Using BLOCKS with desktop applications

Update March 7th 2017

The guide below details the setup process with desktop applications when using BLOCKS which are updated to the most recent fully released BLOCKS firmware, which is available via the NOISE app.
However, BLOCKS Dashboard, which will make this process easier and simpler, is now available as an open beta release to all BLOCKS creators!
For more information on giving BLOCKS Dashboard beta a test drive, click here.
For information on setting up your BLOCKS without trying the beta release of BLOCKS Dashboard, keep reading below.
 

1 Introduction

The BLOCKS hardware and NOISE software have been designed to combine seamlessly together, providing an intuitive musical experience for the unique physical interface of BLOCKS. In addition, the BLOCKS hardware (Lightpad Block, Live Block and Loop Block) can be connected to a computer and used independently of NOISE.

This doesn’t mean that the full range of functionality offered by BLOCKS is available with a plug and play experience with all professional software. Because BLOCKS offer many features that MIDI controllers have never been capable of before, many of these advanced features don’t work with existing software – not yet.

In early 2017 we will release a desktop application called BLOCKS Dashboard. It makes it even easier for musicians to use BLOCKS with several leading DAWs and will enhance BLOCKS’ capabilities as a powerful control system for a huge range of popular software. In the meantime, this article explains what information each BLOCK transmits and how to use BLOCKS with third-party applications.

When connected to a computer, each Block transmits MIDI data according to the MPE specifications. For those who are familiar with MPE and using multi-channel MIDI environments, this feature will make it possible to use BLOCKS with other 3rd-party applications like Max. You can see a list of MPE-compatible instruments here.

When you register a Block you will receive a free 3-month license for Max 7. See this article for details, and see below on using BLOCKS with Max and Max for Live. You may register your Blocks within NOISE or on My ROLI; see the Lightpad Block Creator Manual for full details.

2 Lightpad Block

Lightpad Block image

2.1 What to expect from the Lightpad Block when connected to an MPE synth

When connected to an MPE-compatible synth, the Lightpad Block will:

  • Transmit a pre-determined range of MIDI notes triggered by the pads. The lowest available note is always middle C and the highest available note will be determined by the grid setting (see below).
  • Transmit 5D Touch data for each note performed.
  • The Lightpad Block will not transmit arpeggiated notes, pre-defined chords or instrument sounds, which are set and controlled by the NOISE app.

2.2 Exactly what information will the Lightpad Block send?

The Lightpad Block sends its 5 dimensions of touch using five standard MPE messages.

  • Strike sends note-on messages in addition to velocity 0–127.
  • Press sends channel pressure (aftertouch).
  • Glide sends pitch bend.
  • Slide sends CC 74.
  • Lift sends note-off and release velocity 0–127.

Grid Setting

The Lightpad Blocks’s behaviour depends on its mode. When the Lightpad Block is connected to your computer, you can press the Mode button to cycle through the different modes:

  • 2×2: This mode is great for triggering drums. The pads send MIDI pitches from 48 (the lower left pad) to 51 (the upper right pad).
  • 4×4: This mode is also great for triggering drums. The pads send MIDI pitches from 48 (the lower left pad) to 63 (the upper right).
  • 5×5: This mode is useful for playing pitches. The pads send MIDI pitches from 48 (the lower left pad) to 72 (the upper right pad).
  • 1×1: This mode can be used for controlling effects and many other things. In this mode all notes are MIDI pitch 48, while the pitch bend varies over a range of approximately +/- 0.20, meaning that if your software is set to a pitch bend range of 48 semitones you can play pitches approximately +/- 10 semitones from 48.

You can decide which mode you’d like to use once you’ve connected the Lightpad to your application.

2.3 Connecting the Lightpad Block to a computer

The Lightpad Block can be connected to a computer by USB or MIDI-over-Bluetooth (Mac only). Both connections will behave in the same way, transmitting MIDI data as a MIDI device.*

Connecting with USB

Simply connect the Lightpad Block to your computer using the Lightpad’s included USB-C to USB-A cable.

