There's something for everyone in Max For Live, as we'll see while we explore the best devices MFL has to offer.
Max For Live is an essential tool for some Live users and a complete head-scratcher for others. It is now included in Live 9 Suite and is available for £129$199 to Live 9 Standard users, and it comes with a large number of free instruments and effects. You can use these instruments and effects just like Live's other devices, without having any idea of how to build them yourself. In this month's column, I'm going to share some tips on how to use some of my favourites.
Granulator, one of the first Max For Live instruments, was developed by Ableton co-founder Robert Henke. You'll find detailed explanations of granular synthesis and the updated Granulator II on both Henke's web site (www.monolake.de/technology/granulator.html) and Ableton's (www.ableton.com/en/packs/granulator), but you can get started with a few simple examples and tweaks, as in screen 1.
First, try the 12 presets that come with Granulator II; they provide a good overview of what granular synthesis is all about. Then drag some of your own samples into its sample window and play around with the controls in the Grain and Filter views. The Grain view affects how the 'playback head' moves through the sample, the size of the playback region, and various modulation options. The Filter view offers synthesis controls such as ADSR envelopes (for amp and filter), filter parameters, and so on.
You can also use Granulator II with a live input by inserting the companion audio effect, 'GranulatorInput II', on any instrument or audio track. GranulatorInput II continuously buffers up to 16 seconds of audio. The current contents of its buffer are transferred to Granulator II when you click either its Grab button or the Grab button on Granulator II. Here is one way to set it up:
1. If you're using an instrument to feed GranulatorInput II, assign different keyboards or separate key ranges on the same keyboard to the instrument and Granulator II.
2. Map a footswitch to the Grab button on either Granulator II or GranulatorInput II.
3. Map a MIDI mod wheel to Granulator II's FilePos knob to control playback position.
4. Play something on the source instrument or from the source audio track and then tap the footswitch to capture it in Granulator II.
5. Play Granulator II.
Granulator II uses a separate buffer for grabbed audio, and deactivating the Line In tab (click on it) toggles back to the original buffer.
DrumSynth, in the Essentials Pack, is a great tool for building electronic drum kits or for augmenting your acoustic kits with electronic sounds. It comprises 13 different synths, called 'cells', for creating specific drum sounds (kick, hi-hat, snare, clave and so on). To design your own kit, start with an empty Drum Rack and then drag DrumSynth cells to the pads as desired. Some of the cells have presets and all are quite flexible; you can go way beyond drum sounds with these. You'll also find 15 pre-designed Drum Racks in the Live Pack. These use a combination of DrumSynth cells and other Live instruments to fashion drum kits with the standard key mapping.
Two instruments in the Pluggo For Live Pack are also among my favourites: Big Ben Bell offers five different harmonic flavours of bell-like sounds, stereo spread (detuning) and an AD envelope. Vocalese is a synth for producing 32 speech phonemes triggered by MIDI notes C1 through G3. Its Speed control pitch-shifts all phonemes by varying their playback speed. You won't use Vocalese to produce intelligible speech, but it's perfect for sound effects. Try adding it to some of your Drum Racks.
Buffer Shuffler 2.0 in the Essentials Pack is one of the standout Max For Live audio effects. It buffers up to six bars of incoming audio and slices it into between two and 32 pieces for playback. Each step can be played forward or backward or can be silenced, and the settings are independent for the left and right stereo channels. You can also set six other parameters — stutter, gate time, pitch, frequency shift, amplitude and pan — individually for each step. You'll find plenty of randomisation options. A separate Rules screen lets you limit the range of each parameter, and therefore the range of randomisation.
You can save 10 preset configurations, which include all parameters. Try using 10 notes on your MIDI keyboard to select the 10 presets. To do that, first group Buffer Shuffler 2.0 in an Audio Effect Rack and map the pattern selector to one of the Rack's Macro knobs. Then MIDI map the Macro knob to a 10-key range (C1 to Bb1, for example).
One glaring omission from Live's audio effects is a convolution reverb, but the Essentials Pack has this covered with Convolution Reverb, Convolution Reverb Pro, and IR Measurement Device. The Pro version adds EQ, positioning, modulation, damping and shape controls,, as well as the ability to use different IR files for early and late reflections. When you don't need those tools, save CPU with the regular version. In a nice touch, when you swap one version for the other, all common parameter settings are transferred. The reverbs come with dozens of spaces across 11 categories (Real Places, Made for Drums, Experimental and so on). If that's not enough, you can use the IR Measurement Device to create your own IR spaces. This is accompanied by a Live Set to show you the way. Be careful of your ears!
Three audio effects that have no actual effect on audio are worth keeping in mind: MultiMap, XY Pad and LFO. Each provides real-time control of virtually any Live parameter; for example, mixer controls like volume and pan and any knob, slider or button on any device installed on any track. MultiMap lets you map a single knob to eight parameters with separate range settings for each; XY Pad provides graphical two-dimensional control of two parameters; and LFO gives you sync'ed or free-running LFO automation of a single parameter. I imagine that these are provided as audio effects because you'll most likely want to use them with other devices on the same track, but there is a MIDI effect version of LFO that lets you use note number, velocity, mod wheel and aftertouch to control the LFO rate and depth.
Among the Max For Live MIDI effects you'll find several kinds of note generators and a variety of useful MIDI utilities. The newest of the note generators is Instant Haus from the Essentials Pack. It's a five-part drum-pattern generator and pairs especially well with the aforementioned DrumSynth kits.
The five parts are labelled Kick, Snare, Hi-hats (closed and open) and Perc, but you can freely assign any part to any drum sound by choosing the MIDI note it plays. The Kick, Snare and Perc parts each have 12 patterns, whereas the Hi-hats part has 24 — the first 12 play only the closed hi-hat and the second 12 play both. To silence a part, you can turn it off or choose pattern 0. Each pattern has its own swing, delay (Shift), and high and low velocity settings. Furthermore, you'll find separate buttons for randomising pattern, MIDI note, swing, velocity and shift. You can also choose how incoming MIDI notes from clips or your keyboard are routed; they can play notes on the targeted Drum Rack, or they can select patterns or the output notes for each drum part. In short, you get a lot of real-time control.
Stand-outs in the utility category include Chord-Splitter for routing individual notes from a chord to companion Splitter-Receive modules inserted before instrument plug-ins. Schwarzonator 2.0 lets you play chords from single notes, while Note Echo is a simple MIDI delay. Expression Control lets you map velocity, mod wheel, pitch-bend, aftertouch and note number to any Live parameters, and Envelope gives you an ADSR envelope, also mappable to any Live parameter. When you're thoroughly confused about all this circulating MIDI data, you can scope it out with MIDI Monitor.