Note: This is an un-edited post originally written by Modemasters (G’day Adelaide!) on VJ Forums, but we thought it might be worth having a copy here. Although focused on the MPD24, it’s a good general overwiew of using GrandVJ with Ableton Live and MIDI controllers.
Huge thanks to Modemasters for having done such a clear Tutorial!
This tutorial involves using an Akai MPD24 Drum Controller in conjunction with Ableton Live as a host sequencer and ArKaos GrandVJ as a ReWire slave for MIDI synchronised video clip launching.
It is assumed that you are familiar with the basic operation of an MPD24, including edit presets and controller parameters, and basic MIDI mapping within Ableton Live.
Ableton Live + GrandVJ + MPD24
Arkaos GrandVJ has limitations when it comes to synchronizing with MIDI, so in this tutorial we are going to focus on using Ableton Live to expand our options with precise clip triggering by making it control GrandVJ. Added to this we will control the recording and triggering of the clips with an Akai MDP24.
Akai MPD24 Firmware upgrading & preset editing with Vyzex
To start off with, let’s get our MPD24 set up just how we want it.
Preset editing and general pad/slider/knob assignments and adjustments are usually made through the built-in LCD screen and onboard buttons. This is, however, a very tedious method, multiple edits take a very long time. We are going to use Vyzex by Psicraft to update the firmware and edit the MPD24 to suit our needs.
If you haven’t already, download the latest Firmware for your MPD24 and a copy of Vyzex by Psicraft. Find them here.
Vysex has comprehensive documentation included, which fully covers the Firmware updating procedure, so i won’t go over it here. As of writing the current version is 1.10.
As you can see below, Vyzex is a very straight forward graphical interface for the MPD24 whic allows easy editing of all control surface parameters.
We are going to use it to copy some presets to a new location and begin editing them. In this example I am using the factory preset number 5 “Live” and copying it to empty presets 15 & 16 for further editing, thus keeping the original intact. I recommend backing up the current configuration of your MPD before continuing.
In this example we are only going to change the pads in presets 15 & 16 to a different MIDI channel instead of the common channel (CC). You may also like to map different musical notes or values for knobs/sliders.
For more about the common channel consult the MPD24 manual
It is not essential to make 2 copies, nor change MIDI channels at all. We are making 2 copies is because I would like to demonstrate more advanced multi-channel MIDI mapping from Ableton Live into Arkaos. For a more simplified use, just stick to Common Channels setting for now (it is the default) and use just one preset.
Open Vyzex and press the BANK button. Right-click preset 5 “Live” and copy. Paste it down onto presets 15 & 16. While still in BANK mode, select preset 5 again. You can see that each pad in the preset is set to “Common”. This means it responds to the MIDI Common Channel (set in Global mode on your MPD). The default is channel 1A. Go back to preset 15 and rename it to something like LIVE CH1. Switch to PRESET mode in Vyzex. Now select the 1st pad and double click where it says “CC” in the VDU. (see below). Input 1A and press enter. It helps to copy this to your clipboard so you can paste it down over and over, as we are going to repeat this process for all pads. Remember there are 4 banks (A,B,C & D), so there are 64 pads to change. As you can imagine this part would take forever if doing the editing directly on the MPD itself.
Now switch to preset 16 and rename it LIVE CH2 and repeat the process above to change the pad assignments, but this time input 2A into the MIDI channel field for all pads.
Now change to DATA mode in Vyzex and “Put set to MPD24?. Wait a moment while the data is uploaded to your MPD
You now have 2 presets with pads on different MIDI channels. We are going to exploit that in Ableton Live shortly.
The good stuff: Ableton Live and GrandVJ
Fire up Ableton Live and check your preferences to make sure the MPD24 is active. If using external MIDI clock source, ensure your MIDI preferences are correct for the type of input you are receiving. Once preferences are set enable the EXT option at the top left of the Ableton Live interface.
Use the metronome in Live to check if your timing is correct with your source. If not, use the MIDI Clock Sync Delay in the preferences panel to skew the clock to get it on time.
