What is Max for Live?
In 2008 Ableton and Cycling 74′ worked together to release Max for Live.
Max/MSP/Jitter is a mature visual programming language for media artist. Max for Live is the same programming language built-in Ableton Live. Max for Live also introduced new ways of controlling Ableton Live that were not available before.
Max for Live allows users to build and share their own Audio Effects, MIDI Effects, Instruments, Video devices and much more.
This program language doesn’t require any coding, Instead we’ll use different object and patching wires to connect these object to create our Max Patch.
Even if you don’t want or need to program your own devices other people do. And most of them release their creations for free for you to use. So we can also look at Max for Live as simply more Instruments, Audio Effects, and Midi Effects for us to use.
Being a programming language Max for Live lets you solve any problem or missing feature that Ableton Live might have.
Since Max is it’s own standalone application you will need to separately download the Max application from the Ableton Website. You need to download the same bit version you are using so if you are using Ableton Live 32 Bit download Max for Live 32 and if you use 64 bit download Max for Live 64 bit.
Please go over THIS ARTICLE from Ableton.com for any questions or troubleshooting installing.
After Installing Max and opening Ableton Live. You will see 3 folders under the Max for Live Category.
– Max Audio Effect
– Max Instrument
– Max MIDI Effect
If you are using a Mac computer, If not already installed you will also have to install Java. Ableton will prompt you to install java after the first time you load a Max device.
You can download a couple of Live Packs from the Ableton Store to help you start using Max for Live.
The first and most important is Max for Live Essentials which is a must pack featuring some amazing new tools for your music productions like a Convolution Reverb, Synths, Drum synths and MIDI effects.
If you want to dive deeper into programming Max devices check out Max for Live Building Tools which features a collection of simple max for live devices that can be a great start or learning point for max programmers.
Some other free Max for Live packs from the Ableton store:
– Granulator 2 (Granular Synth)
Hitting the Edit Button
There are 3 types of Max for Live Devices:
Max MIDI Effect – Inputs MIDI Outputs MIDI
Max Instrument – Inputs MIDI Outputs Audio
Max Audio Effect – Inputs Audio Outputs Audio
When we load a Max for Live device we can see an extra button on the top right where the Hot-Swap and Save Preset buttons are. This is the Edit button.
Clicking on the Edit button will open up the Max application.
Here we can build our devices. Click on the objects tab in the side menu to bring up the object explorer
Here you can load all most of the object to build or edit your max patch.
Once you load or drag an object into the Max Palette you can right click and open up the Object’s Help patch which is actually another max patch that functions as an interactive tutorial for the object and will tell you all the basics of how to use this object.
You can also right click the object and choose to see the reference file which will display more info on the attributes of the object.
Max holds an extensive tutorial system. You can click the top Help menu and go to various tutorials and documentation sections.
There are a lot of people out there who are building their own Max for Live devices. You can find hundreds of them (mostly free) at Maxforlive.com.
Check out Studnet Resources for more Max for Live tutorial videos.
Max for Live Essentials
Max for Live Essentials Live Pack comes with a collection of Max for Live Devices, Audio Effects, MIDI Effects and Instruments.
This pack officially introduces a new way of controlling Ableton Live API. With Max for Live, Live turns into a true modular working environment for control, sound and visuals.
Max for Live Essential provide us with 13 drum synthesizers. Each one dedicated to a different drum sound.
You can find preset kits under the Max for Live Essential live pack.
These are Drum Rack presets with the Drum Synths loaded up into different drum pads.
The Drum Synths can be a great Digital layering tool for your drums and can also provide solutions for specific drum sounds.
Bass – Monophonic Virtual Analog
Bass is a monophonic synth designed for Baselines, Leads and special FX.
Features a mixer style oscillator with all the classic components you can find in an analog synth:
- ADSR Envelope with x1 and X5 timing
- Multi-Mode Filter
- Filter Envelope with X1 and X5 timing
- Built in distortion unit
Poli – Polyphonic Virtual Analog
Poli is a polyphonic synth designed to create chords and melodies.
- Mixer style oscillator with Saw, Pulse, Sub, Ring and Noise
- Separate High Pass and Low Pass filters.
