Akai is getting ready to release a new MIDI controller series, Advance, that will allow players to control parameters of any VST plugin from the control surface of the keyboard. Stuffing VSTs into hardware isn’t exactly a new idea since units like the Receptor have been around for some time. The Receptor eliminates the need for a computer, since it is the computer itself that is stuffed into a rack mountable unit with a backlit LCD. That may be cool for touring to avoid the delicacies of a laptop, but I can’t image editing patches this way to be very easy.
Likewise I am a bit skeptical of Akai’s new Advance series. I’ve watched and read all of their promo material on their site, and it is very vague in as far as how much control you will actually get over your VSTs from the knobs and buttons on the surface. From the info available, what I have gained is it also doesn’t eliminate the need for a laptop, but allows you to build virtual libraries that are categorized to access from the keyboard’s surface. This seems okay, but really, how much easier is this going to be? Will I really want to be editing patches on a tiny backlit keyboard screen when I’ll have a laptop sitting right next to me with the same thing on it? How is that going to be better than just clicking the item and changing the parameter you want? Not to mention you can already map any midi control surface to just about any VST parameter and tweak it in real time using even my ancient MIDIsport controller. So controlling soft-synths from a MIDI controller is nothing new either.
It would be nice to have an easy way to setup multiple preset and rummage through them without hassle, so if the Advance will accomplish this task it could be a cool item. But I don’t see much detail on their site as to how exactly it will work. It appears to use it’s own proprietary VST host which makes sense, but would seem to make this controller not at all intended for studio use. Which brings me to another thought- there seems to be this stigma attached to using laptops on stage now from a lot of electronic musicians. The thought is that somehow looking and pushing buttons on a flat surface is somehow more exciting to watch for the spectators than pushing keys and a touchpad on a laptop. Hardly. Both are watching somebody make tiny movements barely noticeable from more than 40 feet away. So what’s the problem? If you want people to be entertained by your movements, you should have become a singer, dancer, or a drummer, not a techie.
Anyway, it could be a cool thing, I’m not saying it can’t be. It definitely looks cool and if it has a nice programming interface to get things setup easily, maybe it will be a great way to express yourself using VST technology. Either way, I’d like to get my hands on one to try it myself. Until then, all I can do is speculate.