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Ableton Live can be a fantastic tool for playing live, for improvisation, and for studio work. But while some people put together very effective DJ sets, it doesn’t always stack up to other software out there in terms of satisfying certain significant DJ techniques.

And that’s too bad. Because if your DJ aspirations include lots of creative juggling of beats, Ableton Live would seem perfect.

The DJ Collection from Isotonik Studios – the advanced Max for Live hackers who have been releasing a dizzying array of tools for customizing how Live works – provides some of the tools advanced DJs crave.

And by “DJing,” we really mean sophisticated beat juggling, slicing, and looping techniques – so quite relevant to anyone using improvisation and rhythm heavily, whether or not in a DJ set per se.

All of this gets really interesting as of Live 9.2. In fact, it was Isotonik who tipped me off to the fact that the Live 9.2 API had changed in some interesting ways. Now, it may not be clear to you why you should care about some arcane under-the-hood API calls having to do with how clips are triggered. And frankly, you don’t have to care. But because Max for Live developers were able to see daylight through these newly-poked holes, they were able to go spelunking in some new tunnels, as it were.

And what you will care about, some of you, is what you can do.

Isotonik Studios DJ Collection – DJ Hot Cue Universal MIDI from Isotonik Studios on Vimeo.

The DJ Collection bundles together all of these handy tricks into a single software add-on. If you use AKAI APC40 mkII or Ableton Push (or, soon, Novation’s Launchpad and Launchpad Pro), there are integrated solutions that immediately map this to hardware. If you prefer something else, there’s a generic universal MIDI variant, too, that you can use with anything (like that custom arcade-button-joystick affair in plywood you built).

Here’s what you can do, in brief (there’s a lot more detail on the official site).

Hot cues. Create and then play back hot cues on a single clip – rather than having to make a bunch of different clips just to have different cues. Then, see where those cues are via LED feedback on controllers.

Slicing. Credit to Serato: Novation Twitch has a beautiful, pre-mapped slicing effect. But if you’ve been jealous, now the Isotonik boys have brought it to Ableton. Take some sound, divide it into eight slices, then trigger them, with full quantization. (Push even works with eight tracks at once.)

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Loop on the fly. Independent of the loop on the clip itself, you can at last loop on the fly – halve them, double them, move them, and set them to lengths as short as a 1/32nd note.

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The upshot of all of this: you can at last slice up and cue clips freely in ways that weren’t possible before on a single clip. Sure, there are other ways of doing this – and if you’re comfortable with one of those ways, you can comfortably move right along here, nothing to see.

Likewise, by definition, a lot of this stuff is already easy in tools like Serato and Traktor – Serato, in particular, being good at the slicing workflows. So, from that perspective, it should (rightfully) justify your choice of DJ tool.

But at the same time, I think it is an impressive demonstration of what some subtle changes to Live’s API make possible. And for Live mavens, it’s fantastic news.

And combined with other tools only available in Live, this powerful set of tools – complete with all the documentation and sample files you need to get rolling – could be invaluable. At the price of a nice lunch in London, it’s a steal.

Isotonik DJ Collection [Isotonik Studios]

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  • Virtual Flannel

    Looks really great, can’t stand the clipping master in the video though lol! Pop a limiter on there!

    • Darren E Cowley

      Good point, hadn’t noticed that before, i’ll get a new version upload when i get my macbook back from it’s little accident with a glass of wine!

      • Virtual Flannel

        Haha don’t worry about it man! Great work on this! Looking forward to demos of the other modules! Cheers!

      • Virtual Flannel

        Also, think it’s time to invest in LP PRO!

        • Darren E Cowley

          I’ve already got one 😉

          • Virtual Flannel

            sweeet!

    • wingo shackleford

      Ha! I’m glad I’m not the only one. That was driving me nuts.

  • Virtual Flannel

    Looks really great, can’t stand the clipping master in the video though lol! Pop a limiter on there!

    • Darren E Cowley

      Good point, hadn’t noticed that before, i’ll get a new version upload when i get my macbook back from it’s little accident with a glass of wine!

