This is what a Monolake live set sounded like in 1999. And in the days before Ableton Live was a finished product, running patterns was a job for self-built software in Max.

Robert describes the music thusly:

This is a live recording, captured at Ego club in Düsseldorf, June 5 1999. The music has been created with a self written step sequencer, the PX-18, controlling a basic sample player and effects engine, all done in MaxMSP, running on a Powerbook G3. The step sequencer had some unique features, e.g. the ability to switch patterns independently in each track, which later became an important part of a certain music software.

I found the recording on a backup disk today. It has not been edited or mastered. During the first 20 minutes of the set, and before the ‘encore’ the Monolake CD ‘Gobi’ is playing in the background.

What strikes me about this is that both the music and the patch hold up nicely a decade and a half later.

You can see the Max patch at top. You’ll notice those are modern widgets; Robert just opened it in the newest version of Max. But the software, too, endures. And embedded in the constraints of this patch are some of the kind of formal restrictions Robert imposes on his music. With a fixed number of parts on tracks, the sonic materials sound like a consistent ensemble — the shapes of the sounds shifting over time, but still discrete, recognizable objects.

The thought also occurs that there’s still value in working this way today, even with Live as a choice. You could certainly load this sort of pattern maker into Live with Max for Live. But you might also put together a different kind of performance if you channeled your musical ideas into this kind of DIY creation.

I’ll be talking tonight about that topic at Coding the Club here in Amsterdam; I’ll share some notes on that presentation afterward.

By the way, I will quote Robert from a previous discussion on his site of Ableton Live, so as not to bring an old myth back to life:

According to an old myth Live is based on a MAX patcher. This would be completely impossible to do! What is true, is that before there was Live, there were MAX patches and Reaktor ensembles by Gerhard and me that did a lot of things we both found interesting, like timestreching beat loops, or a sequencer that allowed to switch between individual patterns for each instrument in real time.

From: http://monolake.de/technology/ableton_live.html

Actually, what isn’t impossible is to build a small subset of functionality from Live into Max or Pd, and that can also be an interesting exercise. (Or throw that back into Max for Live and … well, have not really many limitations at all!)

  • Diego

    This is incredible! Is there any synthesis going on at all or is it all just samples?

    • enparticular

      it says samples and fx engine. it was a powerbook g3, doing synthesis also would be too cpu intensive i guess!

    • DPrty

      No synthesis just samples. Everyone is so caught up with analog synths these days but it always seemed to me the way forward is definitely sample based.

    • Random Chance

      The way forward in terms of technology would be something like physical modelling because computers become ever more powerful and we can do elaborate physical simulations (be it of pipes, membranes or electrical circuits) in real-time. These models, if they are any good, allow a degree of freedom and expressivenes that is hard or impossible to match with samples or other approaches. Which does not mean that we cannot do interesting thigns with samples. I wholeheartedly agree that we should keep in mind that using unashamedly digital techniques can nicely complement the use of analog or physical instruments.

  • heinrich zwahlen

    Monolake was awesome and deserve a lot of credit for pioneering this deep dubby tech style…along with Hardwax of course.

  • Octopus Empire

    hugely inspiring stuff, maybe I need to put some time and thought into Reaktor or PD. Given the Monodeck didn’t appear until 2003 any clues as to what, if any, control surface was driving all this in the gig?

    • V

      I believe he used custom build hw controllers. At least I saw him still using one in ~2004

  • Paradidde

    4dex reaktor ensemble made by monlake definitely the forerunner of live

  • dersud

    the px-18 is also available as a maxforlive device for free and bloody fantastic

  • ceasless

    Sorry I missed you in Amsterdam Peter! Hope you make it back again soon.

  • ceasless

    Also, I don’t really understand this contradiction from the linked text:

    “It became very easy to make music. And this is bad. Everyone can make a boring uninspired piece of music in a lunch break, and it will sound good and ‘professional’. It became really very, very easy to make music with our software. And this is great!”

    Sounds elitist in the first half and then turns it around to the complete opposite in the second half. I mean, I get it. But usually people are on one side or the other, not stating both at the same time with a straight face.

  • Nagasaki Nightrider

    Robert Henke is the best.

  • Rich Conrad

    dont forget vintage sineqube max patches! i still use them on my powerbookg3!!! they are amazing for stuttering,glitchy music…… worth buying a vintage powerbook to use