In live electronic music, the endless free expanse of the computer screen tends to run up against the limited ability of your brain to tell just which freakin’ track am I on, anyway? In the studio, it can be annoying. Live onstage, it can be train wreck-inducing.

Ableton Live’s Session View has for years exacerbated this problem. You can limit your options to eight (or even four) tracks. But that doesn’t always work. You might need more than eight tracks for particular routings of audio or MIDI. And unless you use Device Racks and chains, you’ll also need extra tracks to switch instruments.

Launchsync is a solution to that problem. Instead of all of your controllers going their own way and controlling different parts of Live separately, they can now move in tandem. So, rather than doing scrolling on multiple devices and squinting at the screen to see where the heck you are, you can navigate on one controller and everything else follows.

Use cases:
1. One Ring to Rule Them All. Have every grid controller assigned to the same block of clips, and move around together (one clip at a time, or “paging” in bigger groups).
2. A Wider or Taller Grid. Make a bigger grid. For instance, a Push and a Launchpad, or two Launchpads could be next to one another, moving together – 16×8 or 8×16 or whatever you like.
3. Faders Synced with a Grid. Get your faders following your grid. I love Push, but I’ve hesitated to use it live because I can’t easily mix on it. Now, I can have my LaunchControl XL follow the launch grid of the Push.

It’s free, but requires Max for Live (included in Ableton Live Suite 9). I’ll say this, though, now with confidence – if you’re serious about using Live, just get Suite (or a discounted version of Max). Seriously. I haven’t talked to one person who regrets that. They’re getting it to use tools like this, even if they’re not patchers.

Compatible hardware:
Ableton Push
Akai APC40 (not sure yet about the mk2 series)
Allen and Heath K2 (via the additional Isotonik2
Novation Launchpad, LaunchKey, and LaunchControl (all models)
Livid Instruments Base (all models)

I’d love to see this work with tools like iPad controllers, too, so I’ve put touchAble in contact with Darren, the developer at Isotonik. We’ll let you know if they make it work!

Watch the video to make this clearer:

Thanks to the terrific Ableton Live Expert for this coverage and the video (I have to start reading your site more often)!
EXCLUSIVE to Ableton Live Expert – Free Novation Launchsync Max for Live plugin!

The original, here with hilarious wooden side panels. Photo (CC-BY) Paul.

The original, here with hilarious wooden side panels. Photo (CC-BY) Paul.

The Ring

I’ll back up for a bit of history. When Ableton and Akai announced the APC40 at the beginning of 2009, they added a red rectangle on the screen that gave you feedback on what it was controlling onscreen, allowing you to map its eight controller strips and grid of clip launchers to more than eight tracks. That box is technically called the Ring Focus Box (though I haven’t heard the name used much outside Ableton).

By fall 2009, Ableton and Novation added the Launchpad to the offerings. Immediately, they added the ability to have more than one Ring Focus Box, in different colors. That way, you could control more clips with additional connected controllers. Compatibility with the Ring Focus Box is dependent on installed scripts, and you need a particular manufacturer partnership with Ableton in order for Ableton to provide support for adding it, though various hardware and software have hacked their own compatibility. (It’s even possible to use simple user scripts to add your own.)

What’s nice about Launchsync is, by better controlling where that focus ring is, you may not need to look at the computer screen at all. You can instead rely on one piece of hardware for feedback or (soon, hopefully) an iPad visualization of clips. That’s better than a dinky colored rectangle on your laptop screen, anyway.

The importance of this feature means that I hope Ableton addresses the API for all hardware and control software (iOS, Android) in a consistent way for upcoming versions. Doing so would better standardize control support across the range of tablets and faderboxes and knobboxes and custom-built gear and whatnot that Live users now use.

For now, though, you have a very workable solution for a range of hardware. And it’s another reason I’m keeping my LaunchControl XL around. It may have been designed as the faders missing on the Launchpad – but it’s the faders missing on the Push, too.




Follow up to yesterday’s review:
Novation’s LaunchControl XL Has the Faders and Knobs You Need for Ableton, MIDI [Obsessive Review]