Ableton Spaces: Generating Music with Plants w/Data Garden [5/17]

Our second Ableton Spaces workshop at Together 5 featured Data Garden explaining how they’re using the program to create music with signals generated by plants.


Our Data Garden hosts began by explaining that plants have more refined and developed senses than human beings. Plants sense chemical changes in the air, and the data they output can change based on any number of changes in a room. Multiple plants in a room will put out different data than singular plants, and a person entering a room can change the signal too. All of this was conveniently demonstrated by a crowd passing by the presentation space and completely changing the data output from the plant on hand.


A series of sensors attached to that plant were run through small pieces of hardware to send MIDI data to Ableton, essentially allowing the plant to “play” Ableton’s native instruments. Various MIDI effects, an arpeggiator and Live’s Simple Delay in Repitch Mode were also employed to create and process the plant’s sounds. Human reaction to the sounds being generated were also changing the data output, creating an elaborate cycle of biofeedback in the music.

Data Garden cited Brian Eno’s Music For Airports as a major inspiration for what they do. They described Eno’s process of composing the pioneering ambient work by winding various lengths of tape loops around an entire room and taking a nap in the middle of it, and called it similar to their own system. They set it up and simply allow the plants to play, uninterrupted by the human element.

Their systems work best on heartier tropical plants. Sensors must be attached to leaves of a certain thickness and shape, such that the plant is not harmed in the process. Plants, Data Garden explained, are much like pets. Humans have domesticated them and brought them into our lives for a reason.

Data Garden also previewed their next project: the MIDI Sprout. It’s a device that processes plant data into MIDI data to drive a keyboard or synthesizer without a computer as a middle man.


Ableton Spaces: Ableton Push with Jerome LOL [5/17]

1487376_645461535536548_1722171846115145060_nDuring day two of the Ableton Spaces workshops at Together 5, prolific producer Jerome LOL stopped by our District Hall headquarters to discuss and demonstrate the Ableton Push with some assistance from Ableton instructor Loudon Stearns.

The Push is a new breed of controller from Ableton that allows for a visual creative process based on patterns and shapes, which Stearns cited as creating a more familiar environment for a bass player such as himself. The Push operates on a unique principal of built-in scales, creating something of an even playing field for musicians – “more democratic.”

“When you show someone a guitar or piano, it is so much more difficult to pick up. While the push requires practice, it engages the imagination more and frees the mind from worrying about whether a note is out of key or not.” – Jerome LOL


Stearns is a Berklee professor and self-professed “harmony geek.” He appreciates the Push for different reasons that Jerome, viewing it as a valuable teaching tool that offers immediate gratification while still teaching the user about traditional harmony.

The Push, Stearns explained, is a flexible tool which changes what its knobs, buttons and faders do based on the context in which a musician uses it. It’s also a highly sensitive piece of equipment that can be used even for performances and compositions that require extreme dexterity and speed, recreating everything from tablas to speed-metal guitar riffs.


Jerome asserted that both Push and Ableton Live are amazing platforms for open experimentation, even in realms beyond what its creators envisioned. Among the features and plugins he cited as favorites were the Fade to Grey ping-pong delay with high-pass filter, the looper, the chain selector and the unique instrument racks.

Stearns stated that he believes DJs using tools like Push and Ableton often make better music than a traditionally trained and educated musician like himself. Traditional music, he said, tends to focus on the communication between the artists on stage. DJs, on the other hand, are much more in tune with communicating with the audience.

“With the Push you’re producing a beat on the fly as fast as you can in front of the audience and sometimes it sucks. But that is a part of the excitement of the Push.”

Ableton Spaces: Live Vocal Processing with Natasha Kmeto [5/16]

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As part of the Ableton Spaces workshops at Together 5 this weekend, District Hall hosted singer/songwriter/producer Natasha Kmeto for a demonstration and discussion of how she employs Ableton for live performance.

ableton 10Ms. Kmeto first outlined her hardware setup, which includes a Korg Mini synthesizer and an Akai MPD. Drum pads on the Akai controller are set to trigger loops and scenes organized in Ableton’s clip view. Elsewhere on the MPD, faders are assigned to control Ableton’s reverb, delay and beat repeat effects on her vocals. She also employs side-chain compression to create a “pumping” audio effect. Kmeto mentioned that the vocal effects – delay in particular – are useful for transitions in and between songs.

