Have laptop, will travel

The smallest information carrying unit in Live is the clip. A clip represents audio or MIDI data on the screen, and it references data that's stored on the computer's hard disc. A clip resides in a track, which resembles a channel on a mixing desk and is capable of hosting a whole number of clips. Still, within a track, only one clip can play at a time. So, to complete the basics, there's the scenes, which combine clips from different tracks that play simultaneously.

Another vital ingredient in Live is the possibility to switch between two views of the proceedings. First, there's the session view. Its visual appearance and handling resemble a mixing unit cum sampler, as it shows the tracks plus their clips and offers a whole lot of mixing and clip editing functions. Then there is the arranging view. As the name implies, this is used to work out an arrangement of the musical bits and pieces. It is basically a traditional sequencer view, with the recorded material moving against a virtual timeline. Activating the global record button on top of the main window records every action and movement in the session to the arrangement, where it can then be edited in many ways.

At the very core, the detail window is there to fine-tune the audio and MIDI-material. Live allows for extensive manipulation and time alteration of audio and MIDI data with almost no hearable artefacts, which means a great advantage for those who want to match material from different sources. Ableton have always been proud of their advanced time-stretching engine Warp, which makes individual audio clips, but also complete arrangements, play at almost any desired tempo. Warp synchronizes every clip regardless of the original tempo while the data is read from the hard disc.

This works quite well, especially with sounds that have been recorded in Live. The Warp-engine comes with four presets that help it choose the right method to treat a clip, be it a rhythmic structure or a "flat" sound. In some cases though, the Warp-function needs a little further help and must be fine-tuned by means of markers that tell Live where to process the clip's data. This feature can also be misused to alter the clip in many creative ways.

Where does the audio and MIDI material come from? Well, it can be recorded directly into Live (there's a whole lot of routing and recording options available), but it can also be imported via the file browser. The file browser has its own window, which it shares with the device- and plugin-browsers, and lists all available samples and MIDI data. The device browser is the tool of choice to administer effects and (from revision 4 onward) Live's own virtual instruments, while the plug-in browser shows the available third-party devices.

The introduction of MIDI-recording and editing in Live 4 means that virtual instruments can be directly used within the software. A couple of MIDI effects are included, as are three virtual instruments Ableton have developed on their own. There's two virtual samplers called Impulse and Simpler, both are part of Live and can be used free of charge.

Then there's Ableton's first virtual synthesizer: Operator. It has an intuitive control interface and is capable of producing some very fascinating sounds. Operator mainly uses frequency modulation, a synthesis discovered by John Chowning at Stanford University in the 1960ies and introduced to the mainstream market in the early 1980ies by Yamaha's GS- and DX-series of synthesizers.

Ableton's "smooth" Operator has to be purchased separately.

Sadly, Operator is only included as a demo version and must be purchased separately. Like Live itself, it is copy protected by a challenge-response method which makes it impossible to run the software on more than one computer at a time with only one licence.

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The device browser in Live

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= Have laptop, will travel
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