Over the last few years Ableton Live, the Digital Audio Workstation that we teach in our music production program, has grown into one of the most popular and innovative tools for making music. However many are unaware that a couple decades ago Ableton founders Gerhard Behles and Robert Henke developed another piece of software, a step sequencer called the PX18. The two would go on to use the PX18 extensively while performing as the duo Monolake, and drew plenty of inspiration from it when designing the first permutations of Live. It only takes a single glance at the GUI to see the obvious connection between Live and the PX18, and in many ways the PX18 can be looked at as a prototype of Live.
A commonly repeated misconception, in fact, is that Live was prototyped in Max. While that was later true of specific devices like Operator, Live was written in C. The prototype, then is really the PX18.
The PX18 is still a functional piece of software, available for download here, though it hasn’t been updated since around 2001, so it is far from the most advanced option available. Despite being outdated as a step sequencer, the PX18 is also incredibly valuable as a window into the imagination of two extraordinary artists. Henke and Behles used the PX18 to sequence nearly all of their Monolake tracks between 1996 and 2002, and its use and development helped them to hammer out the ideas that would become the basis of Ableton Live.
More or less all rhythmical Monolake tracks from 1996 – 2002 have been sequenced with the PX-18 and a lot of inspiration for the way how Ableton Live deals with ‘Clips’ and ‘Scenes’ came from our experience with the PX-18. This version here offers the functionality of a single track of the original PX18.
The creativity and drive to produce their own tools is something that sets Monolake apart from other artists, and is at the core of their philosophy as artists. While Gerhard is now kept busy full-time as CEO of Ableton, Henke still performs as Monolake, and takes pride in programming his own laser shows, such as Lumière II shown above, which he performs using his own self-designed tools and self-written software. This passion for programming and technology started early on in their lives and continues to define their work, and for Henke, it seems nostalgia presents simply too much temptation sometimes…
For more on Robert Henke, Gerhard Behles, and the PX18, head over to Create Digital Music.
If you’re interested in learning more about Ableton Live, make sure to look into our music production program, which will take you from programming your first drum loops and basslines all the way to producing your very own finished track! Contact us for more information!