Bitwig Studio and Ableton Live (9?)

(All of the below is based on my own understandings and sometimes guesses, I am in no way affiliated with Ableton or Bitwig. If you find any mistakes in the text please point them out and I will edit as needed.)

So videos of Bitwig Studio have started to appear. What’s that you ask? Bitwig is essentially a new DAW that’s being developed by a Berlin startup by the same name. Interestingly the founding team includes 4 former employees of Ableton, and this combined with how similar the UI of the two applications are have led many to jokingly call Bitwig Studio ‘Live 9’.

First a bit of background. Ableton Live was originally released in October 2001, and at the time it made a huge splash due to it’s unique blend of live performance and composer oriented workflows and tools. Since it’s initial release Live has grown to be one of the most widely used and respected DAWs on the market, but there are a lot of question marks around the current state of affairs at Ableton.

What are those question marks you say? Well, Live 8 was released in April of 2009 with a lot of great new features for the time, but while there’s been incremental updates in the form of point releases since then, by now the Live community is growing increasingly impatient for a much needed overhaul and update. (Things like 64 bit support, multi-screen support, better automation support in session view and functional built-in sequencer (I’ll sign that petition any day :) spring to mind…)

Talk of Live 9 has been mostly stone-walled by Ableton, except for a confirmation that they are indeed ‘working on it’. The plot thickens when you factor in that before the release of version 8, Ableton released a new version at a cadence of about once per year. A trend that has now abruptly ended.

Naturally, with the long silence (+ the fact that Ableton has been known to hire developers in the mean time) it has become more or less the standard expectation that the next version of Live would be close to a complete rewrite

So, while we where eagerly awaiting news on Live 9 from our friends at Ableton, out of the shadows emerges Bitwig.

Bitwig was founded in 2009 in Berlin by a group of people including 4 previous employees of Ableton. (This becomes important when you consider how similar their first product, Bitwig Studio, is to Ableton Live.) The name was trademarked in Germany on July 21st 2011, but reports around the web claim the team has been working on Bitwig Studio for almost 2 years. The company’s formation was picked up and discussed as far back as 2009 (and [2]) also quoting developers saying that the new DAW was already in development.

So back to the original question, what is Bitwig Studio? Essentially Bitwig is an attempt at taking the best parts of Live and marry those with an updated UI, workflow and architecture, to catch up with the last 3 years of development in computer host hardware and operating systems and other DAWs.

What does it mean in practice? Bitwig is certainly targeting the same eclectic mix of Live performers and Studio composers as Live. The session / composition view is there, but you are now able to display them both simultaneously in a layout that takes advantage of wide screen monitors. Speaking of monitors, un-docked windows and multiple projects are now supported meaning that Bitwig works great with your multi-screen setup. 64bit support is a given, while Linux support from day one is a nod in the direction of the changing OS landscape. The ability to mix Midi and Audio on the same track has been a request from the Live community for a long time, Bitwig has it. There are also a bunch of LAN driven features on the roadmap (post v1?) that would allow multiple users to share a project or jam off of the same session arrangement, though details here are scarce at the moment. (Worth noting though is that network enabled workflows was originally promised for Live 8, but failed to materialize.)

All of this packed in a slick, modern user interface, being delivered at a time when the Live community is starving for an update just like this, could have some serious implications for Ableton. The question really is how they are going to respond.

Some predict that Ableton might call foul on the entire project and drag the issue to court. The similarities between the software suites and the fact that the founders were likely privy to a lot of insider info on the Live development and Roadmap while at Ableton might give them a case, though it would certainly ruin their standing within the music community.

Some speculate that Bitwig is in fact Live 9, and that this will be revealed once beta testing concludes. This has supposedly been denied.

Another option to consider would be to buy back the entire Bitwig team with their product and repackage it as Live 9. This seems highly unlikely though given the traction and velocity of the Bitwig crew.

Beta testing for Bitwig is supposedly starting in June of 2012 (that’s now!) so more in depth reports and reviews of the software are likely to start appearing soon from those lucky souls who get to participate. Perhaps then the clouds will part some more and the questions around how Bitwig stacks against, and differentiates from, Live will be answered.

I sure wish I was one of the testers :).


Learning instruments…

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about….

When you learn a new instrument such as piano, guitar or drums, you usually start by finding the various notes, practice scales and play some really simple songs. You then normally move on to some standard tunes, and hopefully before long you’re picking up the challenge of learning some melody/solo you really like personally.

Much of your time, initially is spent recreating, mimicking and covering other peoples work in order to learn techniques and styles. Your building your musical tool box so to speak in order to, at some point, be able to compose your own melodies.

When I was learning to play the guitar, which by the way was my gateway drug into music just about a year ago, I found this process incredibly helpful and rewarding. I’d pick a song I really like, in the style I’m personally aiming for, and then I’d spend hours trying to recreate bits and pieces (especially the solo of course) of it.

For electronic music though it took me a long time to realize that there are a lot of similarities.

When you are creating electronic music such as Trance, Dub or whatnot, the instruments you use are by necessity different, and often you need a vast array of different tools. Some of them are pure software and composition is more like programming or parameter tweaking until you find just the right sound. Some of them are actual hardware instruments such as pads or keyboards.

I have come to the realization just recently that the fact that I cannot play the piano for example (or any other keyboard) is actually limiting me a lot when it comes to exploring new melodies and finding harmonies. Sure, with MIDI you can get pretty far since it allows you to sequence your way to the sound you want, but a sequenced melody, in my opinion will often sound too ‘perfect’ as compared to something that’s found through actual experimentation with the keys. (Listening to my wife who’s a great piano player makes the difference painfully obvious to me…)

The same goes for pure software instruments where your understanding of the synthesis process for example is key to being able to recreate a great lead, pad or texture that you either thought up in your head or heard somewhere.

Therefor I have decided two things. I will spend more time trying to ‘cover’ the sounds and melodies of my favorite electronic songs and artists, and I’m going to make a real effort to learn to play the piano.

I really think this will improve my workflow and let me explore and find new melodies faster.

What is your process for learning to compose or play electronic music styles?


The Sound….

When I was first discovering trance and techno music back in the early nineties, some of my great heroes where people like Paul van Dyk, Sven Väth, Cosmic Baby, Rob Haigh (Omni Trio), Carl Cox, LTJ Bukem and Aphex Twin. The sound they produced back then (and some still do) has had a huge impact on my preference in electronic music.

I also really really like the more ‘simple’ and in some sense low-tech feeling of even earlier electronica such as Kraftwerk, Organisation, Tangerine Dream and the typical sound of early Krautrock bands. I think some later albums such as Andreas Tilliander’s Ljud and Cliphop, as well as Pluxus’ ultra-melodic low-bit music somehow in my mind fuses these linages into a completely new sound that I really enjoy.

I really want to try and put together something very minimalistic that lies somewhere in the middle of Glitch and the more melodic stuff from Ljud… But I still have a long way to go before I can get the stuff I have playing in my head through the tools and into an actual track…

Fight on…

About Glitch ->

About Andreas Tilliander ->

What if

You could create an electronica that captures the feeling of looking at suprematist art? Or perhaps a lot of electronica already does that, especially the minimalist stuff?

Malevich - Black Square (1913)