There’s no doubt that Ableton Live 11 brings with it many exciting improvements, new devices, instruments, and workflow enhancements from version 10. In order to hit the ground running after you get it downloaded we wanted to share some of our favorite new features that will have you excited about new possibilities.
This is the ultimate in what makes Live… well Live! This feature allows Ableton to clock any incoming audio source and match all tempo fluctuations.
Enabling the “show tempo follower toggle button” in the “Link, Tempo, MIDI” tab of Ableton’s preferences activates the follow enable at the top left of the arrange view.
Directly below the enable in the preferences is where you can set the external in/out to be able to track any in coming audio signal. This feature (in addition to Link) is awesome and paves the way for all kinds of great live performance capabilities.
New Comping Capabilities
Coming in at a very close second is the new comping capabilities. This feature alone is quite significant as Ableton Live is now neck and neck with other traditional DAW’s that have had this capability for what feels like eons now.
Track comping is the time-honored process of picking the best parts from multiple takes and stitching them together to create the best possible performance in a composite track.
Now when in loop record, instead of creating one long file of all the takes, Ableton now automatically places each take on its own “take lane”. This allows you to select any segment from each take by simply highlighting it and then, by pressing enter, places it on the main clip track.
You can also manually create take lanes and place whatever content you want on them and inter cut to your hearts delight. This is so cool and very useful for tons of sound design applications. Another nice thing Ableton has done here is to take into consideration how micro edits can often cause clicks and pops when being comped together. To make this even breezier Ableton has created an easily accessible contextual menu so when you right click you can select “Create Cross Fades on Clip Edges.” This avoids the time-consuming need to go in and micro manage each edit.
You can audition any take lane by simply pressing T on your keyboard. You can also do this in draw mode in one single gesture by clicking, dragging and then releasing the mouse.
All of this works with MIDI as well as audio so for comping keyboard parts this becomes a dream come true.
Coming in third, and closely related to comping is the new Linked-Track editing functionality. This is another feature that many other DAW’s have had for quite some time. With linked-track editing any tracks in the Arrangement view can now be grouped together so edits can be phase locked across the entire group.
This is a must for editing multi track audio takes, especially live drums, but also awesome for background vocals, live percussion and so on.
Creating Linked tracks can be done by shift selecting the tracks and then choosing Link Tracks from the context menu.
A group can also be linked by selecting the group track header and doing the same. All tracks in the group will then be linked. It’s worth noting that unlike other DAW’s that allow for Mix or Edit Groups or both, this function in Ableton is reserved purely for editing purposes.
Linked tracks are indicated by a “Link” icon in the track headers and there can be multiple linked tracks in any given session but each track can only belong to one group of linked tracks.
Next up is the new and improved Follow Actions controls. Follow actions have been a must for Live PA sets since the very earliest versions of Ableton live and this new upgrade makes using them easier and a lot more fun.
First off is the ability to now select an entire scene and access a new Follow Action for scenes edit view. By activating the Follow Action button for scenes we no longer have to edit each clip’s individual follow actions or create dummy clips for continuity in a set.
This alone is huge and will save many hours of programming time when building out a live set. Once follow action is enabled for a scene, the scene’s play button is modified with two vertical lines running through it denoting follow actions is active.
An enable follow actions globally button has been added next to the Arrangement button in the session so follow actions can be activated or deactivated globally.
A new percentage slider has been added to replace the Chance A and Chance B buttons and selecting the new Jump Follow Action makes a jump target slider appear that allows selecting a target clip or scene for the follow action to jump to.
Another interesting feature appears in the editor window where a new draggable marker can adjust the follow action time of a clip.
MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE)
Coming in at number five is the implementation of MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) support and editing. If you don’t know what this is you’re in for quite a treat. MPE is a relatively recent specification based on MIDI that allows digital instruments to behave more like acoustic instruments in terms of spontaneous, polyphonic sound control.
So players can modulate parameters like timbre, pitch, and amplitude — all at the same time. Live can now receive per-note expression from an MPE-capable MIDI controller, like Roli’s Seaboard or Blocks.
