by Author Max Wheeler

Published on

You are here:

Audioactive, Ableton and my CPD by Max Wheeler

A discussion of how working with Audioactive has helped me to develop as an artist and professional, looking specifically at performance with Ableton Live.

I have often felt that whilst we case study the benefits of youth music projects for young people, the learning and CPD boost to workers are often overlooked and even in terms of what impacts young people locally these benefits are often significant.


My professional use of Ableton as a live performance and compositional tool has been massively supported and reinforced by Audioactive and this has gone on to have some major impact on my career.


I began using Ableton following Creative Partnerships work with Audioactive alongside practitioner Dan Rogers back in around 2007. Whilst I was from a Hip Hop background and focused mainly on Lyric Writing and more traditional beat production, he was heavily into Techno and wanted to use Ableton as a way that we could collaborate and perform live.


Following experiments stemming from that work I set up a number of live projects on different independent record labels, first an Electronic Ethio-Jazz ensemble with First Word Records and then an Electronic Soul Duo ‘Anushka’ for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood recordings. I ended up touring all over the world using Ableton as the core of my live show and as a result ended up speaking publically for Ableton and working alongside them on aspects of their education offering.


Parallel to this in conversation with Audioactive’s Adam Joolia we identified that there were several issues facing young producers, electronic musicians and vocalists from non-traditional ensemble backgrounds.  Dan and myself had run an event called Producer’s Retreat where local producers could perform and showcase work. The success led us to see that often electronic musicians become isolated and the interaction which many ensemble players and performers take for granted would have to be fostered for them.


Leading from this was Electric Youth Ensemble a 9 piece group of young musicians brought together by Audio Active in 2016, with the express purpose of pushing the limits of live music technology and founding the countries first electronic youth ensemble.

Under the working title ‘Visions of the Future’ they composed an hour-long opus drawing on influences including Floating Points, Steve Reich and FKA Twigs, reflecting on changing conception of the future as refracted through the lens of the Hollywood narrative.

 Utilizing technology ranging from a modified 1982 Commodore 64 through to the latest in wirelessly connected laptops via Ableton Link, the group combines voice, flute and electric guitar, with cutting edge sampling live drums and analogue synthesis.

Commissioned by East Sussex Music Hub, the work allowed us to push the limits of live performance technology and also to bring together musicians who might not ordinarily get the chance to participate in a group setting. The group’s progress culminated with a performance at this years' Brighton Festival alongside headline act and curator Kate Tempest.


The success of this project once again led to other opportunities. Having used Ableton successfully in an ensemble gave me the confidence to pursue the next stage of my career


I have contributed resources and reviewed qualifications for exam boards Edexcel and OCR, with a specialism in music technology and electronic performance. My work with Audioactive has also fed into VIP Studio Sessions, of which I am the author, an online learning platform for Charanga, currently in use by 25,000 secondary school students in the UK and around the world.


Most recently I debuted Grown: A Grime Opera, my first orchestral work in collaboration with Grime artist Eyez. The work is a fusion of Grime and Classical orchestration, looking at the themes of youth, age and growing up.


The work was performed with Essex Youth Orchestra, conducted by Robin Browning, with arrangement from Peter Riley and commissioned by Charly Richardson lead officer at Essex Music Services lead partner in the Essex Music Education Hub. The live performance also gave competition winning Essex young producer Jake Shipton a chance to show off his live Ableton skills as part of the team alongside myself and Audioactive and Electric Youth Ensemble colleague Jack Kingslake.


Without the knowledge gained from Electric Youth Ensemble I never would have had the confidence to propose the idea in the first place. Throughout my career the creative spaces opened up by Audioactive have allowed me to develop techniques which feed into all my other work, and which Ableton have invited me to speak about at their Loop festival in Berlin this November.


I think it’s really important to note that without the support of Audioactive and the challenging projects that they run I never would have pushed myself as much as I have, and that whilst I’m obviously doing this to try to teach and support the young people I work with, that this also really helps in terms of developing as a musician. Inevitably a lot of the techniques I develop in workshops find their way directly into my performances and compositions with Anushka, as well as projects like the Grime Opera.  In fact I would go as far as to say that this development on the job is what has allowed me to remain a professional musician in a constantly evolving field in which reinvention and self development is essential to staying in work.