It’s been a long, long wait, but it’s now official: Ableton and Cycling ‘74 have collaborated on Max for Live, which integrates Max/MSP with Ableton Live. There’s tons of information on the Cycling ‘74 site, and I’ll be doing some follow-up interviews for CDM soon with more details, but here’s the overview.

What is Max for Live?

Max is an add-on product for Ableton Live 8, which will be announced in a press conference shortly. Note that it isn’t just Max or just Live – it’s a separate, add-on product. No pricing information yet; availability later in 2009.

What Will You Be Able to Build?

  • Step sequencers
  • Instruments
  • Effects
  • Stuff to control Live
  • New hardware integration features, with your own instrument / effect / sequencer creations, and with Live itself – think, build your own hardware mappings

What I’ve heard is that via native controls, you’ll be able to control anything you can control in Live with a mouse, down to moving warp markers around. That’s obviously huge, but expect the specifics of these details (and eventually, how to do it) on this site over the coming days and months. I’m also eager to find out if it’ll be possible to use Max for Live with OSC inside Live.

How Integrated is It?

  • Native Live API controls: Max now gets a native API for controlling Live, with live.object, live.path, objects. This is actually arguably the most important part, because it means you could in fact use Max to control Live in place of the Python-based Live API. That raises a bunch of questions and unfortunately, this is the part of Max for Live about which we know the least, but you know this site will be all over the details as soon as we can get hold of them. (The only bad side of this that I can see is that it may mean fewer options for Live users who want to use their own development tools instead of Max, but I’ll investigate.)
  • Preview mode: This lets you edit in Max while devices continue processing audio/MIDI as if running inside Live. It updates in-place in Live’s device view. That’s been possible previously using things like Native Instruments’ Reaktor plug-in or the combination of FL Studio and Synthmaker, but it’s certainly new to the Max environment.
  • UI controls: You can create Ableton-style interface controls for your patches. This is really extraordinary: you build a patch as normal, and what Max 5 calls its Presentation Mode now looks like an Ableton-standard UI in the program, with full support for color schemes. You even get descriptive text in Info View when you mouse over something, just like the official Ableton stuff.
  • Multiple undo: Undo in Live applies to Devices created with Max for Live.
  • Tempo sync, sample-accurate automation: I need to get the details of this, but normally syncing tempo is a major pain using MIDI, ReWire, or even plug-ins – this appears to allow more direct integration.
  • A step sequencer object: Previous efforts like SynthMaker in FL have made it pretty easy to build instruments and effects, and it’s certainly possible to build sequencers in tools like Reaktor or Pd. But what’s unique about Max in Live is that it provides a sequencer with a Live-style interface that integrates with tempo.
  • File/preset integration: This is where it gets really awesome – juggling Reaktor patches, for instance, can be a pain.
  • Web collaboration: Ableton Live 8 adds web collaboration options, which extends to Max devices. 

What Devices Are Included?

So far, you get a nice set of Devices to use with Max for Live:

  • Step Sequencer, with four 16-note sequences, shift, random, MIDI control
  • Loop Shifter, with automated mapping and playback, for Max-style looping
  • An extension for the new Akai APC40 that turns it into a step-sequencer editor for Live MIDI clips

Now, note, on that last item, you don’t necessarily need to run out and buy Live 8 and Max for Live and a new APC (though there are worse things to happen to someone). The new features should open up new controller integration features and custom software-controller creations for all kinds of hardware. For instance, the monome (site | cdm tag) should greatly benefit from the features in Max for Live. It’s already got a rabid community of Max patchers behind it, and there’s no reason you couldn’t do something wild with Live, Max for Live, and the monome – including additional features you can hack into the monome, like tilt sensors/accelerometers/IR range finders. (Yum.)

And in fact, the monome community is already on it without the aid of Max for Live: Pages, built in Java, is an elaborate app for automating access to some of Live’s power. You can imagine that the availability of Max for Live should mean even more of this sort of thing.

Where to Read Up

I’ll update this as more information comes through, but here’s what to get where:

David’s Tools for Creating Devices in Live is probably the most important read, as it shows how the integration works – already juicy, though we need to find out more about those native controls for actually manipulating Live

David Zicarelli’s "Perspective on Integrating Max and Live" talks about the genesis of the project and what it means to existing Max users

If anyone stops by NAMM booth 6314, we’d love some other perspectives.

What this stuff means:

Max for Live is best understood as Max/MSP/Jitter in Live. Here’s a full explanation, with more details to come on exactly how they integrate:

Max For Live is Max In Live: MSP, Jitter, OSC, and All; The Open Source Side?

And yes, I will be following up on open source alternatives, because they have their own strengths and weaknesses.