Roland CM-Series Accessories
CF10 DIGITAL FADER & CN20 MUSICAL ENTRY PAD
To complement their CM-series modules, Roland have released a Digital Fader and Musical Entry Pad - but anything MIDI has many uses. Vic Lennard becomes an accessory.
To accompany their "computer series" of sound modules, Roland also have a line of MIDI processors. But their applications extend beyond the computer addict's bedroom.
WITH THE INCREASING use of computers in music, and the growing musical activities of the computer fraternity, Roland saw an opportunity and released their Computer Sound Module series. Unveiled last year, this series of hardware sound modules are based on other Roland units and adopt the Atari ST styling - the CM32L is based on the D110, the CM32P on the U110; these units are combined in the CM64 (see review MT, January '90). Certain games for the Atari, Amiga and PC have subsequently had their soundtracks written to play back via these modules.
Included in this series are two other rather unassuming devices, namely the CF10 and CN20. If you have seen them, there is every likelihood that you haven't given them a second thought. But let's take a closer look.
THE CF10 LOOKS like a mock-up of a miniature mixer in that it has the markings for the sliders but no faders. Measuring around 30cm by 25cm, the top face is angled for ease of use.
The surface is made from a resilient nylon substance which is marked out as a ten-channel mixer. The "faders" are touch-sensitive pads built into the surface with a fine-tune pair of arrows above each channel. The pan controls are a pair of horizontal arrows facing left and right and are provided for the first nine of the ten channels. The rear of the CF10 has MIDI In/Out sockets, switches for MIDI merge on/off and pan reverse and a socket for the external power supply unit.
The number of the channel on the CF10 coincides with the MIDI channel. The intended use for this is for interfacing with any of the multitimbral devices manufactured by Roland - which usually have the rhythm part on MIDI channel ten, hence the lack of a pan control on this channel. The CF10 allows you to control the MIDI volume (controller #7) and MIDI pan (controller #10) of an attached MIDI device as long as that device recognises these MIDI controllers. You can check this from the MIDI implementation chart at the back of the manual.
The idea of using touch-sensitive material is not new, but being able to transmit 128 different values by sliding a finger along a 6cm strip is interesting. The alternative would be cheap plastic faders which would probably feel worse, or a unit costing far more. You can increase or decrease the volume by one unit by using the Fine facility. The switches under the surface for these have a positive feel to them.
The pan controls split the stereo spectrum into 15 divisions with centre being instantly selected if you press both buttons together. The values transmitted are specifically tailored for Roland devices, including the Rhodes Models 660 and 760, and may not match up perfectly with units built by other manufacturers unless they also use 15 positions. Many MIDI devices can have the panning of the various sounds set from the front panel and yet do not respond to MIDI pan - an example of this would be Korg's M1. Most of the Yamaha multitimbral synths from the FB01 onwards only have a three-position pan - left, centre and right. These will ignore all pan settings apart from the outermost positions and the middle. Should you find that the pan is moving in the wrong direction, a switch on the rear will cure this.
Finally, you can place the CF10 in-line between a MIDI controller and module, and use the unit's merge facility. This will insert the MIDI volume and pan controllers being created within the CF10 into the flow of MIDI data. So you could be playing back a sequencer, setting the mixdown pan and volume for each MIDI channel and be re-recording it back onto another track. In fact, the unit can be put to good use when you want to inject some life into tracks which have insufficient dynamic content, especially sampled hi-hats and other percussion instruments of a similar nature. Using the fine-tune controls will change whatever volume values are currently passing through the CF10.
THE APPEARANCE OF the CN20 is very similar to that of the CF10 - both use the same surface material. The CN20 allows you to input the most common forms of MIDI data via two faders ("real" ones this time) and a number of micro switches.
The top three switches control the current application of the pad and have a small red LED above each of them which lights when that function is in use. MIDI Ch lets you set the MIDI channel on which data is being transmitted, by using ten numbered switches at the bottom of the pad. Clear and Enter can be used for correcting mistakes and accepting a final setting. The three-character display defaults to showing this current MIDI channel. With PGM you can choose the number of a MIDI program change and send it to a MIDI device. The third button, Chord, will be discussed shortly.
