part 1: background
If you don’t use the MPC Forums, I highly recommend it. the questions I try to answer here were inspired by questions from its members.
NB: Please don’t leave comments here asking for assistance, it’s better if you take your questions to the MPC Forums. I’m on there if I have time, and if not, I’m not. I put this info up because it used to be a big issue there, but I’m not heavily involved in music any more. I’m not running any kind of “MPC1000 help desk service” here: if you learn about the way things work, then you won’t need to ask for help! 8)
what is midi?
A general MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) tutorial is outside the scope of this document: there are many good ones out on the net already.
- A good place to start is the Tutorial on MIDI and Music Synthesis hosted by the MIDI Manufacturers Association.
- Another is the Sound On Sound MIDI Basics series: Parts 1 2 3 4 5.
The rest of this document is “the way I see it”: some people may have problems with some of the details, the way I’ve (over)simplified some things, but I hope you will find something useful in it, whatever your experience level.
Setting up a MIDI network is not a problem if you keep a few general principles in mind:
- MIDI data is all about control: no Audio is passed except in a few extreme cases. (Some samplers allowed for sample transfer over MIDI, but this was very slow and has pretty much disappeared now. Thankfully.)
- MIDI is over 20 years old: it works because it is simple and reliable, but the flipside is: there is no magic to it, no auto-configuration. It helps to know what you’re doing, from Day Zero, because you have complete control over what happens, for better or for worse.
- MIDI data can not flow in a loop: it must have a clear Source and a clear Destination. A MIDI Loop is a frightening thing, you can create a lot of noise or even crash systems if you let it happen. Avoid.
why the mpc1000?
I’m writing this in response to the many queries I see in the MPC1000 Forum, about integrating it into a setup with other MIDI instruments, sound modules and sequencers. I have no experience with other MPC models, but the ideas I will describe should apply to any other powerful sequencer, even software sequencers running on a computer, as well as the MPC2000 and MPC4000 models.
the mpc at the eye of the storm
A sequencer like the one in the MPC1000 can sit at the heart of a MIDI setup. It will send out all the necessary MIDI events to generate the sounds your song needs, whether those sounds come from other instruments or from samples in the MPC1000’s memory. We need to arrange things so that the sequencer can do what this job demands, first time and every time.
For the rest of this document, I will assume that the Akai MPC1000 is your Sole or Master sequencer. This is the kind of setup I talk about here, for the following reasons:
- It’s a good starting point for learning about MIDI setups.
- It’s a separate dedicated hardware box, with master clock facilities and transport controls you can use to control other sequencers.
- It’s quick to start up, quick to use. You can get real work done, without the time and hassle of starting up the computer (if you don’t need to).
- Sequencing is what it does well, and it’s optimised for tight drum timing and swing control. If you don’t want to do drums on the MPC, why did you buy it?
- (Almost) no audio latency to skew timings, compared to a computer.
- Dual MIDI ports with powerful Soft Thru function that let it act as a MIDI “router”.
If you have a second sequencer, there are things you need to be aware of when using it alongside the MPC1000: I have more about that situation in Part 4.
In this tutorial we will use a sample setup of three MIDI devices:
- Akai MPC1000: the master sequencer and MIDI router
- Korg Karma keyboard workstation, a.k.a. “Korg” in this tutorial. A member of the Triton family, the settings we change are the same on all Triton workstations.
- Yamaha Motif Rack, a.k.a. “Motif”, a typical modern rack sound module.
The same principles apply to most synths and modules of this type, but the terminology is different, e.g Roland use “Performance Mode” while Korg and Kawai say “Multi Mode” and Yamaha says “Song Mode”. I will try to mention “their versions” at the right place where possible.
Next: we start working backwards, with how to set up these MIDI devices for Multitimbral operation and test them.
part 2: getting the sound out
fix the audio first
Before you start any MIDI cabling: are all the modules hooked up to a mixer, and have you tested that they’re working?
- Play some sounds from the keyboard as normal;
- Use the Motif Rack “Audition” function to play sounds directly, with no keyboard attached;
- Other modules: try to find some way to “audition” or “demo” sounds.
Remember: setting up MIDI does not change Audio routing: you must correctly wire all devices for audio, as if there were was no MIDI here.
