Ableton Live
While my notebook gently bleeps (update)

"I am the operator with my pocket calculator. By pressing down a special key it plays a little melody". Kraftwerk, German pioneers of electronic Pop, have predicted more than twenty years ago that one day people would be able to create music on small computing devices in real time.

Their vision has definitely become reality with music software like Ableton's Live. What's Live? Another computer-based music production suite, Sir? Well, thanks, no. There is Logics, Cubases, Digital Performers and Pro Tools a plenty, and each of these solutions is trying its best to lure potential buyers with a sheer abundance of features. But here is small Berlin-based company Ableton with their recording and editing tool Live, by now in its fourth revision. What is so special about it? Well, from day one Live has been primarily designed for musicians who want to use a computer on stage in a real-time environment.

A couple of years ago, this would have sounded like a joke, as neither did personal computers have enough calculating power, nor were the operating systems crash-resistant enough to even think of using a computer seriously on stage. The times have changed though, and modern superfast calculating machines can easily handle dense data streaming and sound creation at the same time. Hence it has become perfectly possible to use a computer, preferably a portable one, as sort of a musical instrument.

In order to make handling as easy as possible, Ableton have done extensive research and added a couple of features to meet the requirements of live musicians. First of all, the visual layout of the software is very well thought out. It has a clear, modern and peculiar look and is very straightforward. The visual interface obviously doesn't want to look as realistic as a software interface can get, and it doesn't follow the traditional design guidelines either, with its smoothly rounded "edges" and the bi-coloured background scheme. Live's appearance is OS-independent too, it looks exactly the same on a Windows-PC as on a Macintosh computer, which can be helpful when working on different machines.

Live makes no use of so-called floating windows to switch between different views. Instead, it provides the ability to quickly hide and show windows within the main window by hitting the corresponding key on the computer keyboard or clicking on one of the buttons that are conveniently placed next to the window extensions. One can use customizable keyboard shortcuts for literally any function in Live, which is far more convenient than handling a computer mouse.

The clip detail window in Live

Moving from the session view to the arrangement view for example requires just hitting the Tab-key on the computer keyboard (or one mouse click respectively). It is equally simple to show or hide the detail- or the browser-window. As screen space is always limited, this proves to be a very efficient way to focus on the required information. On small screens (as featured on many sub-notebooks) it can still be difficult to keep track of what's going on in an extensive arrangement, so in order to make the best out of Live, a decent visual output device is highly recommended. This is of course not only true for Live, but for any software rich in visual information.

> Have laptop, will travel

Kraftwerk and their vision of live sequencing

= While my notebook gently bleeps
> Have laptop, will travel
> Work in progress