Novation has unveiled this week their own “free” step sequencer offering for Ableton Live. It’s some lovely work, with basic melodic pattern playback that comes alive once you add some envelopes.

It’s a cool creation — but for me, it’s massively overshadowed by a new video featuring the upcoming Renoise 2.5 beta with the same Launchpad controller.

I’ll introduce it by saying, simply… hot damn.

And what a difference you get in price. Of course, to use either, you’ll need a Launchpad, currently running around US$200. But for the Renoise solution, you need only spend an additional US$75/EUR49 for everything. For the “free” patch for Live, you’ll need Ableton Live 8 or higher plus the Max for Live add-on, which even with current sale deals will set you back US$698 (unless you own some previous software, though even then, you’re unlikely to get down to $75). Free after an investment of nearly a grand is a bit of a stretch.

Now, trackers aren’t for everyone, as with any tool, some of you own Live already, and I’m all for spending more money when you need to. So I don’t want to harp on the price issue alone, even if we are talking more than $600 (an 800%+) difference.

Instead, look at the results. Renoise’s Matrix View is simply astounding – perhaps as much so as the first time I saw the Session View in Live. Rather than being an independent patch, this is the innards of Renoise under control here. Each individual step is a pattern. It can easily retrigger notes. It can do melodic patterns, if you like, but each step can have an individual pattern, each pattern can be directly edited in your actual arrangement file using the controller. You don’t have to touch the mouse. And while fader control of additional parameters isn’t there yet, it’s coming.

Oh yeah — and it’s a video step sequencer, too. (That’s thanks to Jitter, though it’s not presently in this release because of some performance issues.)

In this case, the ingredient remains Cycling ’74’s powerful patching tool, Max/MSP. But because the standalone version of that package – unlike Max for Live – includes a free run-time, you don’t have to buy Max to use the results. Also, even Max may not be necessary in the future, as later in the year 2010, the developers of Renoise will offer MIDI control scripts, Lua scripting of the environment, and OpenSoundControl. This functionality appears to be something you’ll get with the package, not something you’ll need to spend hundreds of dollars to use. The reason Max is necessary now is simply to map the Launchpad’s someone arbitrarily-mapped bi-directional MIDI to Renoise’s eminently-controllable grid. (Jitter is, in turn, used for video output, though that could work elsewhere.) With these functions integrated directly into Renoise – something sorely lacking in Ableton Live – you’ll be able to do more, more easily. With OSC sent from a device like the monome or (hopefully soon) Livid Instruments’ Ohm line, you ought to be able to just plug in the device for direct control.

It’ll also be easier to interchange devices, whereas some of the recent Max for Live devices are tied to specific controllers.

Don’t get me wrong – these are different tools. While scripting Renoise opens up a number of terrific possibilities, it won’t do everything that Max 5 (standalone) and/or Max for Live can do. For instance, if you’re looking to build your own video sequencer, you do want a separate tool, and you may indeed want the power of being able to drop that patch creation right into Live.

The point for me is that the core program itself in Renoise is controllable here, which for certain workflows can be an edge.

Competition is good. I’m certainly inspired to work on my own step sequencer creations and trying to make them better. And Novation has lucked out here, because I expect I’ve just sold them a few more Launchpads. But sorry, Ableton – I fully expect some Renoise users to find a way to tattoo their program of choice onto the hardware, as in this mock-up. This round goes to Renoise and the ingenious work of patch creator Johann Baron Lanteigne.

Depending on your tool of choice, if you’re a Launchpad owner, go grab now – and stay tuned for more step-sequencer-on-host action. Yum.

Launchpad Step Sequencer download, on the Novation support pages. Via:

Novation Launchpad now a step sequencer

Renoise Based Audio-Video Step Sequencer [Discussion, download available now]


Renoise 2.5: A Matrix for Everything, Modulate Everything; Full Scripting, OSC Coming

PS, Ableton, Cycling ’74, don’t feel bad. I did get to see the step sequencer creations by Little Scale last night at our party. They’re obvious choices for Max for Live, and he’s only had the Launchpad for a few weeks.

In fact, I think the best thing that could possibly happen is for all the Launchpad, monome, Ohm, Ableton, Renoise, SuperCollider, chip music, and other fans to throw down and let the out-step-sequencing battles begin.