Akai EWI & EVI
Unveiled at NAMM and stars of the BMF, these two new instruments receive their exclusive preview in MT. Tim Goodyer takes a deep breath before taking a closer look.
SO FAR WE'VE had MIDI keyboards, MIDI remote keyboards and MIDI guitars, not to mention a whole host of performance controllers designed to generate MIDI information in a variety of weird and wonderful ways. Do we really need any more? Evidently Akai are convinced we do, because their EVI and EWI are MIDI instruments designed for brass and wind players.
Specifically, the EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument or "eevie") and EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument or "eewie") are aimed at trumpet players and saxophone players respectively - although the ease with which they can be played suggests Akai would like to see them in more widespread use eventually. Both are designed for use with the EWV2000 voicing unit, making them instruments in their own right rather than pure controllers, although the MIDI Out socket on the EWV - along with some of its higher functions - make them potentially powerful tools.
The EWV2000 is essentially a dual VCO monosynth module possessing 64 voice programs, ramp, triangle, square and ramp & triangle wave options; two completely independent filters and amplifiers and a particularly comprehensive set of control parameters specifically designed to get the best out of the EVI and EWI. The EWV is also capable of reprocessing an audio signal generated by a slave instrument, but more on that later.
To appreciate the degree of control the EWV offers over its voices, it's necessary to look at the expression available from the controllers. The EVI, as its name suggests, is a descendent of the trumpet. There is a mouthpiece, a set of three touch-sensitive switches in place of the valves (with a second set alongside for alternative fingerings) and a bell which isn't - a bell, that is. Instead it contains a fourth valve, to assist fingering, and a set of roller sensors for octave switching across the instrument's seven octave range. Yes seven. Just like the EWI. Underneath the "valves" there are two thumb sensors: one for pitch-bend and another for what Akai call Vibrate. This is not to be confused with vibrato as it does not introduce a fixed rate of pitch modulation. Rather, it affects the pitch of the instrument in a similar way to a trumpet player altering lip pressure on the mouthpiece.
The EWI has no bell at all, and the keys have been replaced by touch-sensitive switches. These, again, retain a similarity to their brass ancestor's in layout, but this time the fingering has been simplified by applying the same pattern for each octave of the EWI's range. Behind these keys are the roller octave switches (left thumb) and pitch-bend and Glide sensors (right thumb).
In the case of both the EVI and EWI its the mouthpiece that's the secret to its playability, for neither require the technique of their acoustic parents. Instead they detect air pressure, from being blown, and lip pressure for expression. The EVI uses mouth pressure for switching in the Glide function while the EWI uses it as its Vibrate sensor. If this sounds confusing, rest assured it all makes a lot more sense with the controllers in your hands/mouth.
The true appeal of these instruments is in their potential for expressive playing (as anyone who caught Michael Brecker's use of the EWI at his recent Royal Festival Hall concert will know). And a look at the expression control parameters of the EWV shows why. Vibrate information can be routed to VCO, PWM, VCF, VCA and pitch-bend; and Breath pressure can be routed to VCO, PWM, VCF, Filter Resonance and VCA. Add to that real-time control of Breath sensitivity, Glide and pitch-bend and you get some idea of what's going on. And don't forget, each VCO/VCF/VCA is independent of the other - including modifiers.
Pause for breath (sorry). As previously mentioned, the EWV is capable of reprocessing a sound generated by a slave instrument under MIDI control. This involves a simple Audio In routed to the VCA, VCF and so on, of oscillator one and opens new areas of articulation of any MIDI-equipped synth.
Leaving the audio signal for a while, MIDI information itself is also under the control of Breath intensity, allowing externally-generated sounds and effects to be brought in when desired by extra breath pressure. The EWV also sends breath, volume, aftertouch, program change and transpose information over MIDI.
Although the EWV is a monosynth, it is capable of transmitting four-note chords over MIDI. These are determined as having the root in the note you're playing and generated by the slave synthesiser. The EWV offers a selection of 14 chords, from minors and sevenths to sus 4ths and 6/9ths. And each note may be programmed with any one of these chords so you're not restricted to a parallel interval as you are by, say, setting oscillator two to a major 5th on oscillator one. In this way it's possible to string together a chord accompaniment to just about any piece of music - and in case you were wondering, that's programmable too.
Prices EVI £699; EWI £699; EWV2000 £599; all including VAT
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