Akai Force: hands-on preview of the post-PC live-in-a-box music tool

The leak was real. Akai have a standalone box that can free you from a laptop, when you want that freedom. It works with your computer and gear, but it also does all the arranging and performance (and some monster sounds and sequencing) on its own. It’s what a lot of folks were waiting for – and we’ve just gotten our hands on it.

Akai have already had a bit of a hit with the latest MPCs, which work as a controller/software combo if you want, but also stand on their own.

The Akai Force (it’s not an MPC or APC in the end) is more than that. It’s a single musical device with computer-like power under the hood, but standalone stability. It’s a powerful enough sequencer (for MIDI and CV) that you some people might just buy it on those merits.

But it also performs all the Ableton Live-style workflows you know. So there’s an APC/Push style interface, clip launching and editing, grids for playing drums and instruments, and sampling capability. There’s also a huge selection of synths and effects (courtesy AIR Music Technology), so while it can’t run third-party VST plug-ins, you should feel comfortable using it on its own. And it integrates with your computer when you’re in your studio – in both directions, though more on that in a bit.

And it’s US$1499 – so it’s reasonable affordable, at least in that it’s possibly cheaper than upgrading your laptop, or buying a new controller and a full DAW license.

First – the specs:

• Standalone – no computer required
• 8×8 clip launch matrix with RGB LEDs
• 7″ color capacitive multitouch display
• Mic/Instrument/Line Inputs, 4 outputs
• MIDI In/Out/Thru via 1/8″ TRS inputs (5-pin DIN adapters included)
• (4) configurable CV/Gate Outputs to integrate your modular setup
• (8) touch-sensitive knobs with graphical OLED displays
• Time stretch/pitch shift in real time
• Comprehensive set of AIR effects and Hype, TubeSynth, Bassline and Electric synth engines
• Ability to record 8 stereo tracks
• 16GB of on-board storage (over 10 gigs of sound content included)
• 2 GB of RAM
• Full-Size SD card Slot
• User-expandable 2.5″ SATA drive connector (SATA or HDD)
• (2) USB 3.0 slots for thumb drives or MIDI controllers

Clarification: about those eight tracks. You can have eight stereo tracks of audio, but up to 128 tracks total.

And there’s a powerful and clever scheme here that lets the Force adapt to different combinations of onboard synths and effects. Akai tells us the synths use a “weighted voice management” scheme so you can maximize simultaneous voices. Effects are unlimited, until you run out of CPU power. Since this is integrated hardware and software, though, you don’t fail catastrophically when you run out of juice, as you do on a conventional computer. (Ahem.)

All that I/O – USB connectivity, USB host (for other USB gear), CV (for analog gear), MIDI (via standard minijacks), plus audio input / mic and separate out and cue outs.

US$1499 (confirming European pricing), shipping on 5 February to the USA and later in the month to other markets.

I’ve had a hands-on with AKAI Professional’s product managers. The software was still pre-release – this was literally built last night – but it was very close to final form, and we should have a detailed review once we get hardware next month.

The specs don’t really tell the whole story, so let’s go through what this thing is about.

In person, the arrangement turns out to be logical and tidy.

Form factor

The images leaked via an FCC filing of a prototype did make this thing look a bit homely. In person with the final hardware, it seems totally logical.

On the bottom of the unit is a grid with shortcut triggers, looking very much like a Push 2. On the top is a touch display and more shortcut keys that resemble the MPC Live. You also get a row of endless encoders, which now Akai call just “knobs.”

The “hump” that contains the touch display enables a ton of I/O crammed onto the back – even with minijacks for MIDI, the space is needed. And it means the displays for the knobs are tilted at an angle, so they’re easier to read as you play, from either sitting or standing position.

There are also some touches that tell you this is Akai hardware. Everything is labeled. Triggers most often do just one thing, rather than changing modes as on Ableton Push. And there are features like obvious, dedicated navigation, and a crossfader.

In short, you can tell this is from the folks who built the APC40. Whereas sometimes functions on Ableton Push can be maddeningly opaque, the Akai hardware makes things obvious. I’ll talk more about that in the review, of course, but it’s obvious even when looking at the unit what everything does and how to navigate.

Oh and – while this unit is big, it still looks like it’d fit snugly onto a table at a venue or DJ booth. Plus you don’t need a computer. And yeah, the lads from Akai brought it to Berlin on Ryanair. You can absolutely fit it in a backpack.

Workflows

What impresses me about this effort from Akai is that it takes into account a whole range of use cases. Rather than describe what it does, maybe I should jump straight into what I think it means for those use cases, based on what I’ve seen.

It runs live sets. Well, here this is clearly a winner. You get clip launching just like you do with Ableton Live, without a laptop. And so even if you still stick to Live for production (or Maschine, or Reason, or FL Studio, or whatever DAW), you can easily load up stems and clips on this and free yourself from the laptop later.

