Ketron Midjay (Bonus)

Marty Cutler reviews the Ketron Midjay, a tabletop device that combines a multitimbral synth with a multitrack sequencer.

This online bonus material supplements the Ketron Midjay review in the November 2007 issue of Electronic Musician.

Blast from the Past

A couple of decades before all of my electronic instruments moved inside my computer, I used a clumsy combination of gear to play back MIDI sequences to augment my progressive banjo gigs. At the center of the operation was the Indus MIDI DJ, a hardware sequencer with perhaps the most cryptic 4-character LCD in history, and only four buttons to navigate a confusing dungeon of menus and nested submenus that would probably give Piranesi nightmares. You could record, edit, and play back 16 channels of MIDI data, but I pity the fool that tried to edit anything in that device.

I did all of my sequencing and editing in Voyetra Sequencer Plus, and dumped everything into the MIDI DJ—which stored the data on 5.25-inch floppies for playback at gigs. I took along a couple of sound modules, a MIDI Thru box, a raft of MIDI cables and power strips, and, of course, my floppies and banjo. By the time I was finished tweaking my sequences and setting up my gear, it was all I could do to warm up and get ready to play.

Anyone who has run that gauntlet of preperformance setup anxiety can attest that things are lots easier now. To use the Midjay in live performance situations, you''ll need to thoroughly familiarize yourself with its user interface. In that respect, it is very much like the MIDI DJ, albeit with a much-improved display and a ton of additional features.

User-Friendly Fire

The first greeting I received from the Midjay when I connected it to my computer was a warning not to remove the cable or power down during an alleged data transfer. I saw no progress bar or any other evidence of a data transfer. As it turned out, however, that warning was akin to the penalty warning for removing tags from pillows; the unit defaults to this mode and defers control to your computer for transferring files between the Midjay and the laptop.

My usual technique for testing a device''s ease of use is to tackle basic operations without opening the manual. It''s a good measure of the care taken to make a piece of gear idiotproof. As much as the Midjay strives to include so many amenities in a single unit, it is by no means intuitive. Because buttons perform multiple functions, it''s easy to reach for a cursor button and accidentally alter a file name, for instance. Although the unit has a clearly labeled start and stop button, you can also inadvertently start playback of files by toggling the Enter button. While some might find having redundant keys useful, I found it confusing. Certain functions you might expect from the controls aren''t implemented. For example, the alpha dial wouldn''t scroll through alphanumeric characters when I had to name a song file.