This weekend I’ve been at the first ever MIDIHACK, in sunny Stockholm. For my hack I’ve developed an idea that we started with Peter Gregson, goPlay, and have turned it into a Max For Live device that can be used by anyone in Ableton Live.

Look Mum No Hands M4L Device

Look Mum, No Hands!The device uses pitch detection and phrase recognition to control clips and effect parameters in Ableton, allowing instrumentalists or singers to control the software without the need for any external hardware.

This is achieved by predefining certain musical phrases for the device to listen to (the Trigger), and then setting the desired action for the device to perform when it hears that phrase (the Output). So, in the example above, MIDI notes 48, 55 and 51 (C, G, Eb) will launch Clip 1 of Track 0. When combined with the existing Ableton feature of Clip Envelopes, this system can be used to control literally any parameter in your Live session. Here, for example, I’ve placed an empty audio clip onto the channel used for Lead Vocals that automates the Dry/Wet mix of the Ping-Pong delay.

Ableton Clip Envelopes

There are three types of Triggers that the device supports:

  • - Phrase recognition – triggers the Output when all notes in a one, two, or three note phrase are heard
  • - Note count – counts occurrences of a particular note and triggers the Output when a certain number is reached
  • - Range – any notes heard within a certain range triggers the Output (e.g. a range setting of 60-72 would correspond to any note in the Octave above Middle C)

Each Trigger can also be set to be only be triggered once (until a Reset button is pressed), or can be triggered repeatedly.


The idea behind the project is that, while MIDI controllers come in all shapes and sizes, they are not inherently intuitive to a musician in the same way that an instrument is. If you’re an instrumentalist or a singer who likes to perform with backing track elements and effects, constantly having to think about the technical aspect of controlling your computer via MIDI can be a distraction from performing well. Every time you want to interact with your technology, you have to leave the musical mind-set, briefly enter the technical one, and then switch back to the musical one.

With this system, you are completely free to concentrate solely on your performance, while still being able to use extra musical elements and effects in realtime.

I see a lot of potential for this principal in a wide variety of genres, as it offers not only more convenient ways of achieving existing tasks, but also a new way of thinking about the interaction between a performer and their technology set-up. A composer could use these triggers as a score for musicians, or complex webs of triggers could create unpredictable, reactive and generative performances, making the technology as much of an intelligent component in the performance as the musician.

I will be writing up more about the Max For Live device over the coming weeks. In the meantime, get in touch if you would like to learn more or use this system in your Live set-up.

Also, many thanks to Lewis Flude for contributing the graphic design for the device, and to Ableton for naming Look Mum, No Hands! their favourite hack and awarding me a brand new Push!

If you would like to become a Beta tester for Look Mum, No Hands!, please enter your e-mail address, below.