Programming a Synth for Wind Control (part 1 of 2)


Part 1: It’s an ill wind that blows no good

So…, you just returned from a musician’s yard sale where you scored a MIDI gadget that looks like Darth Vader’s clarinet. You plug it into your keyboard synth, select your favorite patch, and then risk a toot. In exchange, you get the musical equivalent of a bucking bronco, or maybe nothing at all.

No, you probably were not taken by the purveyor of yardly treasures. You’ve simply discovered that the stock patches in most keyboard and modular synthesizers are not particularly well-suited to wind controllers. In this article, we’ll look at why, as well as a bit of theory for bringing harmony to your wind controller and sound generator.

A little bitta MIDI

A MIDI stream can contain many types of data. We’ll be concerned with two: “one-shot” messages, such as those occurring when a key or patch change button is pressed, and “continuous controller” messages, which comprise a stream of values corresponding to the position of a sensor or control (e.g., a pitch bend or modulation wheel).

In a typical keyboard synthesizer or module, patches are optimized to respond to the dynamics of a keyboard. A key press sends a MIDI note number and attack velocity value to the synth circuitry. If the keyboard responds to aftertouch, pressing the key past bottom sends a burst of aftertouch messages that can be used to modify the sound. Likewise, working a control wheel sends additional MIDI messages.  Releasing the key sends a note off signal and release velocity.

In addition, patches often contain tone modifiers such as LFO, filter, or key-follow curves that determine how the sound plays out during key-down. These modifications occur programmatically over time, but some can also be tied to a continuous controller. The MIDI stream may include “active sense” messages, which simply confirm that the connection is intact between a separate keyboard controller and external synth module. For the purposes of patch control, you can ignore active sense.

A MIDI blabbermouth

A typical wind controller (“WC” here out) is a different animal. When you blow into the mouthpiece, the WC sends a constant stream of continuous controller data for as long as you maintain breath pressure. The continuous controller is usually “Breath” (CC02), but it can be aftertouch and/or volume (CC07); it depends on the wind controller. This relative glut of MIDI data is the chief reason it is difficult to sequence a WC; many sequencers can’t process that much data in real time.
For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the WC is a Yamaha WX7, and it is set up to send breath data (“CC02” for the rest of this article). When you blow into the mouthpiece, the WX7 sends a note-on message that turns on the fingered note with an attack velocity dependant on initial breath pressure, and it pumps out a continuous stream of CC02 data that tracks the intensity of breath pressure. The WX7 also sends pitch bend values, which correspond to how hard you squeeze the mouthpiece “reed.” This plastic tab is there to act as a miniature pitch bend wheel — it does not vibrate. There is also a pitch bend rocker located near the spot where the right thumb rests.

A MIDI Swiss army knife – one blade, many uses

Arguably, the wind controller’s greatest asset is the ability to control patch volume smoothly and subtly to produce sounds that, compared to a keyboard, are more expressive and organic. While you have just one continuous controller and pitch bend to work with, you can apply them simultaneously to volume and several other patch parameters, such as filter cut-off, resonance, LFO pitch and depth, effects, and more. It all depends on the synth architecture and where the breath-related CC and pitch bend can be assigned.

Right now is a good time for the standard “YMMV” disclaimer. The following information is derived from working with several generations of Roland sample players and a Yamaha wind controller set up to send CC02 in response to breath pressure. Roland’s patch architecture is organized as four “tones,” each of which can be assigned a different waveform and programmed independently of the others. The following guidelines relate to working with a single tone. Given the many possible combinations of wind controllers with hardware or software-based sound generators, a certain degree of interpretation might be needed for your equipment’s terminology and architecture.

  1. Disable the tone’s sensitivity to velocity. The note-on message’s attack velocity component can affect initial volume, or any other parameter the synth’s architecture associates with velocity. It is near impossible to consistently attack successive notes with the same velocity using a wind controller, effectively making velocity-related effects unpredictable. The fix is to remove velocity dependence. Later, you can reapply velocity sensing to selectively control patch behaviors.
  2. Initially, set pitch, filter, and amplifier envelopes to zero. These time-variant elements determine how the tone “mutates” while it sounds. They are extremely useful for patches intended for the keyboard, but can have limited value for a wind controller. Like velocity sensitivity, you might later decide to apply an envelope to a tone to shape the tone at the same time it is being controlled by CC02.
  3. Assign CC02 to the tone’s level and set CC02’s effect to maximum.
  4. Set the sustain level of the tone’s amplifier envelope to maximum. This enables CC02 to produce the maximum possible volume as determined by other patch and/or wind controller settings.

