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Live 7 gains an ingenious new way of working with drums, and an optional library packed with new instruments. Software develops at such a pace nowadays that buying a music package can feel like making a down-payment on an annual subscription.
The last major Live upgrade still feels warm from the oven, and another one is here. In our generally enthusiastic review of Live 6, we suggested that the most significant weak spot was its paucity of instruments and drum kits. Enter Live 7, with a whole new framework for working with drums, and the new Ableton Suite, featuring a host of new synths, plus electronic and acoustic drums.
This is an admirable move, as the temptation is always to prioritise shiny, new, marketing-friendly features. There are some intriguing results showing the wide difference in timing accuracy between a selection of MIDI interfaces; now we just need someone to leak out what those interfaces were!
On the audio side, the mixer now features bit summing, which eliminates rounding errors when combining signals. While most processing remains at a perfectly respectable and less CPU-intensive bit, the EQ8 equaliser now has a double-precision bit mode, increasing quality and presumably increasing internal headroom to astronomical levels.
In a similar vein, the Operator, Saturator and Dynamic Tube devices have gained a Hi-Quality mode, which reduces aliasing, presumably by increasing internal sample rates.
This takes the idea of Instrument Racks and adds some really useful drum-specific twists. The simplest is to put your drum machine or sampler plug-in on a track, then record MIDI clips on that track. When it comes to mixing, you might prefer each sound to come up on a different audio track, so you can treat each one separately. So you route the sounds to different tracks if the plug-in supports this.
The Drum Rack gives you a single plug-in environment with trigger pads, each of which can control a single drum sound. Each sound has a separate chain signal path , but all the chains are mixed back together at the output of the instrument. A mixer track containing a Drum Rack has an expand button to the right of its name.
Clicking this slides open a new nested mixer view, showing all the chains in the Rack as separate mixer channels. From here you can quickly set levels and pans, and drop audio effects on individual sounds. Clicking the name of a nested track displays that chain on its own in the device view, so you can quickly see or edit what devices are in the chain.
Drop Some Beats Drum Rack pads are laid out in four columns, with 16 shown at a time. A small overview shows all the pads, with a square indicating which ones are visible. The coolest bit is that when you move the focus square around, your controller will always play the 16 pads that are currently in view.
A MIDI keyboard will play all of the available pads. An important note is that a Drum Rack is not itself an instrument: In the chain list, as well as setting which note pad triggers the chain, you can set which note is sent to the instrument.
Drop an effect on a pad and it gets placed after any sample or instrument already there. From the expanded mixer view, you can drag any of the pad channels into an empty space in the mixer. The chain gets pulled out of the Drum Rack, becoming a self—contained MIDI track with the chain devices inserted on it.
This is fine if you prefer to make your own kits, but otherwise you need to look at getting the Drum Machines or Session Drums packages. This is as good a reason as any to opt for the full Ableton Suite. The two included kits are basically teasers for the two new drum libraries. The Drum Machine package is available as a download, and does what it says on the tin. All the usual classics are here: There are five kits for each instrument: Hopefully there will be more sounds on the way.
This more expensive and much larger library 28GB and available only as a two—DVD box set is dedicated to studio drums. A large range of kits is provided, with different environments, played with a mixture of sticks, brushes and mallets. Recording quality and velocity mapping are excellent throughout.
The other half are multi-mic kits of epic proportions that are only made possible with the Drum Rack. You can control the overall levels of the overhead and room mics and bottom snare mic , although from the chain returns, not the mixer. However, to change the balance on a drum that has more than one mic, as the kick and snare do, you have to go in and do it for every different articulation of which snares can have quite a few, such as straight hits, sidesticks, rolls, rimshots and so on.
Apart from that, the Session Drums sound fantastic, and, as far as I can see, should have you covered for just about any kind of music that needs an acoustic drum kit. Smart Priming prioritises available memory to samples that are actually being used. For example, Live looks at which samples are used by MIDI clips on tracks that are not record-armed or in input mode, to see which samples are needed.
If you arm these tracks again, you can see Live briefly re-buffering the samples in case they are played. This worked great on my iMac with 3GB memory and fast drive, but I had the feeling that on my laptop, with its 1GB RAM and nearly full drive, it actually had a slightly detrimental effect, because even simple patches struggled as Live shuffled samples around. Live now supports REX files. The resulting clip behaves much like a standard audio clip, except that yellow lines appear in the clip view indicating slice points, and warping is disabled.
