A Report From the Front Lines: The Ableton Loop Summit

    The truth is that I’m still recovering from Ableton’s recent inaugural event, Loop - A Summit for Music Makers, but I thought I should get to writing about it while it’s all fresh in my mind. I was there primarily as a presenter for Cycling ‘74, but attended all three days and moonlighted as a participant where I could. Unexpectedly, it was about creativity in general and very little about Ableton, despite the announcement of Live 9.5 and Push 2 during the weekend.
    There were approximately 500 people in attendance at the multipurpose venue Radial System V, located directly on the east bank of the river Spree, an old water pumping station dating back to 1881. The venue never felt crowded as there were several events, performances and workshops happening at any one time across several rooms, halls and... a boat.
    I was presenting three events for the summit:
    • Workshop One was an in-depth look at four MFL devices taken from the Max for Live Essentials Live Pack.
    • Workshop Two was about building a BEAP Generative Synth from scratch, directly inside a Max for Live Instrument Device.
    • A Max Connect event that highlighted four diverse Max For Live users that included AGF, Christian Kleine, DJ/Rupture (aka Jace Clayton) and Leafcutter John.
    Download the materials from the workshops!

    Failure = Success

    Loop opened on Friday afternoon to a fantastic keynote from Robert Henke. Robert discussed the virtues of being a musician who uses a laptop and trying to explain that to a stranger you’re sitting next to on the plane (everyone could relate). He mentioned that it had been a blessing he had never been on the cover of WIRE magazine and attributed it to his success and lasting career.
    He really struck a chord with the huge crowd when he talked about experimentation, “make more weird noises” and to not to get disheartened with failures, “If you’re failing, it means you’re trying something new”, many laughing but hastily writing it down at the same time.

    Making Connections

    Meeting people at Loop was easy, there was a wide representation of demographics and an equal mix of gender both as attendees and speakers. Whether you were sitting alone or in a group, inside or outside, I was struck by how friendly people were. They were eager to learn why others were there -- whether it was to share ideas, learn or network.
    There was a huge emphasis on creative practice and collaboration. It definitely felt like Ableton had taken a number of cues from Dennis DeSantis’s book 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers, in the creation of Loop, and people seemed to be loving it.
    Catching Matthew Herbert’s talk was great, One Creative Manifesto, he himself having spent many years working on A Manifesto, a personal contract. In a world full of options, online distraction and multitasking, and endless creative tools, sometimes applying restrictions to oneself can lead to greater outcomes.
    Saturday afternoon in the main hall was a fantastic performance by AGF. Multitalented and faceted, AGF is a poet, rapper and composer working across a range of mediums in a short amount of time that conclude with sampling the whole audience in a fun and interactive way. Her performance garners much attention with a large crowd gathering afterwards to see all of the devices she is using. I’m really excited as we see the crowd gather, since she is one of our four presenters for the following afternoon's Max Connect event we’re hosting.


    Of course, I had to remember that I was there to present two workshops and a Max Connect event; It was hard not to get carried away with meeting people, enjoying fabulous banquets (I sat with the great Roger Linn one evening!) and the amazing talks and presentations.
    I was a little nervous about our first workshop. We had been given a Boat for the day and it was tied up at Radial System V. Getting there bright and early to set up and make sure we were prepared for the first workshop, I had great assistance from fellow Cycling ‘74 guys Joshua Kit Clayton (also visiting for Loop) and our Berlin colleagues Jeremy Bernstein, Stefan Brunner and Florian Demmer.
    The Boat was full for our first workshop and we navigated through four great Max For Live devices over the course of an hour. It was excellent to connect with such an enthusiastic and attentive group of attendees and a pleasure to watch their faces light up as they caught on to the material I was presenting.
    We had a small break and then commenced with workshop number two, where we got into opening up a Max For Live device and patching. The idea surrounding this workshop was to introduce patch cords, the nature of patching with objects (high and low level) and come out the other side with something fun and interesting. We created a Generative Synth using only high-level BEAP modules, patched it so you could quantize to root note and scale, and added some effects at the end for good measure. The boat was alight with array of bleeps and bloops in resplendent scaling - it sounded fantastic and people appeared delighted they had come out with something usable from the workshop in a short amount of time.
    The final Cycling ‘74 event was a Max Connect showcase on the boat, packed to overflowing with people and ideas. We had four artists selected we knew would be at Loop and used Max in their creative practice: AGF, Christian Kleine, DJ/Rupture (aka Jace Clayton) and Leafcutter John.
    Each artist gave a small but detailed overview of their practice, talked about how Max is involved and how it helps them to achieve the results they imagine. AGF talked about ‘working off the grid’ and getting away from working in a linear fashion, Christian talked about his foray into Max in the 90s and the problems it’s allowed him to solve. Jace Clayton (DJ/Rupture) commanded the room from a central location, his discussion was enthralling and incredibly engaging. He touched on concepts, locality as manipulation, data mining and how Max and Max For Live are a central location for bringing this all together into a device, application or project, the audience was deeply interested.
    Last (but not least) came Leafcutter John, who began by standing and declaring “If you’re going to love something you should just love it regardless, and I love Max!!” He went on to explain that the evolutionary path of his work and career would simply not have been possible without Max.
    John presented a light-sensitive box combined with an Arduino, composed of 16 LDR resistors laid out in a grid format. Reading the LDRs was serialized by the Arduino, with the results sent to Max for analysis and sound generation. John spoke at length about wanting to generate an instruments that allowed expression - not just sonically but physically. Smooth movement should translate into smooth sound, and aggressive movement to aggressive sounds.

    Leafcutter John - LDR/Arduino Instrument at Max Connect, Loop Berlin

    He ended his presentation (and the Connect event) by encouraging the audience to get out their cell phones and other light generating devices to experience his instrument for themselves. It was a real hit and nice way to round out the day for us.


    What were the highlights of my exciting and exhausting week?
    • The general buzz of creativity at Loop involving all facets of electronic music from old to new to the ideas of the future.
    • The focus events (Phoebe Kiddo’s talk on meditation as a creative tool comes to mind).
    • Connecting with Users - While it’s fun as hell to work on content and the like in the background at Cycling ‘74, I really enjoyed connecting with users and hearing about their projects with Max For Live and Max firsthand.
    • Ableton’s commitment to the future of electronic music - their festival itself was clearly driven by unbridled creativity. In addition, the announcement of their new trade-in initiative for Push (passing the old ones and a copy of Live onto young people for music education) is a pretty awesome move.
    • The way the three days just ran like clockwork - very well organized and everything on time.
    • A diverse range of demographics and gender, both attendees, participants, presenters and across panels.
    • A subtle announcement at the end of Loop 2016 by Gerhard Behles, “See you at Loop 2016”, looks like we’ll see more of this great event!

    • Nov 17 2015 | 8:33 pm
      Get writeup Tom! Very well said, the creativity at the conference was amazing. Definitely came away with some fresh motivation. Loved the Max connect event, very inspiring!