These are the basics for creating a wind-friendly patch. In Part 2, we’ll look at applying these guidelines more specifically to the Roland JV-1010 synthesizer module. The JV-1010 is a member of the JV 1010/1080/2080 series of modules circa early 1990’s, which remain popular. Although out of production, they are usually available used on eBay. The JV-1010’s half-rack footprint is a convenient addition to the wind synthesist’s arsenal. It is small, convenient to transport and use, its instrument waveforms are reasonably convincing, and its architecture is well suited to creating breath-responsive patches.

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Martin M-Play : Fader Wing for M-PC and other M products

Martin just announced a fader wing (control surface) for their M products, including M-PC. This is a companion to the M-Touch that we use with M-PC software. For now, here at WindWorks Design, we are sticking with our M-Touch as we continue the learning curve to move from Martin Light Jockey over to M-PC with the M-Touch control surface.

More info at:

m-play control surface


Here’s the original M-Touch:

M-touch control surface

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Dual WX Case – custom build

WX Dual Case (med)

As noted in an earlier post, when I gig, I always bring two controllers.  To make transportation easier, I built a custom case the holds two WX7 controllers, plus cables and other small items inside the lid.

Double WX Instrument Case

The foam inserts for the WX7 instruments were carefully removed from old plastic single WX7 cases.  I say “carefully” because they are very firmly glued in place, and this required a modestly long time with a putty knife, regular knife, and wide chisel to remove the glue without tearing the foam.  But once done, it was pretty easy to build a box from 1/4″ plywood, cut it into a case, and install hinges and handles.  The exterior is wrapped in black vinyl upholestry material (woven back, not fuzzy back) and glued with contact cement.  I then lined the interior with road case carpet (low nap carpet you see on inexpensive DJ rack cases) that I buy from Parts Express.  A center divider holds the two foam inserts for the instruments.  In the lid, the convoluted foam is glued to a exact fitting piece of 1/4″ plywood that is a friction fit into the lid.  This is the cable compartment.  While this method of making a compartment isn’t ideal, the fitting of internal hinges just didn’t seem worth the effort.

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Bob Norton Wind Synth Gig Rig Update

From the editor:  Our good friend Bob Norton has updated his wind synth “Gig Rig”.  Ever searching for a lighter rack while still providing full equipment redundancy, Bob has switched to powered speakers, and took the amps out of his rack.  Even if one powered speaker goes down, he can still keep the gig going with just one.  And you can see from his rack that there are two VL70m synths for his WX5, and other duplicates. 

From Bob Norton:

New powered speakers are working well, and the shortened rack is also nice.  Here is a picture of the old gig rig — all the wires plug in front. The jumpers on the power amp (bottom) are in the “road position”, they get plugged into the rack plate at the bottom of the large rack just above.


Old Gig Rig


Here is a picture of the new — everything still gets plugged into the front. I don’t need to remove the back of the case unless there is trouble. The blue wire in the rack plate near the top is USB to get plugged into the computer. The holes are for jacks, but I punched them all out for ventilation.

I use 11 out of the 12 channels on the mix. Leilani’s mic, my mic, Leilani’s guitar, my guitar, VL#1, VL#2, TX, blank, Aux Mic (for clients use), SC55 for Leilani’s synth, and two channels for my backing tracks. I pan the backing tracks both center, but the left has the bass and drums on it, the right the comp, so I can pump up the bass/drums if need be.


New Gig Rig


And the back of the rack — everything is tagged so if I need to service a module, I don’t have to wonder “Where does this wire go?”. The ty-wrapped bundle on the bottom is AC power cords. A couple of wall warts are also Velcro fastened to the bottom of the rack.


New Gig Rig – Back


Anyway, I thought you’d be interested.

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Laser Light Show Software with Fedora

Brendan works with us at WindWorks Design, and contributes occasionally to the blog.  Here’s a link to an article and interview with Brendan from Fedora Magazine.
Brendan Laser



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Hardware Failure is Not An Excuse on a Gig

Double WX Instrument Case

Electronic musicians are dependent on more gear than many.  From talking with my friend Bob Norton, we both believe in carrying duplicates of nearly piece of electronic gear so the gig can go on.  After all, you can’t tell your client “my WX broke, so we can’t play the gig”.  Hardware failure is not an excuse.  Been to a large rock concert lately?  You will see two lighting consoles, tracking each other.  That’s typically an extra $30,000 piece of gear just for backup.  Now this is for large arena venues with 10,000 in the audience, not a small gig.

