Opinion: Tools Envy - How Music-Making Tools Balance Discovery, Creation
In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, Tencent game designer looks at music-making software Ableton Live, and lessons developers can learn from the way these tools function and their workflow.
[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, Tencent game designer Carlo Delallana looks at music-making software Ableton Live, and lessons developers can learn from the way these tools function and their workflow] Jonathan Blow articulated in a Gamasutra article about games that design themselves. And if we simply listened to the games we create we may discover something new. However, I have to disagree with one of his final statements on the matter. "As games designers this is a power that people working in other mediums don't have," he said. Unfortunately Mr. Blow, electronic musicians have us trumped on this one, and I believe it has something to do with the way their tools are designed. Making music is not the same as making a game, but if we can take some cues from the way their tools function and what the workflow is, then maybe we can embark on more journeys and listen to what the game is trying to tell us. I'd like to kick things off with a walk-through of one of my favorite music-making tools: Ableton Live. Ableton Live is about making music on the fly. It allows the musician to take a short musical phrase (a loop) and layer effects on it, rearrange the note sequence, even mangle the loop altogether in realtime. Ableton comes with a variety of pre-made loops in different genres or you can create a short one yourself using the various instruments it has. Initiating the process is as simple as dragging a short loop into the song environment or recording a 4-bar sequence. With the loop playing in real time, the musician can begin to make adjustments, listening to how each change affects the vibe of the short phrase. In time, that simple musical loop becomes something completely different. It is likely that musicians who use Ableton Live resign themselves to the fact that the song in their head may not be the song they eventually end up with. By working on a small loop and making tweaks on the fly, the musician discovers new directions their initial idea can take. Ableton Live is a tool that facilitates a conversation between the musician and the music. As the user adds, subtracts, and rearranges, the music talks back revealing new personalities that the musician can choose to exploit. Multiply this simple loop interaction in an Ableton Live scene that can contain hundreds of loops, and you have all the ingredients of a song. Launching and tweaking these loops on the fly (while keeping the song quantized so all things are launched on tempo) empowers the musician to discover the song. From my own experience with the software, it feels very liberating. I don't have to compose on a timeline; I just launch or stop one or many loops at a time, and listen to the composition as it evolves and react accordingly.