Wednesday, February 29, 2012

FL Studio Unveils Performance Mode Alpha; Live That Isn’t Like Ableton Live?

by Peter Kirn

If you’re looking for a way of triggering sounds in live performance, but you want to meld that notion with the sequencer rather than play a drum machine-style sampling instrument, your commercially-available options are limited. And it seems, in particular, new creations simply work the way Ableton Live’s Session View does. Bitwig, a new DAW, struck many observers (myself included) to be strikingly close to Ableton’s Session View. More recently, a homebrewed effort for the tracker Renoise also aped Ableton’s interface.

Today’s appearance of the much-anticipated (well, by FL Studio users, anyway) Performance Mode is something different. Seen in a new alpha of the Software Formerly Known as Fruity Loops, Performance Mode builds on FL’s existing metaphor for queuing up samples, the Playlist. A few observations:

You can go directly from FL’s Playlist into this performance triggering mode. There isn’t a separate interface metaphor; instead, choosing Performance Mode unlocks new interactive playback options.

The triggering and position options aren’t quite like what we’ve seen before. Ableton Live provides the ability to quantize triggers and has long allowed interactive clip behaviors so that clips trigger other clips (Follow Actions). But FL has some new options. Triggering – first getting a clip playing – and position – have independent quantization options, for more complex rhythmic options. “Motion” options let you play through and then stop and perform other behaviors.

By the time the Novation Launchpad is controlling the action, FL resembles mlr and its descendants, the unique family of Max patches originated by Brian Crabtree on his monome project, more than they do Ableton Live. Now, arguably, you could rotate your head ninety degrees and look at Ableton, so that clips in Session view proceeded in time from left to right rather than top to bottom. But because all of this lives in FL’s Playlist, the workflow certainly feels different, and that detail of moving from left to right is pretty fundamental. While the results here seem very much like the monome, I could also imagine someone using the same features to go in a different direction. And all of this looks very, very fast.

The push to escape the shadow of Ableton Live – and even the monome – seems to be a difficult one. What’s your take: is this a new direction, or more of the same? Die-hard FL Studio users, are you interested? And will this interest anyone who isn’t a die-hard FL fan?

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