Now that our MIDI is correct, fire up Arkaos GrandVJ. Back in Ableton Live set the Midi Track 1 input to USB Audio Device (MPD24) and output to GrandVJ. Arm the track at the bottom.
Press some pads on the MPD24 and you will trigger cells (or clips) in GrandVJ. Use the ACB&D buttons on your MPD24 to increase octave.
We are now jamming with GrandVJ through Live, but our video clips are not MIDI sync’ed yet, we are merely playing them live. Play around until you find some sequences that you like and then record them into Ableton Live as clips. Roughly record a hand ful of sequences, basic through to layered.
Quantise the notes that you have recorded so that the video clips trigger on time. When in clip view in Live the keyboard shortcut for this is CTRL-U (make sure the all the notes you want to quantise are selected first!).
Once you have a few loops made you can play them as an arrangement, whilst still jamming along with the MPD24 for extra action! You may also wish to de-activate the MIDI input from the MPD24 at this stage so it doesnt interfere with what you have recorded
**HOT TIP** Make sure OVR is turned off at the top of the Live window, this prevents overwriting of the current clip. Alternatively you can leave it on while repeatedly playing over the same loop to build up variations.
Stepping it up: GrandVJ‘s bank switching
All this MIDI recording and sync is great, but what about switching banks of loops or effects?
GrandVJ has a handy feature for mapping bank changes, you can map them to keyboard or MIDI signals. Press CTRL-M (for MIDI) or CTRL-K (for keyboard) and you will see some extras appear in the interface. These boxes/sliders and arrows let you map bank changes (both the keyboard and matrix banks) to MIDI inputs.
Select the slider on the Keyboard layer bank above the numbers 01 to 16. Move a knob or slider on the MPD24. Press CTRL-M to turn MIDI mapping off again.
Moving the slider on the MPD24 now changes through the different banks in GrandVJ!!!!!
The same can be done for the matrix banks above.
I want more!: Advanced MIDI with Live
Now we are getting the hang of syncronised video clip/fx triggering in Live lets open it up some more by triggering multiple video clips or sending clip information to 2 destinations at once.
This technique is less for VJ’s, more for AVJ’s who are producing the sound as well as the vision. Remember we made 2 presets in the MPD24 before and set them to different MIDI channels? Well now we are going to use them!
I use this method mainly for triggering different musical clips in Live, but it can be adapted to trigger multiple video clips or a combination of both! It’s up to your imagination. I have been experimenting with AVJ shows at home and hope to use this on stage soon.
It relies on a feature that goes un-noticed by many Live users who use MIDI keyboards for inputting notes. By default when you have one MIDI channel active for input and you select another channel for input, it deselects the first one. BUT WAIT! By holding CTRL down when making channels active you can make multiple channel selections! This is great for sending the output of one MIDI device to several inputs at once.
But what if you just want to be able to switch MIDI channels quickly?
By assigning different channel numbers to the input of each MIDI track we associate each track to a MIDI channel of it’s own.
In Live, create a second MIDI track. Change the inputs on both MIDI channels to reflect a specific channel (eg. Ch1 & Ch2). Hold CTRL and make both tracks active. Now on the MPD24 when you are on preset 15 (Live CH1) you send MIDI input to Ableton Live channel 1, and when on MPD24 preset 16 (Live CH2) you send to Ableton Live channel 2!!! This is great for input switching without having to actually see of navigate the Ableton Live interface.
Why do this you say? Well, firstly you could send the second input anywhere, to a synth or external hardware. Alternatively, it gives you tracks to act as “layers” for GrandVJ. you can build up you show with a greater degree of granularity, instead of relying on a more linear or “one trigger clip at a time” method. Live can play “scenes”, or in other words a whole row of clips at once. Organising your clips into scenes allows for great flexibility of pre-programmed art. You can still jam along with the MPD in addition to this.
I hope this tutorial has been helpful to owners of Ableton Live/GrandVJ and the Akai MPD24.