Creating a ROLI Noise-style Drum Kit
One of my favorite things about ROLI’s BLOCKS ecosystem is how they’ve implemented drum kits in their Noise app. Unfortunately, Noise only works on iOS (there’s technically a version of the app for Android, but it hasn’t been updated for a long time and lacks important features like overdubbing).
The Noise drum kits are extraordinarily expressive, not just making use of the basic strike (note-on velocity) of traditional drum pads, but also adding features with lift (note-off velocity), press (channel pressure or aftertouch), slide (pitch bend / x-axis movement), and glide (y-axis movement).
Creating a kit like that in a DAW requires one major hack: getting all the MIDI information for each drum pad to the right place. With MPE (Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression), multiple notes register on different channels so that each note can get individual information like pitch-bends for values that usually apply to an entire MIDI channel. However, this means that the channel attached to each note or pad is always changing: struck by itself, a pad might be on channel 2, but when other pads are struck, it might move to another channel.
My drum kit template for Reaper uses some simple VSTs along with Reaper’s “MIDI Link” functionality to dynamically remap the pads of a ROLI Lightpad in MPE mode so that Pad 1 always routes to MIDI channel 1, Pad 2 to MIDI channel 2, Pad 3 to MIDI channel 3, etc. This not only includes the basic note-on/off information, but also the channel-specific values like pressure, pitch-bend, and CC-74 (the mapping for “glide”). With all the MPE data routed properly, you can use attach each parameter to anything else in your samplers and VSTs, just like Noise’s kits!
See my video on how the template was created, along with the demo drum kit I made with it:
MPE Drum Pad Template v1.0 – Download and unzip the Reaper template.
- Reaper (DAW), Windows version
- Notemapper by CodeFN42
- midiConverter3, midiChannelize, and midiChannelFilter by Insert Piz Here
- ROLI Lightpad hardware and ROLI Dashboard software
- Works directly with the default setting in ROLI Dashboard. Just select it and go!
- Every pad, including MPE data, maps to its own channel: pad 1 to channel 1, pad 2 to channel 2, etc.
- Overdubbing is supported.
- Easy to use: just create a track for every pad/channel you want to route and add your VSTs, samples, and effects as you would normally.
(Watch the YouTube video above for details if the following is confusing.)
- Open ROLI Dashboard and set your Lightpad to MPE Drum mode (any number of pads up to 4×4 is fine).
- Download and open the template in Reaper.
- Understand the functions of the three main tracks:
- MPE-Kit MIDI In : Where your Lightpad input goes. Arm it for recording and leave this on always, but disable recording (these settings should already be set). The only thing you need to do is select your Lightpad as the MIDI input.
- MPE-Kit MIDI Merge: All the rerouted channels are sent here. You’ll actually be recording to this track, which is set up to record its MIDI output (if you record input, then overdubs will get confused about the changing channels of each different overdub).
- MPE-Kit MIDI Out: While recording is in the above track, this track is where all of those recordings are moved before you can record again. I’ve set up child tracks temporarily named “Drum Overdub [1-4],” but you can rename them however and have as many child tracks as you want.
- Create your custom pads. The output of MPE-Kit MIDI Out will include data on all 16 channels corresponding to the 16 pads, so route channels from here to tracks you create for each pad. The template includes tracks “Pad 1 FX” through “Pad 4 FX” as examples of how to route the channels. Add your samplers/VSTs to the FX of these tracks, then copy them to create tracks for the remaining 12 pads.
- Have fun! Your pad is set up. I suggest saving your completed drum kit separately, so you can import it into other projects.
I’ve already started work on a version 2, that uses a MIDI channel routing VST to reduce the total number of tracks as well as the number of simultaneously running VSTs required just for the mapping, so watch for it!