Part of the TrevoCon series – Control (disambiguation)
X-Touch + Ableton + VCV Rack
TrevoCon-X-Touch (v.97) is a Max for Live plugin for realizing the full capabilities of the Behringer X-Touch mini USB MIDI controller. The controller has 2 layers of 8 knobs, 16 buttons and a fader (so 50 controls). This is a great device for controlling modules in VCV Rack. There are 2 main shortcomings with the X-Touch mini for this: Even the simplest modular rack has more than 50 adjustments and the VCV “MIDI-MAP” module only works with CC and not MIDI notes. Since the X-Touch’s buttons are all MIDI notes, we’re brought down to only 16 controls. Then, Behringer corporate completely dropped the ball and never released an editor for the Mac. So, we’re stuck with MIDI notes on the buttons and no way to change the MIDI channel.
TrevoCon-X-Touch in conjunction with Ableton Live 10 Suite, overcomes these limitations and also gives us the capability to create control groups (so that one X-Touch mini can control multiple sets of instruments) and even save automation.
I want to thank the folks on the VCV Rack Official User Group for their input on automating, remapping and saving control data. I started the development then posted the first example on the FB group. Omer, Artem, Frequence Morte, Gabriel and Antonio all gave valuable feedback. They pointed out these options:
- Stoermelder MIDI-CAT module for remapping note data
- Stoermelder ReMOVE Lite module for automating knobs and faders
- NYSTHI MusicalBox2 module for recording 16 channels of CV
- NYSTHI LOGAN20 and 02NAGOL modules for recording and saving data as CSV
This input gave me important perspective on what can be done entirely within VCV Rack. And, it influenced me to focus on adding features to the X-Touch and Ableton Live automation (that could not otherwise be done with in the Rack).
- Setup – The magic of TrevoCon-X-Touch is that it uses a track for input from the X-Touch, a 2nd track for receiving the modified data and a 3rd track for recording automation. Place the main TrevoCon-X-Touch on an Ableton Live 10 MIDI track. Set the input to the X-Touch mini (channel 11 is the default; and can’t be changed on the Mac) with no output. On a 2nd track, pleace the TrevoCon-X-Touch-Rcv plugin (with no input and output). On a 3rd track, receive MIDI from the 2nd track.
- Additional Groups – TrevoCon-X-Touch supports 6 groups (i.e. MIDI channels). So, a standard automation setup would have a total of 14 tracks – the main input, 2 tracks for each group and 1 track for stereo audio capture.
- Knobs – Knob adjustments are passed through – from the X-Touch directly to the IAC Bus on the selected group.
- Buttons – The MIDI notes from the buttons are mapped to CC values. This is done by adding 20 to the MIDI note number and creating a new CC. The top row of 8 buttons are set to toggle while the lower row are set as momentary adjustment.
- Setup VCV Rack – The CC from the X-Touch mini, routed through Ableton Live can be used with the “MIDI-CC” module to send CV to modules. It can also be used with the “MIDI-MAP” module to make knob and button adjustments.
Map or patch your Continuous Controller data into your rack. In the above example, the top row is for the X-Touch mini’s LAYER A. The MIDI-MAP module is used to map Channel 1 of the IAC Bus. The 8 X-Touch knobs are mapped to the faders on the mixer and the top 8 toggle buttons are mapped to the mixer mutes. The fader is set as the master fader.
In addition, and as an example, the MIDI-CC module is pulling the CC data and displaying it on VU meters. The left MIDI-CC passes the data from the knobs and fader while the right MIDI-CC passes the 16 buttons (which have been mapped to CC in the TrevoCon-X-Touch plugin.
The lower row is the same but for the X-Touch LAYER B. Note that all of the MIDI modules use the IAC bus for input and MIDI channel 1.
- Switching Groups – The lower/left 6 buttons on the X-Touch are used to switch between the 6 groups. The group number will show at the top of the main TrevoCon-X-Touch plugin.
So, we have 17 controls for each of LAYER A and LAYER B. Across 6 groups, that gives us a total of 204 controls.
If it turns out, we need more, I’ll add a banking capability and/or support for multiple X-Touch mini controllers.
- Button Cycle – It turns out, we always need more “knobs”. But, sometimes a multi-touch button can do the trick even better. The top row of buttons have a selectable cycle value which is different for each group. So, you might setup group 1 with a cycle of “1” (i.e. toggle) to use as a mixer mute and you might setup group 2 with a cycle of “8” steps so that you can step up and down though a filter cutoff.
