Category Archives: Music Software

DJing in Live — Limiters are not the answer!

This is a common ‘helpful tip’ about playing live or DJ’ing with Ableton Live — ‘put a limiter on the main output bus.’

After recording a set last night (which you’ll hear about when I get approval from one artist to use a track) I have spent some time rendering, tweaking, and then re-rendering a mix, because of leveling moves I made in the heat of the moment.  It’s really hard unless you have some sort of giant external meter to watch to keep things properly leveled.

Several times during the mix I brought tracks up to the point they were pegging the limiter giving you that dreaded ‘solid ingot’ waveform.  I’m going to take the limiter out of my standard setup and resolve to watch the meters better, and use my ears. If you clip the main output in Live a little bit it does a fairly good job of soft-limiting to keep from going into digital clipping.  But it’s better that you LISTEN to what you’re doing and be conservative than to use the limiter as a crutch.

The problem isn’t that it sounds ‘bad’ — it sounds OK.  But it doesn’t sound great, because you lose all dynamics. If you’re DJing, everything you play has already been mastered and limited within an inch of it’s life, to limit it more is to second guess the mastering engineers, using much less sophisticated tools.

As for the general philosophical idea of DJing in Live — I love playing vinyl, but especially when it comes to making a studio mix, I like the flexibility that Live gives you, and freedom from cuing and beatmatching as primary concerns.  When I do one of my studio mixes, my concern is to showcase the stuff I’ve recently acquired in a way that is meaningful musically to me, not show off my skills.

I go through a lot of tracks to find the ones that speak to the mood I’m going for, and pre-sequence them, usually in order of tempo.  I actually do record the actual mix in real time — I’m triggering and fading and EQing live.  But I’m not above going back and correcting levels.  Or in the mix I just did, loop the end of one track to make the transition to the next more graceful.

My goal is to get to where I don’t have to tweak after the fact, and every time I record a set I get closer.  When I listen to the first mixes I did with Live a couple years ago they make me cringe.  I want to be able to get in front of a crowd and use the flexibility of Live to make it sound great and move a crowd.  Getting away from using the mouse and staring at the screen can make a big difference.  The APC40 is nice in that way, but actually the mappings I have for the XSession Pro are a more complete mouse-eliminator.

Akai APC40 First Impressions

My APC40 came yesterday, and I spent a few hours fiddling with it last night…

The build quality is impressive. Almost absurdly so — the knobs are big and solid, the faders are smooth. The hard rubber end cheeks are some designers wet dream — they seem to have no purpose except to enhance the ‘stealth bomber’ profile. The case proper is sheet metal with smooth bends. It’s not really a criticism per se, but a plastic case would have made it more transportable — it’s heavy. This plus a laptop in a bag, and you’ll not want to be lugging it all over Berlin.

My only criticism of it design-wise has nothing to do with ergonomics: The faders and knobs will be vulnerable during transport, and the box it came in is pretty bulky. They need to come up with a padded bag with foam ribs at the side so you don’t break off sliders or knobs. If they made one with room for a laptop, I’d buy it — something like the M-Audio Oxygen8 bags…

In operation, there’s very little to write about; it does a good job of taking your head out of the computer screen, and if you’re comfortable with Live, it will make complete sense after about 5 minutes of use.

The one thing I found sub-optimal is the Device Control section. If you select an instance of a Live Instrument, the knobs are automatically mapped to … whatever the first 8 parameters the instrument exposes. These are almost never the most useful parameters to be tweaking, and in the case of Collision you have to hunt around the instrument panel to try and find what they’re changing.qqqq

So in order to mess with a Live instrument’s parameters you have to put it in an instrument rack and assign the macro knobs to something meaningful. For VST instruments and FX the new Live 8 parameter mapping UI makes it a little better — you choose which parameters are exposed and you can rearrange them. But the Device Control knobs are pretty useless for Live Instruments and FX unless you wrap them in a rack.

But all in all it’s a very nice controller for Live, and very nearly the perfect controller for live performance. It’s not revolutionary or amazing, but it solidly does what needs doing, and makes interacting with live a lot more tactile. Just being able to trigger or turn off multiple tracks is huge — it’s something I was always trying to do with the mouse, and it’s not a natural move.

Oh, and tried to look at the top secret MIDI handshake between Live and the APC40 with MIDI-OX and failed. They’ve set up the MIDI driver for the APC40 so it’s single client (meaning only one program at a time can access it) — so if I load MIDI-OX and try and run live, Live won’t talk to the APC 40, and if I try and load MIDI-OX after Live, it won’t be able to open the ports. Given that the only connection is USB, someone will have to use a lower-level tool to try and figure this stuff out.

AudioMidi has APC40 in stock, shipping today

Cet obscur objet du désir
Cet obscur objet du désir

AudioMidi is one of those online retailers, like NewEgg that once you find it, becomes your vendor of first resort. I can’t recommend them highly enough — competetive prices, prompt shipping, and first rate customer service.

