Eerie, amazing sounds from tape loops, patches – like whales in space

Fahmi Mursyid from Indonesia has been creating oceans of wondrously sculpted sounds on netlabels for the past years. Be sure to watch these magical constructions on nothing but Walkman tape loops with effects pedals and VCV Rack patches – immense sonic drones from minimal materials.

Fahmi hails from Bandung, in West Java, Indonesia. While places like Yogyakarta have hogged the attention traditionally (back even to pre-colonial gamelan kingdom heydeys), it seems like Bandung has quietly become a haven for experimentalists.

He also makes gorgeous artworks and photography, which I’ve added here to visualize his work further. Via:

This dude and his friends are absurdly prolific. But you can be ambitious and snap up the whole discography for about twelve bucks on Bandcamp. It’s all quality stuff, so you could load it up on a USB key and have music when you’re away from the Internet ranging from glitchy edges to gorgeous ambient chill.

Watching the YouTube videos gives you a feeling for the materiality of what you’re hearing – a kind of visual kinetic pcture to go with the sound sculpture. Here are some favorites of mine:

Via Bandcamp, he’s just shared this modded Walkman looping away. DSP, plug-in makers: here’s some serious nonlinearity to inspire you. Trippy, whalesong-in-wormhole stuff:

The quote added to YouTube from Steve Reich fits:

“the process of composition but rather pieces of music that are, literally, processes. The distinctive thing about musical processes is that they determine all the note-to-note (sound-to-sound) details and the overall form simultaneously. (Think of a round or infinite canon.)”

He’s been gradually building a technique around tapes.

But there’s an analog to this kind of process, working physically, and working virtually with unexpected, partially unstable modular creations. Working with the free and open source software modular platform VCV Rack, he’s created some wild ambient constructions:

Or the two together:

Eno and Reich pepper the cultural references, but there are aesthetic cues from Indonesia, too, I think (and no reason not to tear down those colonial divisions between the two spheres). Here’s a reinterpretation of Balinese culture of the 1940s, which gives you some texture of that background and also his own aesthetic slant on the music of his native country:

Check out the releases, too. These can get angular and percussive:

— or become expansive soundscapes, as here in collaboration with Sofia Gozali:

— or become deep, physical journeys, as with Jazlyn Melody (really love this one):

Here’s a wonderful live performance:

I got hooked on Fahmi’s music before, and … honestly, far from playing favorites, I find I keep accidentally running over it through aliases and different links and enjoying it over and over again. (While I was just in Indonesia for Nusasonic, it wasn’t the trip that made me discover the music – it was the work of musicians like Fahmi that were the reason we all found ourselves on the other side of the world in the first place, to be more accurate. They discovered new sounds, and us.) So previously:

The vaporwave Windows 98 startup sound remix no one asked for

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Post folk: when a hurdy gurdy meets MIDI, a new hybrid is born

Its origins may go back to 9th century Byzantium. But the hurdy gurdy is going digital – and the result is new, expanded musical possibilities for a familiar historical instrument.

Musician / composer/ luthier and builder Barnaby Walters has been hand crafting hurdy gurdy ..s … hurdies gurdy … uh these instruments. But he’s also been working on expanding its capabilities using MIDI, for connection to other gear and computers, and software that augments the traditional capabilities of the instrument with expanded sounds.

What kind of expanded sounds? Think chords, harmonies, layering different sounds, and more. He’s been developing this over a long period of time, but the documentation is now expanding. Watch:


Demonstration of some hybrid electronic-acoustic experiments using the prototype MIDI system installed on my hurdy gurdy.

0:22 Technique: Pitch-shifting Polyphony Gurdy MIDI and Audio → Apogee ONE → Macbook running a puredata patch

Monophonic acoustic gurdy signal is pitch-shifted down in real time to play chords and harmonies. Chords and intervals on the keyboard can also be used to pitch-shift the trompette signal (0:55) or the drones. Inspired by an idea from Sébastien Tron.

1:18 Technique: Expressive MIDI Controller Hurdy Gurdy MIDI → DIY Hybrid Poly Synth based off Mutable Instruments Ambika

The keyboard and wheel sensors send MIDI note, expression and polyphonic aftertouch messages to a polyphonic synthesizer. In this case a split keyboard effect is used to play two sounds.

