The Experiences of a New User of Ableton Live 9 and Push (Interview)

Pake, the drummer of my second band, was lucky enough to snag the last Ableton Push in the local music shop. I’ve known him since our teenage days. With him I made my first steps with music software after we had found out that we both liked broken beats. Back then still on his C64. As his musical path looks quite different than my own, I thought it would be a good idea to ask him about his experiences with Push.

Can you tell us briefly about yourself and your musical career?

You know the beginning (drum lessons, but no harmony theory, drummer in various bands). After that I played in some punk projects, was more or less successful, and then through a few friends I somehow got more and more into the electronic thing. I have always been interested, you know, already as a child with the C64 … and then I went on, I got in deeper and at some point I bought an electronic drum kit, which I can also use as a MIDI controller. I’ve actually only worked with Reason or otherwise with hardware, but I’ve only gotten started with Live this year. I got Live 8 (the Lite version) with my Zero SL (Novation Zero SL MK2), but hadn’t used it. It was just included with it, I checked it out, but I didn’t immediately understand it and didn’t want to immerse myself in it.

How long do you have the Ableton Push now? How much time have you worked with it? Have you already finished a production since?

So, I’ve got it since April 8 and really only had time at the weekends. I haven’t really finished a production yet, but there are quite a few things in the works.

What do you think of the pads and encoders?

I’m really excited. It’s so much fun. The encoders sometimes have to be turned relatively far. Sometimes I prefer shorter routes so that you can briefly turn something from zero to one hundred and right back. Maybe you could still do that, that you can then hold Shift or so to make it work, because everything is software-based.

Theoretically it’s possible to programme Push completely for Reason. Playing notes works, but then I cannot adjust the velocity of the pads, which are really very hard. The easiest way is, of course, (to use) Reason via ReWire and then you can very well control the devices in Reason with Push. Then it is no longer a problem.

What did you initially find easy? What difficult?

There was actually nothing really difficult. I found it very refreshing how it starts off. So I turned the thing on and it tells me I should start Live. I start Live. Then it says that there is a dialog… and then I sort of was just on the device (Push) for at least an hour. Without touching the mouse or looking at the screen.

Recently, I’ve discovered something by accident, when I thought, that’s how it should work and then it did. If you hold Mute and then press a drum pad, you can mute it. That was something, you didn’t need a manual. The concept is quite cool; that is so closely tied in with the software. Because it makes it worth to invest time in learning Live.

What features do you like most? Which the least?

I find the aftertouch a really cool thing. And the Repeat thing is cool. That you can play around a bit with a side stick or a hi-hat. That the whole is even recorded, I of course love even more. So if I record a drum loop and then keep Repeat pressed and change the pressure on the pad, I can quickly assemble a hi-hat line that grooves nicely and has some dynamics. I only need to keep the Repeat function pressed, hold the pad that I want, and then maybe just switch from sixteenth to eighth note triplets or so, keep changing the pressure on the pad and that is all entered in the step sequencer. That fascinated me, I really gotta say.

Here’s a little video Pake made for us that shows him using the Repeat function creatively:

Is there something you’d like that doesn’t work/isn’t available?

I’d like to have a crossfader. I don’t know whether you could possibly use the ribbon controller for this… but I have my Zero SL. Then I have 16 more rotary encoders, 8 faders and a crossfader. I’d also like a few more knobs. 8 more, that perhaps don’t change with the devices, but that really can be freely assigned to any controller in the app.

How do you usually work when producing? Has this changed at all with Push?

Before I didn’t work with Live, but only with Reason. There I’ve done everything in the sequencer. Much mouse work and a little bit with a MIDI keyboard. Because you could try something. If I liked it, then I’d record it into the sequencer. With Live and Push this has completely changed actually, because I either start with a melody or a drum loop that I construct myself and then build on it and the song is created along the way. The song is created live. I like that very much. I can try all sorts of things beforehand, which I can then use later in the arrangement. That I can do it so quickly, immediately, “on the fly”. This fascinates me.

I also produce together with a friend. This is more like techno. And she could also handle it very quickly, although she actually isn’t so technology minded otherwise. You don’t have to be with the controller (Push). It’s kind of self-explanatory, I think, mostly.

At this point of our interview, Julia König, the friend Pake produces with turns up and we asked her to chime in as well.

Julia König: Very intuitive. Because you really do not need instructions, but just get going and then quickly realize that exactly what you expected happens. I find it works on a gut level, very feminine actually.

Do you want to use Push mainly for music production or also for performances?

This is definitely a plan. It’s about being active live and also being able to produce faster in general. The friend with whom I work, brought some friends from a label with her once and they were the ones who actually got me to take a look at Live.

More on Ableton Push.

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