Tired of keyboards? The Digit Music CMPSR might be the MIDI controller for you...
Digit Music’s CMPSR is, at first impression, a cross between a MIDI controller and a gaming device. It resembles a game controller, with a rather industrial‑looking joystick and a bunch of RGB LEDs, but it’s actually a class‑compliant MIDI device which generates notes and chords. It’s big — almost 20cm long — and its styling and control layout remind me of nothing so much as a 1980s mobile phone. Like a phone, it’s primarily designed to be handheld, and in use will often require both hands. The underside is rounded and the device won’t sit neatly on a table top, though there is an optional RAM Mount kit to bolt it to any convenient fixture. The battery‑powered CMPSR sends MIDI via its USB‑C port, which is also used for charging, or it can send via Bluetooth for truly mobile, cable‑free performance.
The CMPSR is primarily a generator of notes, and the centre‑weighted joystick is the playing interface. Its eight compass directions play, by default, one major scale octave from C to C. The joystick is velocity sensitive: the faster you whip it from centre to edge, the louder or brighter the note. Velocity sensing can be turned off in favour of fixed velocity, but there’s no editing of response curves — you’ll have to do that in your instrument or DAW.
The buttons are essentially for mode selection, and change colour to indicate current settings. One button is basically a sustain pedal: it toggles on and off. Another puts the device into chord mode, so that the joystick starts playing triads. These are mapped to the current scale, so from C you get Cmaj, Dmin, Emin and so on, rather than chromatic transpositions. The result is rather simplistic, but enough for rattling off convincing synth stabs at a techno gig. Two further buttons enhance the chord generation: one adds ‘extensions’, cycling through added seventh, ninth and fourth voicings, while another generates inversions. The bottom two buttons offer octave transposition or, when pressed together, activate a short‑lived ‘accidental’ mode, which flattens all the notes in the next joystick gesture by one semitone, resetting after the note or chord is played. A bundled application makes this mode editing a bit easier.
These functions are all performative, and can be punched in and out whilst playing, which with a bit of practice leads to a complexity of performance that belies the CMPSR’s simple voicing algorithms. There’s a setup mode allowing a global switch into a minor key, and transposition of the root note (showing the letter name of the scale on the eight LEDs, which is helpful). A ‘pro’ firmware version lets the buttons transmit MIDI determined by colour‑coded device ‘pages’, and activates various MIDI CC outputs from the joystick, turning it into a gestural controller.
I dropped an arpeggiator into Bitwig Studio and that really brought the CMPSR to life, generating constant variations on Philip Glass as I walked up and down the scale and switched chord voicings on the fly.
After a while I did start to get a bit bored of triggering chords, but I dropped an arpeggiator into Bitwig Studio and that really brought the CMPSR to life, generating constant variations on Philip Glass as I walked up and down the scale and switched chord voicings on the fly. The joystick controller mode was welcome as well, although controller and note messages are issued at the same time, which is rather unavoidable with only one joystick. If you don’t mind that restriction, there’s potential in what the CMPSR can generate, especially with a bit of clever DAW programming.
The CMPSR is a game controller‑like MIDI device for triggering notes and chords with a joystick, and operates wirelessly if you like performing untethered. The chord voicing is a little basic, but with some judicious DAW and instrument programming it has the potential to generate engaging musical output or act as a handy additional MIDI controller.