Newsletter on Mailchimp
This is an exciting new functionality introduced in MIDI Designer Pro 2: you can directly upload Layouts, Pages and Preset Packs directly.
See the simple instructions here.
This is an interview with Theodor Galanis. Theodor is a brilliant guy and a well-known music technology evangelist. A discussion on FB about live rigs and improvisation piqued my curiosity, and I wanted to learn more about his rig. This interview was conducted on Google Hangouts in February 2016.
Let’s start from the musical side of things. Pretty soon we’ll hit the physical topology — I see you’re rocking those BCR-2000’s, I know you’re a Lemur expert and I”m pretty sure you’re using Ableton. But first: what kind of music are you producing with your rig?
I am mainly interested in making tecnho music – which may sound kinda vague given that this genre has a lot ermmmm……divergent subgenres….Anyways think huge bass-y kick drums, driving basslines, NOT an excessive useage of effects and swooshes and stuff like that….and usually some sequenced synth riff on top of it all to make you want to dance….I think this pretty much covers it.
And your goal is to show up at the gig (or in the studio) and improvise new music using an essentially fixed rig?
Yeah well I have been DJing for quite some time now but I was always fascinated by the posssibility of making the music right there, real time….as opposed to DJing. Of course seeing artists like Tim Exile or Beardyman had a huge impact on me. So….while a couple of years ago, producing music was a different “era” and playing music for people as a DJ was something else….I now strive to combine the two in one. I came to the conlcusion this can only be achieved by either a huge investment in hardware or simply take advantage of my already purchased midi controllers plus a well thought, planned out fixed rig as you called it.
So we’ll call this your Live Rig, ok?
Yup fine with me! ?
How does your Live Rig integrate with your DJing equipment? Same computer, different computer, CDJs for DJ’ing, etc.?
Well actually when I started DJing I didnt have much cash to spend on equipment but I already had a laptop, was already producing and had already checked out the major “DJing” software out there. Coming from a production background, I chose to DJ with Ableton Live as it was far more fascinating for me to set up my own chains of effects, something I couldnt pull of with, say, Traktor which was up on my list. Then I figured I might as well add some extra “tracks” (audio channels) to play some loops on top of the ready-made tracks I DJed with.
So essentially this whole thing evolved after time into my Live Rig – you could say my Live Rig is also my DJing rig. The computer running all the show is an HP laptop with an i3 CPU and 4GBs of ram. NOT too much, but over the years I’ve learnt to optimise Windows for real time operations and Im extremely cautious with fishy websites and the likes, bloatware and all that stuff. It rarely, if ever fails me but I guess its also a bit of luck. It happened to turn out an OK machine.
Very cool: while we’re here I might as well ask if you’re using an audio interface? I’m guessing you are
Yeah of course – thats a “must”. I have a Focusrite Scarlette 6i6 in my studio and a Native Instruments Audio 2 for the gigs – its small, but effective and reliable, plus very loud outputs. As you might guess, Im using one of its stereo outputs as the main output to the PA and the second one as “monitoring – cue”. All the mixing is done internally, in the box.
Great! The Scarlett stuff is relatively cheap and awesome. And yeah, the Audio 2 is loud and gives you just what you need: 4 outs! (Personally I cannot get my Audio 2 to stop glitching, but that’s another story/interview/article)
Haha – try the driver that came with it – I think the later ones had some problems ?
Okay, will do!
So: let’s dive into the overall concept of the Live Rig. You said something on Facebook the other day about having a ton of MIDI tracks able to route through a bunch of different sound options. Can you explain that a bit, please?
Oh yeah actually I love explaining that – I really want people to understand what is possible with today’s computers and software because its amazing.
So, prepare for a huge reply.
Theodor Galanis, Live Rig
Ableton & DJ Setup
In the software side of things I run Ableton Live. I have saved a project which features all the channels, all the effects, all the configurations and all the midi mappings I use minus the ready-made tracks for when I want to DJ. So essentially Im using this project as a “template” – since Live doesn’t have the luxury of saving project templates.
