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MPE: MIDI Polyphonic Expression

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For better or worse, MIDI is here to stay. It is a rare phenomenon indeed whereby a technological standard achieves such longevity, whilst nearly all surrounding industry facets shift fundamentally or disappear completely, outside of strictly purist or esoteric circumstances.

Over the years since MIDIs 1983 introduction, advances have of course been made. MIDI over USB for example provides far greater bandwidth and resolution than the traditional cabling. Regardless, it is still fundamentally the same data being communicated and 5-pin MIDI ports where present remain indispensable.

Recently, a team of committed post-MIDI enthusiasts consisting of such industry heavyweights as synth pioneer Roger Linn, and ROLI CEO Roland Lamb joined forces. Their aim: to pave the way for a musically enlightened digital future, free from the many fundamental restrictions imposed by the current MIDI spec, allowing for more natural and expressive performances musical.

The Roli Seaboard Rise 25 is perfect for the project studio or touring musician
The Roli Seaboard Rise 25 is perfect for the project studio or touring musician

The result? MPE: MIDI Polyphonic Expression (formerly Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression).

The MPE capable Linnstrument, controlling the Moog Model 15 iOS Synth
The MPE capable Linnstrument, controlling the Moog Model 15 iOS Synth

Players are simply used to dealing with the fact that all notes on a particular MIDI channel are equally subject to modulation information such as pitch bend e.g. play a chord on a keyboard and move the pitch bender – all notes within the chord bend equally and non-diatonically.

MPE deals with this by assigning each note its own MIDI channel thus allowing independent control of each note.

On the ROLI Seaboard Grand for example you may play a chord with your left hand, and then bend a single note with your right hand while the chord remains static. Or bend only two of the three notes within a chord. Try bending two notes in opposite directions, even overlapping each other.

A multi-timbral workstation keyboard with zoning capability comes close to providing some of this functionality, however it relies on the player having programmed specific behaviours beforehand. A MPE instrument requires no such foresight and all manner of expression can be performed immediately and intuitively.

To find out more about MPE and what the future holds, here’s an interview with three of the key players: Lippold Haken, Roland Lamb and Roger Linn.

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