Ableton Loop 2017

Last week I was Ableton’s guest for Loop, their delightful “summit for music makers.” I was on a panel about technology in music education, and I got to meet a lot of amazing people and hear some good music too. Here’s my live Twitter feed from the event if you want a fine-grained accounting. Otherwise, read on for some high points.

Loop poster

First of all, let me describe my experience of academic conferences. If you’re speaking, sometimes they waive the conference fee, sometimes not. You’re usually responsible for your own travel and accommodations. Sometimes your university will reimburse you for those things, in part or in full; sometimes not. Ableton, on the other hand, booked my flights and hotel, picked me up from the airport, and generally treated me like a rock star throughout. A person could get used to that.

Wilkommen in Berlin

I had never been to Berlin before. East Berlin feels more like Eastern Europe than Western Europe. The vibe is much like pre-gentrification Williamsburg: crumbling industrial buildings full of artists, low cost of living, lots of graffiti.

Berlin graffiti

No one much misses totalitarian communism, but if the anarchist collective near my hotel is any indication, people are ambivalent about neoliberal capitalism too.

Berlin anarchist collective

Loop took place at Funkhaus, a gargantuan studio complex built by the German government for state radio broadcasts. Now it’s part recording studio, part concert venue, and part event space. It could easily have been used by Terry Gilliam for locations in Brazil.


One of the more remarkable architectural features is this semicircular hallway. Ableton set up an installation here called the “musical blind date”, a pair of networked computers at either end, each running Live. You could enter into a collaborative jam session with a person at the other end, and it was impossible to see who it was.

Funkhaus round hallway

At the end of this hallway was the Jam Room, a studio full of synths hosting an ongoing improvisation with a rotating cast of strangers. I lost several hours in here on the vocoder pictured in the foreground.

Loop jam room

There were a bunch of vendors showing off all kinds of cutting-edge electronic music gear. This motion-controlled techno performance software is totally impractical, but it looks really cool:


There were various multimedia art installations set up around the venue, including this psychedelic computer animation.

video installation selfie

The green room for performers was the control room overlooking Hall One, a cavernous space built for live broadcasts of symphony orchestras. I was inspired by a talk about creative process to run up there and make a track. (On the screen is Kaki King, not Justin Bieber.) Here’s what I made:

Ableton invited a big group of progressive-minded educators, including Ohio’s own Will Kuhn and Ryan van Bibber (pictured here in his remarkable Ableton sweatshirt.)

Will and Ryan

I won’t try to summarize my panel discussion, because it was all about the issues covered by this blog, and because I was too in the moment to remember specifically what all we talked about.

Re-inventing music education through technology

The panelists in our Madonna headset mics, from left: me, Ableton developer Jack Schaedler, hip-hop educator Mel Uye-Parker, and moderator Dennis DeSantis.

panel selfie

We had a good turnout and it seemed to go over well. Most of the audience seemed to be educators, but a bunch of Ableton executives came too, which was exciting for me.

Ableton Loop talk

Most of the conference was focused on the creative side of music tech. Abayomi demonstrated Ableton’s spiffy new wavetable synth.

A panel of beatboxers talked through their onstage tech setups, most notably the gigantic pedalboard that Katie Gately uses for live vocal processing.

The legendary sound engineer Susan Rodgers talked about her work with Prince and her research on the neuroscience of music perception.

William Basinski and Jlin, whose austere musical sensibilities do not prepare you for their extreme in-person goofiness, effectively did a comedy routine about the challenges of life on the road for a touring avant-garde musician.

There were a bunch of strange and interesting performances too. The Nile Project is an ensemble of musicians from each of the countries that the Nile River passes through. They raise consciousness about environmental issues facing the river, but also put on a high-intensity show.

The conference finished with a show by Nosaj Thing and Daito Manabe, combining dystopian-sounding dance music with cyberpunked-out visuals.

I’m still digesting all the conversations I had with people, not to mention all the musical and technological ideas I absorbed. It was a pretty extraordinary experience; if you can go next year, I would recommend it.

One thought on “Ableton Loop 2017

Comments are closed.