For over 5 years I've struggled with a dilemma common among electronic music producers - how do you take compositions that took weeks to painstakingly compose and sequence and perform them to an audience in a way that is dynamic and exciting and not simply "playback" and "mixing" of finished songs. Live tackles this problem head-on and is dedicated to the sole task of dynamic, real-time, digital audio improvisation. Live is a powerful sample player with just enough flexible sequencing features to provide as much or as little structure as you need. Just toss in audio files of all your song's elements (drum beats, basslines, melodies, etc.) and Live lets you loop, trigger, tweak, drop, flip and skip your sounds on the fly and even record your actions for future compositions. This is real "jamming" for the laptop set. If you've used any audio recording or sequencing program before (Cubase, Logic, Digital Performer, Cakewalk, etc) then the Live interface will look familiar (mixer-style with pan, mute, solo, effects send and master volume - all fully automatable). Except, instead of a mess of layered, overlapping windows or modules, It fits all the components into one very clean, uncluttered window with tabs for different "views" within the window. This makes navigating the controls much easier to manage on a laptop or small monitor. Live uses an "Audio Pool" system (like Cubase) where clips, loops, phrases, or entire songs are loaded into the application and can be dragged and dropped onto an audio channel to be triggered or looped automatically or on the fly. Triggered audio can even be automatically quantized so that the clip starts right on the downbeat and your composition never falls out of sync. And if you're worried that you might launch a clip that doesn't quite fit with what's being played Live gives you the ability to audition clips in your headphone mix before sending them to the main mix (like a DJ mixer "cue" mix). You can use any VST-compatible effect as a channel insert or as a send effect. Live also includes a handful of very, very useful effects, such as graph-table EQ, chorus, distortion, filter delay, stereo tempo delay, and auto filter. Even better, (especially for purposes of improvisation) is that you can drag an effect from the list and drop it onto an audio channel to immediately apply the effect to a sample. Like most modern software sequencers, Live can sync its tempo to an external MIDI clock (drum machines, sampler/sequencers). Live goes one step further by using a time-stretching engine which keeps external syncing and tempo changes so accurate it's uncanny. For example, you could import the entire audio file for a Beethoven symphony, automatically sync it to your drum machine playing at 120 beats per minute and then drop in James Brown's classic "Funky Drummer" drum break and this unholy union will all play perfectly in sync. While your song plays, drop the tempo to 1 bpm. and listen to your samples stretch like an endless elastic band - bring the tempo back up and your audio contracts right back into place with no skips, glitches or artifacts. This is more than fun - it's hella fun. Live also uses MIDI to let you assign functions to either computer keyboard "hotkeys" or to piano keyboard keys. Just choose the knob, button or fader you want to control, press the "MIDI learn" button and tap the outboard MIDI key, knob or fader you want to control with and voila - MIDI magic at its best and simplest. You can use these keys to trigger samples to start or stop, or to adjust volume, panning, effect parameters, etc. Live works for both PC and Mac and supports Rewire, VST, ASIO, MME, DirectX, SoundManager, MIDI Timecode and MIDI Clock. Through Rewire, Live works hand in hand with programs like Reason, Cubase, Nuendo, Logic, Digital Performer, etc. The bottom line is that if you make electronic music and you've been looking for a fun, interactive way to play your songs outside of your studio - then look no further than Live. ($250, www.ableton.com)
Interfaces, Software | No. 147
Fireface UCX II USB Interface
by Tom Fine
RME has raised the bar on value with the Fireface UCX II. This German-made ADC/DAC is an all-in-one recording tool of bits and bytes, with no compromises on hardware quality or software functionality....