Even though the LauchPad is automatically recognized by the operating system, the same immediacy doesn’t occur with Ableton Live: for this reason, as a first step, I suggest you to download the latest drivers from the Novation website and start their installation. Once done, you can go on and open Live where you have to set the I/O within Preferences at the “MIDI Sync” tab. (Pic.1). From then on, Live will automatically recognize the connection to the LaunchPad every time you run it.
Before going into detail about the direct use of the LaunchPad it’s good to point out right from the start that the instrument comes with the Lite version for the Ableton Live. Those who are basically used to work with Groove Audio won’t have anything to complain for about this “lightened” version of the program. Of course the audio arsenal and some parts of the virtual instruments coming with the Studio version will be missing, but considering the actual price of the full product I can’t do anything but remembering that one should not look a gift horse … .Those who have already installed the complete version of Live, as I have, would better not mess their own HD instead, even if the two versions can easily coexist causing no problems.
And now… Let’s have some fun!
The title says a lot about the fact that the LaunchPad works immediately, right from the first approach with Ableton Live. The PDF manual that comes with it (very poor, just three pages) allows us to use this instrument straight away, even for those who are not into controllers. Necessary information: the first raw across of the LaunchPad controls operating modes (by default the Launchpad mapping will auto-set with the middle area working as a Pad), the middle area and the right-hand vertical row, depending on the mode we’ve chosen, function both for working on a specific Control Change and on varying the number of operating modes we’ve enabled. Loading whatever session into the program, the Launchpad will immediately show up the disposition of the clips on its 64 pads throughout the middle area of the controller, with a matrix made of eight horizontal tracks by eight vertical clips. If we ever need to control more than eight tracks, i.e. eight clips, the four arrows which are on top of the left-hand side of the controller allow us to run through all the Live area very easily and quickly. With every move on the Live area, the pads will behave according to them, showing us a clear and immediate image about what to do: excellent! For this mode, set by default as the instrument boots, as well as possible to control at any time by the “Session” button (in case of operating page change), the eight upright pads on the right-hand side, work as launching scenes, auto-setting themselves in a vertical way, as you move within the operating area in Live. The same eight pads will adjust themselves as the green silkscreen graphics indicate, when you press the eighth pad “Mixer” on the raw across. In this case, pads allow to enable some of the main functions of the program, while the 64 pads work on varying the recalling function. Specifically, a first mode cuts the middle area in two distinct sets, where the first four rows keep on working on the clips, and the four lower rows work on every audio channel for Live, the clip Stop, the Mute, the Solo and the Arm (recording process). In this case, the right-hand row works on all the tracks with the same function, disabling them. On the contrary, the first 4 middle pads recall the control of Volume, Pan and auxiliary sends of the A&B channel. In this case the 64 middle pads light up in different colors depending on the recalled function changing their color according to eight fixed values. While on the one hand this allows a quick recall of the value with jumps that may vary depending on the recalled function (approximately 16 MIDI values for each adjacent pad), on the other hand it may also represent the main limit should we want to work on the 128 MIDI full scale values which, by themselves, can be limiting within some production contexts. However, it must be said, being the LaunchPad aimed to a live use, the eight fixed values, from a practical point of view, can be considered more than useful for a live performance. Finally, the operating buttons “User 1” and “User 2” allow the user to program by himself the functions on the middle area which by default, leaving things as they are, work as percussive pads for the drum kit in Live. In this mode, I would have rather liked to get the chance to have the dynamic pads, so to be able to adjust the percussive action on the sounds.
Pic.2 – “ Route MIDI Input to ”
By way of introduction, I said earlier that the reason for this test was aimed to understand whether the Launchpad can be used in some other operating contexts as well. Therefore, first of all, I had to download the latest version (3.41) of the AutoMap software from the Novation website by which I tried to “match” the LaunchPad to the Logic 9, which is the software I use every time for my little audio productions. Well, getting into detail about AutoMap I discovered that it has been developed with a special care for the SL and Nocturn series, banishing the LaunchPad as some sort of Cinderella of the day. What I really mean, by saying so, is that those who hope, as I do, to be able to use the LaunchPad also as a simple drum controller, will be disappointed. The relatively ease about matching the MIDI notes to the pads of the LaunchPad, through the provided AutoMap control page, doesn’t always give such results that can make one think about it as a substitute for a standard master controller. However: with Ultrabeat, after setting the 24 MIDI notes, programming whichever pattern has been a piece of cake. With MOTU BPM, instead, it’s a little bit more difficult, since the 4 layers, which include the 16 percussion pads, actually deal with the same notes but with different MIDI channel, allowing, that way, to control one layer at a time. This limitation, by the way, would be also found with any other controller that works on a single MIDI channel at a time. One way to partially bypass this restriction is controlling the BPM directly. Enabling the “Route MIDI Input to” function and leaving “Selected Bank&Part” in the adjacent drop-down list. (Pic. 2). With Battery by Native Instrument, the setting procedure is the same as with Ultrabeat. Once all the pads have been set and launched a percussion set, we can really have fun building patterns as we like. Though I wasn’t able to try the LaunchPad on anything there is to know about the virtual Drum machines (XLN Audio, GURU, iDrum, just to mention a few), measures don’t change: it only takes a little patience and a minimum knowledge about the assignable MIDI notes. Some credit must be given to the LaunchPad and to the AutoMap about the opportunity to assign the same MIDI note to different pads, which is not possible on keyboards, where it’s all fixed and, usually, conform to the General MIDI standard in a static way. For instance, this turns out to be very useful in creating HiHat patterns, where an easier setting is allowed by the assignable function on more than one pad.
For those who work with Ableton Live for their music production or for their live performances, the LauchPad represents a must-have controller for its price-quality ratio. The short amount of restriction (non-dynamic pads, limited Control Change value) does not affect creativity that much; rather, considering that Live is software aimed to a quick use, the LaunchPad simply makes it even quicker. Its use with other plug-ins or other DAWs is not as much convincing, where it’s necessary to assign pads could discourage more than one user…Even worse if you think about the lack of knobs and sliders to control the functions continuously. Those who need that kind of comfort can easily head towards the SL or Nocturn series, which at any AutoMap updates widen their operative horizons towards the latest DAWs, with the unique peculiarity for controllers to automap on whichever parameter about the sequencer and its proprietary plugins. Back to the LaunchPad, the possibility to play up to 64 percussive sounds at the same time really speeds up the building process of electronic patterns, no matter what sequencer is involved, but as long as you spend some time on setting your favorite drum machine. Not to forget its price either, one of the lowest among this kind of controllers. One suggestion: If you go and try it in a shop, be sure to carry enough money with you to bring it home. It’s so easy to fall into temptation.
Italian to English translation: Umberto del Giudice