- Filter Envelope which also function as a Modulation envelope for Pitch, Filters, Pulse-Width, Vol and Ring modulation.
- Built-in Chorus unit
Multi – Performance Multimode Synth
Multi is a versatile and fun multimode synthesizer which features 6 synth engines in a single device. It has 8 knobs and 4 of the knobs change the parameters according to one of the selected modes. The global controls are Mode, Attack, Release and Volume.
Multi does not offer a lot of control and is aimed for more playability and performance.
The Synth Engines are:
- Mode 1: Feedback FM
- Mode 2: Mono Arp Lead Synth
- Mode 3: Analog 8 Voice Subtractive Synth
- Mode 4: Sample Playback
- Mode 5: Karplus Strong (String synthesis)
- Mode 6: Additive Synthesis
Max Audio Effects
There are two types: Convolution Reverb and Convolution Reverb Pro you can choose which ever one you wan to use we are only going to use and talk about Convolution Reverb Pro.
A Convolution Reverb is a type of reverb that uses Impulse Responses which are short recordings of real world spaces or hardware gear. These recordings are usually a result of a very short sound echoing in a space.
This allows to capture the characteristic of real places and use them as reverb for our production.
It is a great addition to the built-in reverb and can also be a great sound design tool. It will give you a more natural and organic sound and come packed with a lot of categorized presets.
To know more about each control use the info view (Shift+?) and move your mouse over the parameter.
You can also expand the Tab View to see 5 additional sections of the reverb.
A built-in EQ that effect the wet signal. Good way to adjust the frequency response of the reverbed signal.
An X-Y control over the panning and distance.
Off by default. When enabled it adds a small modulation to the reverb so the reverberation is not too static.
You get an X-Y pad to control the Rate (Speed) and Amount of the modulation. You also get 2 modes Normal and Widen (further separates the left and right channels) and two modulation modes. The first will effect the Dry signal and the second will effect the Wet signal which will result in a chorus like effect.
Controls the Dampening Size Decay and shape. This will also change the IR and will be displayed in the Waveform Monitor.
You can completely change the sound of the Reverb. Make it brighter, darker, metallic organic, longer, shorter.
A great tool for sound design.
Global Controls tab. Here you can add a Fade in and Fade out to the reverb. You can Reverse the IR and You can even trim the start or end of the IR using the Early and Length controls which can give you effects like Gated Reverb.
Adding IR Libraries
Convolution Reverb comes packed with many IRs. But there are tons online for free you can download and add them to your Convolution Reverb menus. Check out the video below for a step by step. This video also covers a sound design technique called Convolution Layering. Lets first explain what it is and then you can watch the video for an in depth look.
Convolution Sound Design
One of the best part of Live’s Convolution Reverb is the ability to throw any audio file you want directly into the wave display zone.
This will allow you to not only use reverb Impulse Responses but rather more unique and unusual sounds.
This is very similar to simply playing 2 sounds at the same time but uses the Convolution Reverb algorithms and controls for more complex and organic sounding layering.
In the video we take Home Made Percussion (Found Sounds) and layer them to make our drums more interesting and complex.
Free Impulse Response Libraries:
The Echo Thief – A professor at UCSD who travels the world and record real places
EMES Virtual Rooms – Offer Free IRs on the bottom left of the screen
Adventure Kid – Great Spring IRs
Rekkerd Impulse Response Blog – A lot of articles and posts about Convolution Sound Design
Fokke Van Saane – A lot of really unique IRs. Make sure you download the Wav version of the packs.
Lexicon 480L – Beautifully sounds IRs from the famous Reverb Unit.
Boss GT-8 – IR from the Hardware unit
CKSDE – Separated IR Downloads
Check out the amazing sound designer Diego Stocco and his Convolution Processing Pack offering more then 200 sounds categorized and ready to use with your Convolution Reverb. Here is a free pack from him demoing the full product.
Buffer Shuffler 2.0
Buffer Shuffler is a Max Audio Effect. It is a real time loop cutting effect sequencer. It allows you to rearrange your loops on the fly.
