Sometimes despite our best efforts, coming up with an original melodic hook or drum pattern can seem like incredibly hard work. If you're not careful you can easily find yourself repeating the same old tired ideas that you used in your last few tracks, or even staring blankly at your DAW screen for hours waiting for inspiration to strike.
The SEEDS Collection by Novel Music aims to solve this problem by giving you an arsenal of creative tools to combat writer's block and kick-start your projects.
So, is it any good? - Well let's download the collection and take a look.
What is Max For Live?
Available as part of Ableton Live Suite, Max For Live provides an extension to Live's functionality by allowing users to create and customise their own instruments, MIDI devices, and audio effects. Max For Live can also be used to modify the functionality of hardware controllers such as the Ableton Push 2.
Download and Installation
Download and installation of the SEEDS collection was an absolute breeze. However, if you've never installed a Max For Live device before then here's how:
How to install Max For Live Devices
In short, downloaded Max For Live devices generally consist of a file with a '.amxd' extension. To install this file in Ableton Live you simply need to drag the file into the corresponding subdirectory within your user library. The location of your User Library can be found by right-clicking on your 'User Library' icon and selecting 'Show in Explorer'.
In this case, all the devices are MIDI effects, so you need to navigate in your User Library to Presets -> MIDI Effects -> Max MIDI Effect and drop the file in there. And that's it!
Once installed, your new devices can be found by navigating in Live to Max For Live and then Max MIDI Effects.
The SEEDS Collection consists of 8 Max For Live MIDI devices in total including various clocks, sequencers, modulators and utilities.
There is no manual included for any of these devices, so you can forgive yourself if at first you feel a little lost on how to use them. Help is a hand however over on the Novel Music YouTube channel which contains over 2 hours of product demos and tutorials.
Contents at a glance:
Clocks: Chronology, Sweet 16
Sequencers: Polymath, Model
Modulators: Deviate, Relay
Utilities: Hub, Selfie
Let's take a look at each device in turn.
First up are the two clock devices, Sweet 16 and Chronology. These devices are designed to be used either as an input to the sequencers, or as a standalone MIDI input into another instrument such as a drum rack.
Sweet 16 contains four possible rhythmic pulses that can be generated one at a time based upon the size of the corresponding weighted bars. The rate of each pulse is based on 16th notes which can be adjusted underneath the bars, along with the MIDI note being triggered by each pulse.
The length for each pulse pattern can also be controlled, and the pattern locked once you've found something you like.
Changing to the fixed tabs enables you to control the pulses based upon an order, with a repeat function that allows you to repeat a step several times before continuing with the sequence.
Chronology is another interesting clock device, this time with a custom Push layout. Each of the four adjustable clocks correspond to four separate lanes on the Push, where you can turn on and off individual steps. A handy random function is also included which creates its own unique pattern.
I found both these devices to be useful as standalone devices and can certainly see a place for them in my workflow, however it was when I used them in conjunction with the Sequencers that things really started to get interesting.
Polymath is a remarkably versatile polyphonic sequencer driven by an external clock signal such as Chronology or Sweet 16.
It allows for four tracks to be run simultaneously, with multiple controls and settings available for you to play around with to create cool sounding note or chordal sequences for your synth or instrument of choice. It's the flagship product within the Seeds Collection and it's easy to see why.
The amount of customisation here is incredible, with all parameters fully mappable so you can easily automate them within Live. I spent a happy few hours playing with this device and can honestly say it's one of the most enjoyable sequencers I've used, especially when combined with the custom mapping onto Push. I won't go into every single control in this article; however, I suggest you check out the video below if you want more of an idea what this amazing device is capable of.
One feature that I would like to highlight briefly however is the 'Expand' control. This adds additional notes around your programmed sequence, effectively adding note density. It's a unique idea that I don't think I've seen on any other sequencer and works really well.
Model is not just a sequencer but more of a sequencer/arpeggiator crossover device. The user interface is very similar to Polymath; however, its inner workings are quite different.
Of all the devices within the Seeds Collection, this was probably my favourite. I make a lot of Melodic House tracks and coming up with a unique and memorable short melodic arpeggios can prove difficult at times. Model was a game changer in this respect allowing me to create melodic phrases that changed and evolved over time.
Next up is a modulator device named Deviate. Although included in the SEEDS Collection, Novel Music are giving this exceptional device away for FREE, so make sure you check it out on their website.
As the name suggests, Deviate allows you to add deviations to an incoming MIDI source. The Trigger control allows you to adjust the chance of the deviation being triggered as well as setting note intervals.
In terms of the deviations themselves you can change parameters such as the note octave, duration, velocity, pitch bend, delay, as well as note re-triggers via the ratchet control.
I tested this device with an arpeggio, setting up the device to occasionally adjust the velocity of a MIDI note. I then added U-he DIVA to the signal path, where the velocity was mapped to the filter cut-off of the synth. When used subtly with small adjustments to some of the other parameters such as note duration, it really created noticeable interest and perceived movement to the melody.
The second of the modulator devices is called Relay. This device acts as a MIDI note distributer or switcher, outputting MIDI data to up to 4 assignable ports.
The size of each of the 4 weightings in the interface determines the chance that the output from the device will favour that particular port. When used with the Hub device (see below under Utilities), this MIDI information can then be received on any other Instrument track in your Live Set.
If it sounds complicated it really isn't once you've had a play for a few minutes, and really allows for some interesting and creative routing options within your tracks, especially since each output has its own octave and delay controls to give even more variation.
The last two devices in the collection are Utilities. Hub can be used in conjunction with the other devices in the SEEDS collection to send and receive MIDI data throughout your Live set by switching on or off 26 alphabetically named ports.
It also includes a filter to allow or prevent MIDI information such as pitch-bend or after-tough, as well as a pitch scaling control.
Selfie manages all the SEEDS devices that are active within your set, enabling you to save, delete and copy up to 64 individually configured presets.
Additional features allow you to load presets with MIDI notes, as well as a hard sync feature that forces all sequencers to jump to the first step when a stored preset is recalled.
In summary I found the SEEDS Collection to be an incredibly interesting and unique set of creative tools.
The depth of these devices is mind boggling and I admit that it did take me a little while to get my head around exactly what each tool was capable of. Although the YouTube tutorials are great, I think the collection would really benefit from an included manual or guide of some sort.
Despite this, in the limited time I have had for this review I could really see the potential in these devices and lost a good few hours happily creating original rhythms and melodies that I would never have come up with on my own.
One of the best things about this collection in my opinion is the deep integration with Ableton Push. I've always found that the hands-on tactile experience of programming directly onto my Push 2 always leads to a better creative workflow and is simply more fun that using a keyboard and mouse.
The SEEDS Collection by Novel Music is available to download now from their website.
Note that until the end of September 2021 the SEEDS collection is on sale at $49 instead of $69.