Robert van Heumen Composer Improvisor Laptop-Instrumentalist Sound-Designer
Software Developer
play (music player)

« Previous post | Back to Recent posts | Next post »

Thoughts on controllers

(Warning: rant mode on)

For a long time now I've been using Faderfox MIDI controllers. Very robust, very very portable. Two devices of the first generation, one of the second. They're now on the 4th or 5th generation. It's been on my mind for a couple of years now: if (actually: when) one of them breaks, I'm in trouble. They are not being produced anymore. So I've been scavenging Marktplaats, eBay and such, and have some spare devices. But not in the best state.


I hear you say: stop whining, just get the new generation versions, or get something else, there's enough out there. And that's partly true. A lot of (live) electronic music controllers are available. Very fancy, lots of cool moving lights. But what seems to be out of fashion: faders! Most of the hip new controllers have buttons with LED's behind them. Whole grids of buttons, in blue, green, yellow, red. Combined with the incidental knob, maybe even a crossfader. Secondly, most of these machines seem to be geared towards studio-use, or towards musicians that need a truck anyways to move their stuff.

So for the record: I like my setup light. I can take it carry-on in a plane, in the train and on my bike when doing gigs in Amsterdam. Also, I like my faders, they are so much better than knobs, you can much faster see their position, you can kinda hit them and they are down or all the way up. Very responsive, very tactile.

I was happy to see the announcement of a new Faderfox controller, the UC3. The faders are back! All 8 of them. Unfortunately the neat little joystick is left behind, and the buttons are missing. But I can live with that. ONLY: the knobs are now the endless-type, meaning they don't have 'stops', they are 'relative', not 'absolute'. No little white line indicating it's position. Sure, there are some advantages (when using multiple layers of control, they 'pick up where you left off', no jumps in values), but when thinking about this a bit more, I realized that this again is a problem regarding playability. You can't feel (or see in an instant) where the knob is, if it's half-way, all the way in the beginning, or at the end. It is again something for people who sit behind their computerscreen for visual feedback. 2D feedback for music is soo inadequate. A waveform is not at all the sound it tries to represent.

So on the positive side: this made me think a bit more about what I'm looking for in controllers for my software. And what I don't want: endless knobs.

Back to eBay now, looking for the LV1. Also keeping an eye open on the digital music blogs for new controllers that for a change focus on playability, tactile control, instead of running lights in all colors of the rainbow.

Rant off.