A while ago I looked at the subject of making music using computer hardware and software. Essentially covering the starting points for getting the budding musician off the ground and hopefully getting something down.

One of the pieces of software I mentioned was Ableton Live a combined audio and MIDI manipulation suite with a learning curve that is surprisingly friendly to the beginner while providing the peformance muscle for the more experienced user. Where I fall between those two posts is anybody’s guess (although perennially confused often sums up the job most of the time).

Live now in its fifth incarnation is one of those pieces of software that has rapidly expanded beyond its original remit. As a musician’s tool it encompasses the roles of trusted assistant in the fields of composition, arrangement and performance.

Despite having an interface that looks like something out of Star Trek the package has a very intuitive style to it. If you’re familiar with working with software based sequencers then Live will hold few surprises for you. However where it does score points above the competition is the way it functions without those obnoxious multi layered displays that other packages often rely on.

At no point will Live ever start to push your screen real estate to a premium, everything functions as part of a self contained window, if you don’t need to access one particular bank of features a single click will fold them out of the way, however another click can bring them back again in just the same way.

Its factors like this which make Live such a favourite with members of the electronic music community. The package has being acknowledged as a vanguard of the digital DJ’s arsenal and its compact visual presence means that the laptop computer has become as much its natural home as any other.

The actual software is primarily designed to work with existing compositions so in essence despite its wealth of features Live is still designed to compliment an existing musical setup (for example you would export a track or parts of a track from another package such as Logic or Cubase).

Live however does support MIDI manipulation as well as working with audio so if you so desire you can overlay new parts over your existing masterpiece or over someone elses work if you fancy your skills in the remixing department. Working with audio however is where the real fun begins, mainly because Live is capable of making dramatic changes to a piece of music on the fly, so there are no annoying delays and pauses while you wait for the software to catch up with your ideas.

The potential for creating your very own remixes with this software is nothing short of staggering. With a little bit of perseverance you find yourself performing quite complicated tasks (such as fairly intricate time alterations) without hassle, again all this is down to the ease of use with which Live allows the individual to work.

Once you’ve got all your timing set then you can start adding a range of effects to your work. You can link effects together to create new and interesting sounds, the standard plethora of echoes and delays are expected but some of the beat manipulation effects lend a sense of organised chaos to proceedings and can quickly take something quite mundane out into decidedly more exciting realms.

The latest version has taken the audio manipulation to new heights making time stretching and warping (for example making a vocal “fit” an accompaniment) even easier than it was before. Even without reading the manual Live is one of those packages where things just seem to make sense. With the previous versions I often had many “accidents” which resulted in things happening I was happy with, yet the new model leaves me looking at the same results but understanding more conclusively how I go there in the first place.

What we are looking at here is the next generation of equipment for the DJ/producer and one that can function on a machine with fairly modest specification. The fact that everything can happen in realtime means that a loop or break that you know is sending the crowd nuts can be latched and extended to give a set a longer build and when its served its purpose simply unlatched and sent on its way allowing the mix to continue. Its all exciting stuff.

Finally in terms of availability, Live runs on both PC and Macintosh platforms including a Universal Binary for the new Intel chipped Macs that have just come on to the market.

If you’re a musician that runs a software based setup that doesn’t include Live at the moment the only thing I’ve got to say is, why not?