DJ mixing from a laptop has always been somewhat of an awkward job. After all, DJs are limited to the point-and-click functions of a mouse and computer keys. But Sasha has just changed all that with the Maven, a one-of-a-kind controller specific to Ableton Live. The idea came to him at a WMC 2004 Global Underground boat party. Journalists were asking to hear material off his upcoming Involver (Global Underground, 2004) album, but the tracks weren't finished yet. So Sasha improvised a set straight from his hard drive and used Live to re-edit and mix on the fly. At that point, “A lightbulb went off in my head,” he says.
Sasha returned home and spoke to manufacturers about creating a specific controller for Live, but in the end, he decided to make his own. All told, the process took about nine months. Sasha and a friend scoured the Internet for parts and found a metalworker to create the Maven's sleek casing. The result is a piece of gear that has opened Live's interface to multiple simultaneous edits. “I'm buzzing off it,” Sasha says. “It's completely re-energized what I'm doing.”
The Maven communicates all audio and MIDI information directly into Sasha's Apple Mac G4 laptop via FireWire. Its physical interface looks like a standard mixer, with a volume crossfader in the middle and rows of knobs and faders that are configured with EQs, filters and effects. Beside each volume knob is a button to control what Ableton calls Clips, which can be loops, tracks or individual elements within a track. A second version, due late this month, will lessen the Maven's load and shorten its size. Sasha's prototype is by no means perfect; its problems hark back to the days when DJs' rigs would blow in the middle of a set. On a few occasions, the Maven overloaded with Clips, and the system froze. “With a computer, still, it's difficult to snuff out the problem,” Sasha admits. The benefits, though, are worth the minor glitches. The Maven's ability to harness instant creativity has Sasha “relearning how to be a DJ.”