- Organization and Notes – I’m talking about Post-it styles notes. When using the single controller, I still found it necessary to using console tape and a sharpie to keep track of the mappings. The two LAYERS in the Behringer can confuse things. I find it useful to organize instruments and groups and layers for different features of the instrument. For example, you might use group 1 for instrument 1 with layer A being the pitch and rhythm and layer B as timbre control. And, to keep track of things, there’s a yellow sticky note at the bottom/left corner. This changes for each group.
TrevoCon-X-Touch not only provides capability for use of the X-Touch mini with VCV Rack but it also gives us the capability of using Ableton Live as “console automation” for the Rack. Just arm the tracks and record. The main track will record the raw input from the X-Touch. The CC data will show in the Ableton Live “Envelopes” area. Notice how the buttons (including the group changes) are recorded as MIDI notes.
The Auto tracks will record the processed data for the particular group only.
Don’t look at the screen!
Finally, the bottom right buttons of the X-Touch are mapped to STOP and RECORD in Ableton Live’s transport. Hit RECORD (the circle) then never look at the Ableton screen again.
How about Windows?
So, if you’re using Windows, you can just buy a bunch of X-Touch mini’s and using the Editor. I know that’s not ideal. While the TrevoCon-X-Touch patch should work fine on Windows, the inter-application MIDI mapping is slightly different. If there’s interest, I’ll post something about this soon.
The “What is Modular” discussion
Some folks may argue that adding automation capability to a modular rack goes against the culture. I will argue that knob automation brings us in to the ’90’s – no different than the Windows 95 automation systems setup for analogue console control of the time. We are still maintaining the integrity of the instrument, yet providing the added capability of “recording the mix”. This is not a DAW, but simply knob tracking.
This feature does give us new capabilities that would otherwise not be possible with most modular rigs. We can “overdub” and “edit” performances. I would argue that this is no different than multi-track recording and mixing separately. However this method is better and it preserves the integrity of the instrument (with no audio level editing or crossfading).
Finally, this type of automation gives us the important capability of establishing a solid archive of an electroacoustic composition (or “song”). That is, a piece can be stored and shared as a VCV Rack along with its automation data. Such as collection can be used to re-perform a song. This could mean changing the automation data or changing out modules while using the same data.
Note that a “MetaSong” may require more than just the rack and automation data. Modules such as samplers, for example, may require that the samples be including. And, since “A song is a musical composition intended to be vocally performed by the human voice“, it’s possible that a song could be the combination of a VCV Rack patch, the automation data, support files (such as samples) and a recorded track (such as live Vocals, Guitar or Trumpet). The MetaSong is all of this.
Example MetaSong using TrevoCon-X-Touch
Hipster Modular “Placebo Controlled” uses the following VCV Rack along with TrevoCon-X-Touch to perform and record automation This piece is the first in the “MetaSong” series. It was created using 3 probability-driven instruments and a sample from our friend Dr. Fauci (collected live). In this example, 3 MIDI-MAP modules are used to control the ENTROPIA modules, the Simpler, the mixer and the feedback on the delay.
The piece leverage ideas from the “Midi Mapping in VCV Rack 1.0” youtube video. by Omri Cohen. The 5:42 recording can be heard on Soundcloud – Hipster Modular – Placebo Controlled.
- Ableton Live Set with plugins – Set using 1 LAYER of 1 Group (i.e. 17 controls) and example automation.
This Zip includes TrevoCon-X-Touch_ex1.als, TrevoCon-X-Touch.amxd, TrevoCon-X-Touch-Rcv.amxd and TrevoCon-X-Touch_ex1.vcv.
Known issues with v.96:
- LAYERS and toggles – For now, only use toggle buttons on LAYER A. This was fixed in v.97 (where button cycles were added).
- Multiple physical controllers – Since TrevoCon-X-Touch communicates with it’s receiver via Max for Live send objects, you only get 6 receivers total. So, if you have 2 X-Touch controllers, you still only get 6 MIDI channels. I’m note sure if this is a problem yet.
No externals are required to run this plugin. Place the TrevoCon-X-Touch plugin on a MIDI track, pair it with the TrevoCon-X-Touch-Rcv plugin and a 3rd track for recording or unzip and open the Ableton Live 10 Set.
View more patches in the TrevoCon series…