We’re spoiled by modern software as a canvas for experimental sound. Significantly, once constructed and encapsulated, these digital sound devices can fall away, allowing you to explore new noise frontiers through play, not only through calculated sound design. (That very question has come up in very different conversations with developers I’ve had in the last 24 hours or so, so I think it’s worth mentioning – whether it’s something you’ve created or downloaded, you can get to the point where you use your ears and intuition to find sounds.)

Let’s talk about that in regards to Ableton Live and Max. Here, a Max for Live grain instrument you can download right now (from none other than Robert Henke), one that’s coming soon, and to get straight to the sort of music you might make, a beautiful ambient creation and music video from someone working with processing in Max/MSP.

Granulator II

Just-released Granulator II for Max for Live, from sound maestro Robert Henke, has a wide variety of features for creating beautiful, singing timbres. Using “quasi-synchronous granular synthesis,” sound is squeezed and stretched into longer resonant colors. As Robert writes:

It creates a constant stream of short crossfading sections of the source sample, and the pitch, position and volume of each grain can be modulated in many ways to create a great variety of interesting sounds. Granulator II also offers two multimode filters in series to further shape the resulting timbre. Granulator II is the latest incarnation of a series of granular based synthesizers I wrote for my own usage since the additon of real time audio processing to Max in 1997.

Via and Synthtopia.


  • Drag-and-drop sample support (from within Live or your file system)
  • Graphical waveform display with zoom
  • MIDI hold pedal compatibility (and visual feedback
  • Grain size, spray, position parameters, all with real-time modulation
  • LFO
  • “Scan” through files as they play, for everything from one-shots to playable parameters
  • Windowing
  • Amplitude modulation with randomization
  • Velocity-based detuning (which Robert labels “experimental”)
  • Filter/FM ADSR envelope
  • Polyphonic MIDI control
  • Live audio input, using a 200 ms buffer or up to 16 seconds “grab”

Lots of sound samples and explanation on Robert’s site:

Free, under a CC BY-NC 3.0 license. (I still would like to see BSD or even GPL licenses on patches, but CC is not unreasonable. How to license free/open source, commercial, and proprietary patches should perhaps be a round-table post or something soon!)

Upcoming Granular Device for M4l

I’m sure there are many, many granular creations for Max for Live, but this upcoming work looks nice – simple, but with some beautiful sonic possibilities.

Granular Mirror Maze is the work of Maurizio Giri; you can watch his blog Amazing Noise for news on the Device, but he promises it soon.

And speaking of his blog, here’s a nice find by way of it, from 2012 but too gorgeous not to include here:

Beautiful Corruption – mergrim from Masato TSUTSUI on Vimeo.

realtime generated with Max/MSP/Jitter.
point tracking prepared with syntheyes.
soundtrack from “Invisible Landscape …”
2011.4.13 worldwide digital release. (BeatPort / iTMS)
music: mergrim
visual: Masato TSUTSUI

  • Mark Triant

    all this hint-dropping about your inside dope on M4L and/or API situation is driving me nuts, peter.

    what’s most exciting about live 9 for me is the tightened integration with max, the API improvements, and the major expansion of the M4L community by including it in the suite. the quality of the 1st/2nd-party M4L devices has improved notably, and it looks like they’re encouraging Push user mode programming by making the control_surface stuff easier. this ecosystem has ridiculous potential.

    maybe we’ll see a standard for Live OSC via M4L emerge (de facto or otherwise)?

    either way i predict an exciting year for Live-hacking and computer-mediated sound ahead.

    • Peter Kirn

      Sorry, I didn’t intend to imply that with this story. What is it that you wanted to know?

      I want to look more in depth at Push; the documentation for that simply wasn’t finished yet when last I checked, so while we’ll have an inside track, it’s actually too early. 😉

      It may be a similar situation with M4L. Specific questions are welcome, though.

    • jengel

      I’d like to hear more about the improvements to the API

    • Mark Triant

      no specific questions; just somehow developed the impression (from this and, i dunno, your push review?) that you had done/were doing an interview with some M4L insiders regarding push-modding and perhaps ableton/cycling74’s general M4L plans. if that’s not the case, i’d still love to read such an interview.

      the main things i’d like to hear from the M4L pantheon at the moment are:

      1. the present and future of the live API (recent changes, future aspirations, reflections on the process of building it out).

      2. push-modding (how ableton is approaching this as a priority/inevitability; how to do it; how this fits into [or what this bodes for] the rest of the control surface customization landscape).

      3. general vision about how M4L fits into ableton’s future (clearly they’re making it increasingly central to the product and so presumably have still bigger plans for it), including the philosophy that has guided this process of integration. plus general thoughts on how it’s all played out so far.

      basically i just want to hear the team behind M4L talk about it extensively to whatever extent they’re willing :)

  • wingo shackleford

    This is awesome. Granulator is one of my favorite instruments.

  • Benjamin Carey

    Unfortunately Robert’s Live pack is Live 9 only…

  • David

    Granulator II would more aptly be named ‘Granulator for Live 9’. Other than lack of backwards compatibility to max 5 I don’t see that much added to it. Not to say it’s not fine how it is, but I was expecting a lot more when I saw the “II”. I almost suspect it was only updated to give them something to talk about for Max for Live 9 besides 64bit. Like the ‘official unofficial m4L Essentials’ pack…

    Density m4L is the better Granulator II. Sadly it’s not Max 6/Live 9 compatible though (yet?), but the preset morphing and preset sequencing alone puts it head and shoulders above any other granular instrument I’ve seen for m4L. Granulator II feels dated to me.

    • Martin Wheeler

      Density is the most complete, fully featured ‘classic’ granular synthesis plug in for M4L, ( … and parameter automation sequencing with it in Live is definitely some next level stuff) …while Granulator is much more focused on being an ‘instrument’ that you ‘play’.

      They are really quite different in orientation and you can most certainly get stuff out of the one that you would be very unlikely to get out of the other. So it seems a bit silly, and more than a little ungrateful to be complaining when you are offered a _free_ update to this _free_, and extremely useful, plugin.

      Big thanks to Mister Henke for sharing this new version of his ongolng work.

    • David

      Ableton should be grateful. Many, like me, bought m4L in part for Granulator. And I don’t feel it’s ungrateful to express disappointment that a v2 of a tool seems mostly the same as v1, even if it’s free, and even if it’s easily explained by the fact that Henke is (yes, graciously) sharing his own tools and obviously he saw no need to advance it very far beyond what it was. Still, I wish he had. Preset morphing or soemthing would have blown the roof off.

    • Guest

      better ask for a refund from ableton then. i am outraged on your behalf sir and i hope for all our sakes that this injustice is resolved forthrightly.

    • David

      You should get out more, man. I’m sure even Ableton would tell you that.

      For most of us it’s just software and out in the real world it’s totally okay to be disappointed by something. Yes, even if it’s free.

    • Daniel Davis

      I’m pretty sure that Guest was taking the piss.

  • Øivind Idsø