French production wizard Alexkid delves into the possibilities of Ableton’s Max for Live in our new Digging Daw series, which offers quick tips for modern producers.
If there is one piece of software that has changed my creative process in recent years, it is without hesitation Cycling74 and Ableton’s Max for Live. Max for Live is an object oriented programming software add-on to Ableton Live that allows you to create your own devices and plug-ins, allowing you to “hack” or greatly enhance its possibilities and features.
I was first introduced to this multimedia software a bit over ten years ago when I bought a GRID 64 controller by monome.org. This boutique USB interface/controller – which was the first one to feature an 8×8 LED-lit buttons — communicated with the computer via Max/MSP and featured lots of crazy software instruments and tools. It was extremely inspiring and if you were a bit brave and dared to plunge into the software, you could create your own custom controllers, sequencers, or sound manglers. I subscribed to a weeklong Max/MSP bootcamp at the IRCAM in Paris in order to learn the basics and realized it wasn’t as complicated as I thought. Unfortunately, it was still a bit tedious to have the software communicate with a DAW and I eventually gave up creating patches.
When Max/MSP was integrated into Ableton Live as Max for Live, it was all of a sudden a dream come true. With its extensive library available, it was a no brainer and I got the Max bug again. More than an enhancement sonically, it was for me the perfect software to create tools to improve my workflow. Thanks to the assignable LFOs, I could create slight variations on any mappable parameter as well as I could create movement in a static loop by creating micro changes or totally destroy my audio signal with a loop mangler. This opened a new door to my creativity. I then started to dream of my own tailored sequencers which could self-generate complex basslines, grooves that would be difficult to play or program, or create endlessly evolving and surprising elements.
Just imagine having a tool that could increase the amount of reverb or open a filter depending on the percentage of red captured by your webcam, or depending on your body temperature… All this is possible, but I chose a more musical path for my own tools.
One of my first patches was “Instant Haus,” a beat generator that can create beats and randomly selected sounds at the press of a button, giving you unexpected combinations of your own sounds. Ableton liked it and licensed it as part of their Max for Live essentials. It is available for free on their website. Then I started doing controllers with M4L for my own hardware so I could create presets or edit my machines straight from my DAW, granting the flexibility of plug-ins to my favorite drum-machines and synthesizers and enhancing my workflow and creativity.
After tinkering with many iterations of my patches, I eventually created my very own random generative sequencers which I packed with special features over the years as my knowledge would increase. The beauty of Max for Live is that it allowed me to include features I wanted and needed within my DAW, some of which -to my knowledge- are not available in any other sequencer, creating my own tools whilst being totally integrated with Ableton Live. Most of the basslines in my new album are generated with these sequencers, and those lines would have been a real nightmare to program if I hadn’t used my plug-ins. Max for Live and my sequencers, as well as a few other patches, allow me to become a spectator and create a starting point in my music, often surprising me, thus avoiding the writer’s block. After a few years using my sequencers, I eventually started a little online shop in order to share them at a very modest prices, and it’s been a great feeling to see so many producers supporting them.
Berlin-based Frenchman Alexkid will release his album Wake Up via Rawax on November 25th.