One year of M4L; what did it give us ?

First of all let it be well known that although I am quite enthusiastic here I’d probably have missed this event all together if it weren’t for a forum thread on the Cycling ’74 forums. Lets be realistic: this was basically before my time so to speak…

Around this time last year I was busy looking more into synthesizers as a whole and wondering if I should be getting myself the Roland SH201 or perhaps ‘go software’ by grabbing something like the latest Cubase. Heck; maybe I should be doing both ?

But eventually I picked up on Ableton Live, shortly after that I updated to the full Suite and right from the start got fascinated by what I read on the Max for Live product page. At that time I was totally clueless about what this could do for me, although I was now somewhat familiar with Max for Live I still didn’t have the foggiest idea what this “Max” thing was all about. And so it was mid-december last year when I finally decided that I liked what I saw and dove head first into Max for Live. Something I never regretted and now I finally got a good look at what got many people in the forums worked up…

Quick recap..

For those of you who don’t know what this is all about I’d like to point out my Max fanpage. Max is a visually programming language, in general aimed at multimedia purposes and developed by Cycling ’74. The 10 year history didn’t manage to escape Ableton and as such they decided to team up with Cycling ’74 to try and implement the Max programming language directly into Ableton Live. The result is obvious: Max for Live. And please don’t pick this up to lightly: in every sense of the word you’re really picking up Max which is ’embedded’ in Ableton Live.

Meaning: you’ll even be able to create and use full blown Max patches if you want to. (note: usage is done with the freely available runtime).

So what was in it for us?

First of all some controversy. I’d be lying if I’d ignore this part; whereas Max could be used “freely” by the provided runtime Max for Live didn’t have this luxury. Meaning: if you have a Max patch and you want to use it you simply download the runtime and start using the patch. But if you want to use a Max for Live patch you’ll need to buy a Max for Live license because there is no such thing as a runtime for it.

But most of all it gave us a whole new dimension to Live itself.  Max for Live (or ‘M4L’) provides means to control and expand on Live. Although it still has a few quirks here and there (even at the time of writing) it nevertheless provides. From implementing options to pause Live’s playback right to providing a different kind of compressor device; M4L can and most likely will prevail.

If you’re the kind of guy who has been using Ableton Live and often wondered: “I’d really like to be doing X yet I know Live cannot do that” it maybe beneficial for you to look into M4L. M4L can most likely deliver.

BUT…   What was in for us…

First of all I’d like to point your attention to the Max for Live dot com website. A site which provides a place for M4L fans to open up an account and either share their own patches or download those shared by others. Its not perfect; I will still go on the record by stating that I’d prefer for downloads to be made freely available (= without registration being required) but having said that I’ll also go on the record stating that they provide a very fair and reliable website. Fair in the sense that this website hasn’t been spammed ever in the major forums for Max for Live (don’t take my word for it: you can find the ‘official’ Cycling ’74 forum here, and Ableton themselves also have a dedicated forum, you can find that one here). Unlike some other “do gooder” they never spammed the community. And reliable given the sense that I can see that their stats on downloads aren’t exaggerated when looking at the visitors on my own website which came from there.

So this one is first; a reliable and trustworthy place for your M4L interests.

Second, although I already mentioned them above, the forums where many people like myself are ready and willing to try and give you a helping hand should you by any chance get stuck somewhere. That is the real Max for Live community.

I’d also like to point your attention to one of the “better known” names in the Live community who also didn’t hesitate much to fully adopt M4L and gave right back to the community itself. Now, “big names” mean nothing to me; I only base my opinion on the way a person or a group manifests itself, the work they do and on general impression. For example; I really like some of stuff Elton John produced yet I’m pretty sure that I’d dislike him with a passion when it comes to Mr. John as a person.

Having said that I’d still like to point your attention to the Covert Operators, who not only shared some very valuable Live material over the past years (free Live packs) but also share a good dose of very useful M4L patches. In my personal opinion stuff which you should really consider spending some quality time on to check it all out.

Out of the box material..

Although I normally don’t edit my blog posts I’m making an exception now since I overlooked an important detail: the instruments and devices which come with M4L itself. After you installed M4L you’ll end up with 3 new categories in your device browser: Max Instrument, Max Midi Effect and Max Audio Effect. And all of them contain several readily-made Max devices for you to use…

Now, I’m not going into details on devices like the step sequencer or the buffer shuffler and such, those got their share of attention already. And there is much more besides that being provided..

So here are a few M4L devices which you get when picking up on M4L and can be used out of the box (just drag them in and start using them):

  • Pluggo instruments: From an Analogue drum designer to a pad creation device (‘Additive Heaven’) right to some saw bass sounds (‘Bassline’) and miscellaneous stuff like a Big Ben sound.
  • Cool midi effects like Monolake’s advanced step sequencer ‘px 18’.
  • Impressive audio tools like a whole different compressor (‘Max Compressor’), a fully tunable ring modulator (‘AutoRingMod’) or what about the effect matrix? A comb filter, delay and frequency shift all in one device. Or do you need a 31band equalizer (‘EqGraphic31’) or a multiband delay (‘DelayMultiBand’) instead?
  • And finally extensive material to work with, all ‘folders’ come with tools and building blocks. Small devices which you can either use out of the box or use as a building block to start with. A stereo adjuster, a stutterer, the ‘fragulator’ right up to a chorus effect or waveshaper.

Now, I have been quite critical about these devices as a whole; I still think that although this is quite some massive material which they included I still wouldn’t pick up M4L solely for these effects. M4L still has a few quirks, and the same applies to some of these devices. You’ll get the best out of them when you start to edit and study them; to either improve them for your own or use it as a start or idea for your own devices…

And so, last but certainly not least I’m pretty sure that in the end M4L gave most of us a very fun time. It can be a rough time when you just got to know it; sometimes picking it all up and piecing the stuff together can be difficult, yet I’m confident that in the end M4L can turn out to be an invaluable expansion on Ableton Live.

So..  Happy Birthday Max for Live, and kudo’s to both Ableton and Cycling ’74 (perhaps better put in the opposite order) for providing us users with some very invaluable material to really stretch out and get the most out of Live!



  1. Still… m4l looks hard to me.

    You do manage to make it look good though.. Could you tell me pls; would m4l be something for a drummer like me?

    I drum in live, record stuff, do stuff and send it off to friends. got live.

    not sure here, but this still looks pretty cool!

    Thanks for ur posts, love readin them though they do are long! LOL!

  2. Hi there, thanks for your reaction!

    Well, it heavily depends really…  M4L could make your live usage easier. For example; the ‘Autorec’ patch I wrote could be easy to get Live to start recording as soon as you fed some sound into it. That would stop always needing you to hit a button or pedal to make it start recording.

    But on the other hand given the money it costs I do think that you’ll get the most benefit from it if you’re also willing to spend some quality time to learn at least some basics…  I personally doubt if the currently available patches makes it all worth (also see the website for an overview of available stuff).

    And yes, I do think it can be hard. When it comes to sound effects and such you not only need to know how M4L works, but also need to know how the whole sound manipulation actually works.

    M4L basically excels at specific multimedia stuff (sound effects, instruments, etc) and automating / doing stuff with Live.

    But when it comes to merely recording audio and sharing that with friends I can’t help having some doubts.  Still, you can always demo it to give it a shot…

    Hope this gives you some ideas…

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