You get consistent color coding and near-constant feedback on the grid and heads-up display / touch display about where you are, what’s muted, what’s record-enabled, and what’s playing. My impression is that it’s far clearer than on other devices, thanks to the software being built around the hardware. (Maschine got further than some of its rivals, but it lacks this many controls, lights, and display.)

That feedback seemed like it’s also not overwhelming, either, because it’s spread out over this larger footprint. There’s also a handy overview of your whole clip layout on the touch display, so you can page through more clip slots easily.

Logical, dedicated triggers and loads of feedback so you don’t get lost.

Full-featured clip launching and mixing.

It’s a playable instrument – finger-drummer friendly. Of course, now that you can do all that stuff with clips, as with Push, you can also play instruments. There are onboard synths from AIR – Electric, Bassline, TubeSynth, and the new multifunctional FM + additive + wavetable hybid Hype. And there are a huge number of effects from lo-fi stuff to reverbs to delays, meaning you can get away without packing effects pedals. It’s literally the full range of AIR stuff – so like having a full Pro Tools plug-in folder on dedicated hardware.

That may or may not be enough for everyone, but you can also use MIDI and CV and USB to control external gear (or a computer).

The grid setup features are also easy to get into and powerful. There are a range of pitch-to-grid mappings, from guitar fret-style arrangements to a Tonnetz layout (5th on one axis, 3rd on another) to piano and chromatic layouts. There are of course scale and chord options – though no microtuning onboard, yet. (Wait until Aphex Twin gets his, I think.)

And there are drum layouts, too, or step sequencers if you want them.

Two major, major deviations from Push, though. You know how easy it is to accidentally change parts on Push when you’re trying to navigate clips and wind up playing the wrong instrument? Or how easy it is to get lost when recording clips? Or how suddenly a step sequencer turns up when you just want to finger drum a pad? Or…

Yeah, okay well – you have none of those problems here. Force makes it easy to select parts, easy to select tracks, easy to mute tracks, and lets you choose the layout you want when you want it without all that confusion.

Again, more on this in the review, but I’m thoroughly relieved that Akai seems to understand the need for dedicated triggers and less cognitive overhead when you play live.

Tons of playing options.

It can replace a computer for production, if you want. There’s deep clip editing and sampling and arrangement and mixing functionality here. Clips even borrow one of the best features from Bitwig Studio – you can edit and move and duplicate audio inside a clip, which you can’t do in Live without bringing that audio out into the Arrangement. So you could use this to start and even finish tracks.

The Force doesn’t have the same horsepower as a laptop, of course. So you’re limited to eight stereo tracks. Then again, back in the days of tape that bouncing process was also creatively useful – and the sampling capabilities here make it easy to resample work.

Powerful clip editing combines with sampling – and you can use both the touchscreen and dedicated hardware controls.

Or you can use it as a companion to a computer. You can also use Force as a sketchpad – much like some iPad tools now, but of course with physical controls. There’s even an export to ALS feature coming, so you could start tracks on Force and finish them in Ableton Live – with your full range of mixing an mastering tools and plug-ins. (I believe that doesn’t ship at launch, but is due soon.)

Also coming in the first part of this year, Akai are working on a controller mode so you can use Force as an Ableton Live controller when you are at your computer.

There’s wired connectivity. You can set up MIDI tracks, you can set up CV tracks. There’s also USB host mode. Like the grid, but wish you had some MPC-style velocity-sensitive pads? Or want some faders? Plug in inexpensive controllers via USB, just as you would on your computer. You only get two audio ins, but that’s of course still enough to do sampling – and you get the sorts of sampling and live time stretching capabilities you’d expect of the company that makes the MPC.

For audio output, there’s a dedicated cue out as well as the stereo audio output.

On the front – SD card loading (there’s also USB support and internal drive upgradeability), plus a dedicated cue output for your headphones.

The full range of AIR effects is onboard.

Powerful audio effects should help you grow with this one.

And there’s wireless connectivity, too. You can sync sample content via Splice.com – which includes your own samples, by the way. (Wow, do I wish Roland did this with Roland Cloud and the TR-8S – yeah, being able to have all my own kits and sample sets and sync them with a WiFi connection is huge to me, even just for the sounds I created myself.)

There’s Ableton Link support, so you can wirelessly sync up to your computer, iPad, and other tools – clocking the Force without wires.

There’s even wireless support for control and sound, meaning that Force is going to be useful even before you plug in cables.

Yeah, it’s a standalone instrument, but it’s also a monster sequencer / hub.

Bottom line. It replaces Ableton Live. It works with Ableton Live. It replaces your computer. It works with your computer. It’s a monster standalone instrument. It’s a monster sequencer for your other instruments. It does a bunch of stuff. It doesn’t try to do too much (manageable controls, clear menus).

Basically, this already looks like the post-PC device a lot of us were waiting for. Can’t wait to get one for review.

