An Introduction To MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE)

What is MPE?

The latest KVR Audio videos feature Peter Nyboer answering this question, and offering an introduction to MIDI Polyphonic Expression  (MPE).

MPE is a recently adopted standard that supports new options for expressive music performance using MIDI devices and software. MPE is a method of using MIDI which lets you use multidimensional controllers to control multiple parameters of every note within MPE-compatible software.

Traditionally with MIDI, expressive controls like Pitch Bend are applied to all notes being played. In MPE, each note is assigned its own MIDI Channel, which allows expressive controls like Pitch Bend to be applied per-note.

More info is available at the MIDI.org site.

Are you using MPE? If so, share your set up in the comments!

8 thoughts on “An Introduction To MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE)

  1. Hope this will help lift some misconceptions.
    It’s puzzling that several devs and manufacturers use the term “MPE” for monophonic synths or for controllers which don’t send controller-per-note.

    To my mind, the easiest way to explain it to people who’ve used MIDI devices for a while is that it’s like an expansion of polyphonic aftertouch. Even if they don’t know the details of the differences with channel pressure, they’re likely to get what this means.
    Otherwise, people tend to focus on the fact that some controllers have more dimensions of expression. So, if they think of the Seaboard, they might claim that responding to CC74 and increasing pitchbend range should be enough to “work with MPE controllers”. That’s rather misleading, albeit unwittingly.

    A case that I find really strange is a hardware controller which claims MPE support yet doesn’t even send polyphonic aftertouch, let alone any other kind of per-note control. That’s very close to false advertising, in my humble opinion. I’ve had an extended conversation with that specific manufacturer to no avail.

  2. I used to complain that MPE was messy workaround. I didn’t like that you sacrificed multitimbral capability. I didn’t like that synth & controller makers continue to ignore polyphonic AT which is built into the regular spec. And I wasn’t crazy about the various controllers that used MPE (with a few amazing exceptions).

    I’ve come around a little bit. I still think it is kind of a messy workaround, but I see the cleverness of it more clearly now.

    Who knows when MIDI 2.0 will start getting widespread adoption & implementation. But that will make MPE obsolete (hopefully).

  3. The day will come when expressive isomorphic controllers will take over the world.

    What format that expressive control will take, whether it is MPE or the Midi 2.0 standard or something completely different, we will have to wait and see.

    For the time being I enjoy my Linnstrument and the Sensel Morph.

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