Diving into this, I’ve got 4 audio tracks which are for DJing purposes – I simply drop the tracks I want to play when I’m DJing in them.
16 Channels with Sampler
Next up I have 16 channels all consisting of a native Ableton’s Sampler. These channels are grouped into two groups of 8 and are color-coded differently. These serve as my drum machines. Each of these consist of Sampler instance where I utilise the “zone multisampling” feature. Most current software samplers allow you to “map” different samples to the same key (in what they call “zones”) – note and trigger a different one according to velocity – this helps for current samplers’ realistic sound. The interesting part however is that in Ableton Live the Sampler “sample slot” can be midi mapped directly as opposed to being “selected” by velocity. So to get the picture of this, imagine a simple midi channel with a Live Sampler named “Kick” where I have specifically chosen kick drum samples, imported them into the Sampler and then have a simple MIDI mapped control to “select” the sample (that is, imported kickdrum) that will be triggered by a specific note. Since MIDI can send up to 128 discrete values ( 0 – 127) I can pretty much create “drum sets” made out of samples which are made out of 128 possible kick drums, toms, percs, etc etc – 8 channels in total – 128 sounds per channel – x2.
The x2 part is because the audience, being accustomed to the DJ styled rapid changes of beats I figured I needed two completely independent drum machines so that I can mix the one with the other as a DJ does. Otherwise the whole thing gets too ermmmm slow in progression, which is fine if your audience is expecting a live show….but not OK when you have to be on par with DJs and all that clubbing culture.
These two sample-based drum machines are triggered by a Novation’s Launchpad. There is this guy, Motscousus who has released modified versions of Ableton PY controller scripts for the Launchpad. They basically transform it to the “poor guy’s Push” if I may say so. Amongst other goodies, they feature a step sequencer page, exactly like the one Push has: bottom left half of the pad-matrix serves as a drum selector, the top section is the sequencer and the bottom – right section is the loop-size selector.
Needless to say I have also midi mapped the most “sensible” parameters of those Samplers such as attack, decay, a couple of send FX channels and whatnot to add variation to my drum sequencing.
3 Instances of Massive + 1 Absynth
Next, I have 3 instances of Native Instruments Massive and one instance of Native Instruments’s Absynth. I have set those up to “receive” midi notes on specific channels (as opposed to default “omni – all”) – specifically they start from midi channel 3 up to 6. See, midi channels 1, 2 were reserved for midi mapping action (CC messages) and I didn’t want to mess up the whole thing. I wanted to know what is mapped where in the fastest way possible and keeping the midi channels separated like that, certainly helps when troubleshooting. Now there are two main things that led me to choosing these VST plugins
- they both feature some kind of “macro-controls” so that you don’t have to map hundreds of parameters to midi controllers in order to control the sounds live. Each preset sound can “map” different parameters to these “macro controls” and all you have to do is midi map the macros, NOT the actual parameters. So according to the sound loaded, your simple 8 knob mapping will always control the parameters most suitable to the sound loaded.
- The other reason was that both are compatible with midi program changes. You can create “banks” of 128 sounds (you know the drill, 0 – 127) and then simply select these sounds by sending MIDI program changes to the plug ins. This of course is handy for switching sounds live on stage.
Initially I was trying to play these VSTs with Lemur – designed keyboards so I had also incorporated “looper” Live devices after the VSTs to be able to loop – record what I play on the fly. I completely abandoned the idea firstly because of the accumulated latency ( MIDI over wi-fi + the buffer size of my audio interface) and, because I have to admit Im not that much of a great keyboardist. So, here is where initially Arturia’s Beatstep came into my set up, which I then sold and replaced with a BCR2000 with a modified firmware that turns it into a full blown 32 – step sequencer. I won’t get into details about it but it rocks and if you have a BCR2000 laying around google “Zaquencer” and thank me later ( link ).
So, with the Zaquencer (modified BCR2000) I can sequence all four of these VSTs since it actually features 4 independent “tracks” – all with their own settings, as in midi channels, sequence length, etc etc.
