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Live 4 Delivers

New version is an essential tool for digital studios By Frank Moldstad

Live 4's main interface
It was only three years ago that Ableton's Live burst onto the scene, quickly gaining popularity for its ability to smoothly integrate looped audio tracks into the flow of live music, and for its intriguing possiibilities as a composing tool. Now, with the release of Live 4, Ableton has greatly expanded the program's capabilities with the addition of MIDI recording and sequencing capabilities. Plus, Live 4 includes support for VSTi instruments and plug-ins -- and it comes with two built-in VSTi instruments. These additions make Live 4 into a completely self-contained music production environment, and an essential tool for digital studios.

Up to this point, recording with Live has been limited to audio tracks. While MIDI clips could be used in previous versions of Live, they had to be sequenced and recorded with a third-party program and imported, or routed through a program such as ReWire. This was an acceptable if slightly convoluted workflow for heavy MIDI users, because it required several programs running at once, with various parameters to be set in each. Now that both audio and MIDI tracks can be produced and manipulated in Live 4 with the same workflow, third-party MIDI sequencers are no longer necessary.


Price: EUR/USD 499

Upgrades: EUR/USD 119 (download) or EUR/USD 149 (boxed).

Mac: G3 or faster; 256 MB RAM; OS 9.2 or later/OS X 10.1.5 or later
PC: 600 MHz CPU or faster; 256 MB RAM; Win 98/2000/XP

Live has become an immensely versatile program. Users can choose whether they want to connect external MIDI instruments via ReWire or play and record them directly into Live 4. As always, they can record audio tracks. A complete production can be done in Live 4 with audio and MIDI, or an arrangement can be exported to a DAW application for advanced multitracking, mastering or video syncing. With this release, Live stands apart from the crowd with a range of capabilities no other application has.

Designed for real-time loop manipulation, Live encourages experimentation and spontaneity of a kind that would be impossible in any other audio program. For instance, MIDI or audio clips can be dragged and dropped into a song while it's playing, and they can even be stacked on the same track. Each clip includes a play button, and you can substitute for a clip currently playing on that track whenever you wish. Everything plays in sync, no matter what kind of disparate elements you combine. To get you started, Live 4 includes a nice selection of MIDI loops by Keyfax, in styles including Dub, Hip Hop, House, Rap and Techno.A collection of individual instrument hits is also provided.

Live 4 is compatible with both Windows and Mac computers, and I installed it on a Mac G4 running OS 10.3.5. Before doing anything else, I discovered that a version 4.0.3 update was available for download on the Ableton website, so I installed that. Upon launching the program (and entering the serial number to register Live 4 to the machine, a one-time requirement), I was greeted with a tutorial called "Making Music with Live."

Arrggh! They've removed all excuses for not going through the tutorials! But wait a minute ... that's actually a good thing.

Recording tutorial, docked at right, with demo song at left for putting examples into action.

These tutorials are among the best in the business, and going through each of them is highly recommended. (Of course, you can open up a new Live Set and get straight to work if you wish.) When a Live tutorial is opened, it docks to the right side of the interface, taking up about a third of the vertical real estate. Each page is devoted to walking you through two or three steps in a process. You're prompted to move your mouse into the demo song open on the left and click buttons, move knobs and drag plugins and clips around, with real-time results as the demo song plays. At the bottom of each page is a Next button, leading you through an entire process, such as Recording and Automation, Using Effects, Editing Arrangements and Using Patterns. I ran through a couple of the tutorials, and after learning how LIVE's new MIDI functionality works, I wanted to start experimenting with the VSTi instruments.

Audio Units plug-in support is included, too.
Virtual Software Instruments (VSTi) now show up in Live's Browser window, including the two new built-in Virtual Instruments introduced with Live 4, Simpler and the Impulse percussion sampler. Another significant addition in Live 4 is support for Apple's AU (Audio Units) format, opening a wider range of plug-ins and instruments for direct use.

The VSTi compatibility and the built-in instruments open up whole new vistas for using Live. Users can decide how they want to work, instead of adapting to how the program works. MIDI patterns can be recorded directly from the Simpler or Impulse instruments, or from external instruments. Or, other VSTi instruments on a computer can be used. Any combination is acceptable. One thing is certain, the included VSTi instruments will be used often. Ableton didn't just throw in two obligatory instruments for convenience, its developers created two very nice instruments.

The Impulse percussion sampler includes 21 different kits covering a range of interesting electronica and several nice acoustic kits. I particularly liked the Studio Windsor and Studio Montreal acoustic kits and the hip hop-oriented Tresor 1994. Each drum kit has a set of controls for things such as pitch, decay, velocity, drive, tuning, panning and more. 

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Related Keywords:Live 4, Ableton, MIDI recording, sequencing, looped audio, VSTi instruments, Audio Units, Virtual Software Instruments


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