Now You Can Control the World’s Largest Synthesizer has an article on what is probably the world’s largest synthesizer (let’s not forget T.O.N.T.O) created by Joe Paradiso over about twelve years starting in 1974. It has recently been installed at MIT. What is amazing is that you can listen to long audio files of patches that Joe creates every couple of weeks, or (now for the really crazy part) visit an online interface to literally control the synth remotely with other users doing the same thing!

Roland D50 Automation

Now that I am able to program the MKS-80 with the Bitstream 3X I am attempting to do the same for other electronic instruments that lack tactile controls. This involves digging into the MIDI implementation of these instruments and then programming the BS3X to send the appropriate values. The first instrument I’m trying this with is the Roland D-50. So far I have had no success in getting the Roland D-50 to respond to the values I’m sending it, but hopefully I get it figured out soon. Here’s an example of what I’d like to accomplish. To create the sound below I used the D-50’s joystick to change the cutoff frequency on the first upper partial while sending it notes via MIDI.

Roland D50 Automation

Bitstream 3X MIDI Controller

I just got a Bitstream 3X MIDI controller (BS3X), and have just started experimenting with it. This is a complex and fully programmable device, so I will need some time with it before I have learned the best way to incorporate it my setup. The easiest way to use it is in standard mode where no programming is required on the unit. Simply map the controls in the software you are using. However, what makes the BS3X powerful is the user mode where every assignable control can be programmed. A sophisticated editor allows the user to map these controls based on a long list of device parameters such as “Roland D50 Upper Partial 1 – TVF Cutoff Frequency”.

Just to get started with the device I used the standard mode and mapped the bulk of Roland MKS-80 parameters to it via the reKon Audio VST-AU MKS-80 editor in Ableton Live. For the VCF cutoff and resonance I used the XY axis joystick. This gave me one finger control over both of these parameters for very expressive control of the filter. I also mapped the VCF envelope LFO depth to the ribbon controller for another way to manipulate the filter. In one take using only three controls (the XY axis, ribbon, and a knob mapped to the LFO rate) I performed this drone.

MKS-80 XY Axis Drone

What is Your Top Programmable MIDI Controller?

I’m looking for a programmable MIDI controller for the Roland MKS-80. I have almost resigned myself to building my own MIDIbox 64, but if something pre-built and inexpensive that will serve the purpose is out there I’m willing to consider it. The most attractive thing I’ve found so far is the CME Bitstream 3X (formerly Wave Idea), but I’m not exactly thrilled about CME products. I have a CME UF7 keyboard controller and I’m not that happy with it. I’d love to hear from someone with a Bitstream 3X about what they think of it feature and construction wise.

Other interesting devices are the Novation SL MkII series (a little short on knobs and sliders) or the Doepfer Drehbank (discontinued). Another possibility is 3 Korg nanoKONTROLs and a USB hub. I’m using one right now with three scenes programmed to control everything on the MKSK-80, but the scene switching is cumbersome, and I loose my positioning on parameters after switching scenes causing jumps in the programming. However, having three of them would solve that problem. Unfortunately, they are not programmable for sysex (required to interface with the MKS-80), so I’d need to map them through editor software, eliminating the potential of a computer free setup.

Roland MKS-80 Super Jupiter Repair

I recently purchased a Roland MKS-80 in need of repair. Several things were wrong with it including the tuning knob, dynamics slider and “insert cartridge” errors when trying to change the patches from the front panel. Without being able to tune the synth or utilize the dynamics, the instrument was effectively unusable, but I decided to buy it anyway in the hope that it could be repaired. After several days and more than thirty hours of research, parts swapping, and troubleshooting I managed to get it working properly. Read on for an illustrated story of the repair process and audio from the fixed unit.
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