Ableton Loop Review

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I love it when something comes along and the timing just couldn’t be any better. For the last few months I’ve been in a bit of a creative rut, which as followers of my blog know is really not all that uncommon for me. Still, when I was invited to Ableton’s Loop conference this past weekend, an event designed to foster creativity, I have to admit part of me breathed a huge sigh of relief. Perhaps this was something that could kick start my ideas again. As this was an event with very limited attendance, I thought I’d give a brief overview of the weekend for those that couldn’t be there themselves. If you haven’t heard of this event yet, here’s all the details:

https://loop.ableton.com

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Loop was held at Radialsystem V in the heart of Berlin, a large venue with main auditorium for the main presentations, a huge room set up with all sorts of electronic music gear for people to play with, and multiple smaller workshops on the four floors above. While it was obviously an event hosted by Ableton, they made it clear that it was not an event supposed to be ABOUT Ableton. There were many other manufacturers there with gear for people to try, some of the more common ones like Roland and Elektron, a large selection of modular errr…. modules, as well as some more esoteric and experimental bits of gear. It was a nice way to check out things you might not have gotten any hands on time with in-between the talks and workshops.

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I won’t go over all of the workshops and presentations, as I only made it to a few of them due to spending so much time talking to other musicians, producers, and developers through out Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Not to mention quite a few people I’ve known “virtually” for years who work at Ableton, it was a good chance to put a face to the names at last.

There were a few highlights I can talk about from the presentations I did manage to see however.

Friday Robert Henke gave a keynote about the power of failure to drive success. Despite being sick as a dog, he did an excellent job setting the tone for the weekend, and have one of the best quotes I heard all weekend when he said “Success points to your past, failure points to your future”. Meaning, it’s nice to have success, but if you’re only ever chasing that, it leads you to keep repeating the same things over and over. Risking failure forces you to expand your ideas and try new things, or work improve on those things you know you can’t achieve yet. A simple statement, but powerful.

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On Saturday there was panel discussion about creating new instruments and ways to play music with Gerhard Behles (Ableton), Carla Scaletti (Symbolic Sound/Kyma), Stephan Schmitt (NI Founder), and Roger Linn. Good insight into the thought processes about how they designed the equipment they’re most known for. I thought it was nice that they all answered honestly about what they consider their biggest failures so far. For Stephan it was the fact that Guitar Rig never caught on as a stage tool for guitarists, Gerhard said he regretted the way Grooves was implemented in Live, and Carla said she is always making mistakes in order to learn and improve from them.

Roger Linn won the discussion though when he said “Remember in the 80’s when music got sterile, lost it’s human feel, alienated musicians around the world, and made people discount electronic music for decades to come? Yeah, that was my fault”. He was referring to inventing quantization, but it still got a good laugh from everyone in the crowd.

The highlight of Saturday for me were the two panels that Young Guru was a part of. I admit, while I had heard of him and knew he was a well-known engineer in the hop hop world, I didn’t realize just HOW famous he was, nor the sheer number of classic albums he had a direct hand in. Despite this, he was so down to earth and eager to share his views on all things related to music, not just in the panels, but while walking around and talking to people before and after too. And better yet, did so in a very inspiring way. I think a lot of people were really impressed with what he had to share, I know I was. Most of the events at Loop were recorded, when Ableton eventually posts them online,I highly recommend watching the Young Guru ones.

Sunday started off with a bang, literally. The panel was about acoustic drummers and how they adapt to working with electronic music. It featured Katharina Ernst, Kiran Gandhi, and Zach Danziger, each with their own drum kits on stage. Aside from being a LOUD way to wake up on a Sunday morning, they were all such different drummers that there was a huge range of knowledge and technique they shared about all things rhythm. They closed it out with all three of them jamming at once too, by far the loudest event of the weekend by amazing to listen to.

Of course Sunday was also about the big Push 2 and Live 9.5 announcement as well, and really was a great way to wrap up the conference. The Ableton presenters did a great job of showing off the new features, and when gerhard said they would be offering a 30% discount if you traded in your Push 1 and they would then donate those to schools, the place erupted with a standing ovation. The music industry really needs more initiatives like this.

You can view the video of the Push 2, Live 9.5, and Link announcement here: https://vimeo.com/144372872.

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After the conference was over each day, there was a music event that was free for everyone to attend each night. While all the music performed wasn’t always the stuff I’d listen to normally, I think it was all well chosen to show the more experimental side of of electronic music. Really cutting edge stuff, sometimes ambient modular noodlings married to visuals, other times harsh and thunderous bass tones in a pitch black room synced to steam cannons. I think these were recorded as well, so rather than try to describe such esoteric music with words, I’ll wait and let you see/hear for yourself when these come out.

More than anything though, I think what I liked about Loop was that it got people from a lot of different backgrounds into the same room, and gave them a chance to share ideas and find new collaborators for their own projects. It also was interesting to see the same themes come up over and over, both in the official presentations, and just talking to people outside in-between the workshops. Things like:

– Making music is not always fun, especially if you’re a professional. There’s times you just need to plow through and get it done even if it sucks at the time. It IS work after all, you can’t just wait for the fun moments all the time.

– Limitations are good, both in terms of the gear you use and time constraints.

– If you want to get good at writing songs, you need to actually finish as many as you can and release them to the world. Wrap up, move on, and curate any feedback you get to improve things the next time around. Team Supreme’s weekly beat-making contests were a great example. Write a one minute long beat in 30 minutes once a week and post it online. Brilliant.

– If you’re having problems writing music with the gear available today, it’s not the gear, it’s you. Young Guru’s quote on how a craftsman doesn’t blame his tools, and that everything you use can achieve professional results with the right mindset.

– Working with other people always leads to better results than working alone. Maybe a bit controversial for me personally, but it’s something I heard repeated again and again.

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Despite three days of late nights and early mornings, I came away from Loop reinvigorated like I had hoped. It was a chance to see how other people work, not just with the same tools I have, but how they struggle and overcome the same barriers to making music. A reminder that as artists we all go through the same problems, and that sometimes you just need to stop whining and get on with things to push through them.

I was very excited to hear Gerhard hint at Loop 2016 at the end of the weekend, I for one really hope I can make it back again. Thanks to everyone at Ableton for putting on such an incredible weekend, this was definitely one of the most enjoyable music-related weekends I’ve ever had. It’s left me really excited to get back to my own music-making, as soon as I can kick this cold anyway 🙂

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

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