Posts categorized "Midi/USB Keyboards & Controllers" Feed

Madrona Labs Soundplane West Coast Demo Tour Starts Tomorrow


After already presenting Soundplan at Expo '74 in NY, Madrona Labs has set off on the west coast leg of their tour. I pulled this schedule from the news section of their web site.

Robotspeak, San Francisco, Saturday Nov 5, 4pm
CNMAT, U C Berkeley, Monday Nov 7, 2pm
UCSB, Media Arts and Technology Seminar, Tue Nov 8, 5:30 pm
CalArts, Thur Nov 10, 6:30pm

All of these events are free and open to the public. Come play with a Soundplane, and ask questions about anything from capacitive sensing to CNC machining to software! I look forward to meeting you.

They are posting photos on their home page and tweeting as they go. If you are not familiar with Soundplane  I’ve included a video and description below.

The Soundplane A is a computer music controller with the sensitivity and feel of an acoustic instrument. It detects a wide range of touches on its walnut playing surface, from a light tickle to a very firm press. The Soundplane A can be configured as either a 150-note keyboard with position and pressure sensing on each key, or as one continuous surface.

The playing surface is a material custom developed for us, an articulated sheet of walnut veneer bonded to a fiber backing for strength. The case is milled out of alder, a sustainably harvested Northwest hardwood. We have sourced all of the construction locally and test and assemble Soundplanes by hand here in Seattle. The entire instrument is about 28 inches wide by 8 inches deep by 1 inch thick.

Included with the Soundplane is Aalto for Soundplane, a custom, signal-driven version of our patchable software synthesizer. The Soundplane client software can send MIDI and OSC messages to control other software and hardware.

Mark Mosher
Electronic/Experimental Music Artist, Boulder, CO
Synthesist | Composer | Keyboardist | Performer

Synth Geek Blog:
Artist Site:

Korg microKEY Hands-On Review

I received a Korg microKEY USB powered as a gift over the holidays – woot! Here is a hands-on review.

It’s bigger than I expected. Here are some shots giving you some perspective. Here it is when compared to an Akai LP2K25.

modulatethis_korg_microkey (4)

Here it is compared to my Novation Remote SL 25.

modulatethis_korg_microkey (11)

modulatethis_korg_microkey (7)

And finally, a shot of it in my laptop back pack.

So as you can see it’s not quite as backpack ready as some of the competition, but it is quite portable considering the number of keys.










Mini Keys

It has the the same synth action 37-key velocity sensitive keyboard as the MicroKorg XL. I like the action quite a bit. Korg says “The proportions of the black keys and white "waterfall" keys have been adjusted for optimal playability, and the key touch makes it easy to play chords, glissandos, and rapid-fire phrases.” – I agree. Unlike the Akai, the white “waterfall” keys on the Korg go down to the case so they are less likely to get snagged when sliding in and out of a gig bag.

Modulation & Pitch Wheels
Besides feel, the mod and pitch wheels are the reason I wanted this controller. I love to do “couch potato” sound design and have been frustrated that all the small controllers don’t have a mod wheel. Well the microKEY addresses this nicely.

Octave Buttons

You can transpose using the octave buttons. The buttons change color with each press giving you instant visual feedback on the setting.

  • Green = 1 Octave
  • Orange = 2 Octaves
  • Red = Three Octaves
  • Blinking Red = 4 Octaves


There are two USB ports on the side allowing you to use the keyboard as a HUB. This is a pretty nice idea if you wanted to quickly hook up other nano controllers (or any USB device) without having to bring along another hub. Nice touch Korg!

As with other Korg controllers, you can use the KORG KONTROL Editor to set velocity curves and and mod wheel range.

At $99, I think the microKey is a great value when you consider it's also a USB hub.

Final Thoughts
The microKey is the best feeling Mini-key keyboard I’ve played to date - much better than the button feel of the original NanoKey or the spongy action of the Akai.

The microKEY seems is a good choice for players and sound designers on the go who want a nice velocity sensitive synth feel with pitch and mod wheels but don’t necessarily need the unit to fit all the way into the pack.

The microKEY is now my controller of choice for “couch potato” sound design work with VSTs!

