If you’re on a budget and don’t need a lot of frills, the Axis-49 might hit the sweet spot. This bare-bones MIDI keyboard has no LCD and no wheels or joystick. Its only rear-panel jack is a USB port for connecting to a computer. When hooked to my Windows 7 machine, it was totally plug-and-play, requiring no USB driver.
C-Thru’s main goal for the Axis-49 and its big brother, the Axis-64 (reviewed May ’07) isn’t playing alternate tunings and microtonal scales. Rather, their default “harmonic table” layout aims to let you play melodies and voice chords using the 12-note scale in a way that some musicians find more fluid and inspiring than a linear keyboard. Nonetheless, if you power up the Axis-49 while holding down one of the octave transpose buttons, it goes into “selfless” mode, in which the keys play MIDI notes 1 through 98 with no duplication of note numbers. You can then use the MIDI processing soft ware of your choice to remap these note numbers, creating a keyboard layout suitable for your musical needs.
The hex keys are smaller than those on the U-648, just slightly wider than a fingertip, but their raised edges and less spongy feel provide marginally better tactile feedback. The edges are rounded, so playing glissandi and grace notes is easy.
I programmed a keymap using the program Pd, and I had no problem playing my 31-note scale on the Axis-49 with U-He Zebra as my sound source. With that many notes per octave, however, having only 98 keys in columns of seven keys each meant that the instrument played only an octave’s worth of notes. Setting up a pair of transpose buttons in Pd was easy, but if I want to play wide voicings, I’ll have to come up with an entirely different keyboard layout in soft ware. Because wide voicings are one of the niceties that we’d like alternate keyboards to make practical, this may be a significant issue. Pd is free, cross-platform soft ware, but learning a bit of Pd will also be a requirement if you want to use the Axis-49 to play your own scales because the instrument’s own operating system has no programming features of its own.
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