What if you just had a box that crunched MIDI data?

In the realm of DIY hardware, ideas tossed aside by the bigger music tech market thrive. And so, we have the MIDI Control Platform, a poplar wood and lasercut-aluminum box with basic controls and a graphic display. It’s a box that does … well, stuff. Via software modules and that screen, it can turn into any MIDI-processing tool you desire. This idea has been seen in boutique hardware before – I loved the Ruin & Wesen MiniCommand, but sadly that device and its MidiDuino library never caught on. The MIDI Control Panel – or MCP, earning snickers from Tron fans – is a new creation that carries on that notion. At 210 € (slightly more when shipped outside of its native France), it’s reasonably affordable, too. And with two software modules, it already covers a range of features. (See also: MidiPal, now shipping, from the creator of the Shruthi-1. That is half the price, and does have MIDI DIN, though it lacks some of the additional controls here and the nice, graphic screen.)

Good news for computer users: USB bus power and MIDI over USB mean you can plug directly into a computer. Bad news for hardware lovers, though: there’s no MIDI DIN, which to me would have been a huge draw for this gadget. (Happily, Fyrd tells us that’s on its way, which for me could make this the perfect standalone box.)

The hardware itself looks lovely: 128×64-pixel LCD, four encoders with integrated switches, and simplified operation. It’s like a little, extra computer for MIDI.

The first of two modules available so far is a “Harmonic Music Generator.” It’s a unique sequencer that automatically harmonizes patterns.

  • 3 independent, 16-step sequencers, covering “bass,” “chords,” and “melody”
  • Sequence randomization, velocity, length, and speed controls
  • Various harmonic structures and variations
  • MIDI clock and transport

Another module is entitled “MIDI Low Frequency Oscillator”:

  • Four oscillators, each with sine, square, triangle, saw and random waves
  • Output for up to four Control Change (CC) parameters
  • Controls for speed, range, sensitivity, and direction

Fyrd Instruments founder Julien Fayard tells CDM more:

To go right to the heart of the matter, the MIDI Control Platform has been designed as a flexible MIDI box: it can do whatever you want it to do (sequencer, MIDI FX, controller, …) by loading modules in it. Modules are firmware that control the Human Machine Interface (4 encoders with integrated switches and 2 push-buttons), the Graphical User Interface (LCD display 128×64 pixels) and the MIDI messages received or sent (USB only… for now ;)

The idea is to make the MCP device an open hardware (for hackers) as well as an open software (for programmers) and let people create and share their own modules. As we will add some hardware functionality soon (MIDI DIN i/o), the hardware design have not been published yet and I don’t think releasing the code of the firmware will by itself make the MCP an open software platform. So for now, I am working on making libraries and comments on the codes to give people a true opportunity to get into the code. I will need to make some tutorials too…

I think the question about my background is the most difficult to answer… Briefly, I’ve a PhD in biology since 2010, I make music since my 6 years old (guitar first with some music theory and computer based music since my 18) and I am an electronic engineer/product designer/webmaster/etc since 2 years. I learn a lot about programming during my PhD. A lot of maths and statistics too. That’s helpful. But self-taught is what describe myself the better. My father, who is electronic engineer, helps a lot for the electronic part and I’m more into the programming: a true “family” business ! Friends are involved too: they mostly take the nice pics you’ve seen on Flickr. I work with photographers a lot as a musician since I lived in Arles (famous for his international photography festival and its photography school).

The MCP is a very flexible (almost “modular”) MIDI box with great design and is build with solid and elegant material (laser-cut poplar and aluminum). We also take extra-care when manufacturing the devices and test all the unit one by one. The MCP has been designed as a toolbox for making music with fun modules and will be open source (hard+soft). I hope it will become a platform for users to exchange their ideas/modules soon. Obviously, the number of controls as well as the variety of control types (lack of faders, pads, crossfaders, etc) are not among its strength… With the MCP, my goal was to be as closer as possible to the needs of computer based musician (as opposed to the instrumentalist). The workflow is more mind centered than centered around the manipulation of the MIDI device. Another strength of our product is the proximity I maintain with users: a lot of them ask for particular modification of module that I realize as fast as I can (one day usually).

