Fav synths and VIs for playing with MPE instruments


#1

Hey all,

since switching from mostly “programming” melodies and rarely using any MIDI controllers to doing everything with MPE (after getting a small LinnStrument), my focus for synths has switched from looking for the most complex monster synth and the maddest wavetable mangling options to synths and VIs that just sound great for playing with MPE. Until a year ago or so I would routinely go for sound design when I just want to relax with music, but nowadays I often just play a bit, and often not even with complex synths but instead with VI strings or guitar. One reason for this is that most synths and even DAWs still are not that good for MPE playing (polyphonic pitchslides and y-values being the most common problem).

So, this thread is for collecting and comparing the best VSTis for MPE fun!

Depending on how much activity this thread gets, i will update the following list, starting with my fav VSTis in this context:

Synths:

  • Bitwig synths, they may look like done in synthedit on the day before use, but they work flawlessly with MPE. Also, in Bitwig you can select the expression module and just modulate any parameter in any effect - not really polyphonic, but a great way of adding expression to everything
  • PPG Infinite - a strange and a bit hard to program (and even understand) at first if you are coming from subtractive or wavetable synthesis, but crazy complex and deep with an original approach, MPE integration and also great resynthesis
  • Falcon, great complex synth, but a bit clunky to program. I should love it, but somehow I don’t
  • Cypher 2 & Equator - synths with great MPE integration, both on my list but not used much so far

VIs:

  • all SWAM instruments (I have the strings and saxophones so far, but they have some other wind instrument packs, expensive but pretty awesome stuff for expressive and even realistic playing), these are restricted to natural playing, so no polyphony for the saxophones and so on… but it’s really expressive stuff
    (- also, I use some Ample Sound guitars and bass instruments - these are not MPE so far, but at least for some playing styles, it doesn’'t matter as much for guitar imho as it does for a cello or saxophone)

So, what are you favourite instruments for playing with MPE? Or maybe you have something great for playing expressively without polyphony, just for the expressiveness? No matter what, if you like to play it with an expressive controller, please post it here!


#2

I feel like a novice, despite being a producer for almost two decades. I’ve never heard of an MPE instrument… but I feel inspired. time to do some research.


#3

I don’t know if this is in the spirit of your idea or not, but having just gotten a Rev 2, what strikes me most about the instrument so far is just how playable and expressive it is.

In starting to make my own patches, I’m building on that (and I imagine this will work with most modern synths if they have a mod matrix) to really make velocity, keytracking, and aftertouch do a lot of work that the pitch and mod wheels would otherwise be stuck doing. So, for instance, to get a more balanced sound, I might keytrack the filter and amp envelopes and the filter itself, but also the attack time of the envelopes by itself on top of the keytracking already there from the other mod sources to really make the higher notes that much shorter.

A relatively easy part of the MPE synth experience to carry over is the aftertouch, albeit not on a per-voice basis as you can with MPE. Still, I like filter cutoff and/or resonance or (and this isn’t obvious) FX depth (Especially aftertouch to distortion on a mono bass sound).

Velocity, besides affecting direct loudness of the amp or cutoff of the filter, can go to envelope amounts for a more natural result. I also like to put some velocity into filter cutoff to actually dull the filter as the velocity goes up. Not a ton, but that’s an interesting modulation that just brings out your playing a bit more. I also really like to send velocity to the attack stage of my envelope so that hard note presses are shorter, sure, but more so that softly played notes can have a much longer attack than everything else.

All that said, I find that I move my fingers up and down the keys as I hold them to keep time, so I am very interested to see how a seaboard and that extra layer of modulation on a per-voice basis plays in my hands when I find the time to get one.


#4

I can really recommend it. It’s usually just called “MPE controller”, but I like the term “instrument” much more, since the controllers really feel much more like traditional expressive instruments than non-MPE MIDI controllers. Of course, there are exceptions. With the QuNeo, for instance, you can do some crazy expressive things even if not MPE. And some people can use pitch- and modulation wheels really expressively. I am not one of these people ^^
With MPE, it’s different, since you have all the control for every note with each finger. It’s kind of a revolution, bridging the gap between traditional instruments and computer-based sound design.