Lemur + mTonic
As if all these weren’t enough, next up I have yet more 8 channels consisting of the “multi – outs” of the fabulus drum synthesizer “mTonic” by SonicCharge. It took me months to create a full blown Lemur controller for it, and frankly I couldnt leave it out of my set up even though it may be a bit of an overkill, having already those 16 drum channels I discussed initially. It does make some great bliipy noises though plus its fun to play with.
Lemur controlling Reaktor
The last, finally channel is one instance of Reaktor where a modified, Lemur – OSC compatible ensemble of “metaphysical function” is loaded. This serves as the main “drones – pads – atmos” synth. To be honest, it is kinda heavy so when it is not used I have midi mapped its “enable – disable” button (that litle “power” button all rack devices have in Live) and switch it off.
Send and Final Effects
Then I have 3 “send” channels – each of them featuring an effect chain. One reverb and two delays. I also have a compressor dropped after the reverb which is sidechained with a “silent 4 on the floor” kickdrum and the sidechain input level is midi mapped too so I can choose to completely eliminate the “rhythmic pumping reverb” effect (sidechain input level down to minus infinity).
The whooooole of these tracks end up in a “sub master” channel where I also have two basic filters, a High Pass and a Low Pass for those sweeping moments of drops, Live’s native limiter and then the whole end up to the master bus. Having a “sub master” channel helps when you want to monitor in your headphones what you send out to the PA. There is no “solo – cue” button on Live’s master bus but of course there is on any other channel regardless if you have routed it as such, to serve as a master bus.
Of course…..in most of all the channels I mentioned, a typical DJ-style EQ I have designed out of FX racks of Ableton live resides – and actually you can download that FX rack from my website – its the Ableton Live’s missing 3-band DJ-ing EQ. Also, after the VST synths I have added HP and LP filters and yet another sidechained compressor triggered by the same “silent” kickdrum – this helps un-clutter the mix by “ducking” a bit the synth sounds when the actual kick is heard – or simply add a rhythmic pumping effect.
So pretty much this is where all the sounds come from. Now on the controlling side of things, besides the ones I already mentioned (Launchpad, BCR2000 Zaquencer) I have a second BCR2000 which has two pages: on one page the 4 audio tracks and all the effects are mapped – this is the basic DJing controller mode for me. When performing live music, a different page features the groups of those 8-channel drum machines, so thats like having two DJ decks only they are made out of the drum machines plus the effects mapped as per the first page.
One BCF2000 serves as a typical mixer for the 4 VST plug ins plus the mTonic master bus, plus the Reaktor channel and Lemur is there to control the lot in more details. With the great help of scripting, I have managed to save into “arrays” the drum slot selectors – essentially I can tap on a button and load “Kick drum no34”, “tom no23”, “perc no78″…..etc etc without having to manually change each drum sound on by one. Also in Lemur are all the midi program change messages for the VSTs and all those details.
I think I have covered most of the basics of my set up. Not to be misunderstood, this whole thing wasn’t created overnight. It has taken me roughly 3 years of adding or leaving out bits and pieces till I find what works and how, and of course I’m still experimenting with it.
So you have 8 Samplers for (kick, snare, hi-hat etc.) and then the same setup again (8 more channels), and you can switch between 128 samples on each. So you can choose a kick from 128 kick-like sounds, is that right?
Yup, thats correct!
So those are controlled by a step sequencer running on your custom Launchpad. Is it… so when you look at the Launchpad, is it showing you the notes for one channel, e.g., tom 2?
Yes that is correct. I can select the “visible” channel by tapping on one the bottom-left half of the pad matrix – but limited to only one of the 8-channel groups. To switch to the other 8-channel group I use either the top left-right arrows of the device or two “select” buttons I have on the BCF or Lemur.
Okay, which is why you need two 8-channel setups: otherwise you wouldn’t be able to “drop it!”
Yeah exactly that….In my first ever Live gig, a year and a half ago, I only had one 8-channel group. The transitions were quite slow and I noticed that the crowd wasnt responding so well. Essentially it all sounded like a loop slightly changing over time. If I tried to change lots of drum sounds at once, then the whole thing sounded like an un-talented DJ was on decks. After that gig, I created the second 8-channel group. While the first one is playing, I can have the master out of the second muted, and start working on its pattern and then simply mix it in with the playing one – or, yeah just drop it.
