Ableton Live 7 Performance-Oriented DAW

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jim Aikin



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From its inception, Ableton Live has been a favorite of dance music producers and DJs because of its ability to seamlessly sync up sampled loops. Building on that success, Ableton has upgraded the program aggressively, adding support for virtual instruments, MIDI sequencing and many other features. Live 7 continues the trend, boasting improved automation handling: Each track can now display multiple lanes of automation envelopes. Also new are support for time signature and tempo changes, slick REX file import and, if you buy the Ableton Suite, a rack of great-sounding software instruments.

Tracks in Live’s Arrangement view have their headers at the right. Automation envelopes (red lines) are displayed on top of the track data.

Tracks in Live’s Arrangement view have their headers at the right. Automation envelopes (red lines) are displayed on top of the track data.


Pop and dance musicians are often fine working with a 4/4 time signature and a steady beat, but film composers need to be able to change tempo and time signature at any time. Live 7 integrates the ability to change these at any point in a piece.

In Arrangement view, these features operate much the same way they do in any other DAW: You can insert a new time signature at any beat or automate tempo changes by inserting envelope breakpoints. Live doesn't care if a section ends with a “partial bar,” but it shades the partial bar in the time ruler to alert you to the situation, and one-click commands are provided for deleting and completing the partial bar.

The implementation in Session view is more surprising. Each scene in a session can be given a name that includes the relevant information, such as “131 bpm, 5/4.” This feature may not get a lot of use on the dancefloor, but I found it quite handy when recording an improvised arrangement from Session view into Arrangement view. The tempo and time-signature changes were included in the recording.


A local filmmaker sent me a 10-minute short in QuickTime format and I imported it into Live for scoring. After composing a piece of title music, reading the rather sketchy discussion in the manual and trying a few things, I was able to align the important changes in the music with hit points in the film.

Live aligns audio tracks to video using its existing Warp Markers features, which were originally designed for spotting and adjusting the beats in an audio waveform. The film's soundtrack appears in an audio Edit window along the bottom of the Live window. This clip can be designated the Warp Master. When you move Warp Markers in the Warp Master clip, the clip (which in this case is the video) doesn't warp; instead, the rest of the tracks change tempo as needed to align themselves to the Warp Markers in the Warp Master clip. This may sound a bit confusing here, but it quickly becomes very intuitive.

I wanted to align the downbeat of bar 15 with the first frame of a new image, so I zoomed in on the film's audio clip until I saw individual bar numbers above the audio, double-clicked on the number 15 to produce a new Warp Marker and then dragged it to the left until the frame I wanted popped into view in the Video window. On playback, bar 15 was in the right place, but the tempo change before the hit point was too drastic. I needed to cut out one beat before the hit point, leaving a 3/4 bar. This took only a couple of seconds. (Editing the music to work in the short bar took a bit longer.)

When the video is the Warp Master, the tempo can change only at a Warp Marker. You can insert as many of these markers as you like, so gradual accelerandi are possible, but the editing process is not likely to be quick or easy. If you're not using a Warp Master, smooth tempo changes can be programmed anywhere in the arrangement using a multi-segment envelope.

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