Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression
– A Versatile Future for Keyboards

MIDI technology has remained one of the most influential advancements made to music production ever. MIDI keyboards are a staple in the producer’s toolkit, letting us communicate between our machines since the 1980’s. The one-man-band was hardly realized before the ability to control multiple devices at one time from one place happened, thanks to MIDI. While it’s been nearly 40 years since the invention of the Musical Instrument Digital Interface protocol, and while other facets of music tech have moved forward we have seen few significant improvements made to MIDI in this century… until MPE.

MPE is an abbreviation for Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression, which transforms the way to express your playing on MIDI instruments. Normal MIDI messages are limited in that they are applied on a channel-wide basis, messages apply to every note at the same time; if you throw your pitch bend up on that sweet Diminished chord then each note you are pressing is going to bend. MPE utilizes MIDI in a way that allows control over multiple parameters of every note, on each note individually. New controllers have emerged in conjunction with MPE communication to best utilize the expanded capabilities of the technology, i.e. the ROLI Seaboard:


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Aside from super slick looking products, ROLI has created a keyboard that changes the way you can articulate your keyboard playing. Standard MIDI keyboards only allow for a single dimension (Strike velocity) of expression when hitting the key. Higher-end MIDI keyboards may offer 2 dimensions (Strike velocity, Press range) by way of ‘aftertouch,’ which senses how much pressure is put on the key after the initial strike. ROLI keyboards offer 5 dimensions: Strike, Glide, Slide, Press, and Lift. As seen in the video above, Glide and Slide turn keys into XY pads that modulate their corresponding notes while Lift modulates your sound depending on how quickly you release keys. If you think 5 dimensions of control aren’t enough to deal with then check out TouchKeys, which adds the ability to use 3 fingers to tap keys for more expression.


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The extra control featured in this tech goes a long way for expression by turning each key now into a multitouch device. For example, if you have a 25-key controller you can easily make octave jumps simply by tapping the key you’re already playing. I like this option better also because it’s modular and can be added to any MIDI controller that you already have. Boom!

If you are interested in purchasing any ROLI products they have multiple options here, keyboard prices range from $300-$8888. If you want to learn more about TouchKeys and are interested in purchasing visit their website.

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