Cutting video in Ableton Live

I had no idea it is this easy to cut and edit video in the music production application Ableton Live! The lucky coincidence that had me find out was when I was hired to teach a group of film people about Live. live7videoTo prepare the workshop I started playing around with my own crappy cell phone video clips; simply throwing them into Live to see what would happen. What happened was just amazing! I discovered I was able to abuse and mutilate video almost as badly as I usually mangle audio in this application! You may think “so what” but listen here: what whe have here is an exciting new hands-on approach for churning out video and music simultaneously! Not “making video for music” or “composing music for film”, that’s just boring, lame and obsolete by now. The new vision is about being a video musician! Play the shit out  loudly with the right attitude and apply your musician’s first-take approach to video! Ok, so for those of you who haven’t gotten around to try this out for yourself, here’s what you can do.

Drop a Quicktime video clip into Live (Arrange View) to have it create an audio track and open a video display window where you can see the moving picture as the sequencer plays. If double-clicking the video clip you get access to clip properties at the bottom of the screen (just as for audio clips).

If you already have a music mock-up cocking and want to adjust the musical tempo to hook up musical downbeats with cue points in the movie, set the QT clip to “Warp as Master”. Then create warp markers just as you do with audio clips. Drag a warp marker to align a video cue point with a musical timing point.

Also, if you throw in other QT clips they will create their own, new, audio tracks. Mix the volume of these tracks according to how much of the sync sound (original video cam sound) you want to keep (or not). You may also process the video sound with Live’s effects, if you’re so inclined. Anyway, a very cool thing is this: if these extra thrown-in clips are happening while already the master video clip is playing they will just take over the video channel for the clip’s duration. See the point? Instant video cuts with an exact musical timing! And you may do this as you are also creating the music – in the same arrangement window with the same visual timing grid. Awesome! You may even use a copy of one video clip (alt drag and drop it to copy it) to shrink it into a short slice to just beep a 32th note video scene into the overall video flow. And of course this does not even have to show the same moving picture flow as the main video at that particular moment in time, you are free to fetch the cut’s content from earlier or later in the video take.

Here’s another scenario: You have a video with a rhythmic passage that you want to use as the tempo base to create new music. Then do not set the main video clip to “warp” but fool around with Live’s global tempo until you find a tempo that is the same as in that particular video sequence (you may create a playback cycle in Live, around the rhythmic video part, while working out the fitting tempo). You may also want to adjust the video’s starting point in order to set the groove right. Below is a quick mock-up I made in a couple of minutes with this method. I also copied the video and shrinked it to loop only the rhythmic part part a couple of times to make room for adding some drums to the video loop + video sound.

This Man Is So Rude! from Per Boysen on Vimeo.

You can not play video backwards in Live though. But you can do all this:

  • Continuous speed change of video + original sound.
  • Continuous speed change of original sound while video stays normal.
  • Distribute short video slices as “cuts” to take over the video channel from the main video track.
  • Tune the original audio of a video clip into any melodic interval.
  • Change pitch of original video sound without affecting the sync sound timing.
  • Draw rhythmic “pitch change melodies” for the video clip’s original sound.
  • Render both a video + now sound and a 24 bit sound file to give the proper audio mastering treatment. Then you may put that sound channel back into the film.

To wrap this up I have to mention that this was all written regarding Ableton Live 7.0.14. By late spring 2009 we will get access to Live 8.0 and the add-on tool Max For Live. Max For Live is developed especially for Live 8 by Cycling74, based on both their legendary midi and audio manipulation software Max/MSP and the video manipulation application Jitter. Needless to say, Live 8 will bring video musicians some sharp new axes.

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18 thoughts on “Cutting video in Ableton Live”

  1. Hi would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using? I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique. P.S Apologies for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing your experience with us….this is great. I love abletonlive…now I can do all mixes in video

  3. @ MarshallG,

    Yes, I have been using Ableton Live for live looping. Quite a lot, but it is not my host application of choice. I prefere using Mainstage as my host application and loop in Mobius AU plugin. Or sometimes a simpler – loop station like – setup with a bunch of Loopback plugins. Loopback is the built-in looper of Mainstage. I even rather build a new host from scratch in Bidule than use Ableton Live for live looping, for the reason of CPU efficiency. Live is not bad, feature-wise, but I’d rather put the CPU cycles into a cool live sound than into keeping lots of live remix options instantly available (which is where Live is superior)

  4. thanks for the post … been using video in Ableton for a couple months and this post helps me take it to the next level.

    Have you used Ableton for live looping?

  5. Always wondered how to get the video thing working, “man and you have sorted me right out”

  6. It will be a million times more useful once you can use video clips in session view so you can make little cuts between clips back and forth very easily on the fly. As it is right now it’s like a very lobotomized version of vegas.

  7. @bvs,
    Yes of course you can do that! That’s how you normally create music to video copy of a film. You should have one video track and as many audio, effect or instrument tracks needed for the music you are making. When it sounds good and goes well with the video you bounce either an audio stereo file of the music or a video coopy with the new music mix as the video audio (plus old camera video audio, or not. That’s up to you).

  8. but there is anyway you can play music and video in the same time , for instance : 4 audio tracks and a video track (on video-out)

  9. @Per Boysen
    I’d like to say thanks, but I really just cut and pasted two great artists’ together- can’t take credit for it- but I love the song! AIH is so great…

    BTW, I wanted to add that I didnt do that in Jitter or Max for Live either- I don’t have that yet- I’d really like to, Jitter and Max4Live look awesome–but it’s expensive and kind of overwhelming.
    I took an electro-acoustic experimental music class in ’03 – we learned Max (as much as one can in a few months), but I’ve forgotten everything I learned-
    oh so much to do so little time. Plus, the bills. Anyways, thanks again for your great post- would like to see more M4L Jitter stuff from you… peace! :)

  10. Thanks man, I will try yo get some done now for first time, i am ableton user now for seven years.
    Thanks a lot.


  11. very good technique indeed i didnt even know this was possible! imagine all the mashup video im gonna do now :D

  12. Excellent discovery!
    I may use something like this technique in a video/VJ workshop later this afternoon :-)
    You’ve inspired me to use Live better, more …
    Big Thanks

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