Beginning as a simple keyboard interface, the MIDI controller is now a vital music production tool that can fit any workflow. Check out 12 examples that think outside the square.
The invention of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) technology transformed the performance and recording of music. It opened up entirely new realms of musical creation by allowing players to directly interface with digital audio workstations and other electronic instruments. To make the most of it, you needed a device to intuitively express musical ideas. Enter the MIDI controller.
A standardised, universal digital interface for electronic instruments was first conceived in 1982 by the major synthesiser manufactures of the time. In 1983 the first two commercially instruments with MIDI were released, the Prophet 600 Roland JP-6.
The MIDI controller presents a completely different approach to musical performance. A MIDI controller alone does not produce or create the desired sound. Instead, data is transmitted from some kind of interface to a MIDI-compatible sound module or synthesiser.
Typically this interface resembles a preexisting instrument, such as a keyboard or drum kit. However, not all MIDI controllers are as straight forward. In almost 40 years of existence, some seriously inventive, ingenious and downright strange MIDI controllers have emerged.
Here we look at some of these unique approaches to the MIDI controller. Considering that the tools used in the creative process invariably shapes the creative outcome, it’s no surprise people are always looking for fresh takes on this performance machine.
The MP MIDI Controller
MP MIDI identified a gap in the crowded MIDI market. Why was there no hardware designed to control software plugins in DAWS? The MP MIDI aims to bridge the gap between hardware and software.
The MP MIDI has 32 encoders surrounding a large screen that plugs into your DAW. It allows the user to control any plugin with greater ease and intuition.
Visit MP MIDI for more details.
Since its release, the Seaboard from Roli has developed a cult following. Rather than merely imitating established pre-existing instruments like the piano, the Seaboard uses MIDI technology to access deeper levels of expression.
Film scoring heavyweight Hans Zimmer has personally endorsed the Seabaord, claiming that the Roli team are “closer that anyone else has come to establishing a new, truly expressive digital instrument“. High praise indeed.
Visit Roli for more details.
Haken Continuum Fingerboard
The Continuum Fingerboard from Haken Audio is a truly unique piece of gear. Part controller and part synthesiser, it centres around a complex and highly versatile continuous playing surface.
It was created by Lippold Haken in collaboration with Haken Audio. They aimed to make a holistic electronic instrument that is tactile and intuitive.
Visit Haken Audio for more details.
K Board Pro-4
From the outside, the K Board Pro-4 by Keith McMillen Instruments appears like a straightforward 4 octave MIDI keyboard. However, each key contains multidimensional touch sensitivity, giving the user three additional forms of expression.
Wiggling a finger horizontally generates vibrato, sliding vertically opens up a filter and applying pressure creates polyphonic aftertouch. Like many other great MIDI’s, the K Board Pro-4 emulates acoustic instruments whilst opening up new types of digital expression.
Visit Keith McMillen for more details.
The Sensel Morph places enormous value on sensitivity. And considering it contains approximately 20,000 pressure sensors across its the surface area, the Morph certainly delivers.
It is a compact yet multifaceted MIDI controller, giving the user a considerable amount of creative freedom by using swappable hardware interfaces. Heck, you can even edit videos with it.
Visit Sensel Morph for more details.
The Wave from Genki Instruments is both a wearable ring and playable MIDI controller, allowing you to mix fashion and music in an entirely new way. Don’t be fooled by the quirkiness though; the Wave is no gimmick.
It provides surprising levels of functionality with six different mappable gestures. Tilt, pan, roll, vibrato, tap and click commands allow you to control the MIDI signal and effects parameters in many ways.
Visit Genki Instruments for more details.
Noise Machine is the smallest fully fledged MIDI in the world. It’s so small that it would easily fit into the palm of your hand. Yet it doesn’t sacrifice usability for its miniature size, providing the user with a considerable amount of creative control.
It has 12 notes that can shift over 7 octaves and is navigated through modes called Default, Split and Loop. MIDI controllers don’t come much more portable than this.
Visit Noise Machine for more details.
The CTRL Cap by Herrmutt Lobby is a MIDI-controlled fader cap for faders. It has sensitive pressure control and allows the user to control signal shaping.
The CTRL Cap is wireless and simple to use. This nifty little MIDI controller could elevate your DJ setup and take you scratching performances to the next level.
Visit Herrmutt Lobby for more details.
While it resembles the Fanfar — the strange cylindrical instrument played by the Cantina Band in Star Wars — the Eigenharp Alpha is actually a very legitimate and impressive MIDI controller.
Created by Eigenlab, the Eigenharp Alpha is reminiscent of a harp in the manner it is held and played. The Eigenharp is has a reputation for difficulty, but some virtuosos of this unique instrument have emerged.
Visit Eigenlab for more details.
OWOW MIDIS 2.0
The OWOW MIDIS 2.0 is a series of four MIDI controllers aimed to provide refreshing and different tools for making music.
There is a controller that reads infrared distance and a controller that operates on three dimensions. There is also an air drum controller and a sketch scanning a controller. Doesn’t get much cooler than that. The future is now.
This striking instrument bills itself as a “Chiptunes synthesizer and MIDI controller” and it’s not hard to see where it takes its inspiration from.
The buttons will are simultaneously familiar to old-school arcade enthusiasts (plus, there’s a joystick!) and pianists with its traditional keyboard note layout. Most importantly, it just looks goddamn cool.
Visit Pianocade for more details.
Possibly the newest kid on the block (at the time of writing, its Kickstarter campaign is still live — and already successful), the Erae Touch is a Polyphonic Expressive Controller that complies with the new MIDI 2.0 protocol.
It takes the cake for versatility, with multiple performance options — keyboards, drums, step-sequencing, faders — all available on this deceptively minimal pad.
Visit Embodme for more details.