You have the con: for tactile control, the patch is fully integrated with Akai’s APC40 controller for Ableton Live. Photo courtesy Darren Cowley.

Ableton Live may have “Live” in the name, but just as with any musical equipment, getting it ready for a show often involves elaborate configuration to make reliable control a reality. Over its decade-long life, Live has been tweaked, adjusted, and cajoled into road-ready digital rigs. With Max for Live a kind of software developer kit for Live users, that has led some users to share their configurations. I’ve been watching Darren Cowley iterate his own Isotonik setup, a combination of hardware control, software template, and custom Max for Live devices, for some time now. That rig has finally matured to the point that he’s ready to share. Get ready for some hard-core Ableton geekery – though it might just be your next live Live setup.

Isotonik couples on-screen virtual devices with the physical controls of the APC40, but going beyond the default configuration from Akai and Ableton. Like a dashboard for your Live set, the software/hardware combo consolidates controls for cueing up and activating tracks, launching and looping scenes, slicing up beats, and adding audio effects. (Glitch, anyone?) Sure, you could do these things without Isotonik, but by bringing together rapid assignment of effects and navigation between tracks, the software becomes a kind of cheat – in a good way.

In fact, it’s compelling enough as a story that I think it’s worth reading even if you don’t use Live, the APC, or Max for Live.

A new release was just updated today with fewer objects and greater performance. And in addition to the template, the package includes some really fantastic effects, themselves worth the price of entry.

The price is a scant GBP £14.99, with an extraordinary amount of software included. Full details, documentation, and download link at Darren’s site:
http://thestudiosessions.co.uk/

For my own part, I’ve found myself getting a bit existential when thinking about this problem. Which makes more sense, musically: adding a layer atop something like Live to gain rapid access to features, or simply building from scratch (in environments like Max, Pd, SuperCollider, and the lot), in order to put together only those building blocks you need? The former is more complex and the latter potentially more reliable, though I always find that finding simpler solutions often involves more work, not less (especially if the words “from scratch” come into play). There’s no right answer to these questions, though; only an answer for you. So I think it’s well worth having a look at how Darren has approached this. You might just find the result is exactly what you need, and even if not, it provides some serious insight into the workflow of making Ableton Live, Max for Live, and the APC40 come together for real use.

Isontonik Template – Demonstration from Darren E Cowley on Vimeo.

I asked Darren to share his thoughts about the background of the project, how he put it together, and how he uses the result.

I managed to persuade [retailer] DV247 to let me buy their shop demo APC40 and by the end of the second I was frustrated with what I couldn’t do…. Having a DJ background I missed being able to tweak the bass’s across all the tracks at the same time but hardmapping these controls lost me the ability to use what the APC was designed for with it’s blue hand control of racks….

Pretty quickly I found myself using the excellent [MIDI software utility] bome’s midi translator to remap controls to solve this problem, one problem solved I found I enjoyed the challenge more than playing the music and so I set about creating a second mode of control based more on my playing style with CDJ’s. At the same time the nativeKONTROL series came out so I decided to share my template with anyone who already had a copy of Bomes….

With the announcement of Max4Live I started to get interested and when the invite to the beta landed on email I was made up, sadly after a month of testing I still didn’t have a stable version and so in release day I shelled out like many others for what appeared an unproven piece of software that had the promise of greatness…

I quickly set about creating a device that would give me control over the macros in the first rack giving back that DJ mixer style control, one of the first devices to be uploaded onto max4live.com I got some excellent feedback and made some new contacts who prompted me to keep developing. Many brick walls were hit and thanks to people like Mike Chenetz of max4live.info and Andrew Pask of Cycling I managed to get my head around some of the undocumented control_surfaces functions….

A two week break on a beach in Thailand with a pad and an ipod gave me the opportunity to sketch out how I saw the controls would work, deciding on the scene launch buttons as my scene choosers….

Pretty soon I had worked out how to make five different scenes of controls for the clip stop buttons, 8 others for the Activate/Cue Solo/Rec Arm Buttons…. Reset functionality for my macros and a slave version of the master device to reduce the overall size of the device.

I wanted a simple scene that enabled the standard functionality with a slight twist, the clip stop buttons should light up if a clip was playing in a track and I should be able to launch the highlighted clip, play it again or play the clip below whilst still having the red-box control….

Next came a scene that could give me some semblance of Traktor like looping control, and then I wanted to be able to activate a 2 bar loop on a clip even if it wasn’t in focus….

