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Ableton Live 4

Stefan Sojka - Friday, June 17, 2016

Sequencing audio & MIDI at the speed of sound.

Published in magazine Dec 2004 – Australia-wide circulation


If one sequencing program could be said to be turning the music world on its head, it’s Albelton Live – a sequencer designed from the ground up as a live performance powerhouse, audio loop arranger and traditional MIDI sequencer in one.

Available for both Mac and PCs, Live 4 offers its users intuitive and innovative tools to audition, arrange and compose sections of music in real-time, manipulating audio and MIDI clips any which way but old-school. Countless professional DJs, including Sasha, BT and Underworld have turned to integrating Ableton Live into their live rigs.

Live 4 combines technology with your creativity to raise the bar well beyond what you may expect from your typical music app.

Audition + Import + Arrange + Compose

A look at some basic audio functions will help most new users get accustomed to the Live 4 interface. It’s so intuitive, you’ll be dancing to your own grooves in a matter of minutes.

Once initial set-up has been achieved, such as configuring your sound device and MIDI controller – and assuming you have some cool samples stored on your hard drive – you can immediately audition those samples by searching the ‘Browser’ section located left of the session view. Ableton Live does include a few samples to get you started but your imagination will outgrow those in about 3 minutes.

ableton file browser

As soon as you’ve found a WAV or AIFF file (no MP3s in this version yet), simply click once to audition the clip. At any point in time if you get lost, simply refer to the ‘Info View’, which tells you where your mouse is at. Live has been designed as a very graphic interface, so you will want to learn the iconic ropes ASAP.

When satisfied with a sample, the next logical step is to import the clip into the main ‘session view’, located right of the file browser.

The session view resembles that of a mixing console and is the main workspace for sound monitoring, mixing, panning, clip activation, solo, auxiliary sends etc.

The dropped sampled file is now referred to as a clip and it can be activated by clicking on the play icon located to the left of the clip name.

Arranging and Composing

Possible arrangements are endless, which is why it is so hot for live performance – you can jam all night. Arrangements are a series of clips used in the session view simultaneously. Multiple clips can be arranged in a horizontal line and triggered in motion from the ‘Master section’, located to the right of the session view and auxiliary return sections.

ableton master selection

The rows in the session grid are called scenes and all clips in a scene can be triggered at one time by clicking the ‘Scene Launch Button’.

Once satisfied with the arrangements, simply select the global record button to compose, mix and finalize your arrangements.


With MIDI capabilities it is possible to import MIDI tracks and assign VST instruments to them, as well as control devices through your controller or directly inside Live. Another great feature is the ability – for all you actual musicians – to arm a track in record mode and just jam with the loops and arrangements you have set up. Get the groove going, then pump up the crowd with the synth solo from hell.

Live handles VST instruments well, enabling you to assign them to tracks and control the parameters and patch changes as you go.


There are many pro apps out there, like Cubase and ProTools etc., but what makes Live 4 different from other sequencers is its ability to perform music creation on the fly. Instant songwriting!

I’ve only scratched the surface of what this musical tool can accomplish. Live is simple, efficient and effective. If you’re looking to compose and arrange music as a musician plays an instrument, but still have the sampling and mixing capacity of a DJ, this is the program for you.

The interface is futuristic, colourful and fun, while the technical design and feature access is very well thought out.

Stability is also very efficient, as all audio files are streamed from a computer’s internal HD, leaving CPU usage down to a bare minimum.

Only when you introduce VST instruments does the CPU start effecting things. However, this can be quickly resolved by re-sampling the MIDI instruments as audio clips.

Above all else, Live 4 is great fun to use and is highly inspirational to work with, bridging the gaps of music composition in an immediate and intuitive interface. Serious music freaks will love it, and bedroom jammers will morph into serious music freaks in no time.

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