Production – Remote MIDI Control

TouchOSC (iOS/Android, $4.99) is an app that can remotely control music software
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To modify existing layouts or create your own, you’ll need to install TouchOSC Editor on your computer.

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TouchOSC (iOS/Android, $4.99) is an app that can remotely control music software and MIDI gear from your tablet or smartphone. It does that by sending MIDI and OSC (Open Sound Control) messages between hardware and software via wi-fi and MIDI connections.

In this article, I’ll describe how I use TouchOSC with a Mac and an iPad on a wireless network, but the same techniques apply if you’re using it with Windows or an Android, iPhone, or iPod touch. Because you’re more likely to use MIDI than OSC in your studio—at least for now—I’ll explain how to use TouchOSC to create your own control panels, called layouts, for controlling MIDI software and hardware. Watch this space, though; OSC could be the future of data communications for music, video, and other forms of media.

It’s a Setup To get started, download TouchOSC Bridge (Mac/Win, free) from TouchOSC Bridge runs in the background, receives messages from TouchOSC via your wi-fi network, and sends them to MIDI-compatible apps and plug-ins on your computer. You’ll need to run TouchOSC Bridge every time you want to use TouchOSC to control your computer software or MIDI hardware connected to your computer.

Open TouchOSC on your tablet to view its Configuration screen, select MIDI Bridge, and make sure Enabled is turned on. In the Host field, type your computer’s IP address (look in your System Preferences’ Network settings to find it). That’s all you need to set up MIDI in TouchOSC. Setting up OSC connections is more complicated, but it isn’t necessary for MIDI-only setups.

A TouchOSC layout comprises one or more pages containing onscreen controls such as knobs, sliders, buttons, and pads. Each control has associated settings for sending a specific type of data—for our purposes, MIDI messages. On TouchOSC’s Configuration screen, select Layout to see a list of saved layouts, select one, and press Done. Check out a few layouts to get a feeling for how they look and how their controls work. To return to the Configuration screen, touch the small gray circle in the corner of any layout.

With TouchOSC, you can use your tablet or smartphone as a wireless control surface for any MIDI application on your computer. LiveControl (shown here) is just one of TouchOSC’s several remote-control layouts.

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Associate Editor To make your own TouchOSC layouts, you’ll need to download TouchOSC Editor (Mac/Win/Linux, free). The editor requires Java Runtime on your computer to work. The software supplies an assortment of control objects you can configure to suit the hardware or software you’ll be controlling. The editor lets you choose and arrange controls according to your individual needs and preferences.

Instead of putting File and Edit menus in the menu bar like most computer software, TouchOSC Editor appears in a single window with a toolbar at the top. The Properties Panel is on the left, and the Editing View displays a preview of the layout on the right. In the toolbar, to the right of commands such as New, Open, Save, Cut, Paste, and so on, you’ll see a menu to select the scale of your view and to enable a grid that makes objects in the preview snap to the grid lines whenever you move or resize them. When nothing is selected in the preview, you can adjust properties for the entire page.

You create layouts by choosing a size and orientation and then filling the page with faders, knobs, buttons, and other objects. Control-click (or right-click) on any blank spot in the preview and select one of the objects from the contextual menu that appears. Control-click directly on an object to copy and paste it, align it with other objects on the page, move it forward and back in layers, and so on. Just click and drag to move any object or resize it. If you’re familiar with page-layout or vector-graphics software, many of the principles are the same.

To label your controls, you’ll need to create labels separately. Click on a blank space to create a label and then, on the Properties Panel, type whatever you want it to say in the Text field, resizing it if necessary. With the text object selected, choose the Bring to Front command to assure it stays on the top layer.

When you select any control in a layout, the Properties Panel displays the control’s characteristics and allows you to edit them. Most controls are capable of sending MIDI Control Changes (CCs), Program Changes, PitchBend, Aftertouch, and much more. Click on an object and select MIDI in the Properties Panel. Choose the message type, channel, note or controller number, and value range. If you want an onscreen keyboard to play MIDI Notes, I recommend copying it from another layout rather than creating your own.

How do you know which MIDI CCs to control? Some are obvious—volume, pan, modulation, and so on—and some software will display the MIDI CC when you click on an onscreen control. Others require a bit of investigation. Use MIDI Monitor for Mac OS X or MIDI-OX for Windows to identify commands sent by hardware. To identify messages sent by a plug-in, record its output in a DAW track and view the track’s event list to see what kind of controller data was recorded.

OSC, Clearly, Now Create a layout on your computer in TouchOSC Editor and name it, and then go to TouchOSC’s Configuration page on your tablet, choose Layout, and select Add. Click on the Sync button in TouchOSC Editor, and the computer’s name should pop up on your tablet. Touch it to transfer the layout from your computer to your tablet. Find your new layout on your tablet and select it, and then return to the Configuration screen and press Done. Close the Layout Sync dialog on your computer, open the software you’ll be controlling, and begin using the layout you’ve created. To control external hardware, assign a MIDI track to the hardware in your DAW and enable Record.

To find out more about what TouchOSC can do, download some layouts from the Web and modify them to suit your particular needs. You’ll quickly discover that TouchOSC lets you do things you could scarcely imagine before you started using it.

In a previous life, Asheville-based writer and synthesist Geary Yelton was Electronic Musician’s senior editor.