With regard to specific controllers or instruments, I can recommend both the LinnStrument and the Seaboard. The LinnStrument is more flexible and the layout might be more suited for people with some guitar experience (or no experience at all imho), the Seaboard follows the traditional piano layout and has a much longer y-axis, which can be nice, but not everyone likes that. There are already a few other MPE controllers, such as the awesome but very expensive Continuum, or Joué, Soundplane, Eigenharp and, hopefully soon, the KMI K-board Pro 4, but I have no direct experience with these (although I expect especially the K-board to be awesome since the QuNeo is a really cool, solid, flexible and original controller). The cheapest one right now I think is the Seaboard block, and that one often comes with Cypher and/or Equator synths in sales.


#5

It’s a bit off topic, but I think really interesting especially for all without MPE controllers!

Especially velocity is really underrated imho. I remember I talked about it with Confused Muse a few times and he noted that many preset packs you can buy do not have any velocity effects, and if, mostly only volume. Even most presets I did in the past for synths like Serum and Icarus (before switching to MPE and playing more expressively) are much more focused on automatic LFO and envelope modulation and macro knobs instead of velocity or afertouch…


#6

@White_Noise: had to look that one up, too:

https://www.midi.org/articles-old/midi-polyphonic-expression-mpe

It’s a MIDI controller, albeit with polyphonic aftertouch. If you’re a keys person, that’s probably really neat.
Having played around with Model15 on the iPad, I can see how the Roli Seaboard could really come in hand with a polyphonic synth, esp. one that has a Mod Matrix sensitive to aftertouch. I think the Seaboard has at least vertical position sensitivity, if not xy capability. Such a controller would easily give you access to timbral changes while playing, which is cool.


#7

On that note… MIDIfighter 3D is more my gorilla hand compatible controller.
The QuNeo is really neat, but geez who has the patience to MIDI map all of that?!


#8

All the MPE controllers have xy capability, but the QuNeo also has it. The innovation in MPE as I see it is that you can use pitch (x) and expression/timbre (y) polyphonically, on a per-note basis. For monophonic timbre-change expression, the QuNeo would be enough, but not for doing polyphonic pitchslides or different timbres in chords or similar stuff…
But yeah, with the QuNeo you have to configure and/or map some stuff. For using MPE with some synths you also might have to switch some parameter assignments and so on, but imho it’s more than worth it.


#9

It’s funny, from what I’ve read, some earlier implementations (and a few very expensive ones today) of aftertouch were actually polyphonic instead of channel-based like they mostly are today. The issue is mostly of cost and physical complexity because you have to have a sensor for it under every key. Some of the keybeds that did it are notoriously unreleiable because of all the parts involved. Whereas with channel wide aftertouch you just have one pressure strip spanning the whole length of the keybed and it’s just on or off for all notes actuated.

I don’t know if it affects current notes played only or if it will impact any additional notes played. I need to go and test that, I’ll report my results back to you. Of course, I don’t know if that will change from one implementation of aftertouch to another, and I suspect there’s more room for variance in that implementation than any of us would first guess.


#10

Aftertouch is on/off for the whole keyboard at once on the Prophet rev 2. Even triggering subsequent notes will have them engaged with aftertouch immediately (though it seems to fade in somewhat, just enough to not click in more extreme cases I suppose).


#11

Yeah that’s probably standard for non-MPE controllers, but at the same time afaik it’s still a bit more common for software synths to have poly aftertouch as compared to full MPE integration.


Roli Lightpad Block M
#12

Does anyone have one of these controllers, and is either going to jam sessions, or playing live shows with it?


#13

I recently did a nice jam session with my Linnstrument and two additional Seaboard blocks and sometimes use it together with the QuNeo, but no live shows so far. Multiple MPE controllers work great together in the right DAW, and all have their strength and weaknesses (see above, layout, long y axis and so on).

Imho, for using MPE in live shows, it is really important to get used to the specific MPE controller and its options, AND the MPE implementation in the DAW you want to use, AND the specific MPE options in the synths you want to use. This even applies to specific presets, since the routing of timbre, the range of pitchbend and so on can change. Until all that is figured out, MPE controllers are perfect for any jam session and solo recording in the studio.