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!

Keston and Westdal at Nublu, NYC Circa 2009

I just had a listen to these videos of Keston and Westdal with Graham O’Brien on drums at Nublu in New York, Feb 7, 2009. The eight year old recordings were shot by my mate, Benjamin Montag, who is responsible for the majority of the art and design work for Unearthed Music, including the art on my new solo album, Isosceles.

I was using the Nublu house Rhodes, which I repaired earlier that night replacing a couple of broken tines and tuning a few notes. I brought along a laptop and interface to live-loop the Rhodes and send a click track to Graham. I borrowed the Korg MS2000 from Simone Giuliani. You may also notice distortion on the Rhodes at about 6:47. For that I brought along my BOSS DF-2 Super Distortion & Feedbacker pedal, which I have been using on Rhodes since the ’90s.

Since I had the laptop to loop the Rhodes in Ableton Live I ended up a few nice phrases that I ended up posting here on Audiocookbook. For example, in one post I shared a nice phrase and discussed my repair job before the gig and another includes a field recording inside a taxi on the way to the show. Checkout a few archival recordings from the gig below:

Rhodes Loop from the Nublu Backline
Another Rhodes Recording from Nublu
Segment of Recording from Nublu
Inside a Taxi in New York with Ben and Simone

Solo Electroacoustic Piano Teaser


This teaser for my show tonight at Jazz Central Studios includes a handful of snippets from my rehearsals of the electroacoustic piano pieces I’ll be performing. It’s all acoustic piano with processing that includes delays, live looping, freezing reverb decay, and reverse. The last snippet also includes the use of a felt mute between the hammers and the strings. The tone is much darker, softer, and subdued.

Solo Electroacoustic Piano at Jazz Central Studios


I feel excited and privileged to be playing a concert of original piano compositions on November 23, 2016 at Jazz Central Studios in Minneapolis. The compositions include acoustic piano pieces (unaltered by processing or electronics) and a number of electroacoustic piano pieces that will involve manipulating the signal from the piano in real-time. For example I’ll be using an analog delay to create pulsing washes of sound from the piano. There will also be examples of sampling and looping the piano and then manipulating the loops through more processing.

Although ACB readers will be more familiar with my electronic work, acoustic piano is the instrument that has stayed with me since childhood. I even had a weekly jazz piano gig that lasted eleven years! This upcoming solo piano performance will be my first in over a decade and it will be very different for me because I’ll be playing my own compositions instead of a the jazz standards I used to play.

Jazz Central Studios has a really great sounding grand piano in house that I’ll be playing during the show. I have performed at the venue a number of times recently thanks to friend, bassist, and collaborator, Casey O’Brien who is one of the current artistic directors for the non-profit organization. Here’s some more information about JCS:

Jazz Central Studios (JCS) is a tax exempt nonprofit organization committed to strengthening the Twin Cities jazz community by offering a live performance/educational environment that nurtures artistic growth. Our space consists of 1800 square feet which seats up to 50 people. It is complete with grand piano, house drum set PA, and lights.

In 2010, local jazz musicians Mac Santiago and Tanner Taylor established Jazz Central Studios as a rehearsal and recording space for Twin Cities jazz musicians. We encourage jazz patrons and musicians of all levels to become a part of Jazz Central Studios. Whether you want to develop your skills and career as a performing musician or you want to meet other jazz enthusiasts and support the local scene, there is a place for you here.

The music on November 23, 2016 will start at 8:30pm. The suggested donation is $10 for general admission and $5 for students. I hope you’ll join me! Here’s an excerpt from a recording of me (piano, electronics), Cody McKinney (bass, voice, electronics), and Graham O’Brien (drums, electronics) made at JCS by Diego Ramallo. In the recording I’m using a sampler to live-loop piano layers and then run things through delays and other processing.

BYOB: Carnage, E-Turn, and Ostracon at the Dakota


This Saturday, August 29, Carnage the Executioner presents B.Y.O.B. at the Dakota in Minneapolis. B.Y.O.B. stands for “Be Your Own Band”, and that title will make complete sense once you hear about the artists on this bill.

Carnage aka Terrell Woods can only be defined as a multi-instrumentalist even though he performs exclusively with his own voice. Carnage uses his vast vocal range to emulate bass, drums, synth lines, samples, percussion, turntablism, and more, layering and synchronizing the arrangements with nothing but an off-the-shelf loop pedal. On top off all that he stacks his extraordinary rhyming facilities.

Orlando based artist E-Turn is a mega-talent who often combines forces with DJ SPS and many other notable artists. E-Turn effortlessly generates an orchestra of music and vocals during her performances while drawing from her hiphop influences, Persian vocals, and Iranian poetry.

Ostracon is myself on synthesizers and Graham O’Brien on drums. The two of us perform evolving compositions that fuse rich analog electronics with dynamic live drumming. You’ve heard plenty about us here on, but at this show we will be presenting new tracks that we recently recorded for our next album.

What all of us on this very special bill have in common is a drive to make music that is bigger that we are. Hence, “Be Your Own Band”. Music starts at 11pm. Cover is $7 and ages 18 and up are admissible. Don’t miss it!