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!

The Taming of the CPU 4.0

This Friday, April 21, 2017 will mark the 4th event we’ve affectionately titled, The Taming of the CPU. This time we have the privilege of being hosted by the Icehouse Minneapolis. Tickets are on sale now and available at the doors (opening at 10:30pm). The performers include myself, Mike Hodnick (Kindohm), Lucas Melchior (MKR), and Chris Leblanc with Michael Lund doing their famous modular-analog-video-liquid-light show. Expect to hear a broad range of electronic music from Kindohm’s virtuosic live coding to MKR’s Ableton prowess. I’ll be towing an all hardware rig including Rhodes electric piano, Moog Sub 37, a Pyramid Sequencer, and several other bits and pieces. Here’s the official spiel:

Taming of the CPU 4.0 brings together three award winning electronic musicians with two like minded visual artist to create a futuristic, immersive multi-media experience. Huge sounding hardware synthesis is combined with intricate live coding, and lush laptop arrangements while modular video synthesis and liquid light shows are displayed and synchronized to the music.

Read on for more information about the artists including bios and video examples: Continue reading

Merce Cunningham: Common Time with John Keston and Graham O’Brien

This Thursday, March 30, 2017 I will be performing two 30 minute sets of music with Graham O’Brien at the Walker Art Center as part of the Merce Cunningham: Common Time series of events and exhibitions. Our performances start at 5:30pm and 8:00pm in the Perlman Gallery and feature former Merce Cunningham dancers. Here’s a one minute teaser recorded during a recent rehearsal. The concert is free and open to the public. Visit the Walker Art Center for more details.

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

Pyramid’s Euclidean Rhythms Meet Novation Circuit

In the spirit of #JAMUARY2017 (thanks to Cuckoo for having the stamina to do it everyday!) I have made a video track using the Squarp Pyramid, Novation Circuit, Moog Sub 37, PreenFM2, Rhodes, Minifooger Delay, and Korg KP3+. I’m not great at making these (hence the shaky video), but they’re fun to do every so often.


The track starts out with a Rhodes loop that I played into the KP3+ with an LFO sweeping a resonant high pass filter. Next I start to bring in Euclidean patterns on each of the four Circuit drum parts. These are generated through individual tracks on the Pyramid. I have it setup with four Euclidean patterns per track bank for a total of sixteen. This way I can mix and match all sixteen patterns on the Pyramid and even swap them or combine them with patterns on the Circuit.

I also use Pyramid to sequence the bass and synth chords on the Circuit. In addition I have a track for the Sub 37 that I mute while soloing, and a track for the PreenFM2. The Sub 37 is in “local off” mode, so whichever track I have selected on Pyramid determines what instrument plays. I find the keybed and flexibility of the Sub 37 perfect as a controller and sound source. Thanks for listening and check out my new album Isosceles for more like it that’s actually mixed and mastered properly. ;-)