So, there I was at NAMM 2017, walking around the gargantuan trade show floor for the first time, experiencing full sensory overload. Each stand and exhibitor was proudly (and loudly) showing off their wares to the industry with live performances, hands on product demos and even the unfortunately ubiquitous and unnecessary underdressed trade show girls.
For a change of pace and seizing the opportunity to sit down for a while I decided to attend one of the industry panels a friend was speaking at, up in the ROLI exhibition on the 2nd floor.
Now for those unfamiliar with ROLI they are one of the pioneering manufacturers in a new wave of products known as expressive MIDI instruments alongside the likes of Roger Linn Designs and Eigenlabs.
I had been introduced to ROLI a few years previously when a colleague of mine was invited to test out their top secret new product (the Seaboard Grand) which was being developed at the time in their trendy Shoreditch HQ in London. He wasn’t greatly impressed with the limited on-board sounds available back then (basic pianos and guitars) but both of us did muse on the potential of the product and specifically the control protocol that would allow for increased expression when using virtual instruments.
Fast forward to 4 years later and I’m standing in the Anaheim convention centre having what can only be described as a transcendent experience as I play with the Seaboard Rise controller and the accompanying Equator plugin for the first time. My first thoughts after 5 minutes of experimentation went along the lines of “I’ve NEVER played or heard anything like this before”, “This IS the future” and finally “I NEED to have access to this technology”.
ROLI call the experience ‘5D sound’ owing to the 5 dimensions of touch control you can have over every note:
- Strike - The same as traditional MIDI velocity.
- Press - The same as traditional MIDI aftertouch.
- Glide - Horizontal motion within a keywave or along one of the ribbons that transmits MIDI pitch bend data and allows for effects such as fully polyphonic vibrato and glissando.
- Slide – Vertical movements up and down a keywave that can be assigned to virtually any parameter.
- Lift – The same as traditional MIDI release velocity.
My only advice is – you have to try it!
Now for the kick in the gut, ROLI hasn’t developed an AAX version of their equator plugin yet because Pro Tools does not fully support the necessary extra MIDI information required for expressive MIDI instruments. At least not without tedious setup time involving separate MIDI tracks per voice of the VI which would become a living nightmare when editing.
Time For A New MIDI Standard?
The new MIDI protocol that ROLI are using has been dubbed Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression or MPE for short and has been co developed by a consortium of industry heavy hitters including Apple, Bitwig, Moog Music, Roger Linn Design and ROLI among others. MPE is described as a method of using MIDI which enables multidimensional devices like the Seaboard to control multiple parameters of every note within MPE-compatible software.
So, in traditional MIDI, channel-wide messages (such as pitch bend or modulation) are applied to all notes being played on a single channel. In MPE, each note or instrument voice is assigned its own MIDI channel so that those messages can be applied to each note individually allowing for ‘never before seen’ levels of expression within purely virtual instruments. The MPE consortium of developers publicly say that...
We've taken a pragmatic approach where we kept the best of what is already in practical use today and structured it in so that adding support for MPE would be the least possible effort, while providing the most possible benefit.
PersonalIy I don’t think that MPE can still be described or dismissed as ‘bleeding edge’ technology owing now to the full support it receives from major DAWs such as Logic X, Mainstage, Bitwig, Reaper, Garageband and Cubase and even selected third party virtual instruments such as Spectrasonics Omnisphere & Trillian, UVI Falcon, Softube Modular and EastWest Play 5.
How soon will it be before musicians turn up with their expressive MIDI instruments to our studios and we as Pro Tools engineers and producers can’t service them without tedious setup and editing time, if at all?
Are you eager like me to integrate some form of this new expressive MIDI technology into your Pro Tools music creation and sound design workflows?
Are Pro Tools Users Missing Out …Again?
So, the question I want to throw out specifically to the Pro Tools sound design, music creation and facilitation community is firstly have you experienced any form of this new wave of expressive MIDI yet and secondly do you think Avid should get on the case and include this feature in a future Pro Tools release? I’ve included a poll so we can get a rough idea of what you think but please feel free to expand on any initial thoughts and experiences you may have had in the comments section below.
Tell Avid Twice By Voting On The Pro Tools Ideascale Too
There are two feature requests on the Pro Tools Ideascale which have only 1 vote and 4 votes at the time of writing, so why not send a double message to Avid and vote these Ideascale feature requests up too...
MPE support (seaboard, linnstrument etc) Now that alternative midi controllers are coming of age, it would be great to see support for MPE (multidimensional polyphonic expression). Bitwig's implementation is pretty good, AVID could more or less do the same, and maybe add some sort of snap/quantize to note editing.
Allow Midi Omni as Midi Output (MPE Roli Linnstrument Compatibility) The reason I am suggesting this feature is primarily to allow much easier integration with new multi-channel (MPE) midi controllers such as the Roli Seaboard Rise and LinnStrument. This feature could also be very useful with multi-channel sequencers, drum machines and electronic drum sets as well.