Your wedding or jazz gig clients deserve the same.  For those of us who play wind synth, we are dependent on a host of electronics, including the wind controller which is prone to moisture damage.  Add to that your synth or laptop for sound generation, then your amp and speakers (or amp/speaker combo).  Plenty of opportunities for failure.

You may be thinking, “really, you carry duplicates of everything?”  Yes!  As a wind synth player with a duet partner, that means a 2nd WX7 wind controller.  I carry both in a custom made dual instrument case pictured above.  There’s also a second synth module and a backup amp/speaker combo.  For the amp, my partner and I each carry and play through our own small amps.  Both of our keyboard amps are capable of accepting two inputs.  I can plug into her 2nd channel, or she can plug into mine.  And don’t forget cables to support this, as my amp has RCA for the 2nd input instead of 1/4″.  The odds of two amps going down at the same time are small, so we seldom carry a 3rd amp since we can share.   Between the two of us, we only bring one spare synth module.  The spare is an old WT11 which includes a WX input jack.  Sure, it’s old school and the sounds are not ideal, but since we play baroque flute duets, the FM flute sounds will be just fine in the event of needing a backup.

We don’t carry extra music stands or other non-electrical gear, but I always have a complete tool bag in my car which includes spare fuses, gaffers tape, electrical tape, 2-3 prong plug adapters, zip ties, and a complete tool set.  Multi-tools are handy, but in event of things going wrong, having the proper sized screwdriver or pliers is more helpful to me.

And finally, I have an AC noise filter.  A church I used to play in always gave me fits over odd noises coming into the audio chain.  Adding the AC noise filter was always able to solve it.

So if you are an electronic musician and gig modestly often, make sure you bring spares.  Even if they stay in the trunk of the car.    And thanks to Bob Norton for the various discussions on this.  In another blog post we will share how he updated his own gig rig to lighten the load yet still carry spares.


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VL70-Wizard: a new programming interface (part 2 of 2)


Here is a Q&A between Mr. Verpaele and WindWorks Design on his project, VL70-Wizard: 

How did it start?
My hobby is sound design. I have a specific interest for Acoustic Modelling and Modular Synthesis. Years ago I became owner of a VL70m and WX5. It was frustrating not to be able to get better sounds out of this module. As a result this module lost my attention for a long period and I was at a point to sell it.  Luckily I did not….
A few years ago I discovered the MAX/MSP development platform from Cycling 74.  Finally I’ve got a development platform allowing me to get into go deep MIDI – Sysex programming.  So, I decided to give the VL70m a new chance and did start the VL-Wizard development project.
I did get in touch with Manny Fernandez and Bruno Degazio to get more info. I also established indirect contact with the brain behind the VL technology (Mr. Toshifumi Kunimoto, head of R&D Yamaha). He confirmed that I was allowed to reverse engineer the VL-Expert Editor and VL-Visual Editor. So, I did digged deep into the MAC-VL-Expert editor and analysed the sysex it produced…I also studied the VL1m voice structure and mapped this to the VL70m and step by step I discovered how the VL70m synth hangs together. 
What equipment do you own?
My current setup is a Clavia G2, Technics sx-WSA, Yamaha S90 (with 3 PLGVL cards), VL70m with a third party PROM, and within a week or so I will be a happy owner of a VL1m and a EWI4000S. This means that if the VL-Wiz is a success that I will work on a VL1 editor…  
What is the status?
sorry…I’m a perfectionist..…as a result I restarted several times the design and development cycle in order to get the right solution. Today I reached the point where I believe the VL-Wiz is doing what I had in mind. I did listen to many testers and tried to incorporate their requests, additionally I invested considerable effort designing the right graphical look and feel…the commercial version will go a step further but I leave this as a surprise… I can say that the editor is for 95% ready and steady. What is missing is documentation, but soon after release I will spend time creating video tutorials and extra guidelines..
How will this change the quality of the VL70m voices?
The VL70m is a very expressive and underestimated sound module. It’s front panel parameters are far too little to get better sounding voices. The VL-Wiz offers in-depth editing of the hidden advanced parameters (the VL-element) and therefore unlocks the full potential of the VL70m or PLGVL cards. With a bit of effort and understanding of VL design (see the VL design guidelines of Manny) you can build a voice that responds the way you want it respond.  The VL-Wiz allows you to tweak parameters while listening.
Thanks to the visual key-scale / breakpoint editor you can also fine-tune the behavior of the voice within its low, medium and high range.
The ability to edit multiple VL-units (VL70m and/or PLGVL’s) at the same time allows to introduce layered voices like the VL1m does. The fact that the VL-Wiz can support up to 8 VL-units opens doors for polyphone VL. Believe me, using my Yamaha S90 with 3 PLGVL cards to play a string instrument is really addictive.  
The VL-Wiz includes a feature called, midi snippets. This feature will allow VL-voice designers to establish and share a library of frequently used snippets that can be loaded and directly put a set of parameters into a specific setting. Example EQ snippets for Bass guitar, Classic guitar, Cello etc…

