Pulse Controller Review

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Pulse Controller

At the core of all music creation lies a pulse. In an age of gear-overload, many of us have forgotten the most effective and intuitive pulse generator – a finger tap. I recently received the Pulse Controller for a review. Here goes.

Pulse Controller is an interesting new midi-controller concept for Mac OSX (no PC version available at the moment).

It comprises of a piezo-microphone and software.

It doesn’t produce sound in itself.

Instead it works with any application that accepts MIDI  (including Ableton Live, Cubase, Logic, GarageBand, Reason, Pro Tools, Nuendo, many VST/AU plug-ins, and others). It gives you a whole new way of playing your software instruments.

Basically, there’s a small microphone that attaches to any flat surface using a suction cup.

You connect that to your audio interface…

Work out a few settings in the software…

And then you just tap.

 

Setup & How It Works

Setting up was easy. I thought I ran into a problem and emailed their support, only to find out I had messed something up on my own account. The support was quick and helpful nevertheless, so I’m glad we managed to test that.

So yeah, it works fine with Logic  straight out of the box without any setting up in Logic’s end. You just load up an software instrument, hit record and go.

In addition to Logic I tested it with a standalone version of Kontakt, which was a piece of cake too. The only thing I had to set up in Kontakt was the incoming MIDI channel.

The microphone records your finger taps and sends them to the software. The software processes the incoming taps according to the settings you have specified, and spits out MIDI note messages into any MIDI-compatible sequencer or software instrument.

Of course, the pulse microphone has no way of picking up note pitch or note length data from the taps (there isn’t any). It only picks the note itself and the velocity.

The pitch data then is created by the Pulse Controller software according to the settings you have specified. You have a choice of 21 predetermined scales, with controls for pitch, octave and width. You can also create your own custom scales, or choose the pulse to play a fixed note. You can set notes by painting them in or via an external MIDI -keyboard. You can also select wether it plays the chosen notes/scale in a random order, or predefined “walks”. The note length is also determined by a setting in the software.

I am not going to go more into detail regarding the software, as it really is quite straightforward and the instructions are delivered for the specifics.

pulse_software1

The microphone uses a suction cup to attach to a surface. I found it sticked well on most metal and many plastic surfaces. It had trouble holding on to my wooden desk as well as my aluminum laptop (no surprise there). Having said that, the unit does come with adhesive velcro straps, as well as a dual sided adhesive sticker for attaching to unconventional places.

 

I ended up using a thin metal plate to attach it to – the microphone sticks to it really well and the plate is great for tapping.

 

The microphone cord is about 3 meters long which is great for many creative situations. The connector is a standard 1/4″ jack, and an 1/8″ adapter is included.

 

In use

The Pulse Controller is a lot of fun. It invites you to be creative and try different things out.

When working with Pulse, I often found myself recording longer sections and then listening back to them and selecting all the good bits to edit further.

It’s a great way of coming up with things that you wouldn’t normally do!

 

I found myself mostly working with percussive instruments at first. But once I started to get into it, I found it even more fun to work with synths and other tonal instruments.

The provided scales are fun to play with, and as stated before you can make your own. I think the limitation of the system for me lies there though – for the Pulse Controller to be really effective in creating melodies and harmonies for the specific track you happen to be working on, you must be prepared to be editing the scale/key mapping a lot.

That said, if you have the patience for that… A lot can be achieved!

 

A funny little detail is that you can actually set up the software to listen to signals from any other microphone (for example the built-in one on your laptop). So you can trigger sounds in your sequencer by making noises in front of your computer like a retarded ape. But that’s just me – I’m sure someone will think of something more clever to do with that feature.

 

Here is a little demo song I made. Everything has been recorded live using the Pulse Controller and Absynth, Reaktor and Kontakt.

For the purposes of this demo, I have done no further editing of the midi data (not even quantizing). So everything you hear remains the same as when first recorded.

As you can hear it inevitably brings a live feel to the music. The other thing to note is the way it’s pretty easy to come up with harmonies and melodies without actually playing a single note on the keyboard.

 

Here is another quick demo of me playing one of Kontakt’s West Africa instruments:

Try doing that on the piano roll!!

 

Conclusions

Pulse Controller sells for 64 USD + shipping, which I think is quite reasonable for what it is.

It is quite a fun way to tap in (eh he) to that hands-on vibe and it really brings life to your rhythms.

Plus it’s nice for producing interesting melodic textures as well.

 

It performed well in use for me, was easy to set up and does what is promised.

It probably won’t completely transform the way you make music…

But as a tool it does offer something new and different.

I will keep using it even though I am an avid fan of Maschine – I think that says a lot!

 

For orders, tech specs, FAQ and more information, have a look at the Pulse Controller website:

www.pulsecontroller.com

 

 

 

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