Fuck Ableton

Nicholas Bond

Okay, that was harsh…

But I do have a bone to pick with you, Ableton, and the multitude of users you have seduced into using your remarkably unmusical workstation.

For those who don’t know, Ableton is one of the most popular production tools for many electronic music producers today. Whilst I could be all bitchy and subjective with a list of questionable Ableton exponents, I should acknowledge the highly skilled and prolific artists that utilise the program. Artists such as Daft Punk, Panda Bear, Kevin Parker and Imogen Heap are all credited with using the software - so it’s not all bad.

But my beef isn’t with the titanic producers of the music industry. It’s with rookie producers who would boast creative ability, despite a complete lack of instrumental or technical knowledge.

Ableton nurtures this delusion.

Now before you make some kind of guerrilla musicianship argument i.e. punk rock in the 70s or hip-hop sampling culture in the 80s and 90s, do not make light of the fact that these guys knew how to play a fucking instrument.

Now, there’s clearly a disparity between George Martin scoring sheet music for an orchestra on a Beatles track and Q-Tip doubling a bass line on a Fender Rhodes, but Q-Tip is pretty much Beethoven next to anyone who feels like an instrumentalist with Ableton’s chord selector and its pen tool. Admittedly, these tools are not exclusive to Ableton, every DAW allows you to draw notes in, most come with some kind of chord generating plug-in. But the abundance of these unmusical tools within Ableton is what reveals its true nature.

It looks an awful lot more like a computer program than a musical instrument, doesn't it?

Most DAWs are designed to resemble real-life musical equipment. It’s called skeuomorphism. Apple uses it to make apps like the calendar and the voice memo more familiar and user-friendly. ProTools, Logic, Reason etc. are all “guilty” of designing their interfaces with experienced producers in mind. This allows seasoned synth programmers and mixing engineers to move from hardware to software in an instant. Furthermore, this familiarises bedroom producers with gear they’d come across in an actual studio. 

“Does it really mean anything? It’s about the music, not the device.”

Look, maybe not, but if you’ll humour a measure of subjectivity for a moment. 

I think a lot of people would agree that music made on Ableton sounds unmistakably like Ableton. Whilst the bedroom Ableton producer’s foremost crime may be persevering with Deep/Minimal House beyond 2013, the most heinous is the pathetically predictable partnering of chromatic and jazz chord pre-sets with the same fucking organ plug-in – every time. 

How much longer can we endure that motherfucking stock reverb plug-in on that motherfucking castanet sound in that motherfucking down-tempo neo-soul James Blake/Chet Faker rip-off? 

I’m amazed that SoundCloud hasn’t melted down with copyright claims over sonically identical music in the past five years. 

Almost all popular music is now capitulated into lazy minor-chord synth plug-ins and that god-awful drum machine that has defamed Roland by appropriating their famous 808 and 909 product names. And I blame Ableton.


The Collective