Official Product Page -

Mark Mosher
Electronic Music Artist, Boulder, CO

At $99, I think the microKey is a great value when you consider it's also a USB hub.P

Overview and Time-Lapse Video of My Ableton Live Laptop Music Rig + Controllers


Over the years I’ve played hundreds of shows as a keyboardist using my trusty Apex column with various hardware synths.  In late 2009 I had a vision to create a new Ableton Live laptop-centric rig using only virtual synths running in Live.

While I wanted to play some keys, I was really excited to add alternative visual, tangible, and spatial controllers and selected Percussa AudioCubes, Tenori-On, a Novation Launchpad. I went with my trusty Remote SL 25 for keys as it also doubles as a controller for Live. In the 11th hour I added a Moog Ehterwave Theremin which was clearly necessary to play “They Walk Among Us” live :^).

I’ve played enough shows to know that you can’t always count on basic lighting and P.A. to be adequate, so I added these elements to my requirements as well – just in case. My goal was to be able to run a room of 80 people if needed with just my rig. My other goal was 4 trips from the car load-in max with a 15 minute setup time or less.

The sketch above shows all this on paper (click the image to see a larger view). After months of slowly building up gear, the reality - sans lighting - is shown in the fun little time-laps video embedded video below.

Here is a list of what's in the rig:

  • Laptop: Windows 7 32-bit, HP DV6t-1200 Pavilion w/Core2 Duo P8700 @ 2.53 GHZ, 3G memory, 7200 RPM Drive (Update I now use an HP Envy 14 I5)
  • Soundcard: Novation NIO 2|4
  • DAW Software: Ableton Live 8 Suite
  • Primary Controllers: Novation Remote SL 25 (updated to MKII), Launchpad | Tenori-On | Percussa AudioCubes
  • Primary Virtual Synthesizers: Tone2 Gladiator 2| Native Instruments Absynth 5 | Camel Audio Alchemy | U-He Zebra 2, ACE | Ableton Sampler, Operator... | SonicCharge Synplant | Lennar Digital Sylenth1 | reFX Vanguard, Slayer2 | Image-Line Harmless, Toxic Biohazard | Cakewalk Dimension Pro | FAW Circle | DCAM: Synth Squad...
  • Hardware Synthesizers: Moog Etherwave Theremin, Waldorf Blofeld (not pictured)
  • PA: Bose L1 Compact
  • Stand: Odyssey ATT2 Table, Odyssey L2 Laptop Stand

Links to lots of the software I use here:

Mark Mosher
Electronic Musician, Boulder, CO

Modulate This! - Best of 2009 Electronic Music Tech


Despite the economic downturn, 2009 was thankfully a huge year when it came to new technology for electronic music artists. Rather than try and cover every significant release, I’ll instead list some of my favorite products and notable trends.

The Year of Abletonimage
What a big year for Ableton. Live 8 with great new features set, Max for Live, 10th Anniversary of Ableton, launch of Live Intro, dedicated hardware controllers (APC40 & Launchpad). Awesome!

Grid (Matrix) Controllers

Grid controllers everywhere in 2009. New controllers like the APC40, Launchpad and Bliptronics 5000. Continued development with existing controllers like Tenori-On and Monome. The grid metaphor also became quite prevalent in apps as well. I have the APC40 and Tenori-On and simply love them.

Percussa Audio Cubes “Tangible Interface”

Not new in 2009 but new to me, Percussa AudioCubes are self-powered wireless computer systems. Cubes can detect and interact with each other and can detect the proximity of your hand near a cube face sensor and send this controller information to your DAW or to various free software apps provided by Percussa. I working with a 4 cube configuration within Ableton Live.

Fantastic Synths
A great year for virtual instruments. Below is a list of new and updates synths that I used over and over again in 2009 for both sound design and for music performance.

  • u-he ACE (Any Cable Anywhere)

    This synth just released by I use it all the time now! It’s a fantastic virtual analog synth with a great UI with patch cables. Sounds like butta’.

Continue reading "Modulate This! - Best of 2009 Electronic Music Tech" »

Hands-On with the Tenori-On: First Impressions + Integration with Ableton Live


Now that REBOOT has released, I’m gearing up to perform these songs live. One of my goals it to make the performances more visually interesting, help the audience connect with what I’m doing musically, and not spend an entire set hunched over a laptop.