      • Virtual Flannel

        Haha don’t worry about it man! Great work on this! Looking forward to demos of the other modules! Cheers!

      • Virtual Flannel

        Also, think it’s time to invest in LP PRO!

        • Darren E Cowley

          I’ve already got one 😉

          • Virtual Flannel

            sweeet!

    • wingo shackleford

      Ha! I’m glad I’m not the only one. That was driving me nuts.

  • Cool. Any changes relevant to those who perform with Live hands-free (aka: guitarists)? And did they fix the freaking looper bug (mapping external MIDI to main button corrupts loops)?

    • Darren E Cowley

      The looper hasn’t seen any changes in 9.2…. What we’re you hoping for in regards to handsfree??

      • Ableton’s Looper, true. But your looper could potentially come in handy for that use case. 😉

    • Evan Bogunia

      I’d b interested to know what you are referring to with the hands free thing. I use Live hands-free, and with a decent MIDI foot controller you can do a ton of stuff.

      I’m not familiar with the Looper bug you are referring too. Not really familiar with the corrupting of loops either.

    • Depends on what you’re trying to do.

      MIDI mapping the looper here in M4L is certainly relevant to working hands-free.

      API changes — well, that’s not relevant to anyone *until* you do something with it, so, back to the question of what it is you want to do! 🙂

    • Thx for the replies, everyone. Evan, I’m doing a ton of stuff with Live in my gtr/keys singer/songwriter set too, mainly just boggled by the Looper bug. Here’s a thread that explains the issue:

      https://www.ableton.com/answers/looper-goes-haywire-when-triggering-via-midi

      I don’t know enough about programming to know if the following relates to the API or not, but it’d also be nice if you could address the same Live function with multiple MIDI messages…

      • Evan Bogunia

        That thread wasn’t very helpful actually, it didn’t explain anything. Just a bunch of people saying ‘this happened, and I’m mad’ without any consistent repro steps.

        I’ve MIDI mapped to the Looper in Live since it was introduced without any issues of ‘corrupting the loop’ or the playback speed bug that was mentioned.

        I’d be willing to look into this issue, because in my experience this bug isn’t present, and it’s likely something to do with the what messages you’re sending and how you’re sending them. If this was truly a ‘bug’ I would think we would’ve gotten it fixed by Ableton by now.

        As for addressing a single Live function/parameter with multiple MIDI messages, you can easily accomplish that using the API in M4L. I’d be happy to help.

  • Cool. Any changes relevant to those who perform with Live hands-free (aka: guitarists)? And did they fix the freaking looper bug (mapping external MIDI to main button corrupts loops)?

    • Darren E Cowley

      The looper hasn’t seen any changes in 9.2…. What we’re you hoping for in regards to handsfree??

      • Ableton’s Looper, true. But your looper could potentially come in handy for that use case. 😉

    • Evan Bogunia

      I’d b interested to know what you are referring to with the hands free thing. I use Live hands-free, and with a decent MIDI foot controller you can do a ton of stuff.

      I’m not familiar with the Looper bug you are referring too. Not really familiar with the corrupting of loops either.

    • Depends on what you’re trying to do.

      MIDI mapping the looper here in M4L is certainly relevant to working hands-free.

      API changes — well, that’s not relevant to anyone *until* you do something with it, so, back to the question of what it is you want to do! 🙂

    • Thx for the replies, everyone. Evan, I’m doing a ton of stuff with Live in my gtr/keys singer/songwriter set too, mainly just boggled by the Looper bug. Here’s a thread that explains the issue:

      https://www.ableton.com/answers/looper-goes-haywire-when-triggering-via-midi

      I don’t know enough about programming to know if the following relates to the API or not, but it’d also be nice if you could address the same Live function with multiple MIDI messages…

      • Evan Bogunia

        That thread wasn’t very helpful actually, it didn’t explain anything. Just a bunch of people saying ‘this happened, and I’m mad’ without any consistent repro steps.

        I’ve MIDI mapped to the Looper in Live since it was introduced without any issues of ‘corrupting the loop’ or the playback speed bug that was mentioned.