This functionality must be enabled in Live’s preference settings and once done the clip view’s Note Expression tab allows editing five different controller data points in a given clip
- Pitch (per-note pitch bend)
- Slide (per note Y-axis)
- Pressure (poly aftertouch)
- on &…
- off release velocity
Expression lanes can now be viewed directly beneath a MIDI clips edit window and each expression lane can be shown or hidden as well as resized in classic Ableton fashion.
Rather than being represented vertically, Ableton has taken a horizontal approach to the MPE editing by creating horizontal lines with break points. Multiple notes expression envelopes can also be edited at once and when doing this the expressions are scaled proportionally, similar to that of velocities for multiple notes.
Next on the hit parade is the new Scale Mode. This is significant in several ways. First off there now is a Root Note and Scale name chooser for each clip.
First scale mode must be enabled at the bottom left of the clip loop edit panel. Once enabled the notes belonging to the scale are highlighted in the piano roll. The key “tracks” belonging to the scale are highlighted in the MIDI Note Editor and the root note is also prominently highlighted.
I like the way the fold button responds with scale mode now as it doesn’t just show you the notes in your clip but also shows any available keys that pertain to the scale.
The other significant development to note here is that Ableton has created a preference that allows notes to be represented with both flats and sharps or both via the piano rolls context menu. This is significant because in all previous versions of Live, flats where not represented causing confusion around proper music theory-based representations of scales and their associated notes.
An auto option now automatically selects flats or sharps based on the position of the root note in the circle of fifths.
Ableton Push Improvements
Directly related to the scale mode improvements are several exciting Push improvements. Now when Push’s key/chromatic is set to In Key Mode, and the selected MIDI clip has scale mode enabled, selecting a scale on Push will update that clip’s scale in Live.
With focus mode enabled in multi-clip editing, only the foreground clip’s key and scale will be updated in Live and when Push’s Key/Chromatic is set to In Key Mode, and the selected MIDI clip has scale mode enabled, selecting a scale in Live will automatically change the pad layout on Push.
Added Pressure Switch to Push 2 Setup
Other Push developments include an added Pressure switch to Push 2’s Setup menu that toggles between monophonic and polyphonic after touch. This is designed specifically for playing melodic instruments and again shows Ableton’s desire to create more expressive performances with devices that support polyphonic after touch.
Live 11 has a new expanded Macro view allowing for as many as 16 Macros and the additional Macro control parameters will now appear in a new device within the rack. New icons are used to differentiate the Rack from the devices. The new device is only visible when the Rack is open, but otherwise, it behaves exactly the same as the rack.
Next up are some great Interface improvements. Firstly, I’m so glad that attention has been paid to updating Live’s CPU metering. Added to the control bar is a second display that shows peak CPU level and a new show/hide tab in session view allows for a Meter Section selector that monitors per-track CPU metering.
This is fantastic for hunting down which tracks to priorities to be frozen when hitting higher CPU loads.
Arm Selected Tracks with “C” Key
Another interface improvement I love may seem like a small deal but when recording with lots of tracks this one can speed things up: Selected tracks can now be armed using the C shortcut key!
The Groove Pool
The other interface improvement I’m so happy about is The Groove Pool now opens automatically when loading a groove file from the browser by double-clicking or pressing the enter key. Dragging and dropping it onto an existing MIDI clip adds a groove to The Groove Pool or can extract a groove.
It’s worth noting here that the “Browse Groove Library” context menu has been removed from the Groove Pool and Grooves themselves can now be under Samples in the browsers Categories list.
Improved Clip/Detail View
Number nine on my list reflects the amount of thought and detail that Abelton has put into improving the Clip/Detail view. The clip box now contains controls available for both audio and MIDI clips, such as start/end, Loop Position/Length, Clip Time Signature and Clip groove.
Controls for editing samples/notes, envelopes, and note expression (for MIDI clips) are now accessible in dedicated tabs to the right of the Clip box.
Ctrl+Option+1 switches to the samples/Notes tab while pressing Ctrl+ Opt + 2 switched to the envelopes tab, and when a MIDI clip is selected pressing Control+ Option + 3 switches to the Note Expression Tab.