1:36 Technique: Layered Acoustic and Electronic Sound

Hurdy Gurdy Acoustic audio, Gurdy MIDI → DIY Hybrid Poly Synth based off Mutable Instruments Ambika

1:36 The acoustic string plays a melody, the bottom half of the keyboard controls a synthesizer with a long release for subtle held chords

2:08 Using trompette technique can send MIDI messages, used here to play synthesized percussion on an Ambika voice assigned to MIDI channel 10, whilst the keyboard plays chords.

2:30 Acoustic trompette and melody string sound layered over subtle polyphonic synthesized chords

Playing, Instrument and Software:
Barnaby Walters

Polyphonic Pitch-shifting idea: Sébastien Tron

Filming, editing: Adriana Borger

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Vadim is a master of the dark arts of DSP – listen to him explain filters

DSP is a secretive art form. But maybe its best-kept secret is, musicians can learn it. You just need a great teacher – and Vadim Zavalishin of Native Instruments, working in Reaktor, is a perfect place to start.

This talk is from June, but just came online – and it’s a rare chance to hear from anyone like this in the industry, let alone in a way that’s this clear and friendly from someone who’s one of the better DSP artists around. Even if you have little interest in programming, you can skim through this video and learn how Vadim made a lot of NI’s recent stuff sound better through analog-style filter modeling. But it might just get you into some casual toying about with core DSP, because Reaktor makes it easy – and Vadim makes it clear why it’s relevant to music and sound.

Some background first: Digital Signal Processing describes the transformation of sound through math, now inside your plug-ins, your hardware, and quite a lot of of Eurorack modules.

DSP is math, but the math itself often is straightforward. Take summing. You know the equation for summing signals, because it’s literally adding. That’s 1+1 adding – that one. (For years I listened to DAW programmers chuckle as people posted on forums about “summing engines,” because very often it is really the stuff you did in first grade. Well, if in first grade you used floating point numbers instead of integers, but you get the idea.)

Depending on the task in mind, of course, this can get to doctoral-level stuff instead. But if there’s only a handful of people doing DSP in audio, the reason may be that it requires overlapping expertise. You need to get the math part and the coding bits, but you also need a musical ear and a sense of art. (And you need to be willing to work with music instead of take a high-paying job for, say, the petroleum business or defense contractors.)

Music is very often about sophisticated results from simple building blocks. And so it is with DSP. DSP is a unique intersection between music, sound, science, art, and alchemy.

Then again, that’s why it could be a lot of fun to explore as a musician, and not just as an engineer. There’s not time for everything – that’s why it’s great to be able to “stand on the shoulders of giants” and use existing DSP code, and existing research, to say nothing of going out and buying a nice guitar pedal or using the modules in environments like Reaktor or SuperCollider or Max/MSP or Pd or checking out a new plug-in or soft synth or keyboard.

But Reaktor’s visual environment, structured tools, and the ability to plug your latest filter or distortion into a larger context make this software an ideal way to learn or experiment. I think it’s more fun than brewing your own beer or something, anyway, and I kill plants when I try to grow them. Filters it is.

I’m experimenting myself with Reaktor and also the lovely free FAUST environment. If anyone else is, too, let us know how it goes.

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Max 8: Multichannel, mappable, faster patching is here

Max 8 is released today, as the latest version of the audiovisual development environment brings new tools, faster performance, multichannel patching, MIDI learn, and more.

Max is now 30 years old, with a direct lineage to the beginning of visual programming for musicians – creating your own custom tools by connecting virtual cables on-screen instead of typing in code. Since then, its developers have incorporated additional facilities for other code languages (like JavaScript), different data types, real-time visuals (3D and video), and integrated support inside Ableton Live (with Max for Live). Max 8 actually hits all of those different points with improvements. Here’s what’s new:

MC multichannel patching.

It’s always been possible to do multichannel patching – and therefore support multichannel audio (as with spatial sound) – in Max and Pure Data. But Max’s new MC approach makes this far easier and more powerful.

  • Any sound object can be made into multiples, just by typing mc. in front of the object name.
  • A single patch cord can incorporate any number of channels.
  • You can edit multiple objects all at once.

