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ROLI Lightpad Block M Studio Edition. Part 2: Software

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18177/sym.2020.60.rev.11492

ROLI Lightpad Block M Studio Edition. Part 2: Software. Bluetooth/USB MIDI Controller with LED Touch Surface, USB-C MIDI/Power Port, Bluetooth and bundled ROLI Studio Software for Mac/PC/iOS/iPadOS. Latest version released late 2019. Suggested retail price $199.95 www.ROLI.com

Part 2 of this ROLI Lightpad Block M Studio Edition review focuses on the ROLI Dashboard, the unique software application bundled with the hardware purchase. Part 1 of this review, an overview of the MIDI controller hardware, the ROLI company, and its 5D touch technology used to realize the new MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) (https://symposium.music.org/index.php/60-1), was published in Symposium Volume 60, No. 1. Users new to MPE, ROLI’s 5D touch devices, and the Lightpad Block may find ROLI’s two free iPadOS/iOS applications, ROLI Play and Noise, to be useful first steps for learning, exploring, and practicing basic functionality.

One uses the ROLI Dashboard application to select, configure, change, and store appearances and functions. After connecting a Lightpad Block to a computer via USB or Bluetooth, selecting one of the fourteen default Blocks Apps within the Dashboard reconfigures the Lightpad’s light display, colors, and behaviors while also configuring MIDI or MPE functionality.

The various apps in the Dashboard can be grouped into four general categories:

1. Simple arcade games (e.g., BreakBlocks and Blocksaders)

2. Apps dedicated to common music applications or devices (e.g., Ableton Live, GarageBand, Logic Pro X, Melodic, and ROLI’s Seaboard RISE keyboard)

3. Apps that work as controllers for traditional MIDI functionality (e.g., notes, drum pads, sliders, buttons, and XYZ Pad controllers)

4. Two full MPE/ROLI 5D grid apps for drums or notes.

This review focuses on categories three and four which work on all music applications.

There are four applications in category three: Control Grid, Fader Block, Mixers Block, and XYZ Pad. In Control Grid, squares are available for percussion, pitch, or Continuous Controller (CC) functions in a 1x1 through 5x5 grid. Fader Block provides 16 sliders grouped under four tabs. Mixer Block has four mixer sliders and buttons. The XYZ app offers pressure in addition to a traditional XY pad. It is possible to edit almost all MIDI parameter settings, ranging from global functions such as number of pads on the grid and MIDI channel to enabling Polyphonic Pressure. Individual pads, buttons, or sliders can be set to send pitch notes or CC values within minimum/maximum numbers. Other choices include selecting gate, toggle, or trigger behavior and even enabling pressure data on individual pads. Most of the apps provide color selection tools for each element using either visual tools or typing in hex values.

ROLI’s full 5D/MPE functionality is available through the Drum Block and Note Grid apps. They can be set to MPE, multichannel, or even single channel. Although similar to the other apps, the MPE functionality, and its use of multiple channels, is distinctive. Since only 16 MIDI channels are possible, Drum Block is limited to 4x4 grids. In Note Grid the pitches are filled in chromatically ascending from the lowest note of the group. Channel or polyphonic aftertouch is set to all pads. MPE provides Glide (left to right dragging) a CC glide rate setting and the Slide (up and down dragging) a slide curve for CC values. Note Grid sets colors to the notes according to its role in a scale (i.e., one color for the root, a different color for the dominant, etc.). Pitches outside the scale are unlit but still can be played. After making changes, one can save settings as a mode, store it in the app, and uploaded it to the Lightpad. Pressing the mode button on the left side of the Lightpad cycles through uploaded modes. In a few spots settings behaved differently than anticipated (e.g., Pitch Bend Range’s biggest pitch happened when set to 1 and the least when set to the maximum value of 96).

ROLI provides a Developer Kit for open-source C++ API application development, enabling others to create third-party apps for Blocks. People not interested in coding can still benefit as others release free or inexpensive apps. As I was finishing this review, Isotonik Studios released a series of five new apps. It was easy to purchase, download, and add these apps to my dashboard and device.

Lightpad Blocks have been a useful addition to my workflow in DAWs and performances. Its flexibility allows me to quickly switch from one app to another on the same device rather than switching from one controller to another. As more apps become available one need not buy new hardware to gain new functions. Adding a second Lightpad Block has also provided me two handed controls in a wide variety of situations.

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Last modified on Thursday, 08/10/2020

Charles Paul Menoche

Charles Paul Menoche teaches composition, electro-acoustic music, music technology, and directs the iPad ensemble at Central Connecticut State University. He has written works for voice, instruments, ensembles, and electro-acoustic media. His concert band piece, In the Machine, is published by Boosey and Hawkes as part of its Windependence series.