You can also just use Ctrl + Shift + Tab to easily move between all tabs.
All these functional improvements just making working in Live faster and more fun.
Device Additions and Improvements
After reading this far, some may say that I’ve saved the best for last. It should go without saying that a BIG part of Ableton‘s Live 11 development has been placed on Device additions and improvements.
- New Hybrid Reverb: First off and most important… it sounds great! It has a ton of editing capabilities due to the fact it combines a convolution reverb that allows dragging and dropping any audio file into the device to be used for convolution processing, as well as shaping the envelope and size of impulse responses using dedicated controls.
An algorithmic section contains several reverb modes, each providing a different set of parameters and properties including Dark, Hall, Prism, Quartz, Shimmer, (Can you say Valhalla? 😉 ) and Tides.
There’s lots of control to be able to blend or exclude the convolution or algorithmic processing and even a cool vintage control that introduces a degradation of the signal to make it sound like older digital reverb units.
- Spectral Time Processor – My favorite device that no doubt will prove to be amazing for many sound design applications is the Spectral Time processor.
This super cool effect reminds me of the original Infernal Publison that studios paid big bucks for back in the late seventies and eighties. The Spectral Time combines time-freezing and spectral delay effects that can be used together or independently to allow all kinds of cool effects to happen including sustaining a sound infinitely.
The Freeze has two effect modes: Manual and Retrigger that freezes the audio automatically on input or at regular intervals. There’s a spectrogram window that shows how the frequencies in the dry and wet signal behave over time with a handful of nice delay effect parameters that in addition to Time and Feedback allow you to: shift the frequency of the delayed signal, skew the delay times for different frequencies with the Tilt, use Spray to distribute the delay times for different frequencies within the given time range and Mask limiting the effect of the tilt and Spray controls to lower or higher frequencies.
- Updated Wavetable – In line with Ableton’s MPE support is the updated Wavetable now fully controllable using any MPE enabled controller. There’s a new MPE tab that contains four columns for Velocity, Per Note Pitch Bend, Slide for per note Y-Axis, and Press for after touch.
All the MPE enabled modulation sources can be found in the device’s expanded view and an MPE text label has been added to the right corner of Wavetable’s title bar.
- Chorus-Ensemble – another new chorus effect that has three different effect modes that include: Classic Mode, Ensemble Mode and Vibrato mode.
Classic is a traditional chorusing effect with a high pass filter that removes the chorusing from low frequencies and width control.
Both are a nice touch designed to help keep your mixes tight but still give the added chorusing warmth. The feedback can also be inverted to create a hollowing effect when combined with high feedback.
Ensemble mode adds a third phase-shifted delay for thicker chorusing
Vibrato mode applies a stronger modulation that creates pitch variances. The shape of the modulation is capable of morphing from a sine to a triangle and is useful for various hi pitched sound design effects.
Additionally, global controls allow setting the modulation rate and amount, output gain, and harmonic saturation via the warmth parameter.
- Max For Live Updates – Of course, it wouldn’t be a significant Ableton update without some important Max For Live updates as well. Continuing along the theme of Ableton 11’s focus on MPE support, when a Max for Live device has MPE mode enabled, MIDI output from the device is interpreted as MPE.
The expression control device now allows assigning an additional parameter as a mapping target and a new button in the upper right corner of the display opens an extended view, where each modulation can be transformed via curves and break points.
Many new modulation sources have been added via the expression control device including Expression (CC 11), Random, Sustain (CC 64), Slide (per note Y-Axis very useful for controlling effects in a device chain when using an MPE controller), and incremental (adds a fixed modulation value with each new note).
With so many great new updates, improvements and Devices in Ableton 11 it’s hard to control my excitement. I could go on and on and indeed I kind of have done just that. Needless to say, I can’t recommend enough that you explore these many features on your own and don’t hesitate to let us know which features fall into your top ten list!
Here’s to helping you on your path to success and staying creative!
Gregory J. Gordon
Ableton Certified Trainer