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What could make APC Live, MPC cool: Akai’s new software direction

Akai tipped their hand late last year that they were moving more toward live performance. With APC Live hardware leaked and in the wild, maybe it’s time to take another look. MPC software improvements might interest you with or without new hardware.

MPC 2.3 software dropped mid-November. We missed talking about it at the time. But now that we’re (reasonably certain, unofficially) that Akai is releasing new hardware, it puts this update in a new light. Background on that:

APC as standalone hardware? Leaked Akai APC Live

Whether or not the leaked APC Live hardware appeals to you, Akai are clearly moving their software in some new directions – which is relevant whatever hardware you choose. We don’t yet know if the MPC Live hardware will get access to the APC Live’s Matrix Mode, but it seems a reasonable bet some if not all of the APC Live features are bound for MPC Live, too.

And MPC 2.3 added major new live performance features, as well as significant internal synths, to that standalone package. Having that built in means you get it even without a computer.

New in 2.3:

Three synths:

  • A vintage-style, modeled analog polysynth
  • A bass synth
  • A tweakable, physically modeled electric piano

Tubesynth – an analog poly.

Electric’s physically-modeled keys.

Electric inside the MPC Live environment.

As with NI’s Maschine, each of those can be played from chords and scales with the pads mode. But Maschine requires a laptop, of course – MPC Live doesn’t.

A new arpeggiator, with four modes of operation, ranging from traditional vintage-style arp to more modern, advanced pattern playback

And there’s an “auto-sampler.”

That auto-sampler looks even more relevant when you see the APC Live. On MPC Live (and by extension APC Live), you can sample external synths, sample VST plug-ins, and even capture outboard CV patches.

Of course, this is a big deal for live performance. Plug-ins won’t work in standalone mode – and can be CPU hogs, anyway – so you can conveniently capture what you’re doing. Got some big, valuable vintage gear or a modular setup you don’t to take to the gig? Same deal. And then this box gives you the thing modular instruments don’t do terribly well – saving and recalling settings – since you can record and restore those via the control voltage I/O (also found on that new APC Live). The auto-sampler is an all-in-one solution for making your performances more portable.

Full details of the 2.3 update – though I expect we’ve got even more new stuff around the corner:

http://www.akaipro.com/pages/mpc-2.3-desktop-software-and-firmware-update

With or without the APC Live, you get the picture. While Ableton and Native Instruments focus on studio production and leave you dependent on the computer, Akai’s angle is creating an integrated package you can play live with – like, onstage.

Sure enough, Akai have been picking up large acts to their MPC Live solution, too – John Mayer, Metallica, and Chvrches all got named dropped. Of those, let’s check out Chvrches – 18 minutes in, the MPC Live gets showcased nicely:

It makes sense Akai would come to rely on its own software. When Akai and Novation released their first controllers for Ableton Live, Ableton had no hardware of their own, which changed with Push. But of course even the first APC invoked the legendary MPC legacy – and Akai has for years been working on bringing desktop software functionality to the MPC name. So, while some of us (me included) first suspected a standalone APC Live might mean a collaboration with Ableton, it does make more sense that it’s a fully independent Akai-made, MPC-style tool.

It also makes sense that this means, for now, more internal functionality. (The manual reference to “plugins” in the APC Live manual that leaked probably means those internal instruments and effects.) That has more predictability as far as resource consumption, and means avoiding the licensing issues necessary and the like to run plug-ins in embedded Linux. This could change, by the way – Propellerhead’s Rack Extensions format now is easily portable to ARM processors, for example – but that’s another story. As far as VST, AU, and AAX, portability to embedded hardware is still problematic.

The upshot of this, though, is that InMusic at least has a strategy for hardware that functions on its own – not just as a couple of one-off MPC pieces, but in terms of integrated hardware/software development across a full product line. Native Instruments, Ableton, and others might be working on something like that that lets you untether from the computer, but InMusic is shipping now, and they aren’t.

Now the question is whether InMusic can capitalize on its MPC legacy and the affection for the MPC and APC brands and workflows – and get people to switch from other solutions.

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Ableton Live as standalone hardware? Leaked Akai APC Live

It’s what a lot of people wanted – an MPC crossed with an Ableton Push – which could mean it’s too good to be true. But the APC Live leaked in images looks viable enough, and it could signal big changes for electronic performance in 2019.

Standalone hardware that does what software does – it’s a funny thing. It has seemed inevitable for a long time. But lots of hardware remains tethered to the ubiquitous computer (Ableton Push, Novation Launchpad, Native Instruments Maschine, Native Instruments Traktor) … or is exceptionally expensive (Pioneer CDJ). Then there was Akai’s own MPC Live, which seemed to be both affordable and flexible – you can use it with or without a computer – but failed to catch on. That may be because the MPC Live was too late to win people over to a new workflow. It wasn’t really like the original MPC hardware, and computer users had opted for Maschine, Live, and other tools.

