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MIDI Polyphonic Expression In Digital Performer

MOTU Digital Performer Tips & Techniques By Jim Cooper
Published October 2022

Screen 1: MPE allows modulation data to be applied to individual notes within a performance, rather than simply across the whole MIDI channel.Screen 1: MPE allows modulation data to be applied to individual notes within a performance, rather than simply across the whole MIDI channel.

We dive into DP’s extensive MPE capabilities.

This month, we delve into Digital Performer’s extensive MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) features, which allow you to add increased expression and nuance in your MIDI performances and tracks. But first, what exactly is MPE?

I’ve always believed that MIDI guitar is a more naturally expressive controller than the average synthesizer keyboard controller. Set up properly, natural pitch bending and vibrato, for instance, are quite literally at the tips of your fingers. Each note’s pitch and timbre can vary and change in intensity, just as it does acoustically on a guitar or other stringed instrument. Until recent years, keyboards (and MIDI) have lagged behind in those more tactile modes of expression because, in MIDI 1.0, pitch bend, modulation and other continuous controllers (CCs) affect every voice (note) on a single MIDI channel equally. Very few conventional keyboards and synthesizers can modulate the pitch of a single note within a chord while leaving the other notes intact. MIDI guitars, on the other hand, have managed to accomplish this by routing the MIDI output of each string to a separate MIDI channel. In that way, each synthesizer voice can respond independently to MIDI messages.

MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) takes MIDI guitar’s multi‑channel concept and runs with it, by way of redesigned keyboard controllers which can send discrete messages for each key, generated by multiple gestures. In addition to standard keyboard parameters such as velocity, release velocity and keyboard pressure (aftertouch), MPE devices sense motion on a key’s vertical and horizontal axes. Essentially, MPE assigns discrete streams of CC data to each note (Screen 1).

MPE rotates successive MIDI notes over 15 MIDI channels, with each note carrying its own MPE data. Similarly, every note you play on an acoustic instrument is a unique combination of articulations. Vibrato, timbre, string‑release noise, fret squeaks and breath (when playing a wind instrument), whether consciously executed or not, are all elements that can bring a sound to life. MIDI and, more extensively, MPE can translate and encode these musical dimensions into data that you can use to sculpt performances. Best of all, as with playing an acoustic instrument,...

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