I ordered my Akai APC40 yesterday, and called them to ask if they were backordered and when they’d ship, and they said “we have plenty of stock and we’re shipping tomorrow” — meaning today. If you were wondering where to get one.

If you’re not aware of what the APC40 is, it is a MIDI controller tailored for use with the Ableton Live music software.

Ableton Live 8 Extracts Grooves from Audio

Groove Quantization was one of the ‘big deal’ features added in Ableton Live, and I suppose if I’d read all the marketing shiznit more carefully I would have figured it out before now, but as usual I only learn by doing.


So what I did here:

1. Load the track “Amazon” by El-B (from The Roots of El-B into live. (You can hear a sample of it here.)
2. Set 1.1.1 in the timeline to a downbeat. Make the loop region 2 bars starting there. Drag the ‘end’ marker for the track to the end of the loop. Drag the downbeat transients to line up with the timeline downbeats.
3. Right click the resulting clip and select Extract Groove(s)

Then you can apply your groove to any midi clip. Cool…

Other interesting things you can do with grooves:

1. You can drag a groove into a midi track to look at it, or e.g. trigger a hi hat. The beginning of the Audio example above starts out with the raw groove template played by itself.

2. You can drag any midi file into the groove pool. Together with 1, you can edit grooves. In the case of the El-B ‘Amazon’ groove there wasn’t a hit on every 16th note, in which case I don’t know what it does to the timings of notes that fall in the holes, so I plugged the holes with new notes and fiddled with them until they fit the rest of the groove.

3. You can put a groove on a track, and mess with the settings — the random setting and groove amount in particular — until you like the sound created and then hit ‘commit’ on the clip. That quantizes the notes in the clip to the groove settings. Then you can drag the midi clip back into the groove pool and have a new groove.

4. You can apply a groove to many clips simultaneously. Like — every clip in your session. Select the clips to put the groove on in the session view or hit ctrl-A (or cmd-A) to select all. The groove box is in the same place as it would be for a single clip. Then you can choose a groove and it applies to all selected clips.

5. There’s a slider that sets the amount of groove from zero to 130% — I understand what 0-100 means: it drags the notes 0 to 100% of the way to the nearest groove point. I’m not sure what it means past 100%, except that a swing groove swings even harder, and if you have non-zero randomization set, it’s even randomer. At any rate it can sound very cool.
Image stolen from

Dave Smith Mopho goes Keerazy with Random Patch Generator

This is Dave Smith Instruments’ Mopho playing some patches generated randomly by the Mopho Pro Editor.

The Mopho Pro Editor is like any other editor for external MIDI instruments: It’s kind of buggy and ill-documented, and half the time something about it doesn’t work and you can’t figure out why. But when it does work, two features make it extremely valuable: The random patch generator and the ‘program genetics.’

The former is what it sounds like — it generates random patches, and you can control which parameters it randomizes. The ‘program genetics’ starts from two existing Mopho patches and ‘breeds’ them to generate new patches. The cool thing about these two features is that it generates sounds you’d never program on purpose; and in fact, I’m frankly mystified about how the Mopho’s fairly straightforward architecture could even make the sounds it does.

Example #1 — an assortment of generated patches, one after another, with tweaking:

Example #2 — One of my generated patches, playing itself. I have no idea where all the crackly stuff comes from.

Feel free to use these samples however you like.

Perspective on Cycling74 dropping Pluggo support…

This started out as a comment on This CDM post but grew to the point I moved it here. Peter Kirn took this announcement as an opportunity to discuss free/open alternatives, which is great, but personally, I’ve really come to value the increased quality of software made by people who do it commercially over the myriad sketchy and semi-sketchy free alternatives. I’d sooner stab my nuts with a rusty fork than try and do anything with Pd…

Full disclosure, I’m friends with a couple of the Cycling74 guys…

Like a lot of decisions at Cycling74, what drives decision-making is the fact that they’re a small company — vanishingly small compared to e.g. Ableton.

While I don’t know the mind of Zicarreli, the actions of Cycling 74 over the years speak volumes: The company has stayed tiny as a conscious decision, and has only added new people when they find someone whose talents are unique and there is a good fit with respect to personality and philosophy.

Since Cycling74 is vanishingly small, they have to be very careful about what they say ‘yes’ to and they will say ‘no’ a lot. I surmise the whole partnership with Cycling74 came about because of personal contact, friendship, and shared vision between principles at the two companies.

Having said ‘yes’ to Ableton, Cycling74 is going to increase their customer base by a couple of orders of magnitude, and supporting this new base is going to be a challenge. Luckily Ableton has the larger staff and deeper pockets to share that burden.

Not continuing to support VST and AU and RTAS might be sad for those of us who bought those products, but it’s a completely understandable business decision.

