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Why Liquid Notes for Live is A Separate Product from The Liquid Notes Standard Edition

Some of you have asked the question if we could design Liquid Notes in a way to make it communicate with the DAWs via the VST, AU, or AAX protocols. However, this would prove very difficult. Some others have raised the issue why Liquid Notes for Live has not been fully integrated into the Liquid Notes standard edition.

This article will help to illuminate our decision making process and explain the differences between both versions.


Regular plug-in technology for multi-channel MIDI applications?

Compared to standard third-party MIDI manipulation software communicating with sequencers, Liquid Notes is a multi-channel MIDI device. For a precise harmonic analysis, it needs to access every note on every instrumental track of a song. That means it can only function on complete arrangements.

The note data itself is locked in the DAW, just as internal data in any app. Currently, there are only two general means of getting notes from a DAW:

  1. MIDI import/export, which requires an extensive routing setup process. We use this in our standard version of Liquid Notes. This software version is able to communicate with every DAW on the market. Each instrumental track needs to be routed between Liquid Notes and the host sequencer. This usually arduous process is completely guided by an auto-routing wizard to the fullest extent of automation possible. Technology-wise, it cannot get any easier than that.

  2. VST/AU/AAX plug-ins that capture notes as they go past the playback head. But this can operate only on a single track. With access to only one instrumental track, this is too much of a restriction, naturally. Multi-channel MIDI import/export apps would require an instance of the plug-in for each instrumental track, controlled by a master instance. And for that, the routing setup becomes very very complex. Plus, you can only retrieve MIDI data from the current playback position. If you want to work on the entire song, you would first have to play back the whole song in the DAW to import it to the plug-in. All that holds no real advantages for users.


Our way out of the plug-in dilemma: Max for Live

We decided to give Ableton Live with its Max for Live interface a go. We underwent extensive investigation of any alternative before the (somewhat arduous) design/implementation of the approach which has been subsequently customized for use by Liquid Notes for Live. The goal was a plug-in-like architecture for Liquid Notes that provides:

  1. Elimination of the cumbersome MIDI import/export steps
  2. Access to notes on multiple tracks (in order to affect harmony etc.)
  3. Retrieval of note data on demand (not just per note at playback)

Max for Live was not, as we expected, actually intended for any of that. It was meant primarily for algorithmic manipulations within Max, not as a bridge to third-party applications.

Over time, one of our developers had already invested a substantial amount of time developing a framework from Max for Live elements to overcome the limitations and accomplish the goals above. He took advantage of a specific opportunity provided by a software layer intended for other purposes. Then he had to adapt his framework before we could start customizing it for Liquid Notes for Live. On top of that, we then had three developers work on the additional chunk of integration between Live and Liquid Notes for Live on and off for several months. E.g. instead of MIDI messages that run through the IAC bus, Liquid Notes for Live processes OSC messages (Open Sound Control protocol).

The GUI looks pretty much the same for both applications. But under the hood, it is a different scenario all along. From a technical perspective, merging the underlying communication standards into one version should not present any fundamental barrier, yet would be a considerable additional effort that is expensive to maintain. It would make an already complex product even more complex. Bug tracking would become more difficult and imply that with any change of our software in one place, we risked causing a problem somewhere else. Being a small company with limited resources, we have instead opted to maintain a completely different communications architecture between the two products. In consequence, Liquid Notes for Live only supports Ableton Live and requires Max for Live to run. And for the above reasons, it must be regarded as a product in its own right.


Liquid Notes for Live vs. Liquid Notes Standard Edition

From the user perspective, the standard edition of Liquid Notes connects to any sequencer (including Live) to trigger the original software instruments of an arrangement, but it does so by routing through input and output channels for all tracks of an arrangement in Liquid Notes and the sequencer, respectively. So you’ll have to go through a routing setup. We provide a variety of automatisms for that (like the above-mentioned auto-routing wizard).

From the DAW to Liquid Notes, you’ll need a MIDI import/export to match the data streams in both applications. You are at liberty to use any DAW you like in the market out there. You can synchronize both applications by MIDI clock time. Plus, you are able to adjust the playback tempo of your song. After you are done with your harmonic changes, re-record or overdub the existing arrangement in the DAW, or create a MIDI export file which you can then import in the DAW and place anywhere on the timeline.

Liquid Notes for Live allows a very simple import of Ableton Live Clips which can then be manipulated harmonically. It feels like working with a plug-in that operates from within the sequencer. You can either slave Liquid Notes by Live or vice versa, depending on which data you want to process. If you want to include tracks in Live which have not been transferred to Liquid Notes (e.g. audio), you choose playback by Live. If you want to hear only transferred tracks, hit play in Liquid Notes.

That is a great advantage in comparison to the standard edition of Liquid Notes in case you work with Ableton Live. When you are done editing your song, the same re-recording routine to the DAW applies as described above.


Comparison chart between Liquid Notes Standard and Liquid Notes for Live

Liquid Notes Standard Liquid Notes for Live
Harmonic analysis
yes
yes
Reharmonization
yes
yes
Live mode
yes
yes
MIDI file import
yes
-
MIDI export
yes
yes
Built-in synths
yes
-
Standalone operation
yes
-
Syncs to all DAWs via MIDI clock
yes
-
Plug and play with Ableton Live 9 (via Max for Live)
-
yes
Playback via IAC bus (all DAWs)
yes
-
Adjust playback tempo in Liquid Notes
yes
-
Pre-arranged music templates
yes
-


Update: Corrected statement on technical feasibility of merging standalone and MIDI effect interface standards of Liquid Notes into one product.

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