Now you should have a comfortable of understanding – MIDI is a communication system between equipped devices.  This information allows us real-time control of receiving devices.  While there are a lot of basic on-off commends (actions) like note, sustain, start, stop, there are other commands that offer a range of control, typically 1 – 128 (or zero – 127).  Basic computer stuff, so we are stuck with a lot of groups dealing with 8, 16, 128.  You get used to it.  These continuous controller commands can be used to change how the receiving device or sound responds to the movement of the continuous controller. 

Here, I am not talking about the keyboard or sample trigger.  These are basically in-put hardware.  A few examples commonly found are modulation wheels, pitch bend wheels, joysticks, ribbons, foot controllers, and faders.  As mentioned earlier, you can send channel information to a number of receiving devices.  You can use the keyboard as you Master controller and assign one continuous controller to signal the light board to fade in or out and anywhere in-between.  In some set-ups you can use a sustain pedal connected to the Master Controller and when depressed, the light board receives the command (MIDI message) and the fog machine will be triggered.  Key pad triggers can be set up to do the same thing, but as you know, not every device is compatible with every other device, and sometimes features are left out from model to model.  But with most available manufacturer’s, you can easily accomplish versions of the above.

Performing in a duo band, my partner and I played guitars, I played keys, we both sang, he controlled a drum machine with bass pedals and I controlled a programmable drum machine.  As we did more popular dance style music, I would use the drum machine (sometimes when it was idle during a song and sometimes as another layer…) to sequence the synth-bass line of a cover tune.  Then I could play more keyboard parts live for a fuller sound.  As a songwriter, I have used this a bunch to create new audio landscapes and textures I probably would not have found on my own.  So try this if you have the necessary toys;

Take a drum machine or a MIDI drum pattern and play it over and over.  Now, change the sound of the MIDI receiving device or direct to another tone generator (yes!, for visual effects you can also do this to run lights if the sequence is done with the light board in mind).  But don’t just change to another drum or percussion patch.  Change it to a synth bass sound or orchestral strings – and keep changing.  Some sound settings you will not hear anything at all (probably because the drum notes are typically short in duration (and should be as we will get to later) and the sound has a slow attack and is not responding quickly enough to make the programmed tones audible.  (for this you can try holding down a sustain pedal if available and see how the sound responds to longer duration) I plan to go into the properties of ADSR in future series, so we will cover that in detail later.  Some sounds you will not hear every note from the drum pattern but as you listen to a wide variety of sounds, you will find this is OK. 

If needed, change the MIDI Note Number (oh, man, another topic!) from a crash or cowbell in the drum pattern and you can make it trigger another note that might be closer to the key or scale you are working in.  As you know, MIDI also provides real time control, so you can trigger other devices using this function during live performances and still keep it live.

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