Getting creative in Ableton Live
Although, with version 10, Max is now fully integrated into Live Suite, it’s still easy to overlook the bundled Max-powered Devices, seeing as they don’t sit in Live’s main instrument and effect list. If you’re not already turning to these tools regularly though, you’re missing out.
Instrument-wise, we get Poli and Bass, two handy sources of analogue-style subtractive synth sounds, which look and sound a little more up-to-date than Live’s other subtractive workhorse, Analog. The main difference between these two is their polyphony – Poli is six-voice polyphonic, while Bass is monophonic. Both have features that add to their unique character too though. Poli has three modes of chorus, along with a flexible mod-matrix, while Bass has a nicely aggressive filter with built-in drive.
Arguably the most interesting of the Max instruments is the suite of Drum Synth devices. These were overhauled for Live 10 and sound great – easily up there with the best third party drum synths. Of most note are the meaty, tunable synth kick, the flexible FM percussion generator and the simple but handy sampler module. It’s worth getting to know all of the Drum Synth instruments – they’ll quickly become a go-to for punchy synth percussion.
The Max MIDI and audio effects – particularly those added in the recent Creative Extensions Pack – lean more towards glitchy and experimental sounds. Of the newer effects, Spectral Blur is probably the most ‘out there’. This is a granular device that creates a reverb-like effect. It’s difficult to describe without trying it, so we’d recommend grabbing our demo Project and listening to it in action.
On the creative front, the Gated Delay is a fantastic source of rhythmic variety – it doesn’t take a lot of manipulation to turn simple grooves into interesting polyrhythms. The updated Buffer Shuffler – added with Live 9.5 – shouldn’t be overlooked either. This real-time audio manipulator is great for stutter and pitch-shift effects, but can also act as a more subtle device for sequencing pan movement and volume modulation. It’s got some great randomisation tools too.
There are some more ‘functional’ effects included in the Max bundles too though. The LFO, Envelope and Shaper tools offer flexible routable modulation – think of them as Ableton’s response to Bitwig Studio’s extensive modulation tools. Each can now be routed to up to eight destinations at once though, making them powerful shaping tools. Re-Enveloper is a useful multi-band take on transient shaping – something sorely missed in Live’s base set of tools. Finally, the Colour Limiter adds a more characterful take on the effect than Live’s standard limiting device.
All these tools – and more – are used in our demo Project. Download that as an example, mute and solo sounds, and activate and deactivate devices to get an idea of how everything fits together.