Please note that the audio needs one pass through before starting to hear the effect. This because the Buffer Shuffler is a buffer effect and needs some time to record the incoming audio into the buffer.
Check out this great run through (and some info about the Convolution Reverb) from Computer Music Magazine:
Simple Device which helps to recreates the sound of a vinyl record slowing down after the turntable’s motor is stopped. This results in the effect of the sound being pitched down.
Max MIDI Effects
ARP – Advanced Pattern-Based Sequencer
ARP is an advanced pattern-based midi Arpeggiator. It can sort, repeat and transpose incoming midi notes in various ways, while controlling a number of other parameters such as note length, velocity and even a user mapped parameter from anywhere in Live.
Altough It’s called ARP, It’s much more than an arpeggiator. It’s a parameter sequencer.
The Mono Sequencer is a powerful featured packed MIDI sequencer. You can place it in front of any synth/sampler to sequence baselines and melodies.
Like the Buffer Shuffler you get different tabs to sequence different parameters. Each sequencer tab can have it’s own length and playing style (Up, Down, Random etc.).
Pitch: Sequencing Notes
Velocity: Changing the Velocity of each sequenced note
Octave: Changing the octave for each sequenced note
Duration: Length of each note
Repeat: Built-in note repeater. How many repeats for each note.
The bottom sequencer is the step enabler which allow you to choose the rhythmical pattern of the sequence.
By default the Mono Sequencer will pick up playing from where it left off. To reset it with Live’s transport turn on Transport Sync.
There are a lot of features in this beast device like editing pitch to a scale, adding swing and controlling the sequencer from external MIDI.
Check out this video from Cycling 74′ for some cool tricks using the Mono Sequencer. This is episode 1 there are total of 8!
A beat generator optimized for house music or broken beats and comes with a large variety of patterns for both styles.
place this device before a Drum Rack and hit play. Each MIDI layer can be swung, shifted and randomized. All knobs and faders are automatble.
Note Echo – Delay for MIDI
Looks and function like the Simple Delay Audio Effect device but this one actually controls MIDI. So you can get very interesting gradually changing variation on Velocity and note repetitions.
MIDIMonitor – Stream Your MIDI Data
This is a simple utility which will create a stream of MIDI data. The data stream is displayed very clearly with color coding for: Note Pitch, Control Change, Pitchbend and Aftertouch. MIDIMonitor can be very useful for debugging midi setups.
Max for Live Essentials control devices lets us control Ableton Live like never before.
Each one of the control devices have a Map button. When you click the map button it will start blinking and wait for you to click any parameter in Live. It can be track volumes, Panning, Sends, and any parameter from any device.
The Control Devices are:
LFO: Same Low Frequency Oscillator we can find in any synth. Now you can use the power of the LFO on anything in Live
Envelope Follower: Listens to the incoming audio and create an envelope that can be applied to anything.
MAP8: a utility macro device that’s particularly useful with Push and other eight-knob controllers.
Device Randomizer: Easily map to any device to continuously randomize all parameters or create random presets.
Multi-Map: Map up to 8 parameters to be controlled with one knob.
XY Pad: Map 2 parameters to be controlled by an XY pad
MIDI Envelope: Same ADSR envelope we can find in any synth. now we can use it to add an envelope to any parameters we want.
Expression Control: Allows us to map our expression controls on our controller (Velocity, Mod Wheel, Pitch Bend Aftertouch, etc.) to any parameter.
LFO MIDI: Similar to the audio LFO but in a MAX MIDI Device format
Lets look at an example of how we can control live in a new way. Add an LFO Max Effect to an Audio Track. Hit the Map button and then click the track volume. This will map the LFO to control the track volume. This can create anything from light tremolo effect to extreme gating effects.
Or you can map it to an EQ. Or even 2 LFOs!
There are endless creative uses for the control devices. We’ll see some in class and you can check the student resources for more tricks and tips.
Create 1:00 minute long music piece using only Max for Live.
It can be any style of music. You can use any Max for Live device from the Live Packs and also any device from MaxforLive.com
Be Experimental, Be Creative.
How to get started programming in Max (Official)