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Using MPE In Digital Performer

MOTU Digital Performer: Tips & Techniques By Marty Cutler
Published June 2023

DP is now fully equipped to take advantage of MPE. Are you?

Back in SOS October 2022, we learned some of the principles behind MIDI Polyphonic Expression, and how to set up Digital Performer (v11 and up) to record and play back MPE data. Since then, more MPE‑ready synths as well as MPE‑capable controllers have joined the party. So I’d like to share a few tips and impart a bit of advice for using MPE.

Getting Started

Screen 1: MPE controllers such as the ROLI Seaboard range and Keith McMillen Instruments’ K‑Boards have software editors that can customise their response to suit your playing style.Screen 1: MPE controllers such as the ROLI Seaboard range and Keith McMillen Instruments’ K‑Boards have software editors that can customise their response to suit your playing style.Digital PerformerIf you are approaching an MPE setup for the first time, you might need to make adjustments to your keyboard technique. Depending on your choice of controllers (I’m working with a ROLI Seaboard Rise 49 MkII and a Keith McMillen K‑Board Pro 4), making music on an MPE controller can feel like tapdancing on a waterbed, both dynamically and pitch‑wise. It’s worth mentioning that ROLI’s Seaboard MkII improves pitch accuracy considerably, but its response remains as accurate as your technique.

Velocity and pitch‑bend often elicit different responses on an MPE synthesizer compared with a conventional keyboard. You will probably need a lighter touch; fortunately, most MPE controllers can scale their velocity response or use custom response curves. There are other solutions to help your hands and MPE controller reach an agreeable compromise.

Relatively Speaking

You can be forgiven if you find playing an MPE controller a bit awkward at first; playing synthesizer keyboards is different from playing a piano, and playing an MPE controller requires yet another approach. Consider whether you need your synth to immediately respond to pitch‑bend or other controllers upon contact with the keys. If you need your synth to sound in tune, you’ll need to make sure that wherever you strike the key, pitch will be spot‑on: either starting at zero, or some other pitch within the range you intend. The latter requires a precision initial touch on the key’s horizontal axis, and can take some practice — violinists spend their lives making sure that their intonation is accurate. Likewise, you can alter the timbre of the synth gradually from the initial setting by sliding or moving your finger up the key, or you can land somewhere on the middle of the key to produce a radical change in timbre instantly. To address these issues, MPE provides Absolute and Relative modes for each gesture, including Key Pressure.

Glide (motion across the X axis of the key, which typically produces pitch‑bend) provides a good illustration. In Absolute mode, landing dead‑centre on the key will yield the expected pitch. Come down on either side of the centre and your note will be flat on the left, and sharp on the right. This is an excellent setup for creating a natural vibrato when you wiggle a finger from left to right, but difficult when you need to land on a specific pitch. Absolute mode assigns a range of values that always...

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