I just added a Tenori-On White to my rig to help achieve this goal and to use as a controller and sequencer for composition. In this post I’ll offer some first impressions and notes on use.

Favorite Features

  • Built-in Synth engine, integrated sequencer, built-in speakers and SD card for composition and performance on the go
  • Runs on batteries
  • You can use it as a MIDI controller
  • Fantastic user interface and work flow
  • Visual representation of music
  • Ability to load 48 samples allowing you expand the palette when you are not using it as a controller

First Impressions on Design
image I was actually surprised when I unboxed the Tenori-On. The unit was like 20% smaller than I thought it would be after seeing it in picture and videos – and that’s a good thing. Tenori-On is clearly designed to be held with both hands using the thumbs and fingers to access function buttons plus reach inside to hit "LED" buttons. This being the case the small buttons allow for a smaller matrix so you can access a more with thumbs and fingers on either hand. The case is made of metal and machined by robots. All the controls are flush even with the rounded contours - very nice!

LED Buttons
One of the main reasons I got Tenori-On White was because the LED lights are visible on the front and the back. So when you play, the audience sees the lights as well. This feature is unique to Tenori-On white.

Learning Curve
Tenori-On is a proprietary system and the navigation and functionality is pre-configured. One advantage of pre-configured control schemes like the APC-40 (assuming you don't remap) and Tenori-On is that the learning curve is quite short. With both of these products time from setup to being productive and creative was extremely short for me.

In Use
Tenori-On is simply a blast to play. Beginners will be able to get something musical going right away. Advanced users who spend the time to “transcend” the navigation system will be able to create interesting musical and visual performances as well as use the Tenori-On as a sequencer and controller.

Of course like with any instrument, practice is what’s going to make this a great performance tool. In only about an hour I had 80% of the features memorized. In about 3 hours I was navigating layers, blocks, modes, and tweaking parameters in real-time without looking at the function buttons.

Using Your Own Samples  and Storing Data
Using a free Windows/Mac utility, you can build three customs instruments with up to 16 samples each. Each sample is limited to 900ms and you can’t edit much. Even though it’s no replacement for your sampler, it’s enough to allow you to transform the Tenori-On’s pallet support your needs. Revision... Samples, songs, blocks, layers can be saved and loaded from an SD card. Sample memory is non-volatile so samples remain in memory even if you turn the unit off and back on again! That is good news since it takes about 3 minutes to load 1 user voice containing 16 samples. You definitely will want to get your samples all installed before you perform – either that or you’ll need a Tenori-On roadie :^).


In Use As a Controller with Ableton Live tenori-driving-absynth5
You can go way beyond the built-in sound set plus add some visual sizzle to your performance by using Tenori-On as a MIDI controller. The picture above is of the Tenori-On and my laptop running Ableton Live 8. The Tenori-On is in slave mode and Ableton is the Master clock. I’m using the MIDI ports on my Novation NIO Sound card to connect the Tenori-On to Ableton.

Each of the 16 layers within the Tenori-On transmit on a different MIDI channel. I created tracks with instances of Gladiator 2, Alchemy, Sylenth1, and Absynth 5 each listening on a different MIDI track number.


By default different performance modes (Score , Random, Draw, Push, Solo) are hard-coded to each layer. There is a “hack” to override this (see links at bottom of post).

In my test set, I used Solo Mode to sequence a bass line into a MIDI clip in a Gladiator 2 track. The above picture illustrates my use of Draw Mode to play some awesome motion pads in Absynth 5. Push Mode is also great for synths like Alchemy and Absynth.


In some cases I wanted to switch modes and record all note data into one MIDI clip. When going this route set the track MIDI input to “All Channels”.

I’ve read that some people have has issues syncing with DAW’s. It must be true as there is a firmware update coming to improve sync.  In my limited use I’ve not had much trouble and it works just fine. My guess is those having trouble are pumping out lots of data from multiple layers.

Price and Tenori-On Orange
Tenori-On White has been out for a few years. The price has slowly dropped and it goes for $999 today. Yamaha recently announced Tenori-On Orange for $699 with availability in January. To get the price down they changed the case to plastic, took the LEDs of the back and took away the battery power capability. All other features are the same. Of course these are some of my favorite features for White was a clear choice for me.