The 22 chromatic notes F-D each have a switch, with the layout being similar to that of a keyboard. Pressing any of these will send out the relevant MIDI note. The velocity of that note can be controlled by the Velocity fader, which, for a small plastic affair, has a particularly smooth feel to it.
To allow you to move between octaves, there are seven switches adjusting the range from three octaves down to three octaves up. This gives you a range F0-D8 with C4 being middle C.
"I can see quite a few people with Roland RD-series pianos giving the CN20 careful consideration, as the lack of modulation and pitchbend wheels limits them as MIDI controller keyboards."
You can press more than one note to create a chord but using the chord function is easier. Pressing the Chord button enters this mode and allows you to make use of the ten chord shapes on offer, namely; Major, Minor, 7th, Major 7th, Minor 7th, Augmented, Diminished, Suspended 4th, 7th suspended 4th and Minor 7th with flattened 5th. Pressing a note selects the root note of the chord, and once the chord shape has been pressed, the chord is transmitted. Again, the position of the velocity slider dictates the velocity of the note.
In fact, using this slider is practically a good enough reason for buying the unit - it is so easy to build crescendos by continuously pressing a note or chord while moving the slider. This is especially true of percussion instruments where the timbre usually changes with the velocity value and which are easy to input via the pad.
The other part of the CN20 is for transmitting MIDI controller information. A single switch selects from the following; modulation (MIDI controller #1), volume (#7), pan (#10), general-purpose controller 1 (#16), channel aftertouch and pitchbend. A fader similar to that for velocity sets the value for the selected MIDI function. All of the possible 128 values are sent for the four MIDI controllers - not just 15 positions for pan - and for aftertouch. The pitchbend sends a total of 122 values from one extreme to the other - roughly seven-bit accuracy which is the equivalent of that found on any "reasonable" keyboard. The one other button, Hold, is the equivalent of a sustain pedal, MIDI controller #64.
Because being left with a modulation, pitchbend or aftertouch value of anything other than zero could be musically embarrassing, the LED next to these controllers' names flashes if this happens while it's in use. Once you change to another function, the flashing stops. It's a shame that Roland didn't use a separate, centre-detented slider for pitchbend. While modulation and aftertouch have their zero value at the bottom position, pitchbend has its zero value in the centre. This is difficult to find, although the flashing LED helps.
Merging any data generated within the CN20 with the incoming MIDI data can be achieved by using the merge slider on the rear of the unit, as with the CF10.
THE OBVIOUS USE of the CF10 is in the situation for which it was designed. The CM sound modules themselves, MT32, D110 and so on have no immediate facility for control over MIDI volume and pan. The CF10 is perfect for correcting this. If you have a four-track recorder and a small MIDI setup, then this unit will give you a high degree of control over these functions.
The CN20 is a slightly different beast. Nothing amongst its facilities is specifically set up for use with Roland equipment, making it more flexible in use. The MIDI merge means that you can put it in-line with your master keyboard and input any MIDI data which is not readily available from the keyboard. MIDI program changes are often awkward to send, especially on a MIDI channel other than that currently in use by the keyboard itself. Aftertouch on a fader is an interesting concept: many keyboards have the kind of pressure sensitivity which requires you to play like a drummer in order to get any real responsiveness out of it. Playing chords with one hand and sliding the fader with the other is an easy way around this, and gives a better feel than recording the notes on a sequencer first. I can see quite a few people with Roland RD-series pianos giving this unit some careful consideration as the lack of modulation and pitchbend wheels on these instruments has always made them of limited use as MIDI controller keyboards.
Both units would sit nicely in a computer sequencer setup. In use with the new slider option on MOTU's Performer or with the Real-time MIDI Generator (RMG) in Creator/Notator, they give automated MIDI at little cost. It's a shame that there are only ten MIDI channels on the CF10 (you could use two units and remap the channels if the software has this option).
There are two other units in this series. The CA30 Intelligent Arranger adds an accompaniment of bass and drums to chords received via MIDI, along with the ability to change the musical style. More interesting is the about to be launched CP40. a real-time pitch-to-MIDI converter. This will take monophonic sounds via microphone or line input and convert them into MIDI data (for £169).
Perhaps this superficially computer enthusiast-targeted series of MIDI devices is worthy of a closer look by us MIDI aficionados.
Prices CF10. £129; CN20. £129. Both prices include VAT.
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Review by Vic Lennard