Program that synth patch you were dreaming of, here at 35,000 feet — without annoying your seatmates by pulling out a MIDI keyboard. Oh, yeah, and this is not United; it’s Virgin America with power everywhere. Photo: crucially.

I know what you’re thinking. Plenty of music applications already have QWERTY input so you can play soft synths with your computer keyboard. Ableton Live does it by default; Logic and GarageBand have the Caps Lock keyboard. Why would you want a dedicated utility?

I thought the same until I saw Tanager AudioWorks’ Mac and Windows utility “Chirp” on Gearwire. The difference here is features, covering the full range of possible MIDI messages:

  • Drum triggers as well as note triggers (each on different channels)
  • 18-21 pitches (plus the whole 127-note range using octave controls)
  • Send custom MIDI data from triggers (note on/off, program change, controller values, SysEx, GM drum mapping)
  • Control velocity with a graphical slide or use top-row number keys
  • Send custom control changes from your mouse
  • Pitch bend, mod wheel
  • Use spacebar for sustain
  • An on-screen keyboard for feedback (not an issue in Apple’s software, but you do lack on-screen keyboards in other programs)

Chirp_Virtual_Keyboard Now, you do get some of these features in other tools, but definitely not all of them. You basically get the full range of possible MIDI messages. That means this is useful for, as I see it, two basic applications — but they’re killer apps:

1. Playing parts and programming synths in tight spaces (planes, trains, and automobiles)

2. Adding more custom control for live performance in tools like Ableton Live, Reaktor, etc.

#2 has some competition, like Bome MIDI Translator Pro, which can handle keystrokes. But because Chirp is set up like a MIDI keyboard, synth programming addicts may not be able to escape #1.

And this is the perfect time to mention something largely unrelated that excites me: Virgin America has added power ports at every seat. That’s every seat, not random seats here and there, and real power sockets, not some weird airplane-style socket. I’m flying to San Francisco next weekend, and I expect to get some serious music time in. It’s fun making music where the air is rarified. Thanks to Virgin America for providing promotional money for this p— doh! Did it again. Okay, well, here’s hoping other airlines follow suit.

Chirp Product Page

US$39.95 for Mac and Windows

And yeah, I may have to give this a go on that cross-continental flight. Sleeping on the red eye is for suckers. That’s music programming time.

  • dead_red_eyes

    Digital Performer has the QWERTY – MIDI keys thing too!

    That's crazy how Virgin has power outlets in every seat, I never heard about that before. That plane looks super swanky too. I bet it's hella spendy to fly with them.

  • has anybody tried this with the current version of live on a mac osx10.5.2? this excites me!

  • aaronaldo

    i wish this thing had an Arp, plus stuff like midi delays

  • james

    i always find i'm the least inspired ever on flights – a doctor friend said it was the thin air but i think its more likely to be to do with how uncomfortable you feel after having smuggled a bong from the studio, past security and onboard..

    good place for max patching though..

  • windows has many free alternatives like trollo or mkey.

  • Hmmm… the site for Trollo seems to be down. MKey looks nice, though, as do their other plug-ins. It doesn't do quite as much as this one. Guess it depends just how much you need out of your qwerty. 😉

    Oh, yeah, and flights aren't terribly *good* for you: pressure issues, reduced oxygen *not* because of the altitude but because they re-circulate the air so much, dehydration, temperature issues, poor circulation because you're stuck in one place, muscle/body cramps, no space, no room to move around, and yeah, no room for a MIDI keyboard.

    I still seem to get tons of stuff done on them. Not sure why I love flying, but weirdly, I do… guess we'll see if I'm *too* comfortable on Virgin. Guessing not a problem.

  • dplex

    It should be noted that (on a Mac at least) Chirp requires the installation of the Adobe Air framework in addition to the Chirp application itself.

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  • standaman

    MidiKeys does this for Mac, and it's free, but lacks some of the bonus features.

  • In addition to Bome's Translator Pro, there's Bome's Mouse Keyboard for Windows which is free Postcardware for non-commercial use.