Programmable MIDI Foot Controller for the Korg KP3+

MIDI Foot Controller

The Korg KAOSS PAD KP3+ is a powerful beast. It’s great for realtime processing and sampling, but it’s not the best choice as a loop pedal. For one, the loop record length choices only include 1, 2, 4, 8, and 16 beats. You can adjust that after recording, but not on the way in. One shot samples can be any length, but they need to be triggered manually or via a sequencer. Furthermore, it’s not a pedal. If you want to trigger or record samples with your feet you’ll need a MIDI foot controller to do that. And not just any controller. It will need to be programmable so that you can send specific note values to the KP3+ that trigger each of the sample buttons.

This is the issue I decided to resolve for my continuously evolving live setup. More often than not I use a Rhodes electric piano with the KP3+ alongside a modest family of other gear. Playing two-handed while capturing Rhodes loops without audible gaps is impossible if you have to use a “spare” hand to do it. There are a number of programmable MIDI foot controllers on the market. Unfortunately, most of them are not fully programmable and are designed for changing patches versus triggering MIDI notes. An exception to this is the Behringer FCB1010, however, it’s quite large with twelve switches and two expression pedals. I only need four switches and can’t afford the space the FCB1010 would take up.

Highly Liquid MIDI CPU

People are making all sorts of custom MIDI controllers and there’s tons of microcontrollers that can be used for this purpose. I won’t get into all the options, but a few examples include Arduino (perhaps with a SparkFun MIDI shield), Teensy, Livid Brain V2 or Brain Jr, and Highly Liquid’s MIDI CPU. It just so happened that I had a Highly Liquid MIDI CPU on hand that I was sent to me as a sample years ago. I had used it for a few experiments, but nothing on a permanent scale.

Following instructions on the Highly Liquid website I was easily able to reprogram the MIDI CPU via sysex and start testing it with the KP3+. In minutes I had a prototype working that was triggering the sample buttons properly. With that piece confirmed I ordered four momentary foot switches and a sturdy aluminum enclosure. I measured and drilled all the holes for the four switches, DC power, MIDI in, and MIDI out. I soldered it all together and started using it immediately. I’m very pleased with the results and hope to use the foot switch for years to come. To an extent it is future proof because at anytime I can reprogram it via sysex through the MIDI input. A second reason the MIDI in is useful is because I can still send the connect device MIDI from another source (MIDI clock for example). This works because the MIDI CPU can be configured to mirror the MIDI in to the MIDI out while merging messages that originate from the circuit board. Handy!

This was an inexpensive, easy, and elegant solution to a frustrating problem. Custom MIDI controllers are getting easier and cheaper to build all the time. I’d love to hear about your DIY MIDI controller projects in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Novation Circuit Randomized Patches


In my mind, sound design is at its best when it is a process of discovery. At its worst it can be an unfortunate exercise in mimicry. I am fascinated by the process of discovering sound through happy accidents. One of the techniques I have exploited frequently in this regard is synthesizer patch randomization. For example, the Yamaha TX81Z sounds great when randomized, or better yet, “degraded” with shuffled parameter values interpolated based on a time unit or clock division. The PreenFM2 has patch randomization built directly into the instrument!

So, it wasn’t long after picking up a Novation Circuit that I had the urge to use a similar shortcut to mine fantastic and otherworldly sounds from the unit. Full MIDI specification for the Circuit is available so that development of a standalone randomizer is possible, but Isotonik Studios published a free Max for Live editor in partnership with Novation. Max for Live patches are inherently editable so I decided to start there.

Send Random Values

It took me a couple of hours to get into the guts of the editor and setup a drop down menu for randomization. The drop down has choices to either “randomize all” (not quite all parameters), or randomize one of seven sets of grouped parameters like the oscillator section, mod matrix, or LFOs. At his stage I haven’t included the EQ section, voice controls, or macro controls. I probably won’t add the EQ, but the macro controls might offer some interesting possibilities. The image above shows a simple subpatch I made that takes a bang and outputs the random values for the oscillator section. Unfortunately, I can not legally share my mods based on Isotonik’s and Novation’s EULAs. However, you’ll need little more than a basic understanding of Max to do this yourself. Checkout the video and let me know what you think in the comments.