So, yes, this is about multichannel audio output and spatial audio. But it’s also about way more than that – and it addresses one of the most significant limitations of the Max/Pd patching paradigm.

Polyphony? MC.

Synthesis approaches with loads of oscillators (like granular synthesis or complex additive synthesis)? MC.

MPE assignments (from controllers like the Linnstrument and ROLI Seaboard)? MC.

MC means the ability to use a small number of objects and cords to do a lot – from spatial sound to mass polyphony to anything else that involves multiples.

It’s just a much easier way to work with a lot of stuff at once. That was present in open code environment SuperCollider, for instance, if you were willing to put in some time learning SC’s code language. But it was never terribly easy in Max. (Pure Data, your move!)

MIDI mapping

Mappings lets you MIDI learn from controllers, keyboards, and whatnot, just by selecting a control, and moving your controller.

Computer keyboard mappings work the same way.

The whole implementation looks very much borrowed from Ableton Live, down to the list of mappings for keyboard and MIDI. It’s slightly disappointing they didn’t cover OSC messages with the same interface, though, given this is Max.

It’s faster

Max 8 has various performance optimizations, says Cycling ’74. But in particular, look for 2x (Mac) – 20x (Windows) faster launch times, 4x faster patching loading, and performance enhancements in the UI, Jitter, physics, and objects like coll.

Also, Max 8’s Vizzie library of video modules is now OpenGL-accelerated, which additionally means you can mix and match with Jitter OpenGL patching. (No word yet on what that means for OpenGL deprecation by Apple.)


This is I suspect a pretty big deal for a lot of Max patchers who moonlight in some JavaScript coding. NodeJS support lets you run Node applications from inside a patch – for extending what Max can do, running servers, connecting to the outside world, and whatnot.

There’s full NPM support, which is to say all the ability to share code via that package manager is now available inside Max.

Patching works better, and other stuff that will make you say “finally”

Actually, this may be the bit that a lot of long-time Max users find most exciting, even despite the banner features.

Patching is now significantly enhanced. You can patch and unpatch objects just by dragging them in and out of patch cords, instead of doing this in multiple steps. Group dragging and whatnot finally works the way it should, without accidentally selecting other objects. And you get real “probing” of data flowing through patch cords by hovering over the cords.

There’s also finally an “Operate While Unlocked” option so you can use controls without constantly locking and unlocking patches.

There’s also a refreshed console, color themes, and a search sidebar for quickly bringing up help.

Plus there’s external editor support (coll, JavaScript, etc.). You can use “waypoints” to print stuff to the console.

And additionally, essential:

High definition and multitouch support on Windows
UI support for the latest Mac OS
Plug-in scanning

And of course a ton of new improvements for Max objects and Jitter.

What about Max for Live?

Okay, Ableton and Cycling ’74 did talk about “lockstep” releases of Max and Max for Live. But… what’s happening is not what lockstep usually means. Maybe it’s better to say that the releases of the two will be better coordinated.

Max 8 today is ahead of the Max for Live that ships with Ableton Live. But we know Max for Live incorporated elements of Max 8, even before its release.

For their part, Cycling ’74 today say that “in the coming months, Max 8 will become the basis of Max for Live.”

Based on past conversations, that means that as much functionality as possibly can be practically delivered in Max for Live will be there. And with all these Max 8 improvements, that’s good news. I’ll try to get more clarity on this as information becomes available.

Max 8 now…

Ther’s a 30-day free trial. Upgrades are US$149; full version is US$399, plus subscription and academic discount options.

Full details on the new release are neatly laid out on Cycling’s website today:

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A marvelous sound machine inspired by a Soviet deep drilling project

Deep in the Arctic Circle, the USSR was drilling deeper into the Earth than anyone before. One artist has combined archaeology and invention to bring its spirit back in sound.

Meet SG-3 (СГ-3) — the Kola Superdeep Borehole. You know when kids would joke about digging a hole to China? Well, the USSR’s borehole got to substantial depths – 12,262 m (over 40,000 ft) at the time of the USSR’s collapse.

The borehole was so epic – and the Soviets so secretive – that it has inspired legends of seismic weapons and even demonic drilling. (A YouTube search gets really interesting – like some people who think the Soviets actually drilled into the gates to Hell.)

