The Untold Story of Ableton Live—the Program That Transformed Electronic Music Performance Forever
Music writer Maya-Roisin Slater gives readers a history lesson on the software that shaped contemporary electronic music - Ableton Live - interviewing the founders and covering everything from their initially rocky relationship to the scene in Berlin when it all started.This article originally appeared on THUMP
The history of Ableton usually starts in 2001, when the Berlin-based software company released their first product, Ableton Live—a digital audio workstation and audio sequencer that, among its many functions, allows musicians to easily store and trigger samples during their shows so audiences can watch them build songs in real time. This game-changing software made it easier for the average person to make music and use their computer as an instrument, as well as perform live without needing to know how to program their own software. As a result, the software was widely adopted, and radically shifted the way electronic music is performed live by encouraging more producers to leave their homes and studios for the stage—a move that helped fuel the explosion of festival culture around the world in the 2000s. But the story of Ableton goes further back than Live's 2001 release—further even than the company's official inception in 1999. In fact, Ableton's roots can be traced to Berlin's early techno scene in the 90s, when the stakes were low and there was a lot of room for experimentation.
Co-founders Gerhard Behles and Robert Henke came up with their idea for Ableton in Berlin in the mid '90s, when they were performing minimal dub-influenced techno under the moniker Monolake. Live's earliest incarnations were simply born out of necessity to serve Behles and Henke's project. With no intention of expanding their software beyond personal use, the two inveterate tinkerers, who became friends while studying computer programming at Berlin's Technical University, would often patch together many homemade programs just to play specific pieces or shows. Bernd Roggendorf, a fellow computer programmer introduced through mutual friends, then joined the pair at the tail end of the '90s, encouraging them to turn the jumbles of Max code they had holding together Monolake's live shows into a more generalized software for retail. With Roggendorf's help, the first version of Ableton Live was released in 2001. (Behles left Monolake in 1999 to concentrate on developing Ableton Live, while Henke left Ableton five years ago to concentrate on his music, and still uses the Monolake alias...