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Review: MIDIVolve
G.W. Childs IV on Sun, August 20th | 0 comments
This Max For Live arpeggiator, riff generator and sequencer turns even the simplest of MIDI patterns into an evolving musical continuum. G.W Childs puts it to the test.

AI is steadily creeping in to everyone’s life. And though it’s been around already in music, the cats from Coldcut just brought it even closer to reality. MIDIVolve, an exciting new Pack available at ableton.com includes a Max device that tweaks/creates new MIDI on the fly. But that’s not all! It also includes some mind blowing drum kits, synth patches, effects and even mind-blowing racks demonstrating MIDIVolve in full force, designed by ColdCut, themselves. How is it? 

A Little is Actually A Lot

MIDIVolve, the Max device, sits at the root of the MIDIVolve pack folder, almost like an afterthought. But that’s the first thing I shoot for, even before trying the synths, or the drums, or the effects. I’ve been working on some songs that I could really get some inspiration going in. I’m hoping this might be a silver bullet!

The interface of the Max device itself is extremely straightforward, though highly populated. I placed it in front of an active synth in my session, and with just a click on the MIDI clip that houses my original MIDI riff and a quick press of the Import button, MIDIVolve is locked and loaded - probably the easiest MIDI import I’ve seen in Ableton, ever. 

Now that I’m working with a familiar riff, I press the space bar and take MIDIVolve for a spin. The big blue Evolve button is the first place I go and as I press it, things change a little… then I find the secret panel. Under the Parameters drop down menu, you begin to see how much more you can do to individual parameters, as well as how much you can affect many parameters at once. The polarities of each parameter, like Pitch, Velocity, Duration, Density, and Swap (a parameter that literally re-orders your existing sequence) can be edited. For example you can set up the Pitch Parameter to have a 50% chance of changing to a higher polarity with the press of the Evolve button. Or, the individual Evolve button for Pitch, which is a little blue button, right next to its name.  

In addition to the basic parameters listed above, there are also two Macro Parameters that can be assigned to any knob, button, or slider in Ableton. Once assigned, you can generate random filter sweeps by for example assigning a Macro to Cutoff and Resonance. What makes this absolutely insane is the Auto Mode, which lets you program MIDIVolve to evolve your pattern every measure, or for how many other measures you tell it to skip. Basically, you can program MIDIVolve to write your whole song.

More Than Evolving

Aside from the power laying inside the Evolution Parameter Panel, there is a lot of additional power in the basic Modes of MIDIVolve. In Riff mode, MIDIVolve evolves a pattern of notes based on the initial note entry. In Arpeggiator Mode, MIDIVolve becomes a powerful arpeggiator that can quickly help you generate many notes the way any good arpeggiator should. Transpose Mode allows you to use your MIDI keyboard or MIDIVolve itself to transpose an existing riff. And finally, in Thru Mode, you can play along with the current sequence without recording over what MIDIVolve is currently doing.

 

When I finally figured out that moving between modes is part of the workflow of MIDIVolve, things really took off. I’d build a riff by playing a few notes in Riff mode, then switch to Arp, and play around. Then, import a MIDI pattern back in to Riff mode, and evolve it a bit. Then, once I have my melodic hook, move to Transpose mode and play it back in several different keys. Finally, put things back on Auto Mode, with an evolution occurring every four measures while I work on another instrument. That’s the power of MIDIVolve. It becomes a second pair of arms once you dial it in. It even lets you take what you make with a very cool export function which when pressed creates a new clip in session mode in the appropriate track.

Conclusion

In addition to gaining a tool that could literally change your musical life, the MIDIVolve package includes some drum kits that sound amazing, and have an insane amount of programming flexibility. The synth patches are cool but it’s not until you hear them in the actual MIDIVolve presets that, I feel, you really begin to hear how cool they are. Each synth patch, like the drums and effects have tons of macro mappings, and when under the influence of MIDIVolve, these patches evolve on their own in to many other varieties. The MIDIVolve presets, which are huge racks designed by Coldcut are completely mind bending and can be repurposed for many forms of music. This is really an amazing Pack, Ableton! 

Price: $49

Pros: A sick Max MIDI tool that will write loops, melodies and drum parts. Amazing patches, as well as full racks that can be used for a variety of different kinds of music, created by Coldcut.

Cons: Ableton only!

Web: https://www.ableton.com/en/packs/midivolve/

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