Artist Dmitry Morozv – ::vtol:: – evokes some of that quality while returning to the actual evidence of what this thing really did. And what it did is already spectacular – he compares the scale of the project to launching humans into space (well, sort of in the opposite direction).


vtol’s installation 12262 is the perfect example of how sound can be made material, and how digging into history can produce futuristic, post-contemporary speculative objects.

The two stages:

Archaeology. Dima absorbed SG-3’s history and lore, and spent years buying up sample cores at auctions as they were sold off. And twice he visited the remote, ruined site himself – once in 2016, and then back in July with his drilling machine. He even located a punched data tape from the site, though of course it’s difficult to know what it contains. (The investigation began with the Dark Ecology project, a three-year curatorial/research/art project bringing together partners from Norway, Russia, and across Europe, and still bearing this sort of fascinating fruit.)

Invention: The installation itself is a kinetic sound instrument, reading the coded information from the punch tape and operating miniature drilling operations, working on actual core samples. The sounds you hear are produced mechanically and acoustically by those drills.

As usual, Dima lists his cooking ingredients, though I think the sum is uniquely more than these individual parts. It’s as he describes it, a poetic, kinetic meditation, evocative both intellectually and spiritually. That said, the parts:


– pure data
– max/msp


– stepper motors x5 + 2
– dc-motors x5
– arduino mega
– lcd monitor
– custom electronics
– 5 piezo microphones
– 2 channel sound system

Commission by NCCA-ROSIZO (National Centre for Contemporary Arts), special for TECHNE “Prolog” exhibition, Moscow, 2018.
Curators: Natalia Fuchs, Antonio Geusa. Producer: Dmitry Znamenskiy.

The work was also a collaboration with Gallery Ch9 (Ч9) in Murmansk. That’s itself something of an achievement; it’s hard enough to find media art galleries in major cities, let alone remote Russia. (That’s far enough northwest in Russia that most of Finland and all of Sweden are south of it.)

But the alien-looking object also got its own trip to the site, ‘performing’ at the location.

It’s appropriate that would happen in Russia. Cosmism visionary Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov and his ideas about creating immortality by resurrecting ancestors may seem bizarre today. But translate that to media art, which threatens to become stuck in time when not informed by history. (Those who do not learn from history are doomed to make installation art that looks like it came from a mid-1990s Ars Electronica or Transmediale, forever, I mean.) To be truly futuristic, media art has to have a deep understanding of technologies progression, its workings, and all the moments in the past that were themselves ahead of their time. That is, maybe we have to dig deep into the ground beneath us, dig up our ancestors, and construct the future atop that knowledge.

At Spektrum Berlin this weekend, there’s also a “materiality of sound” project. Fellow Moscow-based artist Andrey Smirnov will create an imaginative new performance inspired by Theremin’s infamous KGB listening device of the 1940s – also new art fabricated from Soviet history – joined by a lineup of other artists exploring similar themes making sound material and kinetic. (Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, Sonolevitation, Camera Lucida, Eleonora Oreggia aka Xname share the bill.)

To me, these two themes – materiality, drawing from kinetic, mechanical, optical, and acoustic techniques (and not just digital and analog), and archaeological futurism, employing deep historical inquiry that is in turn re-contextualized in forward-thinking, speculative work, offer tremendous possibility. They sound like more than just a zeitgeist-friendly buzzword (yeah, I’m looking at you, blockchain). They sound like something to which artists might even be happy to devote lifetimes.

For another virtual trip to the borehole, here’s Rosa Menkman’s film on a soundwalk at the site in 2016.

Related (curator Natalia Fuchs, interviewed before, also curated this work):

Between art tech and techno, past and future, a view from Russia

And on the kinetic-mechanical topic:

Watch futuristic techno made by robots – then learn how it was made

Full project details:

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Bastl TV: Patching and looping and Nikol teaches complex envelopes

Czech builder Bastl Instruments are working simultaneously in modular and desktop instruments. But it’s not about choosing one or the other – it’s getting inspired to play musically, either way.

So Patchení s Nikol is back, with Nikol to show you some serious patching techniques. And yes, of course, this is a nice showcase of Bastl’s own skiff of modules. But it’s also a nice example of what you can do with modulated envelopes – adding modulation to an amplitude envelope to give it a more complicated shape than just attack and release and so on. You could certainly apply this to other modular environments.

