Modal Electronics Brings MPE Support To Its Synthesizers

At Superbooth 17, Modal Electronics debuted a new OS for their synthesizers that adds support for MPE (Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression).

We got a quick overview of the update from product specialist Luca Mucci, and a demo of MPE control with a Keith McMillen K-Board Pro 4.

Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression is a new standard that allows for more expressive performances to be communicated using MIDI. With MPE, you have full continuous control over the pitch, timbre, volume, etc of each individual note when performing polyphonically.

Here’s the text of their announcement:

We are excited to announce the release of a new OS update for the Modal 002 / 002R / 001 synths, containing a number of new features and improvements.

Here’s what’s new:

• MPE support: The 002 family of synths now supports MPE-compatible MIDI instruments (e.g. ROLI Seaboard, Roger Linn LinnStrument, KMI K-Board Pro 4), allowing you to apply polyphonic control and expression to individual notes.

• Class-Compliant USB-MIDI host support: Class-Compliant USB-MIDI devices (such as USB-MIDI keyboards) can now be plugged into the USB-A host port on the back of all 002’s and 002R’s, allowing for computer-free USB-MIDI setups. Both MIDI in and out is supported here.

• Chord Mode: Trigger custom chords with notes.

• Clock Sync Auto Mode: Allows the synth to automatically sync to an external MIDI clock if detected, else sync to the internal clock.

• Digital IO board Legacy Output Mode: Allows the audio outputs of the Digital Input/Output Expansion Board to hard-pan each voice like with the original 002 output board.

• A number of important bugs fixes and stability improvements

Simply connect your Modal synth to your network and click ‘Update’ to get this new OS version. While that’s installing, check out this second video from Keith McMillen Instruments demoing their K-Board Pro 4 with our new MPE support on a 002R.

The update is free for existing customers. See the Modal Electronics site for more info.

18 thoughts on “Modal Electronics Brings MPE Support To Its Synthesizers

  1. I think MPE is a clever way to sacrifice multiple MIDI channels for polyphony.

    I wonder why they didn’t just use the PolyAT part of the MIDI spec and then only need one channel for each parameter/dimension of control.

    Say you play a chord, downward pressure (Z-axis?) would transmit per-note polyAT on channel one. X-axis movement polyAT data on channel 2, Y-axis on channel 3, and etc. This way you sacrifice fewer channels for MPE.

      1. “Maybe there is some backward compatibility that is possible with MPE.”

        Yes – MPE works within the existing MIDI standard, and should work with existing synth that support multitimbral operation.

        Polyphonic aftertouch is limited to one dimension expression compared to MPE can do all. This allows for much more expressive performances.

        1. “Polyphonic aftertouch is limited to one dimension expression compared to MPE can do all. ”

          I get your point. With my NON-BACKWARD COMPATIBLE idea, I was suggesting that using the PolyAT data-stream, you could put all notes & per-note Z-axis controls on one channel, then stream the other axes of per-note poly-AT data streams via other channels. So one channel per controller, as opposed to one channel per note. It would be more complicated to implement, and would require both source and destination proprietary design– but you only end up using up 3 or 4 MIDI channels with polyphony only limited by the synth– and it would work within the original MIDI spec in terms of data transmission.

          1. You’re missing the point of MPE – that it IS backwards compatible.

            The MIDI spec hasn’t really changed in 30 years. It’s not that MIDI was perfect when it was made – it’s that nobody can get the manufactures to agree on changes that they should make.

            There are already alternatives to MIDI that can do this sort of thing – but they never achieved any broad adoption. MPE has already surpassed them.

            MPE is here to stay and companies should get on board or get out of the way.

    1. I get what your saying but I don’t believe there are many synths that receive separate cc messages on different channels other than the main midi channel the notes are controlled by unless it’s set to receive all channels in omnimode in which case you would still have to block off all 16 channels for that one synth no matter it’s polyphony to keep from getting cc messages not meant for it without getting into extra hardware/software for filtering. But I could be missing something or just a dunce.

      One of the great parts of MPE is it’s compatibility with older hardware. It’s an extended version of midi guitar with even more polyphonic parameters so even some multitimbral synths from the 80’s should be compatible. An Ensoniq ESQ-1 should be compatible with a Roli Seaboard in MPE mode minus release velocity. It will even receive the global channel for global modwheel. The reason I say should is I haven’t tried it yet as I don’t own an MPE controller and demos with hardware are sparse on the Internet but after reading both manuals it should work.

