Wednesday, June 6, 2012

This MIDI controller blows!

I've added many new tools to both my iPad and my desktop setup recently. The most interesting addition is the Akai EWI-USB Wind MIDI instrument. This is the coolest thing I've added to my gear setup in a long time.

In my more "analog" days growing up I played trumpet, so this really brings more into my music making. I can now use my breath to bend or adjust volume in anything I'm playing. There are two versions of the Akai EWI - the 4000S and the USB version. I opted for the cheaper (naturally!) at around $230 shipped. The "big brother" version contains a full synthesizer in the device itself whereas the USB version has to be plugged into a computer both for power and to use a soft synth. The cool part is that ANY soft synth or sample library can be used.

I can now play sax, trumpet, strings or any synth using breath controls which come in as MIDI CC#2 events. Any synth that can react to this can be set up to do almost anything with the breath. The Akai also provides a nice vibrato if you bite down on the mouthpiece lightly.

There is a learning curve somewhat larger than some expect so you can find many of these on Ebay! The bad news is that they seem to go for very close to the "new" price so I just ordered a new one. The samples that come with the AKAI are sort of "meh", but they are sufficient to get you started at least for learning the tool and you can layer the Garritan samples that come with it to get decent (if not realistic) sounds.

After playing with these for awhile I did indulge myself and bought the WIVI band modeled instruments (another $112 unfortunately). The instruments are modeled using additive synthesis and sound fantastic! Trumpets sound suspiciously like trumpets for a change with any combination of mutes available.

I've also found out how to map the CC#2 to the Logic synths including their sampler so even with the Logic sampled instruments, I can make them sound credible.

Interestingly enough, for sax sounds I still tend to prefer my Korg M1 legacy edition even though it is 80s tech. They sound amazing even after all these years.

The AKIA USB offers several fingering methods and thankfully, one is based on trumpet or brass fingerings so I don't have to learn sax fingerings or deal with all those keys! The EVI method uses brass fingerings with the right hand and the left hand helps with 1/2 octave transitions (lifting the index finger between G and A flat does it). There are rollers that the left thumb rolls over to change octaves.

All in all this takes some getting used to, but it is familiar. One odd thing is that for all octaves, you have to use a trumpet "lower octave" fingering which is a little unnatural. C# is 123 and D is 13 always regardless of octave.

I am still in "practice mode". I've made a few simple walking baseline and drum loops that I practice soloing to. I hope to have something created with this in a few weeks. I like this much more than noodling on my keyboard!