Ableton Live: the Medium in Which I Work

My life was completely transformed by a group of amazing computer and music geniuses who developed the Ableton Live digital audio workstation. Ableton is my playground, my pallette and canvas, my co-creative partner. Ableton is my “Her”. There are so many people to whom I will be forever grateful for being in my life and the folks at Ableton are right up at the top. Yet I know very little about them. So I decided to find out who they are!

First and obvious stop is the website Here is the succinct and general description of the company:

Ableton was founded in 1999 and released the first version of Live in 2001. Our products are used by a community of dedicated musicians, sound designers, and artists from across the world. We are more than 200 people from 28 different countries divided between our headquarters in Berlin and our office in Los Angeles. Most of us are active musicians, producers, and DJs, and many of us use Live and Push (their control surface) every day. We come from a wide range of cultural and professional backgrounds. Some of us have PhDs, some are self-taught, and most of us are somewhere in between. What connects us is the shared belief that each of us has the skills and knowledge to contribute to something big: helping to shape the future of music culture.We believe it takes focus to create truly outstanding instruments. We only work on a few products and we strive to make them great. Rather than having a one-size-fits-all process, we try to give our people what they need to work their magic and grow. We’ve learned that achieving the best results comes from building teams that are richly diverse, and thus able to explore problems from a wider set of perspectives. We don’t always agree with each other, but opinion and debate are valued and openly encouraged.

There is a bit more about how they cultivate their corporate culture, but that is basically it.

One of the things that intrigues me about Ableton is that there is no obvious driving personality behind the organization. Ableton comes across as this amorphous mass of people all over the globe working together to give access to and encourage the creation of music. Another amazing thing about the organization is that the same people who founded it are still involved fifteen years later. No behind the scenes take overs, no overt personality conflicts, just a clear intention to fulfill a need in their creative community. And while I do appreciate the magical kingdom of Ableton, I want to look behind the curtain to see the personalities involved.

The company was founded by Gerhard Behles and Robert Henke, both electronic musicians. As Behles explains it:

In practice, my musical partner Robert Henke (Monolake) and I did not differentiate between working in the studio or performing live. They were the same thing and I think many people still work like that to this day. The kinds of computer programs that you could get at the time were very much a digital representation of a studio, which is a place you go once the music is written, and you only go there to imprint it on tape and then to move it on to production of the record. This whole thing had little to do with our practice, so we realized there was a gap. Something is needed that’s more conducive to this jamming, improvisational way of making music. We noticed it was missing and asked, “can we do it?”

(Many composers hear the music they want to make in their heads, then write it down on paper. I want to hear voices first and from there I can hear the “song of the moment” in those voices. I choose voices, then find pleasing patterns of notes and interesting rhythm features, then the tune or soundscape scene begins to emerge. The process feels more like painting or sculpting than songwriting. Ableton makes it possible for me to work this way.)

Behles goes on to explain that the company never marketed a product to a niche, instead they fulfilled a communal need. This organic, user-driven approach speaks to the longevity, successful growth and integrity of Ableton as a company.

But in the beginning we never looked at the market or the stats and quantitative need. Now we run surveys and we do a lot of research but it’s much more in the field. We go to the actual musician, visit them in the studio and spend a day with them, and then you know more than you wanted to know. We do this a lot and we also bring in a lot of people who spend a couple of hours here, solving specific problems. We put them in front of some new functionality and make them deal with it and see what happens. It’s totally fun and collaborative…

The full text of the interview with Gerhard Behles can be found at on-line newsletter High Snobiety:

Robert Henke teaches, composes, creates art installations, performs laser light shows, and the list goes on. I am going to work my way through his website to get acquainted with his work. You can, too – go here –>

With all of the time, talent and thoughtful consideration invested in this product, you might think it would be very expensive. This is one of a very few cases I know where the product value waaaaay exceeds the cost. First of all, you can download a lite version of Ableton for a 30 day free trial. Then there are three price levels, with the basic Intro version (which I started with) at $99. Ableton runs sales quite frequently. It says alot about the company that they have kept the price point reasonable through this entire time of “economic downturn”.

While I know that my joy lies within me, the excitement and flow I experience working in Ableton is a large part of the bliss of my life. Thanks to all who have contributed to the cutting of this diamond, and palms together-head bow to Gerhard Behles and Robert Henke for their steadfast vision.

Time to go play!

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