The MPC1000 has a 64-track sequencer, and 2 MIDI Outs. Each MIDI Out carries 16 Channels of data, so the 2 MIDI Outs can send 32 Channels of MIDI data. Each Sequencer Track has a single MIDI Out/Channel setting, so it’s easy to remember that 1 Sequence Track = 1 MIDI Channel = 1 Sound.*1
So, do we need to hook up 32 sound modules, to get 32 sounds? No, most synths and sound modules today are Multitimbral, meaning they can play more than one different sound or timbre at a time. (A timbre is a unique sound like “electric piano” or “nylon guitar”.) In this example, both the Korg and Motif Rack are 16-part multitimbral.*2
Remember: the standard Polyphony limit of your synth is always in effect, multitimbral modes do not change that limit.
working backwards, step 1
Don’t hook up all the cables yet: start with one cable, from the MPC1000 to the Korg keyboard:
Why? To learn how the MPC1000 sends MIDI data to the Korg Karma/Triton, and how it gets interpreted.
- Hook up the MIDI cable from MPC1000 Out A to the Korg MIDI In;
- Set up the Korg to accept 16-channel MIDI data from an external sequencer*3:
- Hit the SEQ button to enter Sequencer Mode. (Not Combination mode.)
- Create an empty Song and assign Programs and other settings to each Track. (Tracks 1-16 default to MIDI Channels 1-16.) Each Track Status should be INT. Save the Song for later use (optional).
- Note: we are not going to use the Korg Sequencer to store or play back MIDI Data yet: we are using the MPC1000 as the only sequencer and ignoring the Korg Sequencer for now. Part 4 has guidelines for using multiple sequencers in one setup, including Clock settings.
- The Korg is now ready to receive MIDI data from our MPC1000 on all 16 MIDI channels and play 16 Programs
- Create an empty MPC1000 Program. On the Main page, select a Track (e.g. Track 1) and the Program you created (Pgm field).
- Select the MIDI field and change the value to 1A.
- The MIDI setting for the Active Track means that the data will be sent out through Port A on MIDI Channel 1. Switch to Pad Bank B and hit a Pad now, and it will generate MIDI Note On and Note Off events and send them out to the Korg.
- The Korg will receive this MIDI data and play the Program assigned to Song Track 1.
- Repeat steps 5 – 7, but change the MIDI value to 2A, 3A … 16A. to send data on all 16 Channels. When you hit a pad, the Korg plays the Program assigned to each individual Song Track.
Summary: when you want the Korg to function as a 16-voice multitimbral sound module, set up Sequencer Mode with 16 Programs as described, and change each MPC Track’s MIDI setting to send out 16 channels of MIDI data on playback.
working backwards, step 2
The setup of the Motif looks very similar. but the details are specific to the Motif:
- Hook up the MIDI cable from MPC1000 Out B to the Motif MIDI In;
- Set up the Motif to accept 16-channel MIDI data from an external sequencer*3:
- Hit Multi to open Multi Mode, select a Multi (e.g. “Procession”)
- verify that the selected Multi has 16 parts assigned to 16 MIDI Channels (Edit)
- The Motif is now ready to receive MIDI data from our MPC1000 on all 16 MIDI channels and play 16 Programs
- Create an empty MPC1000 Program. On the Main page, select a Track (e.g. Track 1) and the Program you created (PGM field).
- Select the MIDI field and change the value to 1B.
- The MIDI setting for the Active Track means that the data will be sent out through Port A on MIDI Channel 1 when you hit a Pad.
- The Motif will receive this MIDI data and play the Program assigned to Multi Part 1
- Repeat steps 5 – 7, but change the MIDI value to 2B, 3B … 16B to play Multi Parts 2-16.
Summary: the Motif’s Multi Mode is designed for this kind of application, and makes it simple to set up and store the multimbral setups that a sequencer like the MPC1000 uses.
Use your manual to learn about the Multitimbral features of your synthesizer. Not all can play 16 parts at once:
- Roland synths use Performance mode. (Fantom uses Mixer or Layer buttons for access.);
- the Kawai K5000S is 4-part multitimbral (“Multi Mode”);
- Korg MS2000: bi-timbral (2 parts);
- Novation: the A-Station and K-Station are monotimbral: the KSx has a 4-part Performance mode.
- Different synths use different terminology for a single Sound: Korg use “Program”, Yamaha use “Voice”, Roland use “Patch”.
- Both can take optional expansion boards, which increases the possibilities – but there is still a 16 MIDI Channel limit on multitimbrality.