Let it be said also, that while I love Pluggo and Hipno, they’re not what I’d call smooth or easy to use in VST hosts, for a load of reasons. The Max/Live integration might be closed source and a software monoculture but it will do a couple of really useful changes for musicians:

  • Live is really good at timing, and is a straightforward sequencing environment.  Max? Not so much.
  • Max will become part of a software ecosystem that — all bitching on the Ableton Forums aside — has considerable human resources devoted to quality control. Combine that with the much larger user base, Max will benefit in terms of reliability and performance.
  • Max for Live will mean considerably more bushel baskets of cash showing up at Cycling74.  This bodes well for their continued existence as a company, and should make it possible for them to do even more cool stuff.

HOWTO: Build PaulStretch on OS/X (or elsewhere)


A commenter asked for help building Paul Stretch for his G4 Powerbook. I didn’t bother with a PowerPC build for OS X; but if you’re familiar enough with programming to build stuff from source it’s not too difficult. Instructions after the jump — I know most of you would rather eat broken glass than read them.

EDIT: I should mention that these build scripts will work on any OS (Linux, SunOS, FreeBSD) that supports Unix style scripting. For all I know, you can use them with Cygwin and X11 on Windows.

On Windows, you can look at the scripts (they’re dirt simple) and use them as a guide to building — you can probably get binary distributions of the libraries, and then use CMake to build the application. Really! Continue reading HOWTO: Build PaulStretch on OS/X (or elsewhere)

Paul Stretch (extreme audio time stretching) for OS X to download!


It has links to a more recent build, the PPC build, etc.

Yesterday I couldn’t spell OS X Developer and now, I are one!

With some help from my friends on the CMake mailing list I finally got a running standalone OS X application built out of the Paul Stretch source. As I wrote yesterday, it’s free, it’s easy, and it makes hours of freaky soundscapes out of any audio file.

Except for mp3 files. If you try and load an MP3 file it locks up. Oh, and it wants WAV or OGG files — as far as I know it can’t load AIF files. But it’s free, right?

Repost: Free Program for Extreme Time Stretch

Sorry for repost, but apparently, this post got trashed in my Blog SQL database. Eff me silly, computers suck. Apparently the post showed up long enough for MKB to comment on it, but then went to the great bit bucket in the sky.

The quaintly named Paul Stretch is a program that does extreme time stretching of digital audio. It’s free and open source, so anyone can try it. I even was able to build it on OS X, but not yet in a way that permits redistribution — you can do a lot of Unix-style programming on OS X and never build up the knowledge that building a native application requires.

Anyhow it turns any audio into pleasant ambient textures. Exampla gratia:

Bitone Troupe “All Is Full Of Love”

The first 30 seconds or so, timestretched to several minutes


If it isn’t hardware, don’t fake it up in 3D Studio

I’m linking to this product without any particular enthusiasm Black Magic Loop Creator.

What irks me is this image:

How many times have I seen a pic like this and thought ‘ooh cool!’ only to find out it’s imaginary? Just fucking stop it!

What’s even worse, when I first see certain pieces of actual hardware, (e.g. NI Maschine) they look like 3D Studio renderings, or actually, the pictures they release of the REAL objects are FAKE 3D Studio renderings! It makes my brain hurt.

How to make Reaktor Knobs Automatable in Ableton Live

So the target demographic for this post is the intersection of three sets:

  • Ableton Live Users
  • Reaktor Users
  • People wonky enough to try and automate VST plugins with envelopes.

Still with me? OK.

I was contacted by an Internet acquaintance because he wanted to use the Reaktor Effect that emulates the Roland RE201 Space Echo, and he wanted to automate it with envelopes.  There are two places you can do this — In the ‘Session View’ on a per-clip basis, and in the ‘Arrangement View’ on a per-track basis.

The way you do this, in both cases is by selecting the plugin instance  from a pull down menu of Automatable Things, and then select the parameter to automate from a separate pull down menu just below the first.  In the case of the ‘Session View’ there’s a first step — select a clip, then on the far left hand side of its properties, click on the little ‘E’ in the bottom row.

In this case, all the parameters of the RE201 were just invisible.  I asked about it on the NI Reaktor Forum, and got this answer.

So I wrote back to my friend with this advice, which may stand you in good stead should you ever get into this sticky situation:

Live before rev 8 only recognizes the first 128 automation parameters.  The parameters (i.e. changeable knobs and controls) each has an ID that’s unique per instrument.  These IDs get assigned as an ensemble is created, and if you delete a control, the ID isn’t re-used.

When it comes to Automation, the parameters are exposed by the standard VST mechanism, with each Reaktor parameter being the Base ID for the instrument, plus the ID of the control.

In the case of RE201, the base parameter was 500-something, so all controls were invisible to Ableton Live.

If you look in the Reaktor Instrument Properties, click on the control routing tab. (the two little boxes with an arrow between them).

At the bottom, there’s an ‘Automation’ section.  Do two things:

Pull down the ‘IDS’ menu, and select ‘Instrument Up’ until the base ID is zero. Then pull down the ‘IDS’ menu again and select ‘Sort and Compress IDs’

This will make all of the controls in the RE201 visible in Live. Honest to God.