That’s very cool. And I see you’ve got Lemur on iPad controlling Massive, Absynth, mTonic and Reaktor. How is it routing to the PC?
Its connected via Wi-fi and the utility daemon software plus a third party virtual midi cable app, LoopBe 30. You might be asking now, if the latency isnt trouble – it was when I was trying to trigger actual notes with it. Since I have been using Zaquencver however I rarely use the midi “keyboards” in Lemur and well, truth be said. changing parameters in synths and mixers can be a lot more “forgiving” as far as latency is concerned.
And now in 2016 you’ve got more options for a direct connection, at least for MIDI (including the project that I’m a part of, musicIO).
Yeah thats true – I have bought MusicIO, its a great app and Im definitely looking in ways to incorporate some iOS apps into the set up. The truth is, I have an archaic iPad2 so I rather wait till I have enough money to get me a more powerful iOS device – or even better, keep the iPad2 as a controller, and add a newer and more powerful iPad for actual sound source.
Good points, except that the iPad Pro — being bigger — offers new possibilities for controllers. Generally more controls and/or more clarity…
Yeah choices…choices…so many choices. I think thats the main reason many people seem to prefer the analogue gear – unless you are way focused, you can be lost in all these choices and end up doing nothing. Frankly speaking I ‘ve fell too many times into this trap – there are some FX stuff in my Live Rig I still rarely put to good use in when performing. They seem like a good idea when designing the thing, but without constant practise, your fingers just wont go there while you are on stage.
So let me ask you about that. You’ve got several different controllers, multiple sound sources, etc. First, just to understand, when you’re playing, if someone comes up and says, “hi!” can you shake their hand, or are you too busy?
Haha no actually I cannot shake their hand. I have to constantly change stuff in the background or mix it in, otherwise I risk of sounding too repetitive. Well ok, a fast shake wont hurt I guess but you get the idea.
definitely. So: how do you work with all this possibility? Let’s say you’ve just mixed in something on one of the 8-track drum machines. Where to you look next?
Well, I try to take a “one by one” approach. So for example once I’ve laid out a drum pattern, I then move on to a synth pattern. Then when this is done, I add some variations to the drums then while doing those in the background Im preparing the next synth – when the next synth is done and while Im mixing it in, Im starting working on the second drum pattern. When the synths are mixed, I slowly mix out the “old” then proceed with the “switch” of the drum patterns and so on and so on. Of course, in this whole procedure the typical “cut the bass” (HP filter) then drop it with a change in something else helps a lot. And of course I have to be honest, I usually practice a lot before a live gig and I even write “notes”, actual notes on paper where I keep track of what presets I will load, with what drum sets they ll go together and all that stuff. Also, quite frankly, most of the times I dont keep up with the notes after a while – the whole process tends to ermmm get a mind of its own and I simply go where it takes me. But hey, thats the nice part of playing live isn’t it?
Yes indeed. Well thanks so much for speaking with me. Any gigs lined up that you want to mention, or anything else (FB Groups, etc.)?
Well for gigs and all that stuff you can always visit my FB page at https://www.facebook.com/Softc0re
Of course I have to mention the iPad Musician FB group which is quite helpful and informed on all things iOS music and lastly I want to thank you for the invitation on this small chit chat. Also a big shout out to CannibalRadio.com where you can listen to my radio show every Tuesday.
Thanks again Dan, its been a pleasure.
Thank you again, it’s been inspirational! See you on the Interwebs, or perhaps in Greece or New York City or somewhere else!
Haha, surely let me know if you ever come here in Greece. I’ll give a great tour around. ?
Keep up the good work with your apps. ?
Will do, thanks again!
Addendum: Here it is in action!
Just in time for NAMM 2016, Confusion Studios LLC is proud to announce two new apps: MIDI Designer Pro 2 and MIDI Designer Player.