    2. At a minimum one must be able to smoothly glide 2 octaves up or down from a starting position. That’s a range of 4 octaves, 4800 cents. 128 steps of PolyAT means your pitch resolution is 4800/128 = 37.5 cents per step, almost a quarter tone. This is totally unusable for vibrato and nailing in a beat.

      MPE allows the use of the 14 bit PB controller. Now we have 4800/16384 = 0.29 cent pitch resolution and a glide range of 2 octaves up or down from starting position. This is acceptable.

      7 bit controllers like PolyAT do not work for this. Also they are intrinsically uni-directional. The few controllers that support them do not generally support biasing them to start at the center of their range.

      Furthermore, despite the long history of use of PolyAT for pitch control, a university in Florida patented the use of PolyAT for pitch control a few years ago. It’s an absurd patent and there is prior work, but if you go that route you’ll end up having to litigate it.

    1. “no polyphonic synth should leave factory without MPE support! ”

      Yes! It’s like MIDI – it’s something that companies have to support.

    2. I agree but unfortunately a lot of the new polyphonic synths are not multitimbral.

      As far as I understood from the manual the DSI OB-6 isn’t nor the DeepMind and the Minilogue. The Parva is one I know of that is multi timbal and MPE compatible though.

  2. Is this what users want?I have used midi pretty much since it came into public use. I only use it in a simple way as it is a nuisance to undo when sequencing via a midi only sequencer such as cubase.I would say users want cheaper synths and less complication.The budget end of the synth market is flourishing.I hazero interest in such use of midi inspire of a considerable synth collection and many 12 inch records to my name.I have never seen a more daft and absurd waste of creativity .It may have started with the Waldorf geko …or the midi wand.Or the 1st of April’s midi to facial expression concept.What happened to the Alvin Stardust “esque” midi glove.Or the Lonny Donnegan midi wash board style percussive body triggers. Long live the roots of techno in Detroit and Northern England.

    1. Your’re right that most people would rather get a cheap synth than pay more and get a more capable synth.

      But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a large number of musicians that are very interested in more capable and expressive instruments.

      So yeah – Korg is going to sell 100 volcas for every professional synth sold. But do you really think it’s ‘daft and absurd’ for companies to make pro gear?

      That argument makes no sense – from both an economic standpoint for the company and for the sake of musicians that want high-quality gear.

    2. Everyone has different priorities when performing & recording. For example, for live, I need footswitches to turn layers on/off. For recording, I sometimes like to use a breath controller for some tracks. I almost never use aftertouch. If it worked better I might use it sometimes, but it always feels too clumsy to make it work. That’s me.

      Manufacturers have the unenviable task of trying to provide features that most people will appreciate having, even if relatively few of us will actually use them. That’s a tricky line to walk.

  3. I think it is amusing you use Korg Volcas as an example.Most budget synths coming on to the market are very high quality.(the Moog versus Dave smith argument ) High quality is vital.I have stuff such as a Z1 right through to a xoxbox .The issue is the intricacies of midi that often when recorded can be difficult to remove. I reference the Z 1 a its xy pad…programmable as it may be etc I have never bothered to record as midi info. I have owned much midi and pre midi gear and valued Kenton midi to CV convertors etc but EIgen harps etc…do not seem to have taken off .I have yet to see a roli keyboard in use by any producers I know.The beam controllers …they do not seem to have taken off either.

    1. I am not trying to be rude, but I do not understand the point of your initial comment. We’re talking about an existing product that has been around for some time that is clearly targets a different demographic than the one you described. They are adding additional functionality to an existing product at no cost.

  4. I think one issue with MPE vs. poly aftertouch is that it’s hard to get multiple pitch bend streams at high resolution with Poly AT. I’d personally like to see more Poly AT instruments with a standard keyboard as opposed to things like the Roli or whatever but they’re rare as heck to find.

  5. This is an interesting title and statement by Modal. The reason this is unfortunately interesting or surprising is that there is no official MPE standard yet. In fact, it is this lack of a standard that has stopped several software developers (i.e. u-he) – and probably hardware too (ie, novation) – to implement what we currently perceive as the standard.

    The MPE consortium should get their act together and release a 1.0 version of the MPE standard. Had this been done already, we could tell novation to properly implement MPE on their new peak synth. Instead, they’ve decided to do something that is further away from what we perceive right now as the MPE standard, aka, the latest published draft.

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