Beatstep forward

So i’ve got a new toy.  One of those toys that helps open up the way I use my other toys which is always nice.

Peter Kirn has provided a comprehensive review of the Arturia Beatstep over at CDM but I thought I’d point out what I like about it and where I see it fitting in.

Here is an impromptu video demonstrating usage.  More details after the break…


…the setup…

The Beatstep is connected to my 2010 MacMini via USB MIDI.  I’ve got ProTools 11 open and i’m monitoring two stereo inputs from the Nord Modular G1 while also running channel 1 from the Beatstep into the Prophet V soft-synth.

The Beatstep is also MIDI connected to the G1 which is picking up channel 1 and 2.  On the G1 I have two instances of my Faux Microbrut patch picking up channels 1 and 2 exclusively.

One of the key features of the Beatstep is the ability to send both sequence and control information.  The sequencer is sending on channel 1, going both to the first Nord patch and the Prophet.  The controller is also sending on Channel 2 and being picked up by the second G1 patch.

I haven’t tested CV out yet but will have to try it out on a Conservatorium Dark Energy II.

…the appraisal…

The build of this thing is impressive.  It’s heavy and a more solid build than my Samson Graphite 49 (and clearly miles ahead of the useful but feeble Korg NanoKontrollers).  Encoders feel stepped but output smoothly.  Pads are the best i’ve tried since the Sp404SX… nice velocity action.

It’s pretty easy to switch between modes.  Controlling pitch in sequencer mode with the encoders is straightforward and useful although there is no indication what note you are playing so exactitude is not a virtue here.   Definately more reliable results if you set the scale mode other than Chromatic.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 1.25.40 pm

With the software editor I set the bottom row of pads to output on MIDI channel 2. This is possible to achieve while the sequencer runs seamlessly in the background on channel 1.  This ability to assign different parameters in Controller mode makes the Beatstep super useful for performance and jamming with hardware and software.  I’m not sure whether the channel can be set for sequencer steps or indeed what the Channel button on the device does but hey… i’ve yet to RTFM and i’ve already gotten this far.

…where it fits…

At this point you might well ask the following questions:

Q: You’ve got your Numerology + Launchpad setup… what makes this any different?

A: I still maintain that Numerology + Launchpad is a near flawless combo.  I’m certainly still using Numerology – it works wonderfully with Logic X and my production plan is to use Logic X to build sound-clips and Pro Tools 11 to edit them.  The problem I have is I believe to be fairly exclusive to my setup.  I’ve had no confirmation from Jim @ Five12 yet but my problems with MIDI dropping out on the Nanokontrol and the Launchpad seems to be exacerbated if not wholly caused by my need to run a full bandwidth MIDI I/O in VMWare Fusion from the Nord Editor.  The editor is not always required but I prefer to have it up so I can edit and tweak as I build tracks.  Giving a computer exclusive control of the Nord Editor / MIDI bandwidth has been a smooth ride every time i’ve tried it and who has time for hassles?

Q: Your Samson Graphite 49 is a super competent MIDI controller with a variety of faders, encoders and pads.  Why not make use of this as a controller?

It will still be in use running Pro Tools 11 on the Toshiba Qosmio – a more powerful system than my Macs which will hopefully function as the mixing and editing suite (it can handle video also).  I find the G1 doesn’t really lend itself to Liberace controllerism… They are better as multitimbral mono or duophonic synths than polyphony so with enough triggers and sequencing a flexible system is possible for generating timbre-centric modulations while still addressing tonality where necessary.

Q: Isn’t this a live tool?  I thought you weren’t playing live again?

I didn’t say I wouldn’t play live, just that I won’t play solo gigs.  I do like to jam and improvise and I do intend to collaborate in live performance sometime in the future.  The Beatstep provides a sturdy portable controller for flexible real-time modulations without relying on drivers and software.  In all likelihood this will more readily assist in providing a more immediate creative interface with the synth; a reality that will hopefully encourage a more consistent engagement and development of my synth prowess 😉

Q: How much is it and where did you get it from?

As Australian currency drops in value so the distributors have more reason to slap exorbitant prices on luxury devices.  I’ve seen the price vary from 99USD to 159AUD.  Expect to somewhere in between.  I got it from the lovely chaps at StoreDJ Brisbane.  I’ve had my eye on this since the announcement at NAMM as i’ve been looking for an affordable sequencer and it has provided everything I expected of it.  The ability to sequence and address different MIDI channels simultaneously is what makes it useful for me as a piece of hardware.

*Update* here are two tracks taken from a very fun jam with Paul Forbes Mitchell (Hetleveiker).  I’m using the Beatstep and Nord going to a mixer while he is using a combination of Micromodular, Electribe and homemade PureData cubes (Raspberry PI / Pure Data FX units)

https://soundcloud.com/secretkillerofnames/silicone-inferno-1-by-makro-hetlev

https://soundcloud.com/secretkillerofnames/slackjaw-by-makro-hetlev

…postscript…

You may have noticed my prolific Soundcloud feed has slowed to a crawl. I’m contemplating a change in how I deal with the sharing of my music and to what degree I work on things before making them public. I’m also intending to dump a lot of the less interesting experiments which could unfortunately break links in this blog. I’m in no hurry though… too much else to do and worry about.

The muse flows like lava through the earth and to the sea. Sometimes seeping through the cracks and sometimes bursting forth. So it ever flows.

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2 thoughts on “Beatstep forward

  1. Beatstep looks interesting. The lack of visual feedback (other than pad lights) is a minus for me.

    I’d be keen to hear more (maybe a blog post?) about your workflow with Numerology, Logic and Pro Tools. I used to have a brilliant workflow between AudioMulch and Cool Edit Pro, but that’s not possible anymore. I’ve tried focusing on Ableton, Numerology, or Reaper, but have yet to recapture that feeling of being able to quickly achieve whatever I want.

    StoreDJ (online) is my go-to music store these days. Very happy with their service. It’s worth becoming a member to get discounts.

    1. With the Beatstep they could definately use something to show + or – for each step.

      As for the setup – i’ll post more after i’ve done more but quite simple Logic is good for MIDI processing and ProTools is good at tracking and mixing. For me Logic is crashing a lot if I try and mix too many tracks but a few tracks with Numerology running as a plugin works pretty well. ProTools MIDI implementation is no better than in Reaper… but PT11 is proving to be fairly stable and smooth to use. I’d say Ableton Live and Reaper could be a good combination – it’s a shame Live isn’t better at output.

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