- Please consult your synth/module manual if you need more details. (The author does not own these synths, these details are pulled from the relevant product manuals.)
part 3: getting MIDI IN
Now we can send MIDI from the MPC1000 to all channels of both multitimbral synths, it’s time to look at getting MIDI information in to the MPC1000, and how we can control where it goes from there.
The MIDI Thru ports on the Korg and the Motif are “Hard Thru” ports: they simply take everything that comes in the MIDI In port and send it back out again. The data seems to go “through” the device, hence the name. This will be useful if we want to hook up additional modules at the end of the chain and spread the 32-channel load over more devices.
The MPC1000 has no Thru ports: instead, it uses Soft Thru to pass information from the MIDI In ports to MIDI Out. Understanding Soft Thru is crucial in using the MPC1000 (or any powerful sequencer) in a complex MIDI setup. (Soft Thru is sometimes called MIDI Echo in computer-based sequencers.)
On the MPC1000, this function can be set to operate in one of several modes:
- Off: no information is passed from In to Out.
- As Track: All incoming MIDI is passed out to the MIDI channel set on the Active (selected) Track.
- Omni-A, Omni-B, Omni-AB: All channels of MIDI are passed through unchanged, to Out A, Out B, or Both, respectively.
In the Omni modes, the channel number on incoming data is unchanged: so, if you want to control more than one channel on a multitimbral module, you need to change the channel at the source.
“As Track” is the mode that makes full use of the MIDI features of the MPC1000, and is the preferred mode for controlling multitimbral sound modules, since it lets a simple MIDI keyboard control all devices attached to both MIDI Out ports, and makes recording sequences a more logical process. We’ll use this mode in the following setup examples.
more on “as track” mode
This puts the MPC1000 in full control of the routing for incoming MIDI:
- incoming MIDI data is routed to either Out port, according to the MIDI settings on the Active Track (the Track selected on the Main page).
- this means that it doesn’t matter what channel the MIDI data comes in on: you can leave your keyboard setting alone, typically on Channel 1.
Why is this useful for recording sequences? The MPC1000 Sequencer does not support multi-channel recording: you can only record to one Track at a time, the Active Track. You have no choice but to limit incoming MIDI data to one channel – multi-channel MIDI will be merged before recording, which will only confuse things, so don’t do that!
We’ll look at the recording procedure in more detail later, but first: there’s one more thing you need to know…
Cable up the MIDI Out of the Korg to the MPC’s MIDI In 1:
This immediately raises a problem: we are planning to use Soft Thru, where the MPC1000 sends MIDI to the destination you select. But what if you want to play the Korg’s own sounds from the keyboard, and record them to a sequence?
- if you use Soft Thru = “As Track”, as we covered above, you will set up the Track to send MIDI to Out A, to play sounds on the channel with the sound you want;
- but: the Korg’s keyboard is still sending MIDI directly to its synth engine too. You might have left the Keyboard channel on 1, but changed the Track channel to something else, and now you get duplicate or clashing sounds.
What to do about it? These are your options:
- leave the Track MIDI channel at “Off” until after recording. Disadvantage: if your keyboard output channel does not match the channel with the sound you want, you have to change it at the keyboard, or record with the “wrong” sound;
- ignore it: the doubled notes only happen during recording, and do not affect the recorded Sequence.
- the “correct” way: set Local Control to Off. This setting splits the Korg’s keyboard from its synth engine, and they effectively become a separate keyboard and sound module. This brings the setup back in line with our “Soft Thru” methods and removes the duplicate notes.
- Disadvantage: don’t forget you made this change, since next time you want to use the Korg on its own without the MPC1000 routing its MIDI, you might find yourself without sound.
playing sounds and recording sequences
If you’ve followed all the stuff above, let’s put it into practice:
- set up your synths/modules for multitimbral operation, as in part 2;
- set your keyboard to Local: Off
- set Soft Thru to “As Track”
- before recording, select the MPC1000 Sequence Track to record to, and set the Track MIDI settings. Playing the keyboard live must send the MIDI to the correct channel on the correct module, so you can get the sound you want;
- recording and overdubbing follows the standard procedure;
- after recording, you can immediately play the sequence back: there are no more settings to change, because you set it up correctly before recording.
While all this might seem complicated, the idea is to build up a logical system that gets you reliable and consistent results, first time and every time. MIDI has limitations, and is “too logical”, so you need to understand why things happen they way they do. Later, when you get more used to MIDI routing, you might take shortcuts to save time.