That makes these leaked photos of the supposed Akai APC Live so interesting. Ableton, with a user base literally in the millions, doesn’t have to convince anyone of a new workflow. If the APC Live does what the MPC Live does – work as a controller with your computer plugged in, but then switch to standalone mode for onstage use – it could be a winner.

The ever leak-savvy sequencer.de get the scoop, in a forum post (which seems to get these from an FCC filing):

https://www.sequencer.de/synthesizer/media/apc-live-3.976/

Behold:

It seems to have everything you’d need:

A Push-style grid surface with shortcuts.
Encoders and heads-up display for parameter editing.
An MPC-style workspace with edit buttons.
USB connection (locked, so it doesn’t come out accidentally) and 2-port USB hub for expansion (or storage, hard to say).
SD card slot (load samples, sets?).
Separate cue mix for your headphones.
4 outs (so you can also have a separate cue line mix/monitors out, or easy quad output, or whatever)
CV and gate, MIDI – though crammed on minijacks, so you’ll need some dongles, no doubt.
XLR input for a vocal mic.

The only thing that’s odd about this is that the MPC-style screen is tacked rather awkwardly on top, giving this a really tall footprint.

The other big question will be what happens with plug-ins. Akai for their part first came out talking about embedded Windows on their MPC Live, but eventually shipped a Linux-based application. That makes their MPC software behave the same as a self-contained app on the hardware as it does on your computer. But Live users are accustomed to using third-party plug-ins; will they have to stick to Live internal devices when running in standalone mode?

Another possibility – maybe the “live” moniker doesn’t really mean this works on its own. This could just be an oversized controller for Ableton Live, but still tethered to the computer. That would make sense, too – it would be a lot of work to get Live to run on its own, and just shipping another controller would be an easy solution.

Just don’t rule out standalone as a possibility. It’s technically possible, and we know Ableton has posted some Linux and embedded engineering jobs on their site – plus Akai has done this once before, meaning they have the talent in-house to work on it.

I expect we’ll know later this month, either at the NAMM show or slightly before.

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Fake a $30k pro video controller with an APC40 or Beatstep and Davinci Resolve

We’re living in an age of video and motion graphics. But now not only can you get a free license of Davinci Resolve to use pro-level tools, but this hack will let you make a standard music controller do a convincing impression of a $30,000 controller. Finally, visuals get as easily hands-on as music.

The Tacyhon Post has a bunch of excellent tools for users of Davinci Resolve. (Resolve is the editor / motion graphics / post tool from Blackmagic. It’s a pro-grade tool, but you can use a free license.) But most intriguing are controller mappings for the Akai APC40 and original Arturia Beatstep. If you don’t have an APC40 already, for instance, that’s an inexpensive used buy. (And maybe this will inspired other mappings, too.)

The APC mapping is the most interesting. And it’s ridiculous how much it does. Suddenly color grading, shapes and motion, tracking and all the editing functions are tangible controls. THe developer has also added in mappings for Resolve FX. And it’s updated for the latest version, Resolve 15, released this summer.

Watch:

The Beatstep version is pretty cool, as well, with similar functionality to the APC. This isn’t the Beatstep Pro but the “vintage” Beatstep. Unlike the APC, that controller hasn’t had quite the staying power on the music side – the Pro version was much better. But that means it’s even better to repurpose it for video, and of course then you have an effective mobile solution.

If you’re the sort of person to drop 30 grand on the actual controller, this probably isn’t for you. But what it does is to liberate all those workflows for the rest of us – to make them physical again. The APC is uniquely suited to the task because of a convenient layout of buttons and encoders.

I’m definitely dusting off an APC40 and a forgotten Beatstep to try this out. Maybe if enough of us buy a license, it’ll prompt the developer to try other hardware, too.

Super custom edition by the script developer, with some hardware hacks and one-off paint job. Want.

Meanwhile, where this really gets fun is with this gorgeous custom paint job. DIY musicians get to be the envy of all those studio video people.

Grab the scripts to make this work (paid):

https://posttools.tachyon-consulting.com/davinci-resolve-controllers/apc40-resolve-edition/

https://posttools.tachyon-consulting.com/davinci-resolve-controllers/beatstep-resolve-edition/

Thank you, Davo, for the tip!

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Ableton hacks: map anything, even Kontakt and Reaktor

Isotonik’s £22 PrEditor is the powerful mapping functionality Ableton forgot. It lets you customize the mappings of a variety of controllers to your music software, opening up custom controller arrangements and tailored interactions to support the way you play.

And the latest version does still more. Hackers and patchers will love this – whatever tool they use. If you use Reaktor, that environment is available – doubly useful now because of Reaktor’s beautiful Blocks modular environment. (There are quite a few things I prefer in Reaktor, so being able to map its controls to my Push means I may completely rethink how I do some of my live sets.)

