Chicken and egg problem, no more. MIDI Polyphonic Expression is now in commonly available controller hardware and software like Ableton Live 11. So let’s check in at the synth maker of the father of MIDI – Dave Smith’s house Sequential and see what happens when you add it to classic synthesizers.
Sequential this week dropped a new OS for two of their more unique synthesizers. That’ll be the OB-6, the collaboration of legendary synth designers Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim, a 6-voice polyphonic powerhouse, plus the Prophet 6, which is a modern take on the Prophet 5 but also 6-voice analog. (And yes, just for added confusion, Sequential now also makes a 5-voice Prophet 5 remake that’s closer to the original. Basically… you have a lot of choices.)
Prophet 6 or OB-6, both OSes have the same two additions. There’s the ability to make slop run normally or vintage – so you get some of the irregularity of a historic synth, on demand. That’s a feature on the Prophet 5, now also on the P6 and OB-6. And there’s MPE, the aforementioned MIDI Polyphonic Expression support.
The keyboards on these synths work as they always do; adding MPE support means you can plug in an external controller and get multiple fingers shaping your sound. So add something like a Joué or Sensel Morph alongside your keyboard and you have more ways of tapping into the sound. (Or you could even use something like the Polyend Medusa, which supports MPE out, for simultaneous control of both engines.)
Now, not all of you have the requisite gear to follow what I’m talking about, but I specifically hope that some other synth makers are reading this article.
Here’s how the implementation works:
The y axis of your MPE controller can be mapped as you wish – so it’s really like a patchable modulation support from your hands. (Cool!) That means you can use that expression to transform filter cutoff, pulse width (1, 2, or both), and set direction in one direction or both. You also can use pitch bend per note.
I often hear resistance from people saying “yeah, but this doesn’t make better music.” That’s a bit like saying adding better handling on wheels doesn’t make everyone a rally car champion instantly. I mean – no. It won’t. What’s your point?
But if you look at it another way – these are elements of a very powerful synthesizer that then become accessible underneath the hands as you play. It means you don’t have to take your hands off the keyboard and adjust a knob. It means that each note can be shaped separately, which removes an arbitrary and sometimes unmusical restriction.
Right now, all of this runs globally, but I hope in future we see the ability to store per-patch.
Here’s the full implementation:
MPE is turned on/off by using the MIDI Channel global. MPE is one past channel 16 and takes over the channel assignments completely
Works with 6 voices on MIDI channels 2-7. It does not work with polychain.
When MPE is on…
CC 74 is now overridden and is routed via the Y-Axis destination global. The behavior is controlled by the Y-Axis Mode global.
Program pitchbend is now overridden by the Master Pitchbend Range global
To reach 3rd global page: hold ‘Bank’ and hit ‘Global’
0: Master Pitchbend range from 1-96 semitones (default 2)
1: Voice Pitchbend range from 1-96 semitones (default 48)
2: Y-Axis Destination: Cutoff, PW1, PW2, PW12
3: Y-Axis Mode: Unipolar, Bipolar
4: Vintage On/Off
Master pitchbend now overrides the program pitchbend when MPE is on.
Voice pitchbend responds to pitchbend on each channel, 2-7
Y-Axis destination should be straightforward.
Y-Axis Mode: In unipolar mode CC74 affects the destination by adding 0-127, in bipolar mode it adds -63/+63 with 64 as a the ‘0’ point
If you own the hardware, you can grab it now – and it’s another excellent illustration of the work Sequential does to add depth to their instruments for advanced musicians. (Seriously – congrats to Chris, Dave, and Julio on this, plus all the people who have fought for MPE over the years!)
You need to register and log in to grab the beta version from the forum. (You didn’t actually travel back in time to 2015 and 2017; these are updated posts.)
By the way, while we’re at it, it looks like there is some really cool stuff to explore in the alternative tunings functionality of these synths, too. So down with 12-TET tyranny!
More at Sequential:
Stay tuned; I hope we get hands on this stuff soon so we can show off how it works.
And as for MPE in other hardware synths and not just software plug-ins – watch this space.