Loops can be beat-sliced and automatically placed into a Drum Rack; MIDI clips are automatically generated for playing back a sliced loop. To do anything more than play a loop back, you need to switch to the traditional way of handling REX files: Right-clicking on the clip reveals a new command: This creates a new track with a Drum Rack, and loads the slices onto individual pads.
A MIDI clip is also generated with a sequence of ascending notes that will be familiar to beat-slicing aficionados. When played back, this reproduces the original clip.
However, you can now go in and mess with the MIDI clip to change the way the loop plays back. For example, you can quantise the clip, or rearrange the notes to change the drum pattern. You can also play the slices back manually from your MIDI keyboard or pads. A dialogue box gives you the choice to create slices at regular intervals, such as 16th notes, or slice at Warp Markers. The latter choice means that you need to go in and set the slice points manually by placing the markers.
Outside The Box The External Instrument device lets you play and monitor Rewire or hardware instruments from a single track. One of my favourite new features is the External Instrument device. Although MIDI tracks in Live can host virtual instruments, and therefore handle audio as well as MIDI, they have never been able to receive audio from an external source. This has meant that to use a hardware synth, or Rewire application, you needed two tracks: As you can see in the picture below, the External Instrument is ideal for integrating individual Rewire instruments into Live.
One thing still missing, though, is the ability to send program changes other than from within a MIDI clip, but this is flagged for future attention by the developers. The new External Audio Effect device lets you create a physical insert point. If you Freeze a track containing one of these devices, Live performs a real-time bounce to capture the audio.
This doubles as a really simple way to print all your outboard effects if you move a project to a different location. Live Arrangement Time signature changes and multiple automation lanes in the Arrangement. Time signature changes are added to Session scenes by simply including them in their names. In the same way that tempo changes are handled, you just need to change the name of a scene in the Master track to include the time signature.
Live automatically recognises this, and makes the change when you launch the clip. If you have the Arrangement in record when you launch such a clip, a signature-change marker is placed into the time ruler — a simple and elegant solution. Another useful new feature is the ability to display and work with multiple lanes of automation from a single track. Each extra graph that you choose to view is stacked above the previous one.
The lanes can be re-ordered and individually resized. Pressing the plus button on the main track lane pushes the automation graph from that track down to a new lane. This is a slightly awkward way of doing it, but it avoids every lane needing a view selector.
In The Mix Apart from the audio engine overhaul, there are some other mixing enhancements. You can call up either of the original models, or a brand new feedback model. The new algorithm mimics the kind of expensive vintage compressors that we all hanker after. I absolutely loved it. If you want to give a creamy-smooth, warm boost to drums, without adding punch, this is perfect.
Very short release times produce a nice harmonic saturation. On synths and vocals it can smooth out levels, or completely flat-line them without distorting or pumping. As well as EQ side-chaining, you can now side-chain Compressor from an external signal. Side-chaining has also been added to the Gate device, and to the envelope follower in Auto Filter, both of which open up new creative possibilities.
Live Forever If you use Live for composition, especially if you program your own drums, the Drum Rack alone will make the upgrade too tempting to pass up.
REX support and beat slicing, time signatures, tempo nudge, and so on. Personally, as someone who uses Live for composition more than performance, the External Instrument device with its Freeze support is particularly pleasing, especially for Rewiring with Reason instruments. The instruments and drum libraries make Live a more rounded package. Live continues to mature as an all-round platform for composition and production, as well as a performance tool. There are still things that other packages do better, such as MIDI manipulation and fully fledged automation, but I, for one, am glad that Ableton focus their development on finding elegant and intuitive alternatives to working methods that most of the other DAWs do in the same way as each other.
Analog, Electric and Tension also available to purchase separately. Analog is, as you have probably guessed, an analogue modelling synth. Like all the new instruments, it is based on a synth created by Applied Acoustic Systems, in this case, Ultra Analog. I downloaded the demo of Ultra Analog and was able to compare like-for-like, because the majority of presets supplied with Analog are ports of the default bank from Ultra Analog. The same patches sound virtually identical on both plug-ins.
Live 7 gains an ingenious new way of working with drums, and an optional library packed with new instruments. Software develops at such a pace nowadays that buying a music package can feel like making a down-payment on an annual subscription. The last major Live upgrade still feels warm from the oven, and another one is here. In our generally enthusiastic review of Live 6, we suggested that the most significant weak spot was its paucity of instruments and drum kits.