Ableton Live 7 (Bonus)

With the release of Live 7, Ableton implements numerous user requests, improves audio and MIDI performance, and introduces a powerful new rack variation called Drum Racks. Three instruments—Analog, Electric, and Tension—join Operator and Sampler as premium add-ons to Live.
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This online bonus material supplements the review of Ableton Live 7 in the March 2008 issue of EM.

Analog, Electric, and Tension

Applied Acoustics Systems (AAS) is an acknowledged leader in the field of physical modeling. Analog, Electric, and Tension are special versions of its physical-modeled virtual instruments Ultra Analog, Lounge Lizard 3, and String Studio. The Ableton Live versions differ from the AAS versions in their graphical user interface (which is similar to that of Live''s FM synth, Operator) and in that they have no onboard effects; you use Live''s built-in effects instead.

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FIG. A: Tension is a physical-modeled string synthesizer developed in collaboration with Applied Acoustics Systems.

An important point about physical modeling is that no samples are used. Rather, calculations based on the workings of physical objects and analog electronic circuits generate sounds in real time according to your settings and actions.

Analog is not based on a specific vintage analog synth; it models the components found in all analog synths and offers enough signal path flexibility for you to emulate your favorite classic. The signal path starts with two multiwaveform oscillators and a lowpass-filtered noise source, each with its own balance control for feeding Analog''s two multimode filters. You can arrange the filters in series or in parallel with each filter having its own output amp. You get two LFOs with a variety of modulation targets, ramp envelopes for each oscillator''s pitch, and separate looping ADSR envelopes for each filter and amp. Although it may not reproduce the exact sound of your favorite vintage Moog, ARP, or Oberheim synth, it does capture the essence of classic analog synthesis.

Electric models the common elements of electric pianos from Rhodes, Wurlitzer, RMI, and others. When you play a note, a mallet strikes a tine, which sets a tone bar vibrating. Releasing the note drops a damper on the tone bar. Those parts of the instrument are physical but don''t generate much sound on their own. Electric pickups adjacent to the tone bars transduce the sound for playback through an amp and speaker. Use the Mallet, Fork (tine and tone bar), Damper, and Pickup sections of the control panel to tweak the piano, then add Live effects to taste. Electric and Lounge Lizard 3 are the most realistic virtual electric pianos I''ve played.

Tension is more complex than the other synths because it has the toughest job: modeling the physical interactions among the many parts of acoustic stringed instruments. You set the characteristics of the hammer, plectrum, or bow in the Excitator section. You then dial in string, damper, body, and pickup settings, and you''re ready to go (see Fig. A). Getting a realistic sound from a physical-modeled stringed instrument and then playing it realistically is no snap, but there are enough Tension presets to get you started. Beyond that, you''ll find plenty of ear-splitting sounds on your own.

These three synths combined with the FM synth Operator, Live''s two samplers, and the Impulse drum synth have most of the bases covered. Although five of the seven are premium offerings, the prices are reasonable (especially when bundled), and the convenience of having them built in is significant.