        I’d be willing to look into this issue, because in my experience this bug isn’t present, and it’s likely something to do with the what messages you’re sending and how you’re sending them. If this was truly a ‘bug’ I would think we would’ve gotten it fixed by Ableton by now.

        As for addressing a single Live function/parameter with multiple MIDI messages, you can easily accomplish that using the API in M4L. I’d be happy to help.

  • Evan Bogunia

    On a more on topic note – I imagine these tools are using the new ‘scrub’ method that we got with 9.2? I’ve been toying around with this today, and mocked up a nice little 16 segment slicer that follows playing clip, automatically loads/unloads it in RAM etc. A little perplexed (if you are indeed using the scrub function) that you can trigger quicker then the global quantization setting. My initial tests indicate that the scrub function obeys global quantization and ignores clip quantization. Any hints?

    • This gives me an idea — we should do a little webcast with the Live API where we can get into these issues, sort of virtual hack day…

      • Evan Bogunia

        I’d be into that, for sure.

  • Evan Bogunia

    On a more on topic note – I imagine these tools are using the new ‘scrub’ method that we got with 9.2? I’ve been toying around with this today, and mocked up a nice little 16 segment slicer that follows playing clip, automatically loads/unloads it in RAM etc. A little perplexed (if you are indeed using the scrub function) that you can trigger quicker then the global quantization setting. My initial tests indicate that the scrub function obeys global quantization and ignores clip quantization. Any hints?

    • This gives me an idea — we should do a little webcast with the Live API where we can get into these issues, sort of virtual hack day…

      • Evan Bogunia

        I’d be into that, for sure.

  • dreamhike

    I can only hope the more Dj apps come out the more people are inspired to play live because let’s be real…this is boring as hell.

  • dreamhike

    I can only hope the more Dj apps come out the more people are inspired to play live because let’s be real…this is boring as hell.

  • Definitely giving this a try.

  • Definitely giving this a try.

  • Owls And Stills

    i feel like eventually, ableton will make up for all of the features isotonik is offering. reminds me of apple and jailbreaking iphones. but in the mean time this is nice.

    • Darren E Cowley

      I hope they don’t hahahahaha….

  • Owls And Stills

    i feel like eventually, ableton will make up for all of the features isotonik is offering. reminds me of apple and jailbreaking iphones. but in the mean time this is nice.

    • Darren E Cowley

      I hope they don’t hahahahaha….

  • Jordan

    What’s the difference between Slicer in DJ Collection and the Modular Collection?

    • Darren E Cowley

      Th DJ Slicer moves the playhead whilst the Slicer (old live 8 device) is a buffer that simply repeats a piece of audio until it’s released)

  • Jordan

    What’s the difference between Slicer in DJ Collection and the Modular Collection?

    • Darren E Cowley

      Th DJ Slicer moves the playhead whilst the Slicer (old live 8 device) is a buffer that simply repeats a piece of audio until it’s released)

  • James

    Setting myself up as a troll’s pin cushion to be sure: could anyone tell me the difference between a slicer and bounce looping? Is it just that one retriggers the same loop over and over? And while we are at it, isn’t a slice just a relative cue point? Is there a good youtube video that breaks these techniques down slice, loop, cue?

    I’m not a traditional dj, so I’m wondering what folks use additional cues for that you couldn’t do from looking at the wave form? Are you really saving yourself time by setting this up? Does it make your mixing more clean? Do you use the same index for every track: cue 5’s always breakdown, cue 1 is end of intro, etc? Even if other platforms can analyze cue points ahead of time, are there dj’s out there that don’t use this cue feature and just drop the needle?

    I’m not asking out of skepticism, I’m asking out of genuine curiosity. I sincerely don’t grasp these subtleties, and even if I make choices for my own performance, I don’t like to think they are due to the fact that I’ve greyed out complete subsets of technique. But I can better explain the difference between a taco and a tostada.