MIDI Designer Pro 2.0
MIDI Designer Pro 2 is a fully customizable performance-oriented MIDI controller platform for iPad (optimized for iPad Pro), iPhone and iPod.
MIDI Designer Pro took the music-making world by storm, and Pro 2 is set to do it all over again.
MIDI Designer Pro 2.0, Features
- Complete redesign of MIDI Designer Pro — all controls have been reimagined for greater clarity and a more pleasing look
- New Control Type: Picker for longer lists, e.g., for program changes
- New Control Type: Meter. Will work with track-volume output on most major DAWs (including Ableton, with no scripting) on Windows and Mac
- New Control Type: Image Panel. Includes Image Manager functionality and powerful display controls
- MIDI Designer Community In-App Browser and Upload
- Preset Packs for sharing of global presets
- iCloud Support
- Full backwards compatibility with all existing layouts
- Several more fixes, enhancements and features
MIDI Designer Pro 2.0, Pricing, Availability
- Bundle-Priced for Upgrade from MIDI Designer Pro
- Available for purchase as a Universal App on the App Store in Q1-2016
MIDI Designer Pro 2 is currently available for beta testing: Users who want early access should shoot us an email at mdp2beta [at] midiDesigner [dot] com.
MIDI Designer Player
First-class, ultra-low-latency MIDI controller player. Comes with several general-purpose MIDI controller layouts. Users can access Community and Professional MIDI Designer Pro layouts via in-app purchase.
Available for download from the App Store in Q1 of 2016.
In this video I demonstrate how to use the midiLFOs app to automate the “Dictator” control in Turnado. In order to achieve more rhythmic CC modulation, I sync midiLFOs to the clock on my BeatStep Pro, while using MIDI Designer Pro in the background to constrain the CC values coming from midiLFOs to 8 values instead of 128. The result is that the position of the Dictator changes every 2 beats in time with the sequencer.
For more info on the “number of ticks” option, check out the Working with Controls chapter in the manual!
There are tons of great layouts shared by the community, but let’s face it: everyone’s setup and workflow is just different enough to keep things from working perfectly every time. While importing a layout is pretty easy, you’re likely to run into issues if you’ve made changes to the default midi settings in your software, apps or hardware synths. Things also get a bit complicated when you’re sending MIDI notes and messages on multiple channels to different programs or devices.
There are a couple of great features available in MIDI Designer Pro that make it easy to adapt layouts shared by other users to fit your own needs, or to repurpose your own layouts when needed.
Renumbering Controls and Changing Channels
This is the tool I’ve personally found most useful in making layouts my own. In design mode, you can tap on a page tab to open the Page Properties tab, and then click on the Controls icon at the bottom to display some useful control actions. The top button allows you to renumber controls and/or change the channel associated with that page. If you just need to assign a different MIDI channel, you can simply select the new channel number and tap the “Channel Only” button. If you need to reassign the CC numbers for the page’s controls, you can do that as well by choosing a starting number and clicking “Unused Only” to avoid numbers already assigned elsewhere in the layout, or “Sequential” if you want to ignore existing assignments.
Check out the section on Page-Wide Control Actions in the manual for more info.
If you are using multi-page layouts, choosing different colors to visually separate controls into groups can be useful or even necessary. Of course, a layout’s original creator may have sprinkled colors throughout a page’s controls that don’t really suit you, so luckily there’s the option to remove custom colors, also found on the Controls view of the Page Properties tab.
It’s easy to quickly define the look and feel of the controls in your layout using the Page Properties Pane, with options for choosing the background color and texture, LED color, and highlight color for each page.
When you open a layout from an external program or from the Config -> Actions panel, you are given the option to append the new layout to the one currently loaded. This is a great way to combine multiple shared layouts, or to build onto an existing layout. Just be sure to save the combined layout once you’ve made the necessary tweaks so that it can be recalled for later use.
When it comes to digital keyboards, increased portability almost always means less direct control over program parameters, which necessarily take second priority to performance controls. Even with heftier workstation synths, the sheer number of features and options makes it impossible to dedicate physical controls for everything.
