Effective Automation (Part 1)
Creative mixing with MIDI controlled effects
Paul Gilby takes a look at the first MIDI controlled effect - Yamaha's D1500 which heralds a series on creative mixing with MIDI controlled devices.
With an ever increasing number of MIDI controllable effects units on the market, most people still tend to be using them as normal signal processors and are ignoring the many benefits offered by programmable sound control. Paul Gilby takes a closer look at the creative aspects of such MIDI devices in the first of a new series.
The Yamaha D1500 was the world's first MIDI controllable digital delay. It's an impressive delay in its own right with excellent audio bandwidth up to 18kHz and a 90dB dynamic range. You can store 16 different effects in memory and it's these 16 programs which are accessed via MIDI. However, although the D1500 has 16 memories it was by no means the first - Roland and Korg both had delay lines incorporating memories on the market well before the Yamaha. So, on the face of it the D1500 entered the field competing as a digital delay, but there was one major difference - MIDI - no other delay had MIDI control.
For those who are not fully aware of how MIDI is implemented on the D1500, here's a quick resumé. You can programme up to 16 different effects such as flange, chorus and long repeat echoes etc with over a one second delay time. These delay settings may be stored and given a program number, and it's this number that correspond to the first 16 voice program numbers on the DX synthesizer.
Now it doesn't have to be a DX synthesizer, it can be any synthesizer that transmits MIDI voice program numbers 1 to 16.
So, if we consider a straightforward practical set-up, the sound of the synthesizer would be treated by the D1500 so as you play and change voice programs the delay effects change automatically with you. This is superb for live work, I would even go as far as to say that used correctly, it can revolutionise the live keyboard sound. No more fumbling around in the dark - just change voice patch and there you are.
Question. Would you like to be able to record your keyboard performance, including the effects, into a sequencer but not commit any of it to tape and then return at a later date for mixdown and still have the same echoes, chorus and ADT effects that were on your original keyboard sounds? Or, even better, control the effects using the mixer's auxiliary sends, all by the use of MIDI? Well you can.
As we're dealing with MIDI information, the following set-up will give a reasonable amount of control over the D1500: a MIDI keyboard, QX7 sequencer, D1500 delay and a MIDI drum machine that can be driven by sync code off tape.
The QX7 sequencer will record all voice program information so that if you record a keyboard part that changes voice mid-way through, all the data will be recorded by the sequencer.
The only drawback is that the program changes have to be sent from a MIDI keyboard, you can't programme these voice changes into the QX7 directly. That's not really a problem though, it just dictates the way in which you go about telling the sequencer which voice program is required. Other more powerful sequencers (usually the independent software type running on a home micro) allow you to call up sections of the sequence and specify the voice program number.
So far, we've only spoken about the use of the D1500 delay controlled via the DX voice programs for processing the keyboard sound, but you don't have to have the sound of your synthesizer routed through the D1500 delay. If you link the D1500 to your mixing desk using the normal auxiliary send and return sockets, just as you would with an ordinary echo effects unit, you can control the type of delay effects available on the mixer's auxiliary channel with the QX7 sequencer.
It's possible to programme memory location one on the D1500 to give a chorus effect, for instance, which you could use on a guitar the majority of the time. Then, for a solo break, you may like to use a longer repeat echo which you could programme into memory two.
The mixdown could then go something like this. The tape is playing and you are listening to the chorus guitar sound from program 1, then at the point just prior to the solo, the D1500 which is under MIDI control from the QX7 will switch to program 2 and add the longer echo effect. After the solo, it switches back automatically to program 1, chorus guitar.
One point to remember though, is that when the D1500 switches program it mutes the output whilst selecting the next effect. You have to bear this in mind and time your program changes accordingly, for switching from a very short ADT effect to a longer echo of 800 milliseconds is no problem; but try going the other way and you'll cut off the tail end of the long echo effect. The technique, wherever possible, isto allow the sound to die away naturally before changing program.
To programme the effect changes, you need a MIDI keyboard to feed the voice program number to the QX7. But first of all, there's the matter of patching the equipment together with MIDI cables. With the equipment mentioned, there are two different ways to do this depending on whether you're recording the sequence or playing it back. One of the MIDI routing boxes such as the Quark MIDI Link or the Sycologic MI4 would save you repatching all the time.
Unfortunately, you can't sync the QX7 to tape as the MIDI In is being used to record voice program change data from the keyboard. So, what you have to do is record the sync code from the drum machine on tape along with any other instruments first and then rewind the tape. Set the QX7 in real-time record mode and then start the tape machine and sequencer simultaneously by hand. Admittedly, it's not the most satisfactory method but it's the only way this particular set-up will work. Creativity comes first you know!
You don't need to play the notes on the keyboard as we're not recording a musical sequence, just changes in voice program which manifest themselves as changes of effect when the QX7 is controlling the D1500 delay.
Having programmed the D1500 with various effects which you want to use throughout the song, you can play the song through listening for points where you want to change effect and at the right moment press the voice button that corresponds to the effect you want. Once you have been through the whole song you can reconfigure the MIDI cables and have the drum machine's MIDI Out controlling the QX7 sequencer. Then, on playback, the whole system will be synchronised to tape and the effects will be heard switching in and out of the mix automatically. The result is a sort of simplistic computer controlled mixdown facility that's guaranteed to alter your whole approach to production. Next month we'll take a more detailed look at... well, you'll have to wait and see.
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