Also the VL-Wiz includes a template selector allowing to quickly load a standard voice template based on the selected Driver and Body. This gives a quick start towards designing voices.
The tuning module does include the features of the original VL-Expert editor and allows for auto tuning or single key tuning. My best experience is using the single key tuning feature.
Do you have some examples of what can be done using multiple VL units.
Here are some examples. More realistic examples will be made available in the future.

When will it be ready?
If my real job allows then I will launch the commercial version end 2015.

On what platform will it run?
It works on a MAC and on Windows (32bit mode). Due to compatibility I could not include support for Windows XP.

What will it cost?
– the free demo version, this will include limitations in terms of storing voices into the library/disk, tuning etc.
– fully working + minor upgrades be around 100Euro. With reduction for those kind VL-users who already donated money for the project (allowing me to invest in VL technology)
– the existing library contains unedited voices that I collected, extracted and converted.  I do play with the idea to design voice expansion packs.
What where the biggest challenges?
– finding enough time to combine this project with my real job.
– keeping myself motivated to complete this big project and convince my wife that this effort will make many VL-users happy.  
– designing a good graphical user interface
– building the voice-tuning process, keyscaling editor and multipart sysex engine
How to stay informed?
By sending a mail to VL70m(@)
Can we support this project?
Yes, donations are motivating and can still be done via paypal, these kind people will receive a reduction on the commercial version and priority in terms of support.


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VL70-Wizard: a new programming interface (part 1 of 2)

Rudy Verpaele has “developed a new advanced VL70m editor – librarian – effect editor” that he calls VL70-Wizard or VL-Wiz. 
Vl-Wiz copy
It has been in beta for a long time but now he’s almost reached the point for a official release.  Here’s his update sent to me:
“Hi Art

The final beta 3 has been released and yes, the next release will be a commercial release…finally…
The Beta3 did become a bit too complex for setup. This will be resolved as part of the commercial version.
VL-user can still request a copy, as long that they realise that support will be limited so I can focus on the commercial release.
Hereby an overview of the standard features:

  • Fast and direct access to an organized voice library (contains about 900 voice I did collect. Important: Some 3rd party voices are protected and not part of the VL-Wiz)
  • Ability edit voice tags and search voices based on this tag information
  • Native sysex voice format, so you can also send the voice with any kind of sysex transfer tool
  • Realtime parameter editing using 4 graphical editing modules, the Element Voice, XG Part, VL70m Effects, Tuning
  • Intelligent activation and deactivation of parameters based on the selected Voice algorithm
  • Parameter labels that correspond to the selected Voice algorithm (eg string vs pipe)
  • Ability to load Current Voice dumpout from the VL70m
  • Compatibility with PLG-VL cards (XG-VL mode)
  • Import capability for .ALL .LIB and .SYX (VL70m format only)
  • Voice Template manager (similar to the Yamaha Visual Editor)
  • Ability to store voices into the Custom + Internal Voice slot 1 to 6 of the VL70m (and in the commercial version up to 16 slots for the EX5)
  • Tooltips explaining what the advance parameter does
And these are the additional features as of beta 3;