Where these the right choices? Are these prices too high? There are lots of discussion about this on sites like Synthtopia and Create Digital Music. While I would loved to have paid less, I don’t regret the purchase at all.

So far, the Tenori-On has exceeded all my expectations. Once I got it out the box I found it hard to put down. I’m enjoying using it as an alternative to my computer and for making music on the go. Using it as a controller definitely boosts my creativity. It’s unique features make it a it a nice compliment to my ACP 40.


Mark Mosher
Electronic Music Artist, Composer, Sound Designer

Download/Buy my album REBOOT

My Studio Setup: 1 Laptop/3 Configurations + Akai APC40 Eye Candy


Revised 7-3-2009, changes are in red.

For over two years I've been completely laptop based and loving it. Here are some notes on the three configurations I run with my latpop.

First, I'm running an HP DV6500T running Vista, Ableton Live 8 Suite, and various vsts (Alchemy,Sylenth1,NI Massive/Absynth 4,Gladiator 2,Dimension Pro, Morphine...)

I run in one of the following states:

1 - Laptop Only - Laptop alone with Ableton Live +  VSTs. I use the qwerty keyboard and touch pad and do composition and sound-design on the go (or from the couch).

2 - Laptop + Korg Nano - Sometimes I want more control or want to user velocity sensitive keys when I'm on the go. I then add a Korg nanoKey or nanoKontrol to config #1.

3 - Laptop Docked - Last year, my awesome wife and kids re-vamped my studio space as a birthday gift. Besides painting and swanky new furniture, they created stand to hold all my gear by cleverly using the old Ultimate Support Apex column I used to gig with and attached two permanent shelves (painted black and attached with brackets). Shelves are  15 3/4"x 47 3/4" and I believe were from home depot. The footprint for this rig is 26" wide from the wall to the outside edge of the bottom shelf, and 47 3/4" wide. Underneath all this is a dock with tons of USB ports that all the gear plugs in to. The laptop is sitting on a mesh filing box turned upside-down that I picked up from Target (see last picture in post). This setup is pictured below. All I have to do is plug the laptop into the doc and the following comes online:

  • HP Notebook Quickdock
  • External Monitor - Samsung SyncMaster 930b
  • Novation Nio USB sound card
  • M-Audio Studiophile SP-5B reference monitors
  • Bamboo Touch Pad
  • Wireless Logitech diNovo Edge keyboard with built-in touch pad
  • Akai APC40
  • Novation Remote SL 25
  • M-Audio Trigger Finger (Still lovin it after all these years. After touch on drum pads and seamless integration with Ableton drum racks are great).
  • Rode NT-1A on an a broadcaster's boom which is fed into Behringer UB802 Eurorack which is routed to the Nio. I mostly use this for voice overs, recording voice related samples, and vocoding. I also record video tutorials through this mic.
  • Sometimes a Korg TR via USB is added to the mix when I want that "triton" sound or want to play a controller with more keys on it.

For me this strategy is simple, elegant, has a small footprint yet is extremely powerful and flexible. With Ableton Live and VSTs accessible in every configuration I can jump in and out of projects in any configuration. I find the combination of the APC40, Remote SL and Trigger Finger to be perfect for just about everything I do.

The APC40 has made this a dream setup really and has almost completely eliminated mousing for me. I'll close with a few photos of the APC40  in my studio setup.

Just a fun shot in a dark room.


The  APC40, Remote SL 25, and a Trigger Finger fit perfectly on the bottom tier.


Using the APC40 as a Lite Brite - "M" plus pretty colors :^).


Picture of laptop docked.

Mark Mosher

Video Tutorial: Ableton Live 8 + APC40 + Remote SL Controllerism

I’m the proud owner of the new Akai APC40. I’ve already integrated it into my workflow along with my Novation Remote SL. I’ve put together a video of how I’m using these controllers with Live 8.

Watch the video on YouTube:

This video is a step-by-step tutorial describing Ableton Live 8's new custom parameter mapping methodology. The video illustrates how to map select parameters from VST plug-ins into devices and then control these parameters via the Novation Remote SL and the new Akai APC40. The video also discusses how to add and access more than 8 parameters. Lastly, the video covers use of instrument racks and macro controls to map parameters from multiple devices to an 8 knob group.

Stay tuned for more posts on controllerism and the Akai APC40.

Mark Mosher