The first module we made, the Harmonic MIDI Generator, have been really appealing to people. I think it gives one possible answer to a problem a lot of “amateur” computer musician are facing: when in front of any DAW, we don’t know what to write on the musical score. The HMG module provides users with a sequencer that “harmonize” a bass line, a chords line and a melody line without focusing on tonal harmony rules, and allows users to focus on other tasks. We are also preparing an Euclidean Rhythms module too, you know the concept, but we will also merge it with the HMG module (great rhythmic AND harmonic fun !).

Loads more information at the website:
http://www.fyrd-instruments.com/

And it’s worth just checking out how the harmonic sequencer and LFO operate, for any MIDI geeks out there – some nice ideas and execution there.

  • http://twitter.com/peterswimm Peter Swimm

     On a more affordable tip, the midipal has started shipping:

    http://shop.mutable-instruments.net/collections/midipal

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Nice – yeah, actually had held off talking about that until it was shipping. But now’s the time. And as such the MidiPal comes a bit closer to the vision of the MiniCommand. Although I do like the flexibility of having these graphic displays on this unit, if they can add MIDI DIN.

    • Julien Fayard

      So nice to be CDM’ed! Thank you Peter! Just a little word to say that the LFO module can control up to 16 parameters (4 CC messages per LFO with 4 LFO)… That being said, I’m now ready to be criticized by all the hardware-only people… ;) Please be kind as a lot of good stuffs are coming next just for you! And I mean really soon…

    • Math baps

      as I was reading the article I couldn’t help thinking about how cool it would be to actually have some faders and a crossfader on your unit and what type of creative modules you would make to make use of those controls. I know that you deliberately left those things out but it’s the creative input you made leaving out those things that might make adding those things in after the fact so interesting. anyway your work looks very impressive and smells like quality :)

  • Musicrazor
    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Interesting, though not exactly the same – once those DIN ports are on there, this will function standalone (and the category of things that process MIDI in one way or another is broad!)

    • http://twitter.com/READYdot READYdot

       The Audiocubes are complete rippoff! The cubes are overpriced and you have to pay a yearly subscription to get the latest software releases for them.

    • Musicrazor

      a rip-off of what? 

  • papernoise

    The design of this thing is really beautiful (to say the least!) great idea with the bent poplar plywood, and also the combination with black aluminium works great!
    Since you mentioned the MIDIpal and since I happen to own one: the only thing I miss on it is are a bigger screen and a couple of knobs, which could make it a complete MIDI solution. You can add 8 knobs to the MIDIpal though, but you have to do it yourself.
    One thing I totally love about the MIDIpal though is it’s size (besides the feature set). It’s totally tiny, it’s smaller than a stompbox.
    The MCP looks a bit oversized in comparision, the 4 knobs are great, but then, on that frontplate they could add even more, making it a more complete solution.

    Anyway, these boxes are a lot more useful and interesting than one would imagine. And it’s a great way to work less with the computer, so it’s great that they are adding real DIN Midi ports on the MCP.

  • http://www.facebook.com/clesoine Charlie Lesoine

    I’m confused. How do I sequence on it if there are no buttons for selecting notes and no buttons for the 16 steps?

    • Julien Fayard

      Hey Charlie,

      You can choose which step of your sequencer to edit with one knob and edit this step parameters with other knobs. One knob select the focus step you’re editting, the other edit the pitch of the step, the length etc

      Hope it clarifies a bit !

  • David Prouty

    Oh cool….. the midi geek in me is excited about this one. On a different note, Peter could you at sometime tell us if you think the
    Symbolic Sound Kyma: Products Pacarana is worth the asking price?

  • Klyphj

    About 20 years ago there was a wonderful MIDI box called the Axxess Mapper. It was absolutely indispensable. This looks like a nice update of that concept.

  • Ryan Dean

    Minor niggle…MCP was the unique OS of the innovative Burroughs B5000 series computers from the 1960′s created by Robert Barton, which directly influenced the Tron screenwriters..
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MCP_(Burroughs_Large_Systems) 

  • Lindsay Crawford

    No DIN, no deal.

    • Julien Fayard

      MCP has DINs now ! A new module named Euclid and still at the same price… Deal ? ;)

  • http://twitter.com/FyrdInstruments Fyrd Instruments

    Fyrd Instruments sell their B stocks now (few scratches on the front panel, 100% functional, 25% off). Check the website!