Not content to merely release a whole new version of their widely-adopted DAW, Ableton continues to add premium content by way of powerful new Max devices. Max for Live has provided the potential for radical extensibility in studio, on stage, and beyond – and with Live 10, it’s more seamlessly integrated than ever, particularly in terms of look, feel, and overall experience.
Offering a powerful bundle of creative instruments, MIDI devices and audio effects as a free pack for registered users, Creative Extensions effectively expands the suite of core devices at any user’s disposal. Ableton’s Pack architecture works as a smooth delivery system: once installed with a simple double-click of the downloaded file, all Creative Extension devices are easily located in the Pack section of the Live 10 browser.
MIDI Effects: Melodic Steps
Short on ideas or just looking for quick inspiration with minimum effort? Melodic Steps is a streamlined implementation of step sequencing with handy randomization and acyclic elements to rapidly generate sprawling patterns with ease.
Five parameters of up to 16 steps comprise the core of the device: Octave, note Transpose, note Length, note Velocity, and Chance of note occurrence. Each step can be drawn in via mouse, set to default with the X toggle at far right, fully randomized for extreme variations, or slightly randomized for more subtle mutations.
Each of these can be set to a length of less than the full 16 steps, allowing for polyrhythmic cycling that can extend the time before a full re-convergence of all parameters with even just a slight stagger. Editing the chance of each note occurring adds a welcome degree of surprise even once you’ve settled on the other parameters and lengths.
These can all be fed through a standard selection of classical Western scales with a full range root key, while the default step size of 16th notes can be halved or doubled via the :2 and x2 toggles familiar from the clip detail view; a Triplets toggle and Swing slider provide additional rhythmic options. A Re-Sync button resets all parameter lanes to the first step simultaneously, regardless of their respective current positions, while the MIDI toggle allows for sequence transposition via incoming MIDI notes.
There could certainly be a number of additional features, but the point here seems to be keeping things quick and easy – and it succeeds mightily on both counts. By ignoring Octave and Transpose parameters you can quickly deliver uniquely expressive, dynamic percussion patterns with randomized Length, Velocity, and Chance. Randomizing all five parameters with different step lengths – especially combined with incoming MIDI transposition for a continuous through-line – results in mesmerizing synth sequences that would be nothing short of painstaking to program by hand.
Likely familiar to those who installed Live 9’s free Max Essentials pack, the Bass and Poli instruments have been significantly overhauled for inclusion here. Both are modelled to emulate classic analog synthesizers of the subtractive variety.
Notably, oscillators are now tunable for chords and clusters, while enhanced Sub oscillator treatment and additional Ring Modulation features provide welcome new textural possibilities. With optimized processing and great sound quality, these two instruments are perfect for classic monophonic and polyphonic sounds on the go.
A clever multi-band transient processor, Re-Enveloper provides intricate control over the amplitude shape of three frequency bands, defined by two frequency Split dials, sprucing up dull input with clarity and tone.
Once your three bands have been dialled in via the pair of crossover frequencies, each has a set of Attack and Release dials to soften and extend onsets, followed by a C/E Factor control that compresses a band at positive values or expands it at negative values. Each band comes with its own Volume control and mute toggle as well.
The simple interface encourages meticulous manipulation, easily transforming drums, synths, or any suitably transient-rich material by boosting, reducing, sharpening or softening precisely as needed in the frequency spectrum. Go for extreme settings and then dial it back with the Dry/Wet blend to add just a hint of sharpened character.
Speaking of character, sometimes it’s nice to add some to your master output. While most conventional limiter plug-ins focus on transparent peak reduction, the Color Limiter is designed to add optional non-linear harmonics while reliably lopping off unwanted peaks.
Loudness determines the amount of boost, Ceiling controls the maximum output and Lookahead and Release adapt the contour and behavior over time. But it’s the Saturation and Color controls that add analog warmth, boom, and crunch without ever hitting the reds – perfect for lo-fi productions or anyone seeking to emulate classic tube limiters of yore.
Three exquisite delay and reverb effects round out the pack.
Employing a similar sequencer grid as Melodic Step, forward and reverse delay triggers can be toggled on a per-step basis; either pattern can be independently randomized or reset via the familiar die and X controls on the right. The global length is controlled by the Steps, while step size is controlled by the Rate dial.
Where it gets interesting is with the Delay settings. Delay time is controlled by a whole or fractional multiplier of the current step size determined by the Rate dial – while the Random dial introduces increasing fluctuation to the multiplication factor for dynamically shifting rhythmic delay patterns.
You can quickly program subtle glitchy ornamentations or full-on reconfigured rhythms in flux, with optional Smooth amount available to prevent unwanted clicks in transition. Feedback, Delay Volume and Dry/Wet controls help tame the result while Insert or Gate modes, combined with optional Ducking, govern the length and behavior of delay tails.
With a little bit of time – or randomization – Gated Delay is another powerful tool to generate creative structures that expand far beyond the frame of the source fed into it.
For fans of classic Eventide pitch delays, Live has long lacked a comparable effect. Pitch Hack answers the call with a streamlined interface and a few additional features to make it easier than ever to generate the classic crystallized pitch delays of the Harmonizer family.
The central pitch dial determines the interval to which delay repetitions are pitched up or down, in semitones, with a Fine tune control allowing for more naturalistic detuning effects. The Variance control introduces semitone randomization for more scattered results. A synchronized Rate dial provides access to a wide range of straight, dotted, and triplet delay times, from 128th notes up to four full bars – though unsynchronized millisecond delay times are curiously unavailable.
A Reverse dial controls the probability of individual repetitions being played backward, while Recycle boosts the feedback regeneration up to a healthy 95% that stops just short of spilling over; output Level and Dry/Wet combine to control the mix balance. Whether adding melodic sparkle in the upper register or demonically pitching vocals into subterranean nether regions, Pitch Hack is a brilliantly designed classic pitch delay solution with a modern twist.
Providing a fresh approach to reverberant textures, Spectral Blur deploys a frequency-specific grain smearing algorithm to generate expansive ambience based on a selection of tonal input.
With the default In mode, the two Freq dials specify the spectral band within which grains are extended; in Out mode, it’s frequencies outside the two bands that are decayed, resulting in distinctive notch-type effects. A Residual dial boosts the amount of initial, un-smeared grains.
Halo determines the decay of reverberations – but if toggled into Freeze mode, the currently buffered grain will continue unhindered, regardless of your Halo setting. Wet Gain and Dry/Wet balance provide ample mix control, while optional Delay Compensation helps correct rhythmic inconsistencies if needed.
With Spectral Blur’s tidy interface, uniquely haunting tones and glacial atmospherics are just a few dials away; try side-chaining the results for instant techno magic.
Combined with a selection of well-programmed Racks to help users get started, Creative Extensions is a promising, well-themed pack that showcases the degree to which Ableton’s recent acquisition of Cycling ‘74 – and deepening integration with Max – is sure to benefit Live users for years to come. Taken on its own, this pack constitutes significant added value to those considering an upgrade to 10 – and if you’re already a 10 user, you should grab it for free immediately through your account on Ableton.com.