big determining factor if I upgrade to 8 or not. Specifically, what you can do with the API stuff, and how much control you get over customizing the APC40.

  • Well, that's just a guess, though… it depends on what the circumstances are that are causing the crashes…

  • Max for Live, to my knowledge, will give you NO more customization of the APC40 than any other hardware — because the APC40 uses MIDI. You can override APC40 assignments with MIDI assignments, which is nice, but that's something you can do with any other hardware. What you get with the Live API is the ability to customize control over the user interface with your own patches or any hardware you happen to interface with the API (via Max, or the open MIDI and OSC implementations out there)

  • littlepig

    My advice would be to stick a limiter on the channel if you start twiddling the knobs on those modeled instruments because a small change can make a big difference.

    Like the man says, there are some great sonds in there

  • velocipede

    I just want to be able to have the Session View mixer in the Arrangement View. (I would also like to be able to have the arrangement move from top to bottom, but that's probably just me.)

  • Koalaboy

    @velocipede: My thoughts exactly, regarding the mixer.

    Live 8 has been less stable for me than 7 (and sometimes just crashes on close, for no apparent reason), but I really like the changes to the warping – Of course, now Logic has it's update then things are evening out a bit, and there's still no way to sequence scenes (in the box) until Max4Live arrives… I'll likely move completely to Logic for my needs, in tandem with Numerology and perhaps just rewire Live if I need it.

  • mhulot

    I couldn't agree with your review more. Ableton is a very unique environment and even though it still lacks this and that and people will complain about feature x not being there: you have to hand it to the development team as they have stuck to a very tight vision for the program over its considerable lifetime. And it appears that instead of trying to match other DAWs (and add bloat and features that don't quite fit in) they have added Max 4 Live to appease those who want to add certain functionality that may or may not be part of their vision for the program, which is truly fantastic idea. (I just hope it doesn't cost too much!) Everything they do seems to be moving towards a very unified vision… The APC is a well thought out device and has helped make working in Ableton a much more fluid experience straight out of the box. Sure its functionality is limited outside of Ableton, but it was designed for Ableton.

    As far as the stability… it must be hardware related because I have had no problems with 8.04 on my Mac.

  • JohnG

    If you can control things with the Live API through Python instead of M4L then I'm sold, I suspect that will not be the case though.

    Tried the Live 8 demo. The looper was one of the features that I was most excited about, it didn't really work properly though. MIDI control of the main looper button seemed buggy (sometimes it would leave record mode for no apparent reason), and there were often glitches that it doesn't seem possible to get rid of without finer control. It would also be a great idea if you could work with each individual loop instead of one buffer.

  • UTM

    I'm really looking forward to upgrading to the latest version of Live. I'm just waiting until I can afford the Suite version. But I've been extremely satisfied with Live 7 and earlier. They've all been pretty solid on my H/W (Macbook Pro, Mac G5 and a Dell PC running Windows XP). The only instability I've experienced was very likely due to plug-ins. I'm looking at you, Audio Ease 😉 I prefer Live's approach to time-stretching and beat-matching audio over most other sequencers. It would be nice if they had more "musical" pitch correction (I like the way Digital Performer handles that) and better MIDI for external gear (again DP's approach is good). But I get more done faster in Live than any application – and it's great for remixing and experimenting.

  • I've really been digging Live 8. But no criticism you say? I can help…

    I'll just mention one thing but I think its pretty significant. If I map a MIDI controller to a built-in device parameter or macro control, I cannot record it to a clip envelope. I can only record it as automation in arrange view. This is a huge limitation in my workflow since I usually improvise and put phrases together in session view, and often parameter changes are part of the improv. Even with an APC40 I regularly have to go edit my clip envelopes by hand and try to approximate knob/slider motions by clicking breakpoints into the envelope with the mouse. Yuck! (If I'm not making sense, check out this forum thread:

    So I think if a track is record-armed and I'm in MIDI overdub mode, it should record mapped MIDI messages to clip envelopes. Otherwise, awesome software. And I really like the vocoder too 🙂

  • I've been using Live 8 on my MacBook Pro pretty much since the release, and I don't think it's crashed on me once – seems stable to me. And I've managed to get a LOT going on at once. Granted, I don't use many third party VSTs much.

    I seriously enjoy messing with Collision. It's like an endless sonic palette. It can be massively CPU-intensive, though, compared to the other instruments. I've had one instance with six voices take up nearly 25% CPU.

    I've also really started to delve more into Operator. The improvements seem minor on the face, but it is one seriously powerful synth. It's making all other soft synths I normally use obsolete – mainly because of the ridiculously smooth integration into the workflow. The fact that you can drop an Operator patch into a Sampler is just mind-blowing.