Power Down Below
Will foot-controlled music become popular now that Micro Musical have introduced a set of MIDI bass pedals for under £200? Malcolm Harrison has the answer.
No matter how many MIDI keyboards you have, you've still only got two hands to play them with. But invest in a pedalboard, and you can bring your feet into the action, too.
Whereas guitarists have been stamping on various floor-mounted devices for years (leaving their hands free to actually play guitar in the process), keyboard players seem to have shied away from bringing their feet into live performance action. Which is odd, because unlike a guitar's players paws, those of the average pro keyboardist are occupied doing knob-twiddling when not called-upon to tinkle the ivories.
We've seen plenty of pedals aimed at activating various keyboard performance functions (sustain, portamento and so on), but aside from Korg's MPK130 MIDI pedalboard, few designers have tried to force the idea of playing tunes with feet down keyboard players' throats.
Well, Midlands company Micro Musical are giving it a bash, with their own MIDI pedalboard that retails at a significantly lower price than its Japanese rival, and has the added advantage of being upgradable to a more complete specification as and when finances permit.
The ML50 (as the new board is called) to come under the Harrison gaze was a pre-production prototype (hence the lack of proper labels on the pictured model), but by the time you read this, production models should be available. Basically, what you get is a 13-note pedalboard, the like of which you're probably used to seeing on spinet organs. This particular one is of Italian origin and, although plastic, seems rugged enough to withstand quite a bit of foot-tapping and/or lager spillage.
"Facilities: You can choose one from a selection of six octaves, so long as your MIDI controlling keyboard can receive note information over that sort of range."
The basic ML50 model has just one button - Mono/Poly - which (wait for it) allows you to play the pedals monophonically or polyphonically, with the board taking over the lowest 13 notes of the connected MIDI keyboard.
But that isn't the end of the story, because an additional foot controller incorporates several other features including a MIDI channel selector, an octave selector, and an added fifth feature. In other words, the sort of extra facilities that are more or less mandatory for professional applications.
The octave selector frees you from the lowest-octave restriction of the basic ML50; instead, you get a choice of six octaves, so long as your MIDI keyboard is capable of receiving note information over that sort of range. MIDI channel selection is possible only between channels 1 and 5, which seems a bit odd when you consider almost everything that offers selectable MIDI channel allows you to switch between all 16 of them. As for the added fifth facility, this is something of a hangover from the organ world (for which I suspect the ML50 was originally conceived), as it gives you an instant fifth every time you put your foot on a single note.
Will the Micro Musical board make pro keyboardists take notice? Time alone will tell, but with prices as low as these, a lot of people aren't going to lose an awful lot just to give the system a trial run. And once you plug a pedalboard in, it's amazing what you can do with a free pair of hands...
Review by Malcolm Harrison
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