Actually, one of my favorite modules Bastl have put out lately is this one: Hendrikson is designed just to make it easier to add stomp box and external effects to your modular rig. It gives you easy-access jacks for patching in your pedal or pedal chain, some handy knobs, and all-important wet/dry mix. Plus, you can patch control into that wet/dry to automate wet dry controls with your modular if you like.

They’re obviously having a lot of fun with this:


Speaking of economizing, how about that Zoom MultiStomp you see in the middle of the video? It’s got a whole massive list of different effects, all of which you control, and a street price of around $100 right now.

Vaclav I believe turned me on to that Zoom. And now switching to the desktop hardware they make, here’s a personal testimonial about how much he’s appreciating their THYME looper – seen here played live and with some destructive looping.

Vaclav tells us: “I have been playing the THYME for quite a while and has a certain instrumental quality that is quite hard to master – as with any other instrument… it really became one of the most essential pieces of musical gear that I use all the time. I am really proud of it being a real instrument now and not just a dream that I had more than 3 years ago!”

I’m here in Moscow now for Synthposium where we’ll see Bastl at the Expo and in a talk on music gear business in the online age. Stay tuned.

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Watch an Ableton Live sequence made physical on the monome grid

The monome made history by transforming the virtual world of the computer into a low-fidelity grid of lights and buttons. But it’s no less magical today – especially in the hands of stretta.


Matthew Davidson has been an innovative developer of patches for the monome since its early days. And that’s a principle innovation of the hardware: by reducing the “screen” to a minimal on/off grid, and lighting buttons independently from your input, the monome becomes a distillation of the ideas in a particular computer patch. Just like a fretboard or the black and white keys of a grand piano, a music box roll or the notes on a staff, it’s an abstraction of the music itself. And its simplicity is part of its power – a simplicity that a mouse and a high-definition color display lack.

Matthew is using some features the first-generation monome didn’t have – the varibright lights, and a recommended 128-format grid. But otherwise, this riffs on the original idea.

And remember last week when we covered Berkelee College of Music introducing study of electronic instruments? Well, Davidson has developed a whole series of these kind of clever inventions as a set of studies in grid performance.

That is, the choice of Bach is fitting. This is classical grid from a virtuoso, a Well-Tempered Monome if you like.

Check out the full gridlab collection:


What do you play? Berklee adds electronic digital instrument program

Updated: so what about other grids?

Via social media, Matthew Davidson elaborates on why this setup requires the monome – which still says a lot about the uniqueness of the monome design:

First up is 64 buttons versus 512. It’ll work on a 128 kinda, barely, but it is awkward. An implementation of a fold mode might make that useable.

Second is the protocol. The monome protocol provides the ability to update a quadrant with a simple, compact message. This is what is used to achieve the fluidity. If you want to update the entire grid of a Launchpad, you have to send 64 individual messages, one for each LED.

Lastly is the issue of MIDI devices and M4L. The monome uses serialosc to communicate. Because of this, a monome M4L device can send and receive MIDI data at the same time as sending a receiving button/led data.

[Reproduced with permission.]

Of course, if you have other DIY ideas here, we’d love to hear them!

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Nikol returns to teach beginners modular – next, panning and ducking

Modular isn’t just about building synth sounds; it’s also about routing signal and mixing in a new way. So we welcome the return of Czech superstar Nikol Štrobach, who continues her mission to make modular accessible to beginners.

Nikol is juggling mom duties with modular – we’ve even seen her kid Lumír. And our patching professor, after a year and a half of video production, did have to take a parenting sabbatical. But she’s returned with a new set of advanced tips and tricks, say our friends at Bastl Instruments. And she’s even added English-language narration (though we rather enjoyed the Czech).

Next up, panning (ooh, stereo!):

And ducking (using amplifiers to have one signal control another):

Bastl tells us this is just the start – two episodes are finished and scheduled for the next couple of weeks, with more in production.

Previously, a classic:

Watch a perfect explanation of modular physical modeling

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Take a tour of the dreamy ACL modular synthesizer system

Part of the appeal of modular systems is there in the name – modularity. But as the modular market grows, there’s increasing demand for modulars that are again designed as coherent systems. The ACL System 1 is ready to serve as a synth on its own, or the centerpiece of a larger modular rig.

