It’s all about voltage these days. Ableton’s new CV Tools are designed for integrating with modular and semi-modular/desktop gear with CV. And they’re built in Max – meaning builders can learn from these tools and build their own.
The basic idea of CV Tools, like any software-CV integration, is to use your computer as an additional source of modulation and control. You route analog signal directly to your audio interface – you’ll need an interface that has DC coupled outputs (more about that separately). But once you do that, you can make your software and hardware rigs work together, and use your computer’s visual interface and open-ended possibilities to do still more stuff with analog gear.
This is coming on the eve of Superbooth, and certainly a lot of the audience will be people with modular racks. But nowadays, hardware with CV I/O is hardly limited to Eurorack – gear from the likes of Moog, Arturia, KORG, and others also makes sense with CV.
CV Tools aren’t the first Max for Live tools for Ableton Live – not by far. Spektro Audio makes the free CV Toolkit Mini, for instance. Its main advantage is a single, integrated interface – and a clever patch bay. There’s a more extensive version available for US$19.99.
Rival DAW Bitwig Studio, for its part, has taken an entirely different approach – you’ll get a software modular engine capable of interlinking with hardware CV wherever you like.
Ableton’s own CV Tools is news, though, in that these modules are powerful, flexible, and polished, and have a very Ableton-esque UI. They also come from a collaboration with Skinnerbox, the live performance-oriented gearheads here in Berlin, so I have no doubt they’ll be useful. (Yep, that’s them in the video.) I think there’s no reason not to grab this and Spektro and go to town.
And since these are built in Max, Max patchers may want to take a look inside – to mod or use as the basis of your own.
What you get:
CV Instrument, with complements existing Ableton devices for integrating outboard MIDI instruments and effects with your projects in Live
CV Triggers for sequencing drum modules
CV Utility for adding automation curves, add/shift/multiple signals, and other processing tools
CV Clock In and CV Clock Out for clocking Live from outboard analog gear and visa versa
CV In which connects outboard analog signal directly to modulation of parameters inside Live
CV Shaper, CV Envelope Follower, and CV LFO which gives you graphical tools for designing modulation inside Live and using it for CV control of your analog hardware
And there’s more: the Rotating Rhythm Generator, which lets you dial up polyrhythms. This one works with both MIDI and CV, so you can work with either kind of external hardware.
I got to chat with Skinnerbox, and there’s even more here than may be immediately obvious.
For one thing, you get what they tell us is “extremely accurate broad-range” auto calibration of oscillators, filters, and so on. That’s often an issue with analog equipment, especially once you start getting complex or adding polyphony (or creating polyphony by mixing your software instruments with your hardware). Here’s a quick demo:
Clocking they say is “jitter free” and “super high resolution.”
So this means you can make a monster hybrid combining your computer running Ableton Live (and all your software) with hardware, without having to have the clock be all over the place or everything out of tune. (Well, unless that’s what you’re going for!)
If you’re in Berlin, Skinnerbox will play live with the rig this Friday at Superbooth.
They sent us this quick demo of working with the calibration tools, resulting in an accurate ten-octave range (here with oscillator from Endorphin.es).
To interface with their gear, they’re using the Expert Sleepers ES8 interface in the modular. You could also use a DC-coupled audio interface, though – MOTU audio interfaces are a popular choice, since they’ve got a huge range of interfaces with DC coupling across various interface configurations.
CV Tools is listed as “coming soon,” but a beta version is available now.
What do you need to use this?
For full CV control of analog gear, you’ll want a DC-coupled audio interface. Most audio interfaces lack that feature – I’m writing an explanation of this in a separate story – but if you do have one with compatible outputs, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the features here, including tuned pitch control. MOTU have probably made more interfaces that work than anyone else. You can also look to a dedicated interface like the Expert Sleepers one Skinnerbox used in the video above.
See MOTU and Expert Sleepers, both of which Skinnerbox have tested:
https://www.expert-sleepers.co.uk/es8.html (The ES-8 connects via USB. If you have an interface with ADAT out, you might also look at the ES-3.)
MOTU also have a more technical article on testing audio interfaces if you’re handy with a voltmeter, plus specs on range on all their interfaces.
Universal Audio have already written to say they’ll be demoing DC coupling on their audio interfaces at Superbooth with Ableton’s CV Tools, so their stuff works, too. (That’s all the audio interfaces, minus the Firewire era silver Apollo originals.)
PreSonus have been seen at Superbooth editions since 2017, and just at the start of this year announced a new USB-C range with DC-coupled outputs.
But wait – just because you lack the hardware doesn’t mean you can’t use some of the functionality here with other audio interfaces. Skinnerbox remind us that any audio interface inputs will work with CV In in Pitch mode. Clock in and out will work with any device, too.
Where do you get the beta?
The beta of CV Tools works like all Ableton betas. You can read up on the beta program:
You need to have an account in their Centercode problem reporting system:
There’s a simple, free sign-up if you don’t have one already. Once inside, you should see a link to the CV Tools beta announcement and a download. You may need to sign up for the Live 10.1 public beta first; I actually see CV Tools inside the Live 10 “project.”