Recording - April 2016 - 72

21st Century Schizoid Jam
Ableton Link brings easy, satisfying collaboration to electronic music

Editorial by Mike Metlay
Just last night-the night before this
magazine went to press-I got a stunning hands-on introduction to a new
technology that is slowly spreading
through the world of digital music. I was
so impressed that I elected to stop the
presses and tell you about it sooner
rather than later. It's called Ableton Link.
Anyone who's ever worked with electronic musicians knows that while synthesizers and drum machines can do amazing things no acoustic instrument can do,
they also have trouble with certain
things almost any musician can do....
like playing in time with others.
Think about what's involved in a basic
jam session. People play together and
listen to one another. They naturally stay
in time, and they understand when to
come in and drop out in sync with their
fellows. Unless they're playing to a click
track, tempo is fluid and maintained
cooperatively. And if someone comes in
or drops out in the middle of the song,
things don't fall apart-the jam simply
lets the new instruments come and go.
The problem is, machines don't have
a natural understanding of musical timekeeping. They need a rigid master clock
that tells them when to start and stop,
they usually don't know where bar lines
are, and they rely on complex cabling to
keep everything connected (assuming
everything even understands the same
timing protocols). Wouldn't it be wonderful if synth players-whether stage performers, composers, songwriters, or just
friends having fun-could just jam?
That's where Link comes in.
Link is available in version 9.6 of
Ableton's Live DAW software, and it's
also available as a free SDK (Software
Developer Kit) that can be added to any
iOS app by the app's developer. As of
this writing, about two dozen apps have
added Link, and more are popping up
every day. Early adopters (myself included) are hoping that someday Link will
become a universal standard the way
MIDI is, but even what we have available now is enough to do some really
lovely music.
72

RECORDING April 2016

Here's how it works. Link is enabled in the Settings window of each iOS app, or in Live's
Preferences. You elect to activate Link on an app-by-app basis; once you flip the switch, the
app remembers that it's ready to Link, even if you quit and restart it. Oh, and you don't
need a copy of Live to use Link; the iOS apps that support it can Link all by themselves.
Once you've enabled Link, all you need to do is make sure that your computer and/or
iOS devices are all on the same Wi-Fi network. For my first test, I used a dedicated Apple
Airport Express router, simply because I wanted to test something that I could take to gigs.
In most cases you'll just use the Wi-Fi that's already in the room where you're playing.
When a Link-enabled app starts up, it sets the tempo for the session. Any other
devices in the room that are running Link-enabled apps immediately tell their users that
there's an available Link. When those other apps hit Play, they come in at the next
bar line and stay in time with the first machine. Most apps offer a visual "crawl" to
show where you are in the bar;
others add additional cues like a
count-in indicator (Korg's Gadget
is fabulous for this-see the
screenshot at right).
Once all these machines are
playing together, anyone can
change the tempo and all Linked
machines will adjust to it automatically. Anyone can jump in at any
time and they'll do so in sync, and
anyone (even the person who started the jam) can jump out while
leaving everyone else playing merrily along. Once you start playing,
there's no fuss at all, nothing to watch or keep track of, and it's all done wirelessly in a
way that doesn't impact anything else your machines are doing. It just works.
I'd been curious about Link since it was announced at Ableton's Loop conference in
Berlin last October, but I hadn't had a chance to try it since it was officially released a
couple of months ago. That all changed last night, when I finally made the time to
give Link a try in my own rig. I had to make time, because I thought if it was anything
like setting up every other sync network I'd ever built, it might prove tricky to get right.
Ha!
I plugged in my spare Airport Express and set my iPad, iPhone, and laptop to its
network. I launched Korg Gadget on my iPad, Audanika SoundPrism Link Edition on
my iPhone, and Live 9.6 on my laptop... and suddenly they were all making music.
Not just all playing at once-making music.
Everything played nicely together. I could stop and start any app (or Live), change
apps, even turn off devices entirely, without hurting the session tempo or putting devices
out of sync. Everything sat nicely in the pocket and tracked smoothly when I adjusted the
tempo on any device. I tried other apps: apeSoft's iVCS3, Auxy (the iPhone version),
Alexandernaut's Fugue Machine, Olympia Noise Co.'s Patterning, A Tasty Pixel Loopy
HD, Korg iKaossillator... everything ran seamlessly. I could concentrate on playing,
developing ideas, experimenting with chord progressions, with nary a hiccup.
Going from setup to jamming took only a few minutes, and that time was almost entirely
taken up by setting up the Wi-Fi and turning on Link in the various apps. The next time I
did it (this morning, when I should have been getting ready for work), it was as simple as
launching a couple of apps and hitting Play. I was actually jamming for a while before I
realized I hadn't plugged in my Airport Express-my iPad and iPhone had simply found
each other and Linked over my home network, without my having to do a thing.
When Michaela B├╝rgle of Ableton introduced Link last October, she commented
that while Link was a great way to wirelessly add iOS devices into the musicmaking
process in one's own studio, the real fun was in collaborating with others. I've
already planned a Link-based concert at a local venue with a few friends who are
just now exploring what Link can do for them; we're looking forward to actually
composing and improvising rather than worrying about hooking everything up.
I envision a time where friends with laptops and iOS devices will come together in
coffee shops to jam and write songs, the same way their friends with acoustic instruments already do. Before Link, that was a pipe dream; now it's just about here.
Mike Metlay (mike@recordingmag.com) is the editor of Recording.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - April 2016

Contents
Recording - April 2016 - Intro
Recording - April 2016 - Cover1
Recording - April 2016 - Cover2
Recording - April 2016 - 1
Recording - April 2016 - 2
Recording - April 2016 - 3
Recording - April 2016 - 4
Recording - April 2016 - 5
Recording - April 2016 - Contents
Recording - April 2016 - 7
Recording - April 2016 - 8
Recording - April 2016 - 9
Recording - April 2016 - 10
Recording - April 2016 - 11
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Recording - April 2016 - Cover3
Recording - April 2016 - Cover4
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