If you prefer Max for Live, previously invisible parameters are now visible.

Native Instruments’ Kontakt is supported in this version, too, with Komplete Kontrol coming soon. That means if the Komplete Kontrol devices aren’t quite your fancy, you can still use your favorite NI software with the controller of your choice.

Also in this release, you can do more with banks – take custom-named banks, reorder them, copy/paste, and more.

This builds on a steady drumbeat of updates, which included making your own maps for Max for Live and VSTs, compatibility with the Akai APC line, Ableton’s own flagship Push and Push 2, and even the ability to unlock features that normally require those Push devices to other use cases.

I really do hope this encourages Ableton to make its own native mapping more flexible and capable and less hardware-specific. The Isotonik stuff serves as a nice proof of concept.

There’s an epic walkthrough video:

Isotonik PrEditor – V1.3.3 Walkthrough from Isotonik Studios on Vimeo.

Grab the tool here:

http://isotonikstudios.com/sigabort/isotonik-preditor/

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Home Alone Remixed Live on Ableton, Launchpad; Mega APC Mashup

Home Alone (Ableton Live Remix) from Keenan Gaynor on Vimeo.

It’s the holidays, a time for family, and to ponder when controller mappings meet one-shot clip triggering, cable TV, weird child neglect, and brutal violence against slapstick criminals. Yes, of course – it’s the time-honored tradition of Ableton Live and Home Alone.

There’s the 2010 original remix on Launchpad. But, unlike the Home Alone movie, the sequel’s even better. Last year, Keenan Gaynor quietly updated the remix on a Novation Launchpad Mini. And clearly he’s picked up some better techniques in Live. (Pro mode, anyway!) So, even though the original will have a special place in our nerdy Ableton-using holiday hearts, catch the refresh, too.

All of the music. All of the magic.

Just go easy on the Pepsi.

More:
twitter.com/keenangaynor
declanswell.com
keenan.gaynor.org

Bonus video: if Home Alone just isn’t enough holiday for you, Rich Lane does a mega-mash-up live on APC40, nicely butchering the goose of some of the most over-played tunes. Perfect if your guests have had too much Pepsi and you need to clear them out.

“Look what cha did, ya little jerk!”

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Get Your Ableton Grids in Order, Free, with Launchsync

push_inuse_9

In live electronic music, the endless free expanse of the computer screen tends to run up against the limited ability of your brain to tell just which freakin’ track am I on, anyway? In the studio, it can be annoying. Live onstage, it can be train wreck-inducing.

Ableton Live’s Session View has for years exacerbated this problem. You can limit your options to eight (or even four) tracks. But that doesn’t always work. You might need more than eight tracks for particular routings of audio or MIDI. And unless you use Device Racks and chains, you’ll also need extra tracks to switch instruments.

Launchsync is a solution to that problem. Instead of all of your controllers going their own way and controlling different parts of Live separately, they can now move in tandem. So, rather than doing scrolling on multiple devices and squinting at the screen to see where the heck you are, you can navigate on one controller and everything else follows.

Use cases:
1. One Ring to Rule Them All. Have every grid controller assigned to the same block of clips, and move around together (one clip at a time, or “paging” in bigger groups).
2. A Wider or Taller Grid. Make a bigger grid. For instance, a Push and a Launchpad, or two Launchpads could be next to one another, moving together – 16×8 or 8×16 or whatever you like.
3. Faders Synced with a Grid. Get your faders following your grid. I love Push, but I’ve hesitated to use it live because I can’t easily mix on it. Now, I can have my LaunchControl XL follow the launch grid of the Push.

It’s free, but requires Max for Live (included in Ableton Live Suite 9). I’ll say this, though, now with confidence – if you’re serious about using Live, just get Suite (or a discounted version of Max). Seriously. I haven’t talked to one person who regrets that. They’re getting it to use tools like this, even if they’re not patchers.

Compatible hardware:
Ableton Push
Akai APC40 (not sure yet about the mk2 series)
Allen and Heath K2 (via the additional Isotonik2
Novation Launchpad, LaunchKey, and LaunchControl (all models)
Livid Instruments Base (all models)

I’d love to see this work with tools like iPad controllers, too, so I’ve put touchAble in contact with Darren, the developer at Isotonik. We’ll let you know if they make it work!

Watch the video to make this clearer:

Thanks to the terrific Ableton Live Expert for this coverage and the video (I have to start reading your site more often)!
EXCLUSIVE to Ableton Live Expert – Free Novation Launchsync Max for Live plugin!

The original, here with hilarious wooden side panels. Photo (CC-BY) Paul.

The original, here with hilarious wooden side panels. Photo (CC-BY) Paul.

The Ring

I’ll back up for a bit of history. When Ableton and Akai announced the APC40 at the beginning of 2009, they added a red rectangle on the screen that gave you feedback on what it was controlling onscreen, allowing you to map its eight controller strips and grid of clip launchers to more than eight tracks. That box is technically called the Ring Focus Box (though I haven’t heard the name used much outside Ableton).

