Ableton Push version compatibility

Akai just confirmed directly to me via twitter that the new Push controller (to be released end of February 2013) will require Ableton Live 9 and above to fully function:

@Akai_Pro: @glitzerstrahl ^SB I believe you should be able to manually map some features in previous versions however you need the latest version

@Akai_Pro: @glitzerstrahl ^SB To fully benefit from the deep integration.

This is really a pity. I was hoping the controller, given its price point, would be made available to users of the earlier versions of Live as well…

I guess it’s just a matter of time though before someone creates a custom midi map that let’s version 8 users take advantage of it…

Akai MAX49 Review

I own several MIDI controllers already, so why would I consider another one? Well the new Akai MAX49 actually has a few tricks up it’s sleeve that at least from the outset looks to add some new functionality rarely if ever seen on a MIDI keyboard controller. If you’ve followed along with the news you know the short list I’m talking about:

  • CV Out (Pitch / Gate)
  • Touch faders instead of knobs
  • Multi purpose MPC pads
  • Built in sequencer
  • Akai Connect software (not unique but still)
  • Mackie Control and HUI
  • And that beautiful red color (totally subjective of course…)

Thanks to the kind folks at a retailer that shall remain unnamed, I had the opportunity to play around with one for a a short while, and here are my initial thoughts.

The Good

photoThe construction is very solid. It feels like it’s well built and could withstand significant abuse. Not that I would recommend it of couse, but if you are considering this as a MIDI controller for the road it could be important. The fact that there are no knobs or faders sticking out also add to the impression of a controller that could stick with your for quite some time. The buttons that do exist have a satisfactory, clicky feel to them that also feels solid. Thanks to excellent use of real estate the actual footprint of the unit is also really small. In fact it’s one of the smallest fully featured 49 key controllers I have ever used. An important point if you are in a home / bed room studio setup…

The keys feel very solid too, quite different from the ones on the MPK 49 which have a much softer, ‘synthier’ kind of feel (which I prefer to simply call cheap and crappy, but that’s just my preference…). The MAX49 keys have enough stiffness to make them easily playable fast without the risk of hitting adjacent keys by mistake.

The pads are wonderfully responsive and light up beautifully. The fact that they have little cut out letters for the shift functionality is a great detail that makes the keyboard a lot more usable in a dark room / on a stage.

I’d also like to point out the rubberized mod / pitch wheel which also feel like they could withstand a lot of heavy dubstep wobbling without a flinch.

The included Akai Connect software and the Program Editor install easily. I tested this on an iMac with Lion 10.7.5 and there were no software glitches during my tests. While the software might not be the most beautiful to behold, it does the trick and is easy to navigate with a minimum of fluff.

Akai-MAX49

The CV out capabilities are certainly an added bonus though it will likely only appeal to a certain subset of synth heads who have an affinity for analog gear.

If you do count your self to this category the MAX49 could be an excellent way to interface with your old gear, including routing MIDI sequence data from a DAW via the keyboard to your other synths. Be careful with the specs though since not all gear uses the same CV specification.

The Bad

While ‘Solid’ is the best word to describe the overall construction of the keyboard, this solidness also makes the unit rather heavy. Compared to other controllers such as the Novation Impuls or SL MK2 the unit has significant weight, which could be a problem if you are weak (meh) and need to lug it around a lot.

While the key bed feels well built and has stiffness, it was actually so stiff that it felt like it would wear out my fingers within a couple of hours of playing. This is likely a combination of my preference for keys like the Moog Little Phatty or the Novation Ultranova, and the fact that the unit was brand new. Give it some time and it would probably loosen up.

As with the key bed, the wheels are also surprisingly stiff (perhaps no dubstep wobble after all, at least not a fast one…).

The built in arpeggiator is rich, with a vast array of options and expression capabilities. Unfortunately I found it to be quite laggy, often dropping a beat or missing a note if I did fast chord or note changes in the middle of a pattern. I plugged in a Novation Impuls 25 and tried the same kind of ninjutsu, but without any such hiccups. A future OS update might change this behavior, which frankly felt more like a bad design decision than an actual bug. (Kind of like ‘let’s let each pattern finish or drop a beat if the notes change in the middle of it’.)

MG_2590(1)The touch faders are one of the most visible and often cited features of the MAX49, and while they look great I sometimes found it hard to get them to react to my ‘dragging’.

I would place a finger on top and drag up or down, only to find that as soon as I lifted my finger the value would return or jump all over the place. Perhaps an early adopter problem that will be addressed in a future OS update. Perhaps it takes a while to get the hang of how to use them?

The Akai Connect software is a great tool for editing the supplied factory DAW programs or creating new ones, but when it comes to actual DAW integration (such as having Ableton Live recognizing the controller) be prepared to do some terminal / finder file copy/pasting before Live will map properly with the ‘Live Program’ supplied in the keyboard.

I did get it to work though after some juggling. Granted I only tested it with Live, but for a controller that touts ‘Automatically Maps’ as selling point, DAW integration could definitely be a smoother process.

The documentation also deserves to be called out. The included manual is depressingly thin and really does not go far in terms of explaining how to set up or work with the unit, instead it often refers you to either online documentation or the docs included in the 2 editor software packages that come bundles with the MAX49.

It also fails to mention such minor but important things like why the touch faders will sometimes only show the LED for the current value instead of a full row (Hint: Plug in the wall plug in addition to the USB cable and they show up), or why after selecting a program the main display just sits there flashing the program name (this is by design) leaving you asking your self if you actually loaded a program or not.

