Synth Workshop, Vax-77 Power Tips

You may have read the Keyboard April 2010 review in which the fold-in-half Vax-77 MIDI controller won a Key Buy, or perhaps you own one.
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You may have read the Keyboard April 2010 review in which the fold-in-half Vax-77 MIDI controller won a Key Buy, or perhaps you own one. Recent advancements increase control for keyboard players using soft synths onstage and in the studio. Here’s how to change programs in Apple MainStage and on the Muse Receptor, right from the Vax’s touchscreen, plus setup tips for splits and layers, hi-res MIDI velocity, and polyphonic aftertouch.

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Apple MainStage

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With the Vax connected to your Mac via USB and in Host Control mode, the Vax touchscreen is populated with the list of available patches from your MainStage concert, similar in appearance even down to the yellow highlight bar. You can then select individual presets by touching the name of the patch you want to play on the screen. This is random-access and gives you freedom to move or even hide the computer up to ten feet away with a single USB cable, or up to 150 feet with certain USB MIDI extenders.

You access the Vax’s touchscreen sliders by one press of the right-side wheel. They automatically map to MainStage’s patch, effects, and EQ controls in the Workspace window, all via preset MIDI CCs. These virtual controls, as well as an organ drawbar mode (down is louder), wheels, any pedals you plug in, and the uppermost “hot key” on the keyboard are assignable by the Learn function in MainStage.

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Muse Research Receptor

Channel Selector (shown) is the simplest approach. It’s the initial screen in Host Control mode, and works much the same as with MainStage, except that channels are listed by number, not patch name. You can touch-select the corresponding 16 host channels in the Receptor’s mixer; other channel-change options include the Vax hot key, wheels, buttons, and assignable pedals. Receptor Mode is an alternate approach. It lets you see all the patch names from your Receptor plug-ins, as well as automate the Receptor’s bypass function. You can audition all presets by name while putting all other plug-in channels on standby, which lets the Receptor focus its CPU resources on the synth you’re currently playing. You do have to import your Receptor patch-and-bank XML file into the Vax-77 Patch Librarian program, then load the desired patch lists into the Vax via USB. Once you do, though, you can access all plug-ins and sounds without reaching for the Receptor.

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Splits and Layers

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Quicksets (left ) are the preferred Vax mode for building splits and layers across multiple MIDI channels. Within the Vax, splits and layers can be saved to the 128 Quickset slots, displayed and touched eight to a screen, and include controller filters for each of the component patches (right), including polyphonic aftertouch per preset.

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Polyphonic Aftertouch

Poly-AT (for short) is implemented on a growing number of soft synths, such as Spectrasonics Omnisphere 1.5 and Arturia’s “V” family. Poly-AT is easily enabled on the Vax: Once selected in the Effect box on the main setup screen, the physical Effect button toggles it on and off . Mapped to filters, vibrato, or even pitch-bend, the Vax’s poly-AT lets you accentuate individual voices within polyphonic chords, and adapts to the type of musical passage you’re playing.

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Hi-Res Velocity

Modartt’s Pianoteq virtual piano now responds to high-resolution MIDI velocity, which the Vax can transmit. You can enable the MIDI CC88 prefix on a per channel basis; the tenfold increase in velocity resolution (approximately 12,000 gradations as opposed to the usual 127) transmits an unprecedented level of expressiveness and dynamic control, to which Pianoteq accurately and musically responds.

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Matt Wiedemann is director of marketing at Infinite Response. For more on additional Host Control platforms, visit infiniteresponse.com or call the company’s chat line at 512-535-5599.

*Video: VAX-77 controlling MainStage at NAMM.