The ACL System 1 launched this week, available here in Berlin from Schneidersladen (and shipping elsewhere). And here’s a look at how all those pieces come together:

The Audiophile Circuits League do their assembly in Berlin – joining a growing number of boutique makers, including Koma, MFB, Jomox, and Verbos, just to name a few. With a direct-order price of 3930 EUR, it’s not exactly a budget synth. But figure that even pretty recently, digital workstation polysynths were going for near this … and a whole modular rig is a lot more fun. (The price of modular synths as a category, meanwhile, have absolutely dropped – this high-end model is far less than the historical instruments that inspired it, calculating for inflation, to say nothing of prices that drop down to literally zero if you go to software).

Okay, so what’s in there?

6U 84HP Eurorack configuration in their EVZ-1 case
Two Variable Sync VCOs, linear and exponential FM
Dual State Variable VCF
Gate Mix for summing up to four sources
VC Panning Amplifier
M/S Matrix (for mid/side processing)
Three ADSR envelopes (Envelope X3)
Dual Delay
QLFO with phase-shifted sine waves

Basically, you get a synth that’s very inspired by Roland’s System 100M. (Roland, for their part, have also been resurrecting the Japanese modular lineage – something I hope we’ll look into soon.)

So you can make freaky synth sounds, lots of effects, and (of course) precise, thumping kicks. And the whole thing feels really nice, including some really luxurious knobs (they’re “Vernier dials” for anyone interested).

But… if you don’t know what the above means, then this probably isn’t for you.

There’s also an audio interface module and nice touches like a low impedance headphone jack – all the sorts of things that sometimes get overlooked by odd DIY modules.

Also, in a nod to the fact that this is a modular, they did leave a little (tiny) space for expansion, though those 4HP aren’t going to accomplish a whole lot! Most of the people I’ve seen buy these kinds of systems, though, already own a smattering of modules and are upgrading to an integrated instrument that sits at the center of it. (Yes, for those people warning of “Eurocrack” addiction, it’d look like that.)

I’m not personally in the market for something like this, but I always find them interesting to play around with and as a demonstration of how designers approach building a modular system. Nice stuff:

These folks being in Berlin, they’re neighbors to CDM, so if there’s anything you’d like to know or see, tell us and we’ll find out!

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Free Ableton Live tool lets you control even more arcane hardware

They’re called “NRPN”‘s. It sounds like some covert military code, or your cat walked on your keyboard. But they’re a key way to control certain instruments via MIDI – and now you have a powerful way to do just that in Ableton Live, for free.

NRPN stands for “Non-Registered Parameter Number” in MIDI, which is a fancy way of saying “we have a bunch of extra MIDI messages and no earthly clue how to identify them.” But what that means in practical terms is, many of your favorite synthesizers have powerful features you’d like to control and automate and … you can’t. Ableton Live doesn’t support these messages out of the box.

It’s likely a lot of people own synths that require NRPN messages, even if they’ve never heard of them. The Dave Smith Instruments Prophet series, DSI Tetra, Novation Peak, Roger Linn Linnstrument, and Korg EMX are just a few examples. (Check your manual and you’ll see.)

Now, you could dig into Max for Live and do this by hand. But better than that is to download a powerful free tool that does the hard work for you, via a friendly interface.

Uruguay-born, Brazil based superstar artist and ultra-hacker Gustavo Bravetti has come to our rescue. This is now the second generation version of his free Max for Live device – and it’s got some serious power inside. The original version was already the first programmable NRPN generator for Live; the new edition adds MIDI learn and bidirectional communication.

It’s built in Max 8 with Live 10, so for consistency you’ll likely want to use Live 10 or later. (Max for Live is required, which is also included in Suite.)


Up to 8 NRPN messages per device
Multiple devices can be stacked
Setup parameters in NRPN or MSB/LSB [that’s “most significant” and “least significant” byte – basically, a method of packing extra data resolution into MIDI by combining two values]
Bidirectional control and visual feedback
Record automation directly from your synthesizer
MIDI Learn function for easy parameter and data size setup
Adjustable data rate and redundancy filters
Configurable MIDI Thru Filter
Easy draw and edit automation with multiple Data Sizes

User guide

Download from

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