  • Poly and Multilayer support. Editing VL-Voices across multiple VL70m & PLG VL’s
  • Quickly (re)-store a chunk of settings (eg. EQ’s, Harmonizer settings etc.) using Parameter snippet tool
  • Mapping midi controllers to VL-parameters using midi-learn
  • Play a one track midi loop while editing using the midi phrase tool
  • Sending midi reset (panic) to kill hanging notes
  • Loading & Sending VL70m effects from another voices without touching the element voice
  • A configurable sysex engine,  set interval time between sysex dumpouts and sysex bytes, handle up to 8 VL devices using their individual Device ID and Part
  • Switch your synth into VL-Mode (eg. S90, MOTIF, EX5, MU series)  by sending an initialization sysex as defined in the listbook of your synth
  • Send extra sysex data before and after each voice(s) upload
  • Select multiple midi-in and midi-out ports
  • Select the midi-in and out channel
  • Enable/disable midi-thru
  • Considerable amount of bug fixes
  • Color Schemes
  • Undo feature (doubleclick on parameter does set back its previous value)
  • Improve license key validation

It is clear that I will need to make a few video tutorial to explain the usage of all these power features but first I focus on finishing the commercial version.”

 Some Screen Shots: (click on the image to visit the blog)

b_VoiceBrowserb_InstrumentEditor b_KeyScaleManager b_Common_System

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Shop Tools and Tips – Boelube

I sometimes get questions about how we build some of our custom projects, both musical gear as well as theatre props and special effects.  Inspired by one of our favorite YouTube publishers, Applied Science, here is the first of what may become a recurring “Shop Tools and Tips” postings.

Shop Tools and Tips:  Boelube

Boelube Paste

Instead of liquid cutting oil for your drills and taps, Boeing developed “Boelube Paste” is a wax based cutting lubricant that is simple to use and doesn’t run all over the place.   It comes in a plastic jar as a blue soft waxy compound.  You just poke your drill bit or tap into the Boelube Paste, then get to work.  While not a perfect replacement for cutting oil in some applications, our shop in New Zealand as well as here in the USA both use it.  It is a bit expensive ($30 for 12oz, $10 for 1.5oz, but the large large container is easy to divide into smaller containers (old school film cans) to keep at different work stations.  Thanks to a video from the Stan Winston props shop for turning us on to this.


Small Tap-Drill Set

In the photo, you might notice the simple drill/tap set.  This is an expensive drill/tap set that we really like.  While our shops have several full sized sets of number drills and English/Metric taps/dies, this simple plastic kit has what I need most often, without looking up the drill number to go with a tap.  It’s a small kit, but has what I use most often here in the USA shop:  1/4-20, 10-32, 10-24, 8-32, 6-32, and 4-40.  I keep one in my theatre tool bag for retapping holes too.  These are available under various brands such as Vermont American, Craftsman, and non-branded.  They all seem to be the same.

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Fun Home – a review of the Broadway show

Fun Home Cast Photo


Fun Home – a review of the Broadway show by Max B.

Beautiful. I had seen the performance done at the Tony awards, but that was basically it. I didn’t know much more. I didn’t need to. You don’t need to have read the graphic novel memoir Fun Home: a Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, which the musical is based on, to understand the piece.

The lighting design was by Ben Stanton and he did a terrific job lighting in a very tough environment. For those of you who have not seen the show, it is presented at the Circle in the Square theatre, which is in the round. That means that there are people watching from every conceivable angle, making lighting a real challenge. I saw a lot of usage of moving lights, lots of gobos, but I also saw some good old-fashioned straight lighting. There was lots of use of color temperature to give a sense of place and a lot of tight shuttering to give a sense of location because of the limitations of the In-The-Round staging. There was also a lot of spotlighting, but that is pretty normal in broadway shows. A standout aspect of the lighting was the light squares, gobos, projected on the floor, meant to represent the cartoon squares in the original graphic novel. Also, another cool effect was bathing the stage in 20+ independent squares of colored light. A good job on lighting.

On sound, the design was good, but again due to I think the limitations of the space, to avoid feedback, the actors’ microphones were a little quiet. They weren’t garbled, though. Clear as a bell.

The show is great. I could go on forever spouting things I’ve learned from interviews I watched after the fact. Instead, I’ll just say this: It didn’t win the Tony for best musical for nothing. The actors are great. The singing is great. The story is great. The staging is great. The lighting is great. It’s great. It’s a new format for a musical (nobody has ever really done a musical with a lesbian protagonist). One of the most striking things is that the main character is played by three different people, depicting her at three different stages of her life: Growing up, in college, and middle aged. It has its laughs, but its strength lies in its seriousness. Songs like Ring of Keys will live on forever. I can see Fun Home running for a long time.



Here is a montage of scenes and songs from the show:

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