Total control: how the latest MPE, touch and gesture controllers could revolutionize your music production

The advanced controller options of today are just a taste of the raft of new control methods that the future will bring. Be they revolutionary standalone hubs, or devices to be used in conjunction with virtual reality.

So far, we’ve largely talked about multi-dimensional MIDI control, touchscreen-based interfacing and standalone controllers, yet what it is we’re controlling – our music production environments – remains exactly the same type of screen-based space as it always has been, and a place built with mouse and a keyboard in mind. 

But what about virtual reality? In the colourful world of VR, our approaches change completely, from both how we use our hands to interact with music, and by how we perceive the software itself.  


ControlRoom allows you to synchronize your DAW with a virtual environment (Image credit: ControlRoom)

ControlRoom is one such example (still in development). Based around a VR environment, it allows you to synchronise your DAW with a virtual environment, placing you in a new music‑focused world, and allowing your body to be the conduit for expressive automation. With ControlRoom, any MIDI-enabled parameter can be locked to an expression. 

There’s also a virtual mixing console within this polygonal space, to give you the feeling of working in a ‘real’ studio. Though currently available as an early access beta, this type of hyper-3D simulation of a mouldable, responsive studio is likely to become all too familiar as VRs and metaverses trickle more into our everyday lives. 

Virtual virtuoso

But, despite the awe of ensconcing yourself inside a virtual environment, does this type of fully immersive music-making really enhance your music? The makers of Virtuoso certainly think so. 

A self-contained music production sandbox, Virtuoso has its own tailor-made instruments, all fully playable in VR, including customisable drums, three-dimensional synths and more. 

Developed by Jonatan Crafoord, who had previously worked on a number of high profile video games, Virtuoso is less the type of music production workspace where you spend time forensically editing audio, but more a colourful playground in which to generate new ideas, or simply have fun with music. 

With environments that shift and respond to your music, myriad ways to stream your process and controller-programmable synth patches that naturally adjust to how your controller’s height, depth and tilt, it’s certainly an inviting prospect.


(Image credit: ControlRoom)

While right now, some might consider the above examples to be wrenching music production into more of a sort of video game-adjacent ‘experience’ than a ‘respectable’ production workflow, VR – or at least AR (Augmented Reality) – features will certainly become more normalised as the decades progress. AR in particular could be a great boon to all our workflows. 

As we focus intently on our DAWs, we could pitch and swipe up our plugins out of thin air (via the use of nifty Smart Glasses), throw them away and raise our invisible faders via holographic mixers. Think we’ve been watching too many movies? Well, yes – but just take a look at some of the AR workflows being rolled out across other industries and the potential for the producer is astronomical. 

We don't need roads...

One of the main issues with much of this current virtual reality-based tech is the restrictive interfacing, having to use hand-encompassing VR controllers to navigate your way around the environment. 

However, Genki CEO Ólafur Bjarki Bogason believes his company’s gesture-based Ring could be the solution; “I think the Genki Ring solves one of the essential problems inside VR right now, which is to detect if you’re touching something or not.” Ólafur tells us, “I think the Ring can solve that. But, if people are willing to wear a ring while they’re in this immersive experience remains to be seen.” 

roli blocks

ROLI's Blocks are both music-makers and controllers, and make it easy to do both (Image credit: ROLI)

Though VR and music production remain slightly detached mediums for now, Bogason anticipates a future where less cumbersome tech enables a truly smile-inducing idea. “If you can imagine having a system where you can access your own virtual studio anywhere, a virtual music production environment in VR. That’s my dream”.

In the immediate future, the incorporation of MIDI 2.0 has been long anticipated, and is something that Edgar Hermery, CEO of Embodme, anticipates will be a major boon to multidimensional controllers. “It’s really shocking how many artists still haven’t heard of [MPE], or are very engaged with it. It’s our job to make it very appealing, simple and this way, we’ll get there.” 

Hemery tells us, “There’s MIDI 2.0 coming in and we’re under discussion with the MMA on the specs. In a couple of years, this will be the new norm, MIDI 2.0 presents an easy network between controller and the synth. We’ll overcome mapping issues, and the controller will set things automatically.” 

Taking the leap into more expressive musical control today will prime you for a future where any permutation of sound is possible

Perhaps a more seismic change, will be the erosion of the learning curve that all ‘real’ instruments require. It’s a view expressed by Artiphon’s CMO Adam McHeffery; “It’s inevitable that musical instruments will change. For too long, playing music has been enjoyed by an elite few. Even guitars, as ubiquitous as they are, are difficult to play and expensive to own.” Says Adam, “Every big innovation in music has been about accessing sounds more easily. That’s exactly what we [at Artiphon] are doing on every level: playability, design – even pricing.” 

The most likely outcome is that we’ll see an amalgamation of everything we’ve discussed, virtual and augmented reality, gesture control, barrier-free access, instant mapping, expressive multidimensional sound exploration and the like, as well as elements we’re, at this stage, too unimaginative to contemplate. One thing that’s for sure, is that taking the leap into more expressive musical control today will prime you for a future where any permutation of sound is possible.  

Computer Music

Computer Music magazine is the world’s best selling publication dedicated solely to making great music with your Mac or PC computer. Each issue it brings its lucky readers the best in cutting-edge tutorials, need-to-know, expert software reviews and even all the tools you actually need to make great music today, courtesy of our legendary CM Plugin Suite.

Get over 70 FREE plugin instruments and effects… image
Get over 70 FREE plugin instruments and effects…
…with the latest issue of Computer Music magazine