Connecting with Bluetooth

To connect a Lightpad Block to an OSX device using Bluetooth, please see this guide.

2.4 Using the Lightpad Block with Equator

Equator is only provided with the Seaboard GRAND and RISE.

Equator is an MPE synth, and each of its presets are designed to respond to the 5 Dimensions of Touch transmitted by the Seaboards and also the Lightpad Block.

Once you’ve connected your Lightpad Block to your computer, launch Equator, click on the menu icon, and then click on “MIDI Settings…” Under MIDI Inputs, select your Lightpad Block, and now you can control Equator with the Lightpad Block.

Equator-MIDI-Settings

2.5 Using the Lightpad Block with Max

When using the Max for BLOCKS package, connecting with USB is recommended in order to best control the Lightpad’s LEDs.

BLOCKS include a free 3-month license for Max 7, Cycling ’74’s powerful visual environment for interactive audio and video instruments and effects. Check out this article for information on downloading Max.

To use the Lightpad with Max, connect the Lightpad to your computer and launch Max. Since the Lightpad transmits multidimensional polyphonic expression (MPE) data just like the Seaboard, it can be easily integrated into Max patches by selecting it as an MIDI input and using mpeparse to receive its data:

Max-Lightpad-midiin

The BLOCKS Package for Max and Max for Live

Cycling ’74’s Max BLOCKS Package allows you to create powerful BLOCKS patches for Max and Max for Live and bring the expressive control of BLOCKS to Ableton Live Suite. The package includes objects that mirror Max user interface elements on the Lightpad Block, receive the Lightpad’s expressive information, and much more. Example patches include BLOCKS FM Drums (an FM drum synthesiser and sequencer), BLOCKS Looper, and BLOCKS Particle (an expressive video effect instrument). You may download the package in Max’s Package Manager, or check out this article for an overview of the package. Also, these videos will help you get familiar with using the BLOCKS Package:

 

3 Live Block and Loop Block

Loop Block image Live Block image

3.1 What to expect from a Live Block or Loop Block connected to an MPE synth

When connected to an MPE-compatible synth, the Live Block or Loop Block will:

  • Transmit 0 or 127 value MIDI CC messages for each button-press
  • Transmit all MIDI messages on channel 1
  • The messages sent by the Loop Block and Live Block do not contain any special functional value such as arpeggiator, Chord, Learn etc. The response of the MPE synth to the Block’s MIDI messages is determined entirely by the receiving synth.

3.2 What exactly do the Live and Loop Blocks send?

The Live and Loop Blocks send MIDI control change (CC) messages. When connected to a Lightpad Block via the DNA connectors, Live and Loop Blocks transmit MIDI messages on channel 1 of the Lightpad Block, so you may simply select the Lightpad Block as the MIDI input device.

Each of the Live and Loop Blocks’ buttons sends a MIDI value of 127 when depressed and 0 when released.

The Live Block transmits values using MIDI CCs from 102 (the upper-left mode button) to 111 (the lower-right + button).

The Loop Block transmits values using MIDI CCs from 112 (the upper-left mode button) to 119 (the lower-center Learn button) and 89–90 (the lower-right – and + buttons). Note: firmware earlier than 0.1.2 assigned the CCs 120–121 to the lower-right – and + buttons.

You may also use the Live and Loop Blocks with the Max BLOCKS Package in Max and Max for Live; see “Using the Lightpad Block with Max” above.

3.3 Connecting the Loop Block and Live Block

Connect your Live Block and Loop Block to a Lightpad Block by their DNA connectors. The Live Block and Loop Block will connect to the computer via a Lightpad Block’s USB or Bluetooth connection.

Once you’re connected and have selected the Lightpad Block as your MIDI input device, you may map the buttons of the Live and Loop Blocks within your application, depending on the capabilities of the specific application.