Inspired by the monome performance videos I spent ages trying to work out how to mimic the effect with the 8 clip stop buttons spending ages working with the playing_position function to not find a satisfactory result, then a fantastic how to video from Mike Chenetz led me to look into the chucker object and quickly I had a running metronome that could play back a slice of the last two bars of audio much like Clist’s beatlookup, that I could change the size of the slice with a twist of the Cue Volume knob…

The original Keymasher Tim Exile had just released the Finger and a guy called GBSR on the Controllerism forum had just posted a similar effect using an impressive routing system using Abletons sends, given Max4live control over the Live API I created the ability to punch audio to a return track and then send that return track to another chaining effects….

The Max for Live device that brings it all together. Click for larger version.

Macro controls for effects.

When playing I find I normally use the vanilla/standard scene but then jump into a different scene mid track to add some variation to what I’m playing, with the addition of the ability to control all 8 sends on each track with the track control, a smart knob per track that can handle 8 different effects and finally a Looper controlled from the APC40′s transport buttons

I’m probably at the point of Ableton not being able to cope much more, with each update from Ableton and Cycling 74 the whole setup has become more and more stable and I predict even bigger things when they’ve completed their “Quality” drive….

Thanks, Darren.

Trying this tool out? Got your own rig for Max for Live – or other software – that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear your feedback. You know where to find us.

APC40, now your cockpit for slicing, dicing, and effects, all macro-mapped. Photo courtesy Darren Cowley.
  • Rubinski

    I was hesitating between an APC40 and a Lauchpad + whatever with knobs and faders, now I have my answer. It looks insane ! Well done, Darren !

  • Mastah Lee

    Ha, this thing is right up my alley. I'm actually deep in the creation of my own launchpad interface redesign Max For Live patch.

    I've taken a look at the isotonik patch before, and it has some impressive functionality, but is a bit too heavy-weight for what I was looking for. I'll have to look at how they did the beat-chopping algorithm, because unless its using a buffer I'd be interested on how he approached it. I had to take a rather, shall we say, unorthodox approach to get a usuable result.

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    @Rubinski

    Thanks mate, sorry for your wallet…

    @Mastah Lee,

    My first lightweight version (wip) is based on the slicing effect and is very cpu light…. No buffers needed…. I intend to produce more limited functionality versions based on user requests…. All of course part of the updates,,,,

    Cheers

    D

  • Mastah Lee

    Hey, thanks for the response Darren. When you say "slicing effect" are you talking about using the move_playing_pos function call, or are you putting the sample in a rack and slicing it up that way? I ask as I've never gotten move_playing_pos to work in a satisfactory manner and racks don't seem to work with warped clips, and therefore doesn't suit my purpose. I guess I should just take a look at your code (at work right now, so unable at the moment).

    You might not need it, but perhaps we could benefit from sharing our experiences. I'll try to hit you up on email or something.

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    @mastah lee

    move_playing_position sucks, myfalur's patch is the only one close and you have to load everything into Ram to get a decent effect, mine works more like beatlookup in that you can mash the last bar or two bars depending on how large you want the slices to be, you can then control the order in which they play, this isn't a cuepoint Traktor style thing though as the original audio keeps running, think of it more like the slip effect on the CDJ900 (ever the DJ me!)

    and sharing sounds good to me mate, darrenecowley at sky.com

    Cheers

    D

  • http://facebook.com/dynamostar Cesar Morera (Dynamo

    Ok that looks pretty good, I think there will be more uses of this tool with a Zero MKII than the APC

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    @Cesar

    Could well be, the device has manual midi map points but i've yet to troubleshoot these consistently….

    Cheers

    D

  • http://tagmagic.wordpress.com Jaime Munarriz

    I feel more inclined to build a new live tool from scratch, using Pd. I love Live, but these setups seem a bit oversize. I want a tool I know from the inside up. And some fancy conections with OSC with Processing can add some AI spices.

  • Robin

    Doesn't really seem like an advantage to the very clear architecture Ableton provides. I find it more a mask of essential musical concepts in the form of a sleek interface.

    I'm not so fond of quality of the effects in the demonstration, they tend to sound very static and lineair. Which really makes the output more a "gimmick" than a real extension. I'm doubting if this abstraction really brings to the musician closer to the practice of expression.