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Kmeto also uses Ableton’s looping functions for vocals, with buttons on the MPD mapped for recording, starting and stopping the loops. She builds each song from pre-existing stems during live performances, rather than looping all of the synth and vocal parts live. This, she said, makes for a less tedious and more immediate set. Still, her MPD is set up to allow flexibility and improvisation in her performances.

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As far as specific sample packs and VSTs go, Kmeto cited Goldbaby‘s 808 and 909 sets as her favorite drum packs and Valhalla as her go-to reverb. Software effects, she explained, made touring and performing live much more cost-effective than traveling with complex rack-mounted gear.

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Kmeto described her creative process as starting with a title, a mood or an emotion before melody and structure enter the equation. Her ultimate goal, she said, was for her music to be “emotionally honest.” She composes and records using analog synthesizers and Logic, and ultimately bounces her stems as audio to Ableton to adapt the finished songs for live performance. Ableton’s flexible nature makes it the ideal performance tool for Kmeto, and a perfect solution for DJing as well, she said.

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Together 5’s not over yet – be sure to check the schedule for daytime events at District Hall throughout the rest of this weekend.

Ableton Spaces at the Together Center


Our friends at Ableton have been kind enough to spotlight some of the exciting workshops taking place at Together 5’s District Hall headquarters in the Seaport District throughout this weekend:

We’re proud to present Ableton Spaces at Together Center for Together Boston 2014, in collaboration with Boston’s Mmmmaven school and Certified Trainer Loudon Stearns. See below for a full rundown of Ableton workshops taking place May 16 and 17, featuring special guest artists.

Live Vocal Processing with Natasha Kmeto
Date: Friday, May 16th, 2014
Time: 1:30 – 2:30pm
Host: Andrew Hlynsky (Mmmmaven instructor)
Guest Artist: Natasha Kmeto
Description: If you’ve ever wanted to know how to add effects to your vocals in a live setting, whether it’s just to stylize a performance or an effort to include effects from a studio production in a live setting, then this is your chance to learn how. Special guest artist Natasha Kmeto will deconstruct her live setup, including a look at how she achieves live vocal processing in a manner that suits her music. Natasha will also explain the roll of the computer and any controllers or other hardware involved. She will also offer a mini-performance to demonstrate her techniques in context.

Tales from the Crypt with Tensnake
Date: Friday, May 16th, 2014
Time: 6:00 – 7:00pm
Host: Mike McKay (Together co-founder)
Guest Artist: Tensnake
Description: Join this discussion with Together V artist Tensnake to learn about his new album, path to prominence, life and musical inspirations, thoughts on collaboration, working with labels, parties, writing and performing music and other stories from the crypt. Then catch his Together V performance later in the evening at Bijou alongside Curses.

Generating Music with Plants
Date: Saturday, May 17th, 2014
Time: 1:30 – 2:30pm
Host: Loudon Stearns (Ableton Certified Trainer)
Guest Artists: Data Garden
Description: Using Ableton Live in tandem with Max for Live, Data Garden artists Sam Cusumano and Joe Patitucci will demonstrate how to translate the activities of living plants (“biodata”) into MIDI note and control values, which can then be mapped to software parameters and functions to reveal the activities of plants through generative audio environments. They will also talk about the philosophy and purpose behind doing this, and provide some examples of real-world applications.

LOL Ableton Push
Date: Saturday, May 17th, 2014
Time: 4:00 – 5:00pm
Host: Loudon Stearns (Ableton Certified Trainer)
Guest Artist: Jerome LOL
Description: Special guest artist Jerome LOL will join Ableton Certified Trainer Loudon Stearns in taking an in-depth look at the new instrument from Ableton: Push. Jerome and Loudon will highlight unique features and explain the workflow benefits of using Push in the studio and even on stage, and Jerome will build a track from scratch to demonstrate.