    I don’t like to make excuses for myself, but there are performers who can beat juggle and make a completely different level of excitement for the music, and then there are buttons we can all press that play the same spot on a tune over and over. I’m inclined to think that if a track is 4 minutes long than the artist who wrote it thought the musical idea kept her interest for 4 minutes of content while she made continual passes composing/mixing/editing. So I’m inclined towards the buffer method for looping effects – not scrubbing the loop marker but rather returning to the timeline on the track – unless I’m genuinely exploring and contributing to the artist’s music.

    • Darren E Cowley

      Yes it’s a good question that requires a little clarity. A slice point is effectively an automatically placed cue point… Rather than presetting cue points across the track (generally limited to 8 in total with most systems) a slice gives 8 cue points per loop zone (in our device you can define this as a bar, 2 or 4 bars)…

      In use when i’ve incorrectly phrased a mix, brought the net track in too soon i will generally play around with a slice prior to the break and then let the first track roll so they break together, think of it like a drummer would create a fill. It’s not generally my use to change the structure of a track in this way. Cue points on the other hand i do use more creatively to jump around a track and in particular on accapellas to make things gel better on the fly….

      As for the same on every track, no never… Normally one cue point at the start based on my serato habits, after that i’ll often just set them on the fly….

      Buffer effects work well, the native Beat Repeat effect though is limited to one bar and many performers crave longer….

      • James

        Thanks Darren, it’s dripping in! More hands on exposure to the tools is in order, its just that at my stage I cannot effectually hear nor set up a controller to distinguish between these techniques. But with your help something’s clicking.

  • James

    Setting myself up as a troll’s pin cushion to be sure: could anyone tell me the difference between a slicer and bounce looping? Is it just that one retriggers the same loop over and over? And while we are at it, isn’t a slice just a relative cue point? Is there a good youtube video that breaks these techniques down slice, loop, cue?

    I’m not a traditional dj, so I’m wondering what folks use additional cues for that you couldn’t do from looking at the wave form? Are you really saving yourself time by setting this up? Does it make your mixing more clean? Do you use the same index for every track: cue 5’s always breakdown, cue 1 is end of intro, etc? Even if other platforms can analyze cue points ahead of time, are there dj’s out there that don’t use this cue feature and just drop the needle?

    I’m not asking out of skepticism, I’m asking out of genuine curiosity. I sincerely don’t grasp these subtleties, and even if I make choices for my own performance, I don’t like to think they are due to the fact that I’ve greyed out complete subsets of technique. But I can better explain the difference between a taco and a tostada.

    I don’t like to make excuses for myself, but there are performers who can beat juggle and make a completely different level of excitement for the music, and then there are buttons we can all press that play the same spot on a tune over and over. I’m inclined to think that if a track is 4 minutes long than the artist who wrote it thought the musical idea kept her interest for 4 minutes of content while she made continual passes composing/mixing/editing. So I’m inclined towards the buffer method for looping effects – not scrubbing the loop marker but rather returning to the timeline on the track – unless I’m genuinely exploring and contributing to the artist’s music.

    • Darren E Cowley

      Yes it’s a good question that requires a little clarity. A slice point is effectively an automatically placed cue point… Rather than presetting cue points across the track (generally limited to 8 in total with most systems) a slice gives 8 cue points per loop zone (in our device you can define this as a bar, 2 or 4 bars)…

      In use when i’ve incorrectly phrased a mix, brought the net track in too soon i will generally play around with a slice prior to the break and then let the first track roll so they break together, think of it like a drummer would create a fill. It’s not generally my use to change the structure of a track in this way. Cue points on the other hand i do use more creatively to jump around a track and in particular on accapellas to make things gel better on the fly….

      As for the same on every track, no never… Normally one cue point at the start based on my serato habits, after that i’ll often just set them on the fly….

      Buffer effects work well, the native Beat Repeat effect though is limited to one bar and many performers crave longer….

      • James

        Thanks Darren, it’s dripping in! More hands on exposure to the tools is in order, its just that at my stage I cannot effectually hear nor set up a controller to distinguish between these techniques. But with your help something’s clicking.