Producer Spotlight: Ableton Live 11 And The Enduring Pull Of The Push 2

Despite being released in late 2015, the Push 2 still feels like one of the freshest hardware DAW companions available.
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The Ableton Push 2

The Ableton Push 2

When Ableton Live 11 arrived in early 2021, it treated users to highly desired new features like track comping; MPE support for plug-ins, external devices, and several Live 11 devices; and a massive infusion of content, such as Spitfire Audio sampled instruments, cinematic Live Packs, and some sophisticated new effects devices. And it gets even better for Ableton Push 2 owners because a number of Live 11’s updates directly translate to enhanced Push functionality.

Despite being released in late 2015 (along with Live 9.5), the Push 2 still feels like one of the freshest hardware DAW companions available for producing music, in part because the second version of this counterpart to Live was ahead of its time but also because it has grown along with the DAW. Since then, significant updates to Live (Live 9.7, 10, and 11) have been accompanied by substantial additions to the Push 2’s capabilities and workflow.

For example, with Live 11’s MPE support, the Push 2’s note pads can now send polyphonic aftertouch to MPE-compatible synths and devices, including Live’s Wavetable, Simpler/Sampler, and Arpeggiator. That means that Push’s pads can each send individual pressure changes, making them more expressively playable with the growing number of MPE-supporting software and hardware instruments.

Now that Live 11 supports up to 16 Macro controls per device, Push users only need to tab over to another display page to access the 9-16 Macros, providing up to twice as much hands-on control for every device. Live 11’s new MIDI note and velocity probabilities for setting the percentage chance that a note will play or play within a velocity range are also available directly from Push and are great options for injecting variability and randomness over time to repeating sequences.

You can assign the Key and Scale to MIDI clips in Live 11 on a per-clip basis, and those assignments sync bi-directionally with Push. So if you move to different clips in different scales, Push’s pads will automatically update to the scale of each clip. And Push also shows meaningful visualizations for Live 11’s luscious new effects like the combination convolution/algorithmic Hybrid Reverb, Spectral Time, and Spectral Resonance.

Andri Søren explores the new Live 11 features on Push.

Falling in Love All Over Again

While it’s true that there is no other controller more comprehensive and tightly integrated to Ableton Live than Push, there’s something more to it than just that. Push and Live are two sides of the same Ableton coin, and Push functions as the instrument for playing Live. It translates what you do with your hands to what you hear with your ears. Its display assists you, rather than making you dependent on “seeing” your music on a computer screen.

Push’s excellent control layout and detailed, high-res display are things you can appreciate at first glance. Still, when you take the time to learn the Push workflow for creating and editing percussive and melodic clips with a realtime recording or step sequencing, recording automation from the Push encoders, stringing parts and tracks together, designing sounds, editing audio, and mixing, it helps put the productivity into production. However much time you put into learning and mastering the Push 2 workflow is worth it by making the whole music-making process more fluid, fast, and fun. And just like any other instrument, you will develop your style of using Push to complement your style of music.

Although I have used Ableton Live in some capacity since version 1, I spent a lengthy period between versions 10 and 11 being seduced by new software, specifically Bitwig Studio 3 and Apple Logic Pro X 10.5. Both are fine DAWs for electronic music in their own ways, but neither has a hardware counterpart quite like Push that is wholly dedicated to its respective DAW and purpose-built for maintaining a producer’s creative flow.

When the V11 update lured me back to Live, it was like I rediscovered the Push and got addicted to it anew. That addiction takes hold because the Push/Live synergistic workflow encourages you to finish beats and tracks fast, giving you continual hits of accomplishment dopamine along the way. The Push methodology—jumping quickly into a project, sketching out beats and melodic lines with a blend of step sequencing and overdubbed realtime recording, editing and embellishing them with Note Repeat, Swing, Accent, and easy automation recording; duplicating and editing clips, tracks, and entire Scenes, and designing sounds thanks to easy access to resampling and deep hands-on control of instruments and effects—is something I could not find to the same degree with other DAWs or with other Ableton Live-compatible controllers.

Lenny Kiser demonstrates the production workflow on Push 2

Continual Improvement

It’s not too common to feel such enthusiasm for a more-then-five-year-old controller, but over the years, Ableton has treated Push as an almost equal partner to Live in the company’s music production mission. As the software added key capabilities, Push’s updates incorporated most of them and added to the hardware’s utility, including:

• Sample slicing options within the Simpler instrument (Live 9.7).

• Drum Rack layout with 16 set velocity levels for each pad.

• Audio routing directly from Push to make resampling easier.

• Visual cues in the display for recording count-in and clip progress.

• Pad, track, and clip color customization from Push.

• New melodic step-sequencing modes.

• MIDI notes view and editing of note position, length, and velocity from the Push display.

• Advanced visualization for devices such as Wavetable, Operator, Echo, EQ8, Compressor, and others (Live 10).

• New options for converting audio into MIDI tracks (Live 10).

• Workflow shortcuts for toggling note modes; record-arming, soloing, and muting tracks; duplicating and editing sequencer pages; and more.

Mad Zach explores the sample slicing modes that were added with Live 9.7

The Proof Is in the Results

Many performing musicians have also embraced Push as a live-performance instrument and tool. But aside from some electronic improvisers, people have to compose music before performing it, and composition is Push’s raison d’etre. All electronic music-makers have to find a system that works for them to create a lot of material and discover their techniques and signature style.

In that latter half of the equation lies the mystery of human artistry and will be different for most artists, but combining Push with Live can help nearly any producer create faster and more fluently. When you enter the zone with Push in front of you, the disconnects between your musical vision and your production process break down. To be able to flow from doodling with drums and instruments, to step recording and realtime performance, to editing and automation, to sound design and resampling, and back in and out of any step along the way is an experience that I have not been able to replicate personally with other Live controllers or with different DAW/controller combinations.

That’s true of Push 2 after more than five years on the market, an impressive run at the top for a software controller. And with Ableton’s commitment to updating Push along with Live, that sets us all up to fall in love with Push 2 again and again.

Push 2 is available from Ableton.com. You can spread the cost across six monthly installments or if it’s not for you, return it within 30 days, and Ableton will cover the shipping.

Article By Markkus Rovito

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