This setup makes most sense in a studio environment, where you need maximum flexibility for controlling all your equipment. In a live setup, you might not need the MPC1000 to do all your MIDI routing if you’re playing live. But: if you don’t mind handing MIDI control over to the MPC1000, you can use it to your advantage for automating parts of a live performance:
- unless you change it, the Active Track is Track 1. Stick to that, and the settings for Track 1 apply to incoming MIDI.
- set it all up with Soft Thru = As Track, you can use Track 1 to change what the Keyboard controls.
- when you chain Sequences into Songs, each Sequence’s Track 1 can have its own MIDI Out/Channel setting, and include Program and Control Changes as events. So, when a new Sequence starts, what you play live can switch to a different sound on a different synthesiser, automatically. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination (and MIDI skills)!
the last cable
Finally, we can hook up the last MIDI cable, from the Motif MIDI Out to the MPC1000 MIDI In B.
The Motif does not normally produce any MIDI events: you would do this if you want to dump Voice and other information to the MPC1000 using SysEx. This is totally optional, and it might be easier to use other methods such as USB or Floppy to save Voice information, but you may not have that luxury if your synth or module is older.
part 4: multiple sequencers
Some setups give you the possibilty of using more than one sequencer at the same time:
- a MPC
- a sequencer in a keyboard: Korg Triton/Karma, Roland Fantom, Yamaha Motif, etc.
- a software sequencer on a PC or Mac, such as Cubase VST, Logic Audio, Cakewalk Sonar, and so on.
The key point is that you have a choice to make: decide which sequencer will be the Master in your setup, the one that must be running for your setup to make sense. In this article I have assumed that the MPC1000 will be your Master sequencer, for the reasons I gave earlier. Whatever you choose: make a choice and stick to it.
what does this mean for your other Slave sequencer(s)?
- Clock mode must be “slave”, meaning it will follow the MPC clock timing.
- Do NOT use the Soft Thru functions in your other sequencer: this is how MIDI Loops happen. Turn them off everywhere except the MPC. (I cover this in detail later.)
- This does not mean that all MIDI events must come from the MPC1000, just that it controls the timing. If you use DXi or VSTi virtual instruments, you may get a better response if the MIDI events are in tracks in the sequencer software. You can do it either way, keep your options open and use what works best.
- Check the manuals and online help from your sequencer maker, or ask questions on their forums – these are not MPC-specific questions, they would apply when you link any two (or more) sequencers together.
when would you not want the MPC1000 as the Master?
- When your other sequencer can only be a Master, not a Slave. This applies to recent versions of Cubase, including SX, and Cakewalk Sonar when your Project has Audio tracks.
- When your other sequencer has features that you need it to be the Master for. Example: the MPC1000 does not support MIDI Time Clock (MTC), so it will not work well as the Master in a MTC or SMPTE setup, as used for soundtrack work.
- When you are confident in and comfortable with your other sequencer, so much that you already rely on it i.e. if it’s quick, reliable, and you have low latency audio capability.
using the MPC1000 as a Slave Sequencer
- Reverse the roles, and turn off the MIDI clock master and Soft Thru functions on the MPC1000. Turn them on in your Master sequencer. (You can split these functions between sequencers, but it’s not good for your sanity, in my opinion.).
- Be very aware of how the MPC1000 responds to incoming MIDI notes: after the event filters, incoming MIDI events on all channels will be routed to the Active (selected) track only. It is not Multitimbral over external MIDI, only when using its internal sequencer (by design). It works great as a Slave Sequencer, but don’t confuse it for a sound module – it is not designed for that job.
- Recommendation: send it MIDI Clock only: don’t send any MIDI note events to it, unless you’re recording them to its internal sequencer for later playback. MIDI Clock is fine, but sending it MIDI Notes during tracking or mixdown is a bad idea, because they will be mixed together and interpreted according to the Active Track settings. You might switch modes, change selected tracks, without thinking, and wonder why it sounds all wrong!
This concludes the MIDI Tutorial for Akai MPC1000 users: I hope I’ve covered all the main issues that are specific to the MPC1000 and other MPC models. Some concepts were hardly touched – e.g. Program and Control Changes, SysEx, and more – but these are general MIDI functions thay apply to most sequencers, and you can find many Internet resources on these topics. Get Tracking!