IRCAM is Paris’ legendary research center. It’s the place where the original Max was born, and it’s still a hub for some of the brightest minds in sound in the world.

IRCAMAX 2 is a new set of effects and instruments for Max for Live. And it does some amazing stuff – though maybe the best way to demonstrate that is not to explain, but to let you listen. They’ve made not just demos but some beautiful music, via artist Najo:

What’s nice about this collection is, in a world where we often have superb effects and instruments doing more or less the same stuff, this covers some unique territory. It lets you build on experimental research in sound, getting that bleeding-edge science in your sets.

An overview of what’s included:

A polyphonic synthesizer using IRCAM’s Modalys physical modeling.

A physical modeled filter with the Modalys engine.

A vocal harmonizer.

A “freeze” effect, so you can take sounds – even live sounds – and freeze and manipulate them.

An audio-to-MIDI converter.

A spectral delay.

A grain delay effect. One of the best features here: MIDI-controlled grain transposition, so you can “play” the effect live.

An all-in-one multi effect with delay, reverb, chorus, auto pan.

A utility device for routing MIDI send/receive.

A 3-oscillator, 3-envelope polyphonic synth with a nice modulation matrix.

What’s interesting in all of this is that a lot of it competes directly with Ableton’s built-in facilities – but might do the job better. Ableton’s Grain Delay has gotten a bit long in the tooth, nice as it is; IRCAM’s pitch-to-MIDI may best Ableton’s. Even the physical modeling tech competes, arguably, with software licensed from AAS.

On the other hand, the upshot of this is the ability to completely refresh the creative instruments and effects you might use on a daily basis. And as I think you can hear in the audio examples, some of the harmonization and physical modeling capabilities here are out of this world.

And by doing this all a la carte, Ableton can open up some possibilities that might be too divergent from Live itself to get baked into the normal upgrade release cycle.

I’m looking forward to playing with it.

This is just a preview, not a review – I’ve requested a copy. Cost is €149 / $199, and there’s no demo, so I think a review is a good idea.

IRCAMAX 2: Creative tools from the forefront of music research