DMC Ground Control
Programmable MIDI Foot Controller
Ground Control allows the musician to generate and transmit MIDI program change messages to up to eight devices simultaneously. In itself this is a pretty neat trick, but with the addition of a couple of passive foot pedals it will also transmit Controller messages to two user-defined MIDI Controllers. At first sight, the device would seem to be nothing more than a bank of a dozen footswitches mounted in a strong metal box — hardly the stuff that dreams are made of. To the performing musician, however — specifically, the performing musician with a rack of effects units — it could well be a dream come true.
Using the machine is simplicity itself, once it has been set up to the user's requirements. The first step is to give a name to each of the MIDI channels that Ground Control will transmit to. The characters on the 12-character LED display are half an inch high — easily visible from 10 feet away — so there is no chance of making any mistake.
Once the channels have been named, it's simply a matter of deciding which effects are required from which unit on any specific song, and then saving all the information into one of the 100 preset locations. Recalling the presets will immediately transmit the relevant data to all the MIDI units in the chain. Presets can also be named on the LCD, and it seems to make sense to name them after the songs they are required for.
By extensive remapping of each effects unit it is, of course, possible to achieve similar results without any expenditure whatsoever. Subsequently changing the program on one device will result in program change information being passed on to every other MIDI device, each of which will respond according to the remapping. Though this system works, it offers none of the flexibility — or security — that Ground Control provides. What can't be achieved by remapping, however, and is achieved here with consummate ease, is the ability to transmit Controller data. The machine will calibrate itself to the idiosyncrasies of any specific pedal, and the response curve can be switched between a 'normal' and 'fast' slew rate. This parameter doesn't relate to speed but more to the control law of the pedal, and whether you use it or not depends on whether it suits your own style of control. Any Controller between 0 and 127 may be addressed, as well as pitch-bend and aftertouch. This information is saved as part of the preset data, which means that the same pedal can be performing quite different tasks from song to song.
The machine is powered by an external power supply. This caused absolutely no problem while writing this review, but if I was using it on stage I'd be happier without this arrangement. The lead running from any PSU tends to be on the fragile side, and I know I would always be anxious about tripping over it in the half light between songs.
Ground Control is equipped with just one MIDI out socket, and this is going to be sufficient for any musician not already using MIDI. I suspect a number of keyboard players are also likely to be interested in the device, however, and for them a means of merging the generated data with the MIDI stream would have been welcome. As it is, some nifty use of Thru sockets and/or the purchase of a MIDI Merge box is likely to be called for.
If there was one other improvement I'd like to see made to Ground Control, it would be that the pedal numbers were illuminated in some way. The display screen is good and clear and it's easy enough to see if the wrong pedal has been pressed, but with the heightened anxiety of a performance, I'd like to know I was pressing the right pedal before I pressed it, rather than afterwards. These are small complaints, however, and not ones that would make me hesitate to buy the device. Anyone using a lot of MIDI devices on stage or in the studio would be doing themselves a favour by checking this out — it really does make life easier and it doesn't cost the earth either.
Ground Control £225 including VAT.
Systems Workshop, (Contact Details).
Review by Mike Simmons
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