By fall 2009, Ableton and Novation added the Launchpad to the offerings. Immediately, they added the ability to have more than one Ring Focus Box, in different colors. That way, you could control more clips with additional connected controllers. Compatibility with the Ring Focus Box is dependent on installed scripts, and you need a particular manufacturer partnership with Ableton in order for Ableton to provide support for adding it, though various hardware and software have hacked their own compatibility. (It’s even possible to use simple user scripts to add your own.)

What’s nice about Launchsync is, by better controlling where that focus ring is, you may not need to look at the computer screen at all. You can instead rely on one piece of hardware for feedback or (soon, hopefully) an iPad visualization of clips. That’s better than a dinky colored rectangle on your laptop screen, anyway.

The importance of this feature means that I hope Ableton addresses the API for all hardware and control software (iOS, Android) in a consistent way for upcoming versions. Doing so would better standardize control support across the range of tablets and faderboxes and knobboxes and custom-built gear and whatnot that Live users now use.

For now, though, you have a very workable solution for a range of hardware. And it’s another reason I’m keeping my LaunchControl XL around. It may have been designed as the faders missing on the Launchpad – but it’s the faders missing on the Push, too.

http://isotonikstudios.com/launchsync/

“MAKING EVERYTHING PLAY NICELY TOGETHER JUST LIKE THEY SHOULD”

Word.

Follow up to yesterday’s review:
Novation’s LaunchControl XL Has the Faders and Knobs You Need for Ableton, MIDI [Obsessive Review]

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Learn How Pantha Du Prince Combines Acoustic Instruments with Ableton Live, In C

Before triggering clips and samples on the computer, Pantha du Prince and The Bell Laboratory “trigger” the musicians.

Yes, before there were machine clips, there were human patterns, and in performing Terry Riley’s legendary classical new music composition “In C,” the ensemble has to do just that. In a beautiful chorus of chiming tones, that orchestra is augmented with digital embellishment.

The result makes for a live performance that expands the role of the computer into a large-scale instrumental ensemble, venturing into territory perhaps not as often associated with Ableton Live as genres like dance music are. But Ableton has lavished attention on electronic composer Pantha Du Prince and his ensemble in a series of videos that amount to a complete documentary on the work and how it was produced.

Pantha du Prince’s music has always shimmered with beautiful sounds, but here, percussion form an otherworldly realm of glittering rhythmic waves.

Ableton’s film begins with the artist side, and in fact less discussion of the gear. (I’ve heard people chattering about that lately, and pleasantly surprised that this isn’t an in-your-face promo video.)

Pantha Du Prince & The bell Laboratory, Centraltheater, Leipzig 2013 © R. Arnold/CT Via the project's Facebook page.

Pantha Du Prince & The bell Laboratory, Centraltheater, Leipzig 2013
© R. Arnold/CT
Via the project’s Facebook page.

But let’s do a bit of gear spotting anyway, just to parse how the setup works. In the “cockpit” of Hendrik’s computer rig arrive feeds from all the instruments for sampling, looping, and effects, plus a couple of contact mics for adding close-miked sounds of hand percussion. These are routed through hardware effects (delay, reverb), and then sampled and looped in Ableton, which is in turn controlled by an APC and MPD hardware controller. The full rig:

Akai APC40
Akai MPD32 pad controller
Moogerfooger FreqBox
KORG Kaoss Pad Pro 3
Eventide Space Reverb
VERMONA PERfourMER mk II analog synth – maybe the most interesting piece of gear in that lineup, actually

But the real stars here are the acoustic instruments. Microphones bring you closer to the delicate sounds, but this is otherwise timbral design in the world of physical sound. I actually had the pleasure of wandering the Drum hall for a few minutes at Musikmesse with Dave Hill, Jr. of iZotope, himself a talented drummer (and Ableton veteran) – thanks for that, Dave. We spent some moments handling cymbals and talking about their design. Coming from the realms of code and electronics, there’s something comforting about discussing the hammering of metal (and at least I’m not entirely inexperienced there, having played in a gamelan ensemble for some years).

It’s actually my favorite video of the set – create acoustic music:

Here’s the music video for “Spectral Split” with The Bell Laboratory:

Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory “Spectral Split” (Official Music Video) from Sandra Trostel on Vimeo.

And the piece Photon:

Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Photon from Panta Rhei Project on Vimeo.

And from four years ago, the artist talks to Rough Trade Records whilst touring Teufelsberg, the abandoned US listening installation in Berlin.

Pantha Du Prince Documentary from Rough Trade Records on Vimeo.

roughtraderecords.com/panthaduprince
panthaduprince.com

The post Learn How Pantha Du Prince Combines Acoustic Instruments with Ableton Live, In C appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Control, Shortcuts for Ableton Starting at $99: A Look at the New AKAI APC Line

Keyboard and controls and triggers all in one tiny bus-powered unit for just over $100 street. The APC this year also goes tiny.

