Logic + Live » Overview

This is the 1st of a series of articles about using instruments from Logic inside Ableton Live. These articles assume you own a Mac with Logic and Ableton Live.

This article gives an overview about why you would even want to do this, and the options I tried to make it happen. If you just want to quickly get into actually setting things up, you can skip ahead to the next article.

The Goal

Seamlessly control Logic's instruments from Ableton Live.

Achieving this goal will involve 2-way communication between the applications. Live must send MIDI instructions (from MIDI clips or hardware input) to Logic in order for the instruments to produce sound. Logic must then send the audio signal back to Live so we can treat it like a normal track and do all the things we would expect, like adjusting the track's level in the mix and routing to return tracks.

Motivation

In the early 2000s, I settled into Logic Studio as my primary music making tool, mostly because I didn't have much audio software at the time and it came with everything I needed to jump into professional-quality music making at a very competitive price. I don't regret the purchase, but I was never happy with the software's workflow as it related to my creative process. I come up with my ideas for songs during improvisation, and once enough core ideas are hammered out, I start recording. There became a clear line between improv mode and recording/sequencing mode, and I had a lot of trouble maintaining the freely flowing ideas of an improv session once I sat down to work in Logic.

After some false starts with a trial versions of Ableton Live, the application eventually clicked with me and I realized it's good at fixing this I-can't-improv-with-the-software problem. When I'm in Live, especially in the Session View, I find it easy and fun to stay in the improv mindset, enabling me to try out lots of ideas and organize them (often setting aside "failed" ideas for future songs), while effortlessly interspersing this activity with the more structured process of laying out a linear song in the Arrangement View.

It sounds like I should ditch Logic and use Live, because it suits me better, right? Well... no. I don't want to ditch Logic completely because some of the software synths and effects are amazing (I especially like Sculpture) and I paid good money for it, so damnit, I'm going to use it!

Unfortunately, Apple wants to lock us into their "do-it-all" platform, a place that is uncaring about easy interoperability with competing products. We can only directly use Logic instruments and effects inside of Logic. The ideal situation would be for Apple to expose its instruments as AU plug-ins that I can use in any other plug-in host on my computer, such as Live. But that's not happening.

Over the last few months I have experimented with various ways of seamlessly controlling Logic's instruments from inside Live. In this series of articles I will explain the various options I have tried and show you step-by-step instructions for setting things up on your computer. These articles are only directly useful to people using both Logic and Live on OS X, but perhaps some of the info will be helpful to people trying to connect any two audio applications together.

The Options

On OS X it's easy to send MIDI between two applications, so going from Live to Logic is straightforward. The tricky part is routing the audio back into Live. I considered four options:

Rewire is often suggested as a standard option for inter-application audio routing, but it has an unforgivable deficiency:

In case the image is not clear it says "Unfortunately, plug-ins are deactived when running Live as a ReWire slave."

ReWire runs in one of two modes: Master or Slave (or for the politically correct minded, Host and Client). The master is the mixing application, which I want to be Live in this case, and the slave is the synth application, which I want to be Logic. But Logic only supports running as a ReWire Master (more of that platform-lock-in mentality?), and so we are stuck with this unfortunate situation that no plug-ins can be used inside Live. Maybe you don't use any plug-ins and only use the built in Live devices? Then perhaps you should give ReWire a try, though I have some reservations about the master/child relationship being reversed from what we actually want in this situation. In any case, I am a plug-in whore and cannot live without my (Camel Audio, FabFilter, Sugar Bytes, etc) plug-ins, so I'm not going to explore this option any further.

The other three options are all workable, but each have pros and cons. Wormhole is the least intrusive option (it only requires installing the wormhold audio plug-in), but sends audio over the networking interface which probably places some limits on throughput and might create unnecessary bottlenecks in some situations (a setup using lots of OSC for example). Soundflower is easy to use and could be the ideal solution. At the time of writing, I had some issues with audio dropouts with soundflower, but the situation seems to have improved since then. Jack is by far the biggest pain to work with, but makes up for it by being more robust and powerful than the other options.

After initially settling on Jack as the best solution for myself, I ended up using Wormhole more and more because of its convenience. Flash-forward a few years, and wormhole only runs as a 32-bit plugin. Logic Pro X is 64-bit, and I use 64-bit Ableton Live as well. So these days I use soundflower. But, as usual with computers, your mileage may vary.

I will cover in-depth how to setup wormhold and soundflower, so you can make an educated decision for yourself. But first, in the next article, "Live + Logic #2: MIDI Routing" we'll take a look at sending MIDI messages from Live to Logic and how to avoid a problem with double notes.



Adam Murray, 2009
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