Technology has done a strange thing to musicians: it’s turned us all into, well, loners.

It didn’t used to be this way. Musicians on instruments ranging from folk ensembles to symphony orchestras are able to join up and keep time with one another. So why not do the same with tech?

Ableton’s new Link technology promises to allow musicians to jam easily. But it isn’t just for Ableton Live. Today, iOS support is officially launching, allowing you to jam with supported apps even without a desktop/laptop computer involved.


Above: The developers of triqtraq and Elastic Drums jamming in Berlin.

Ableton Link:
Elastic Drums:…

As of today, you can already begin working with a terrifically handful useful of apps, from Audiobus to Elastic Drums to KORG Gadget. You can use these with Ableton Live, if you have the latest Live beta, or leave the computer out of it entirely and get iPhones and iPads jamming together.

Many of these developers are in Germany, so we gathered together for the regular mobile music developer meetup I organize together along with Elastic Drum’s Oliver Greschke. The team from Ableton who built the tool work around the corner, and joined in, as well, led by Michaela Buergle, Link Product Owner (who showed off the tool in the Ableton Loop keynote in October). It was a rare event that mirrored the feeling of the library itself – developers mixing with other developers, users and developers meeting one another, Ableton and third parties alongside.

The most fun, though, was watching the developers of apps actually play with each other – all those hard hours of coding work paying off in actually playing. And, surprise – they’re damned good.

Let’s watch:

Elastic Drums:…

triqtraq – jam sequencer:…
Elastic Drums:…
Fugue Machine:…

There are some important things to know about how this works:

  1. There’s no Link app. “Link” exists only as library. It’s really drop-in support for developers. (Right now, that’s only iOS developers.) So there’s no button on your iPhone or iPad that says “Link.” Those apps, and Live itself, will just gain the ability to sync to each other wirelessly.
  2. There’s no master clock. Anyone can speed up or slow down the tempo, and the others will follow. That makes any of you a potential ‘conductor.’ And just as importantly, since there isn’t a master, you don’t have trouble if people come or go – any device can hop in or hop out at any time.
  3. There’s not anything else like this on iOS. DIY solutions have done this sort of peer-to-peer sync in laptop orchestras – Link itself grew out of a research project. But there aren’t other sync tools with this functionality or this wireless performance, period; Link is the first readily-available environment shipping in commercial tools.
  4. You can still send this timing to your MIDI gear. We’ll have to follow up on this use case, but since all of these devices are making a peer-to-peer connection, you can take any one of them and output MIDI clock to hardware. (You’ll want your ‘legacy’ gear receiving, not sending.)
  5. Wireless doesn’t mean laggy any more. You might want to carry along your own router (very portable ones are available), but the wireless performance was far more responsive than wired performance in the past.
  6. We’re waiting for more desktop, too. Ableton haven’t made any announcements yet about support beyond Live and iOS, but technically, it’s possible for them to provide this same SDK for Windows and Mac (or other mobile platforms if there’s a reason to do so). I’d love to sync Traktor or Maschine with Live, for instance, at last, and the developers there live just across the river. Rest assured we’ll be haunting Ableton until that happens. But for now, iOS gives us a lot to play with – and because it’s mobile, it’s perfectly suited to impromptu wireless jamming.

And now not only is this available to iOS users, but developers can pick it up soon. That’s to say nothing of built-in support in Audiobus.

So watch for this list to grow:

Ableton Link apps

  • wingo shackleford

    OK, that’s it… I’m contacting everyone I know with an iPad immediately. I am getting in on this action. Also, I’d never seen that BassLine app before. I need to get me some of that.

  • Ed Emberly

    Link is cool but getting in on the Link dev program was a blast from the past involving emails, PDFs, not getting the PDF, not responding to the emails, sending the wrong PDF, not accepting PDF signed from preview, printing out the PDF , signing it, scanning it in and sending it… then waiting again.

    It would be nice if Ableton would get with the 1990s and have a web form to agree to the license…

    • Mike

      Are you sure you click on the right link? I joined the beta last night and all I had to do was click on the link to the beta (I was logged onto my Ableton account), filled out a short form (online), submitted the form and I was off downloading the beta (all in a span of less than 5 minutes plus the another 2-3 minutes to download the beta @ just under 1GB.

      Edit: I’ve just noticed it’s the development program that you’re referring to not the beta.

    • I think they’re working on this; Ableton are new to the business of supporting other developers, and I know for now they’re just gradually getting people involved.

  • David

    “There’s not anything else like this on iOS.” – Sorry, but what about this?

    • Well, the idea as I said isn’t new, but this in an unparalleled implementation of that idea, some years in the making. We’ve looked at SyncJams, too, but the developers I know who have gotten involved with Link have been really blown away. My only worry is really that Ableton get aggressive about making it available to developers, including on desktop, because then you don’t have to think about using a particular tool in order to join a jam.

    • Oliver Greschke

      I made that video with the red lights 😉 As Peter already said, Sync Jam has the same core idea, but the problem with Sync Jam was/is:

      1) It’s limited to PureData: There are only a few apps built with PureData, not to mention Ableton and hopefully soon other platforms also (fingers crossed)
      2) It’s made mainly by a single guy – he did an awesome job, but he simply can not offer the same amount of developing power and developer/customer support as a company like Ableton can

      That said, I hope that Sync Jam can still co-exist (it supports Android already), in the best case being merged into/with Ableton Link

  • Jesse Engel

    I think it’s hard to underestimate how much this and other things that make it easier to jam will change the nature and workflow of what it means to make electronic music. There will still be plenty of solo producers, just like there are composers, but the diversity of interaction you get from 5 minds and 10 hands is just irresistible.

  • RedSkyLullaby
  • Will

    This is solidly in the (unsarcastic) “big deal” camp. It’s sort of absurd how well it works. AudioBus providing a global start stop button without having to go through the MIDI settings in five apps is just a sweet sweetener.

    Ready for the $30 slim hardware box that serves as both wifi router and MIDI din output.

  • Will

    It’s mentioned on the Ableton site but maybe worth calling out here: Korg’s SyncControl app for sending clock to volcas also supports LINK SyncKontrol by KORG INC.

    Also, while I’m sure Ableton is happy to stay on top of it, the AudioBus team has its own LINK compatible apps list that developers opt in to (so may be more up to date):

    Also also, though it’s been temporarily pulled, the developer of Fuge Machine has(d) a dedicated LINK to MIDI app. He plans to get it back up asap so watch this space:

  • Hutti Heita / Kim

    This.. Maked me want to learn the guitar..