Keyboard and controls and triggers all in one tiny bus-powered unit for just over $100 street. The APC this year also goes tiny.

For any tool that has “live” in the name, physical control will be important. And so even with a broad market for controllers targeting Ableton’s flagship software, now including the slick Push hardware from Ableton themselves, AKAI’s re-vamped APC line earned intense interest when it debuted at Musikmesse this month.

Let’s make sense of what the new APCs can do and how you might choose between models. I got some hands-on time at Messe, and now even in advance of a review of finished, shipping hardware, it’s worth teasing out the breakdown of the 2014 APC line.

The original Akai APC, short for Ableton Performance Controller (despite obvious, intentional similarity to “MPC”), came out in 2009. Then, there was just one model, the APC40, later seeing a companion, cut-down APC20.

Now, there are three distinct models:

APC MINI. US$99 street. This is a serious challenger to the currently popular entry-level favorite, the Novation Launchpad. In addition to a Launchpad-style 8×8 grid with three-color feedback, you get the faders (8 channel + 1 master) the Launchpad is missing.

APC Key 25. $129 street. Basically, imagine a tiny Ableton control surface squeezed into AKAI’s mini-keyboard: clip matrix plus 8 controller knobs.

APC40 mkII. $399. You get the triggers and faders as on the MINI, but also a crossfader, dedicated mix controls, and, crucially, Device controls.

The ultra-portable MINI, now with faders. (And I have fairly small hands.)

The ultra-portable MINI, now with faders. (And I have fairly small hands.)

There are a number of features these units have in common.

They’re USB bus-powered. You don’t need a power supply as on the original APC – a big leap forward in convenience.

They don’t require drivers. Hackers, that means you could make these controllers for other software, like Renoise, Bitwig Studio, Reaper, or your custom SuperCollider rig.

There’s a bunch of great software included. AIR Music Tech is one of the most exceptional plug-in developers around. Unfortunately, while Avid Pro Tools users know their wares fairly well, they’re less known among other users. This could change that: the lovely Hybrid 3 instrument is included in the box even on the APC MINI and APC Key 25 – which for me means it’s going to be hard not justifying buying at least one of those. The crazy-cool SONiVOX Twist morphing synth is included on the APC Key 25 and APC40 mk II. And, okay, sample packs and Live Lite – but getting one or two great synths is what’s likely to sweeten the pot for readers here.

You have a ridiculous number of shortcuts. This is a bit unclear just looking at the units and press materials, but there are triggers that let you access mix values, panning, and sends. In fact, repeatedly triggering the send key lets you control sends for any track, and toggle through as many sends as you’ve gotten. (On the mkII, there are dedicated send triggers up to 8, which is about as many as I’ve seen anyone use who isn’t named Richie Hawtin.) Even on the tiniest APCs, you can control nearly anything; on the mkII, you can do so with more dedicated controls and a mixer-style layout.

You have to get the hang of the SHIFT key and triggers, but once you do, you’ll find dedicated controls for:

  • Clip stop
  • Track controls: select, mute, solo, record arm
  • Knob controls: Volume, Pan, Send (any send, as I said), and Device
  • Transport controls (minus the APC MINI)

And you get those on the entire line. So, you’d absolute need them on bigger controllers, yes, but seeing them in a little tiny keyboard is really nice. Mobile musicians I think will really like this.

Specialized trigger shortcuts can map a variety of parameters to the onboard controls, across the whole APC line. This is the Keys 25 close up.

Specialized trigger shortcuts can map a variety of parameters to the onboard controls, across the whole APC line. This is the Keys 25 close up.

The APC40 mkII could turn out to be the most logical, dedicated mix controller for Ableton yet. There are more generic controllers on the market – the upcoming Dubspot – Livid collab is one to watch. And the APC40 is definitely set up with Ableton in mind. But it is as such terrifically logical when it comes to accessing mix controls – in stark contrast to Ableton’s Push.

In fact, Push and the APC40 mkII would make a nice pair. Push focuses on creative tasks and starting tracks, step sequencing, instrumental playback, and parameter control. The APC40 mkII focuses on traditional mixing tasks: you get conventional channel strips, a crossfader, shortcuts for assigning tracks to the different crossfader buses, mix parameter controls, and a separate Device control section.

The Device controllers were one of the best features of the original APC. What’s nice on this year’s model is that the layout finally looks like a conventional mixer, with parameters right by the faders.

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The APC40 mkII now really looks like the mixer strips in Ableton's Session View. Knobs are at the top, and can be mapped to pan or sends. And note the dedicated A and B buttons for assigning tracks quickly to the crossfader. That could make the APC40 mkII a preferred controller for live/DJ use.