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    @Jaime i agree, building from scratch was the only way i could achieve exactly what i wanted, as i did so i began to understand a number of people had similar needs and so began to develop the device with other requests in mind, as a result there's more then 200% of what any indvidiual will use based on their playing style and music choice, i can't see many deep house DJ's seeing much value in the beatslicers for example….

    i don't have an intimate knowledge of the other interfaces you describe, i've learnt max4live from scratch due to it's integration within Live and wanted to see how far i could go before scaling things back with specific requests. Building the device has made me understand more than ever what's possible and what's currently not, but max4live is in it's first year so can only get better!!

    @robin

    I understand your point of view, i'm unsure as to what you mean by static with regards to the effects, maybe you could help me understand?

    Bar the Beat Slicer everything else is native to ableton, this template allows the user to switch in and out their effects racks, the work has been placed on giving control from the APC, which effects etc. you run is down to your own preference, i have simply provided a starting point…..

    The aim was simply to provide the user more control over their own sets from the APC40 which is sadly lacking in some of the tools many DJ's have come to rely upon over the years….

    Cheers

    D

  • http://cooptrol.com cooptrol

    I am using Launchpad and Live. After being through a million M4L patches and the monome emulator plus all the M4L monome apps available, I found out the original Launchpad-Live script is what I need for a 1 hour live set. The big find of my search is that all my clips must be MIDI in order to achieve the weird timbre/rythm manipulations we all love. I insterted different Live MIDI Effects on each track which do the frenzy work, and it does all the glitch I need so far. Using audio clips is so limiting…

  • djsrulez

    Great work Darren! Been following your site and watching the development for a long time. It just makes me wonder why Ableton or APC didnt offer something like this…I guess one man can make a difference =)

    Will be purchasing and using shortly…again great work Darren!

  • Michael chenetz

    Darren has worked real hard on these patches. I have had the privilege to see the progression of patches since the beginning of his journey with M4l. His latest creation looks really nice and I hope to see more from him in the future.

    Great job Darren

    Regards,

    Mike

  • followerX

    can i use this patch also without apc 40?

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    Thanks for the feedback guys, and i'd not have got anywhere without Michaels help over at max4live.info

    @followerx

    in theory everything is midi mappable however i havent thoroughly road tested it bar creating it using a nanoKontrol when the apc40 wasnt available…

    Cheers

    D

  • http://routeit.noisepages.com gbsr

    grats darren heh.

    also: if you dont have this yet; why not?

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    @gbsr no worries man, thanks for the inspiration….

    Isotonik 5.6 is now uploaded to the members of the dropbox in two flavours with or without the looper depending on how much RAM your system can use…. Also added a master reset so setup becomes a lot easier…

    Cheers

    D

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk darren E Cowley

    Make it version 5.7…..

    Ancient bugs such as the slicer getting stuck and devices not being controlled properly have all been troubleshooted and tested….

    http://thestudiosessions.co.uk to join in the fun

    Cheers

    D

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  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    For anyone without an APC40 version 5.8 is totally midi mappable!!

    Cheers

    D

  • ak

    Darren, sign me up! i paid via paypal. i want to check this template out.

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    On board mate!!

    Cheers

    D

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    5.9.2 Release Notes:

    Firstly it's named after the prolific Negotiator, you'll find some of his effects within the return tracks as i've built them into the racks already found there, this guy can do some amazing things with just the native effects and some excellent mapping….

    I've continued the theme of making things slimmer with the result that the devices in the 4 tracker have slimmed from 41.6MB for version 4.3 (the last one that was available on max4live.com to 15MB for the latest version, considerably reducing CPU and RAM use….

    In the GUI underneath the returns heading (remember you can hold down metronome and click on the returns button in the scene launch buttons to bring up a floating window of the macros of the last Return track to receive audio, these are then controlled with the knobs of the Send A bank) there are three new buttons….

    1: ON/OFF – this controls the automatic follow action, you can change it by clicking or by holding down record quantize and clip stop 7

    2: Again/Below – this controls the behaviour of the follow action and does what it says on the tin, you can change it again by clicking or by holding down record quantise and clip stop 8

    3: 1/8's / 1/4's – this is the divisions of the slicer on scene three, therefore each button can represent a beat or half beat, 2 bars or one bar… This is currently only changeable by clicking but means you can have different settings for each track….