The compromise for packing a ton of functionality into a tidy little package usually comes in the form of a tiny LED screen and an intricate array of menus and submenus, all controlled by a “data knob”, and maybe a couple of buttons. Creating new presets means twisting and tapping through dozens (or hundreds) of menu options. Crafting the perfect sound can be a frustrating exercise lasting hours, or even days.
MIDI Designer Pro takes a lot of the pain and frustration out of digital synth programming by giving you the controls you need, allowing you to discover the sounds hidden behind those layers of menus. A great example is the control layout created by André Noller for the Akai Miniak (pictured above).
As many know, this synth was nearly un-editable (at least for me) because of the missing controllers and the ‘calculator-styled’ display with one (!) endless knob and a few shortcuts to get to the menus faster (but not fast enough if you ask me).
As you can see from just one of the many screens included in the layout, André’s custom controller offers a massive improvement in the programming workflow for this synth. The good news is, layouts like this are possible for most modern digital synths, and many have already been created and shared by members of the MIDI Designer community.
So save yourself some scrolling and tapping by heading over to the community shares, where you may just find a ready-to-use layout for your synth.
Freightliner, maker of big trucks, went as big as it gets with a media event in May by using advanced projection mapping to turn Hoover Dam into one big projection screen. It took 60 high-powered projectors to cover the surface of the dam, which spans the area of about 9 football fields.
What does this have to do with MIDI Designer? Nothing directly, but when Dan shared it with me, it got me to thinking about dreaming bigger.
First, though, I’ll introduce myself for those of you who may not know me. My name is Clif Johnston, and I’m the founder/president of Apptronica, and author of a couple of books on iOS music making. I’ll be doing a bit of guest posting here on the MD blog to share some thoughts on using the iPad as a control interface using MIDI Designer Pro.
My main focus in life is making music on iOS devices. A few days ago someone asked why anyone would want to use an app like MIDI Designer to control other apps – why wouldn’t you just use an app’s existing controls? The answer lies in dreaming bigger: control more; control better; control differently.
Custom control interfaces are helpful, and even necessary sometimes, if you’re using multiple apps, VST synths, hardware synths, or a combination of those. Beyond just having all of the necessary knobs and sliders within reach, combining controls into a single interface opens up interesting options for controlling multiple parameters across your setup at the exact same time.
For example, you might set up a single X/Y control to adjust the filter cutoff and resonance on 2 synths at once. You could also use a single set of program change controls to move seamlessly through a live set without trying to navigate a list of preset changes in the middle of a performance.
If you’re using music apps on an iPhone or iPad mini, the controls can be so dense sometimes that they’re next to useless for live performance. This applies to software VSTs as well, especially when you’re running half a dozen at the same time. Creating your own control layouts allows you to enlarge and expand certain controls while removing those you don’t use.
The precision of controls can be improved using many of MIDI Designer’s features. For example, you can reduce the number of ticks on a knob, which in turn reduces the number of discrete values to be sent. This can be handy if you’re only interested in fractional increments (e.g. 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 4/4), making setting the desired values much easier.
There’s also a “Long Throw” option for sliders, knobs, and crossfaders which slows the movement of the controls, leading to smoother and more precise parameter changes. This is especially handy for things like volume or tempo where a quick change can lead to very undesirable results.
You may find that a slider or X/Y control provides a better interface for you than the set of knobs provided by the developer. Perhaps a row of buttons with discrete values better fits your needs than a single continuous control.
MIDI Designer also allows you to create custom keyboards, opening up some interesting options not readily available in some apps or software. You could create a keyboard that operates vertically instead of horizontally. You could set up a keyboard to restrict notes to a certain scale. You can even use hex shaped buttons to create your own isomorphic keyboard layouts.
What’s Your Dream?
This is just a quick example of a handful of ways to use MIDI Designer layouts to improve your workflow or live performance setup. There are tons of possibilities, but it’s really the ability to create personalized layouts that do exactly what you need them to do that makes MIDI Designer such a valuable tool.
Let me know in the comments what you’d like to be able to do with a custom controller. If you’re already using MIDI Designer in an innovative way, please share so that your ideas can inspire others.