The Ugly

You either love the red color or you hate it. It’s that simple…

The Verdict

Overall the MAX49 is a solid MIDI controller with some tricks up it’s sleeves that will cater to certain audiences. Some forward looking new features like touch faders combined with rich expression control (the sequencer is a lot of fun) and a nod to the past (CV out FTW!) makes this controller stand out.

Early adopters will suffer some of the minor hits like lackluster documentation and sometimes glitchy faders and arpeggiation, but I’m sure Akai will work those issues out with a simple software update in the near future.

If I had a lot of analog gear that I needed a rich interface for, or a need for a small footprint 49 key controller, I would probably get one of those and stick it out until the OS is upgraded.

You can get it from Amazon at the following link, which is also a great way to support this site:  Akai Max 49 Advanced USB/MIDI/CV Keyboard Controller

New Song (Fahrbahn 13 Parnassus Street)

A late night session with some analog sounds.

I had this image of Parnassus Street in san Francisco in my head, which is what I tried to capture in the siren like sound that you can hear in the second half.

(Parnassus Street is home to a huge medical center, and I imagine the people who live there get to hear sirens a lot…)

I wanted to create a track that feels like something you would fall asleep to on a rainy evening in that neighborhood (which I have never done, but still :) ).

The street sounds you hear I actually sampled on another street here in SF, but it’s close enough to Parnassus. The crackling noise is a tiny instrument in Live that produces a constant vinyl like noise. The rest is a mix of patches created in Arturia’s CS-80V, Minimoog and Moog Modular emulators, and NI’s Massive.

Ableton Live 9 Workshop Notes

Today I attended the Ableton Live 9 workshop at the Supper Club in San Francisco.

Please see this post for the background on the workshop.

The event was relatively small, but thanks to the size it felt very intimate and informal. The crowd wasn’t huge, but I got the impression that it was reasonably representative of the active EDM producers / artists in San Francisco. The old Demo Party organizer in me immediately started thinking about different types of events that could be arranged with a dedicated group of people like this, but more on that later.

I won’t go too much into detail about the topics discussed, but below are some notes of the stuff that I found particularly interesting.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that the workshop was based on a Beta version of Live 9, and any of the described features and content below could change before it actually ships.

Part 1 : Timo on Live 9 and workflow

Audio to MIDI

By now I think most people have heard of the amazing new Audio to MIDI function in Live 9, what I did not know was that it offers 3 different algorithms to choose from, Harmony for chord heavy sound, Melody for monophonic progressions and Drums for percussion and drums.

Upgrade to 9 compressor or continue to use 8 version is an option

As part of upgrading to Live 9, you will be presented with the option to continue to use the Live 8 standard compressor, or upgrade to the new one. This is not the new Glue compressor, which is a different plugin, but the standard compressor.

MIDI Note Invert

The Notes drawer in a MIDI clip now has an invert button that allows you to select a set of notes in the piano roll and instantly invert their relative pitch.

MIDI Note Stretch markers

In Live 9, when you select a range in the Note lane the selected range markers can be dragged to stretch (speed up, slow down, reverse) the selected notes.

Session Automation Record Arm and Record Buttons

As part of the new Session view automation record capability, the Transport bar at the top of the UI know contains an Automation Record arm button, and an Automation Record button. Both are used when you want to enable / disable recording any parameter changes you do while playing back scenes and clips. With version you add automation points by single clicking, and you can create curves for smoother transitions.

Back to arrangement on a track by track basis

The arrangement view in Live 9 contains buttons that allow you to do Back to Arrangement on individual tracks instead of the entire set.

Consolidate to scene 9

Starting with Live 9 you can select a range in the arrangement view, right click and select Consolidate to Scene. This will create a new scene in the session view that contains a clip for each track you selected, with just the selected range of sound. This includes automation and effects.

Part 2 : Liam on DJ’ing with Live

Set global BPM though scene name

If you name a scene ??? BPM, the global clock will be set to that BPM every time you launch that scene. Perfect for smooth transitions and seamless tempo changes between song parts or tracks in a DJ set.

Use routing to create effects channels

If you get creative, you can create advanced effects channels that allow you to get very expressive when playing back scenes and clips live. (This is really all about coming up with the templates that work for you.)

Summary

Don’t let the fact that the notes from Liam’s session are fewer trick you into thinking that his set was not interesting. Since I’m not a DJ I guess there was just more that related to me directly in Timo’s part. Liam really showed how far you can go using Live and the APC 40, if you really know how to work both the software and the hardware.

The event was incredibly inspiring and full of new learnings, especially for a relative beginner like my self.

At the end I also got a chance to speak to Timo directly about the possibility of arranging more workshops and gatherings for EDM people in San Francisco. He indicated that there are already plans to try to strengthen the community and provide more forums and social events for people to exchange ideas, learn and share perspectives and initiate collaborations. I really hope that materializes, and if it doesn’t I will try to make it happen myself.

Finally, a huge thanks to Timo and Liam for taking the time and sharing from their wells of wisdom.

New Song (Fahrbahn 12 Kahlkoepfig)

This track is kind of a give-up for me. I’ve been struggling for many nights with getting the right type of melody going but it just refuses to fall into place. So, I’ve decided that this track is finished as is…

Some interesting things going on here is that the sounds you hear are a mix of sequenced hardware (DSI Tetr4 and the Meeblip) playing different arpeggiated melodies, and Arturia’s software emulation of the Minimoog.

I have sampled and worked with loops from my hardware synths in the past, but this is the first time they are allowed to stay ‘alive’ throughout the track. (Yes manually setting up the patches every time I worked on the track was a hassle…)

I wanted to keep the track simple, but still interesting. Might have ended up a bit too simple overall, but this track is what it is :).

Thanks for listening!