    Still to do:

    More work on the looper, i need it within a rack on a return to reduce the overall cpu so it has a reverse utility track, the play/rec/overdub functions are not mappable in a rack to macros but M4L looks like it'll be able to do it in time through the State parameter. For the moment i'll continue to use the aka.keyboard external but this adds 3GB to the master device so alternative suggestions are welcomed.

    In a previous save the smart maps for the Sm4rt control became overwritten with the same graph for every setting, i'll come back and reconfigure these at a later date as currently the Sm4rt feature is still a big drain on CPU and is generally only safe to use when just two tracks are playing…. I'll try some other things i've learnt recently and this may be a point update in the future…

    As ever the template is available by clicking the banner below which takes you to my blog….

    Cheers

    D

  • aom

    Do I have to have a copy of Max For Live to run this patch? I'm interested in buying your template but I am not interested in M4L (learning ableton is taking up to much of my time as it is).

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    Hi Aom,

    Yes you do need Max4live to run the template….

    Although you wouldn't need to learn M4l to use it….

    Cheers

    D

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    Really chuffed to have got a mention in tensnakes interview with Future Music magazine this month….

    Cheers

    D

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley
  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    http://darrencowley.blogspot.com/2010/07/follow-a

    Now includes follow action at clip end and momentary dummy clip control device!

    Cheers

    D

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    Isotonik 6 – control linked to the Redbox and not fixed to just eight tracks, a complete rebuild from the ground up to drastically reduce CPU usage…..

    COMING SOON!

    Cheers

    D

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    Isotonik 6 i s now released, controlling up to and beyond 16 tracks is now possible!!

    Video later!

    Cheers

    D

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    http://darrencowley.blogspot.com/2010/08/i-s-o-t-

    Full walkthrough video!!

    Cheers

    D

  • Kenny S

    Very nice work Darren.

    I haven't had time to dive into the Max-Live development whirl yet, hopefully soon. It sounds like you've got a few bruises (hopefully no scars ;-) ) to show for your willingness to tackle a big project like that while the products are still teething, etc. OTOH, you're way up on the front of the curve.

    Maybe you can answer one thing I've been wondering about re: the capabilities of Max4Live: as a DJ one of the things that really bothers me with Live is the inability to see more than one track at a time in Clip View – as a DJ yourself, perhaps you can also relate to my frustration. Being able to glance back and forth and see a graphical representation of the tracks I'm playing and cueing is ingrained in me and for good reasons, IMO. So the big question on my mind is whether Max4Live provides any possibility of displaying the wave forms of playing clips and and if so, can it display more than one at a time? I apologize for not doing my own homework on this and I welcome being pointed in the the right direction if you don't have time to reply in depth.

    Thanks!

    -Kenny

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    I've not seen it done yet, but i imagine it's possible, i think the miss pinky guys and especially Mudo and Bentosan have done some great work in max4live but i'm some way away from their project….

    Cheers

    D

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    Isotonik 6.0.3 now uploaded to the dropbox….

    Includes new R3turn device….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2S0CocCzVk

    Cheers

    D

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-1iO3mk7xM

    The latest Sl1cer device!

    Cheers

    D

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzGKjkS_fI0

    D1sabler…. Disable the controls of the APC40either permanently or dynamically….

    Cheers

    D

  • Yan

    hi Darren;

    first, thank you for your work, and sorry for my poor english (i'm french). hope you understand ….

    i 've got an APC20 and a UC16, i would like to know if it's possible to use isotonik template with the APC20 and replace the knobs part of the APC40 with the UC16's knobs ?

    is it hard to configure and do u think all functions work well ?

    i want to buy isotonik template, but i want to be sure it works before.

    Cheers

    Yan

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    Hi Yan,

    The knobs functionality is a simple midi mapping so you could use any knobs, you'd need 16 to fully replace what the APC40 has….

    As i haven't got an APC20 it would probably need some trouble shooting but if the control_surface scripts are similar i imagine it should work….

    No promises though!!

    Cheers

    D

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    Send me an email to darrenecowley at sky dot com and we can see what we can work out….

    Cheers

    D

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  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    Now developing a version for the Launchpad!

  • http://thestudiosessions.co.uk Darren E Cowley

    http://bit.ly/ho7t7C

    Free M4L device for the APC40 allows you to select the waveforms of clips using the APC40 clip launch buttons without launching the clip!

    Cheers

    D

  • http://www.isotonikstudios.com Darren E Cowley

    About to release version 8 of the device with deep levels of configurability…. New website going live imminently at http://www.isotonikstudios.com

    Cheers

    D