Composing with rules instead of playing notes directly, composer Richard Garrett has built a series of generative, algorithmic, ambient note makers and processors in Ableton Live and the Max for Live add-on. (And yes, user-generated content continues to be a rationale for why many people would purchase Max for Live in addition to Live itself.)

With loads of useful controls for duration, start, and voicing – and the ability to feed events into anything you like – the results in your own work could sound very different than what you see hear. But whatever your musical aspirations, you can check out the work in action in a demo video (top) and tutorial on how to work with the interface (bottom). And – provided you own Max for Live – it’s all free.

In another interesting twist, this isn’t necessarily just for making self-generating music. The event generator also has an input, so it could accompany live playing or otherwise respond to events.

Here’s how creator Richard describes the work:

I just thought I’d let you know about nwdlbots, my suite of algorithmic (generative) devices for the composition of music within Ableton Live. They include event generators, pitch and velocity selectors and control devices for interaction with each other and with other MIDI tracks and input devices.

As well as generating events at random, nwdlbots can respond to activity on other MIDI tracks in Live, or to input from a MIDI instrument. In effect, nwdlbots control the density of a piece by reducing their activity when things get too busy. They also have some rudimentary ideas about harmony and can follow a chord sequence.

The first set of nwdlbots are available for free download at Also on the site: documentation and videos

By the way, this and many other conversations are now happening on LinkedIn:
Ableton Live Users @ LinkedIn [invite group]

nwdlbots (“noodlebots”), free download at Sunday Dance Music

“Noodling” sounds like a great description – and I know many of us musicians do enjoy a good noodle.

  • I'm already a member of the Linkdin Ableton users group.  So I checked out the post, and downloaded the M4live devices.  After using Max and Pd for a year, I've really enjoyed porting my patches over to Max4Live, so that I may synchronize them to a proper master clock, for integration within a DAW.  So far things are on the grid when I want them to be, and off the grid when I don't.  And that's a good thing when going the generative music algorithmic route with digital music composition.

  • gusDW

    Good to see generative devices allowing input from humans.  And it will be interesting to see how they can be 'influenced' just like us. Perhaps if this could store input MIDI data analyse it musically and learn your compositional habits, it could then modify them slightly, and generate an influenced composition.

    And once musical data retrieval from audio files (after conversion of audio to MIDI) comes of age, it'll get a whole lot more interesting! 

  • you don't need m4l to make generative ambient music with live. just create a piano line in c3-c4 range aprox. with pentatonic and diatonic long notes, time strech it with with a re-pitch mode using integer multiples, add a couple of buffer shuffers, long reverbs, sometimes with low fi distortion, and stuff like spectral delays, sometimes with real time granulators, and so. if you want to go a bit farther, create some generative visuals, don't forget to mix and properly master the whole thing.. ah maybe some guitars, with the shared procedures, some sine waves with some shared procedures+convolution and stuff like that, add some soundscapes, and yeah, send a demo to some independent ambient label.

  • when I say time strech, create time streched copies.. and also, the effects are auxiliars

  • Peter Kirn

    Yeah, I recall someone even doing a demo of things like that… without M4L. (I think even before the release of M4L.) Obviously, to Richard it was helpful to set things up this way; there are any number of tools (not just Live and Max) capable of similar ends, too.

  • Agreed.  You can do generative type stuff with ordinary Live, but the Max environment certainly caters to that sort of expression.  One can get pretty precise with the generative patches he/she designs.

    I tried the devices last night.  Now I'm working on a song in the Harmonic Minor mode.  The devices have proven a great way to introduce some random melody into my song.  Defeats repetition, a character flaw which can be a desirable or undesirable attribute of electronic music.

  • Nice, I'm intrigued!

  • like I say peter, there are many ways of accomplishing the very same result. the ones which are simpler, and more efficient are the ones which result best (ockham's razor, cientific method). if you have a more complex way and a simpler way of doing something specific, the one which is simpler and leads you to better results, is the best. if you can accomplish that sort of things with the live itself you have no need of exploring more complex stuff, unless you need have reached the limit of live itself. you see robert henke, he explored extremely complex stuff with live, which is a very simple tool, yet complex. and as he was developing live, which came out of maxmsp patches, more and more, he felt the need of having that sort of complexity with maxforlive inside max. and yeah if you are interested I can send you a demo of these procedures I've described, so that you can show them here in create digital music. I will just not post by post because I don't do ambient music at all, although I've made some studies on that

  • GovernorSilver

    I got Max For Live for free as part of the April 2011 promotion, so I might as well use it! Thanks for the heads up! I'll give these Max For Live devices a try.

  • Brian Tuley

    Here's a link to my completed usage of the bots.  I love the bots.  Will continue to further develop with them.  Very fun.