The APC40 mkII now really looks like the mixer strips in Ableton’s Session View. Knobs are at the top, and can be mapped to pan or sends. And note the dedicated A and B buttons for assigning tracks quickly to the crossfader. That could make the APC40 mkII a preferred controller for live/DJ use.

These aren’t instrumental controllers. Readers were asking if the pads meant velocity control. They don’t. Oh, and here’s another confusing thing about the lineup from InMusic (Akai/Alesis/Numark/M-Audio etc.) in 2014. Previously, “AKAI” products came with MPC-style, velocity-sensing pads, which made sense – the MPC was always an AKAI product. Now, Alesis keyboards have the 4×4 MPC pads with velocity, and AKAI is putting Ableton controllers on a keyboard without velocity.

The APC40 mkII is no Push. In feel and looks, the APC40 mkII feels has none of the luxurious fit and finish of Push, either. Now, what that means for actual, real-world ruggedness is impossible to say, but the user experience is certainly of a less-expensive product.

apcmesse1

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First impression?

It’s pretty clear the entry-level models are a no-brainer if you need something ultra-portable. The APC Key 25 is surprisingly capable, with 8 controller knobs and a trigger matrix. The APC MINI does what many Novation Launchpad owners wished that control surface did: it adds faders. (Novation’s Launch Control add-on, actually, could be a nice combo with the APC MINI: the APC MINI’s faders work for mixing while the Launch Control could have dedicated Device controllers. It seems, somehow, Laptop Battle worthy.)

The APC40 mkII is in a trickier spot. At $400, you’re approaching the price of the Ableton Push, plus some very beautifully-made offerings from the likes of Livid Instruments and Faderfox. And my concern is that the APC40 mkII feels a little too much like its cheaper counterparts.

In contrast to the firm triggers on the original APC, the model on the Messe show floor has squishy-feeling pads. Since those pads aren’t velocity-sensitive, I would have happily had something firmer. The faders also feel pretty basic in comparison to some rival pieces at the same price. And it’s worth comparing the APC40 mkII to Push, because Push even gives AKAI an engineering credit on the box. I wish some of that aesthetic and feel had rubbed off on AKAI’s line.

That said, the APC40 mkII has a serious edge in terms of layout and controls for a lot of applications. The A/B assignment and crossfader alone will win over some users. And all around, it’s a logical counterpart to Push’s focus on instrumental playing. If what you want from a Live controller is clip triggering, mixing, faders, and parameter control, any one of the APCs here can quickly become the hardware to beat. And on the mkII APC40, you do get a logical evolution of the functionality and control of the breakout-hit original.

So, I look forward to testing the final units. We’ve got some time: AKAI says they expect to be done around summertime. And that will be the time to really test the feel and durability of the gear.

All of this is to say nothing of the M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro, also from InMusic. I was pleasantly surprised by the step sequencing functionality of that, particularly in standalone mode – more on that soon.

2014 should be a good year for controllers. I hope we see more of the usual DIY and creative applications, too, of course, not just what’s at the trade shows. Stay tuned, as always.

http://www.akaipro.com/tradeshows/messe2014

APCmini_1200x750_web

APCKey25_1200x750_web

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MusikMesse 2014に登場:AKAI のニューAPCシリーズ

2009年にAbleton Live専用のコントローラとして衝撃的なデビューを飾ったAKAI APC 40。今となっては同様の機能を持つコントローラが多く発売され、やや色褪せて来てしまった感のあるAPC 40 ではありますが、今でもAbleton Liveユーザーにとっての重要な機材の一つとなっています。

その後継機となるAPC 40 mk2 が今月ドイツフランクフルトで開催されるMusikmesse 2014 で発表されるようです。APC 40 mk2 は5×8のRGB LEDクリップローンチパッド、8×ロータリーノブ、8×チャンネルフェーダー、クロスフェーダー、センドバスに素早いアクセスが可能なセンドスイッチを装備。見たところでは旧型APC 40と同等のレイアウトに感じますが、機能面でどのような改良がされているのか気になるところです。

加えて、25鍵盤+マトリックス・ローンチパッド付きのAPC Key 25、そして8×8のマトリックスローンチパッド+8フェダー付きのAPC Mini も同時に発表されるようです。

 

APC 40 mk2

• 5×8 RGB LED clip matrix – launches clips with visual feedback

• 8 channel faders, 1 master fader, and 8 device controls – map to Ableton Live directly

• Intuitive layout – revised knob layout with in-line controls for smarter workflow

• A/B crossfader – can be assigned on the fly for dynamic mixing

• Send button – press and hold Send and use the Track Selects to choose one of 8 sends

• Music production content – Toolroom artist launch packs, Prime Loops sample packs, Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Technology & SONiVOX Twist

 

APC Key 25

 

APC Mini

価格は

APC40 mkII: 439€
APC Key25: 159 €
APC mini: 119 €