Interview: The Mind of Video Artist Chris LeBlanc


Chris LeBlanc is a video artist who I have been collaborating with frequently for the last year and a half. The body of work that he has produced in this short period is remarkable. His improvised visuals for musical performances include mash-ups from rare VHS tapes of bizarre B-movies; usually of the sci-fi, horror, or fighting genres. He augments these mix tapes with circuit-bent Nintendos and a vast collection of other analog video devices to produce uncanny, audio-responsive, visual experiences that enhance musical performances and draw in listeners. Recently he added a modular video synthesis system to his rig and salvaged a nine-by-nine CRT video wall for display.

On Thursday, October 22nd Chris produced visuals for a solo performance of mine at a club with a projector and fifty-one flat screen monitors dispersed throughout the venue. Chris managed to display his video art on the projector and all of the flat screens during my performance. This lasted for about half the set until an irate bar manager found him and made him put the hockey game back on a few of the flatscreens. In addition to his performances he creates music videos and stills using the same equipment and similar techniques. After our most recent show I thought it would be great to share a discussion with Chris here on ACB. I interviewed him on what drives his decisions as an artist and how he makes his analog imagery so engaging while using content and technology from a bygone era.

Read on for the interview with Chris LeBlanc plus more videos and still photo examples of his work. Continue reading

Korg Volca Keys MIDI Out Mod


Recently I have been looking for a way to sync the Novation Bass Station II (BSII) and the Korg Volca Keys. So what’s the problem? They do not communicate without a third party. As the firmware stands on the BSII, MIDI clock is not sent via the MIDI out port. The BSII cannot be used as a master clock to sync other devices. Fortunately it can receive MIDI clock, but unfortunately the Volcas only have MIDI in. The Volcas have gate clock out, but the BSII doesn’t do gate or CV.

This is particularly frustrating because I bought both synths for an upcoming project and would like them to play well together. To get around this I have been using a third device to send MIDI clock to a thru box then taking outs from the thru to the Volca Keys and BSII. This creates a mess of, what should be unnecessary, cables and power supplies. The upcoming project involves travel and requires battery operation in remote locations without power, so this work-around is not acceptable.

My next thought was to build a MIDI clock box. There are a few examples on the market, but they can be expensive (except for this one). Fortunately DIY solutions, like the Arduino, are fairly easy to build. Another way is to use the Highly Liquid MIDI CPU. Sending the MIDI CPU a signal from a circuit with a 555 timer chip controlled by a potentiometer is a great solution. Using this technique I was able to sync the BSII from a test gate signal. I may finish building this anyway because I have all the parts and it’s an interesting project.

However, the ideal solution would be for these instruments to communicate without additional hardware. Novation has said that they might enable MIDI clock out on the BSII in a firmware update. This remains to be seen, so I can’t get my hopes up. As it turns out Korg, like with the Monotribe and Monotrons, made the Volcas very easy to modify. A simple MIDI out mod sends MIDI clock, note on/off, velocity, and more.

To add MIDI out one simply needs to attach a MIDI jack with three leads to clearly labeled solder points on the circuit board. There’s almost no room inside for a recessed MIDI jack, so I used some spacers and mounted the jack on the right hand side. This also keeps the MIDI lead away from the knobs for playability. Voila! It works beautifully. Thanks, Korg!

Machine Machine Touchscreen Instrument

Machine Machine (2013) is a 32″ touchscreen installation that functions as an electronic instrument. Granular synthesis is used to loop “grains” of sound and video at variable lengths and frequencies. These parameters are based on the y-axis of the touch point on the monitor. The x-axis determines the position of the grain within the timeline. The piece was exhibited last month at the Northrup King Building in Minneapolis during Art-a-Whirl and for Visual Storage; the MCAD MFA thesis exhibition.
Continue reading