It still amazes me that decades after Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi, Tom Oberheim and Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits originally discussed the general idea of a standard protocol technology for electronic instruments with engineers from Yamaha, Korg and Kawai, we’re not only still using that technology today, but we’ve also managed to come up with all new applications for MIDI combined with more modern Touch and Bluetooth wireless technology, pushing back a receding horizon of expressive possibilities.
Obviously, the keyboard is the most common type of MIDI controller, available in all shapes and sizes, however there are also drums, strings and woodwind controllers, many of which are quite good at what they do. But even though these “alternative” controllers allow skilled musicians to break away from a keyboard based performance scenario, this indirectly shuts out the computer musician who may or may not be a classically trained instrumentalist, but does have a practical use for expressive MIDI control signals.
Independent Swedish company TEControl offers a variant of the common garden-variety breath controller, which is ordinarily fashioned after a traditional wind instrument. Do keep in mind, though, that this is not an “instrument” per se, but rather a way of incorporating the dynamic of breath into your playing, which is a really exciting concept for electronic musicians who want to capture the essence of a wind instrument without actually playing one.
The TEControl USB MIDI Breath Controller consists of a silicone tube plugged into a small USB adapter with a built-in piezoelectric sensor that translates breath pressure to MIDI event data. There are also two plastic couplings intended for use with an extra tube (or you could just cut the tube in half) and an extra mouthpiece with an adjustable relief valve. This is a lightweight device, and whether or not you decide to use it with the included headset that you can wrap around your head or hang from your neck, it easily fits into a small pouch or backpack, which makes it the perfect travelling companion for the gigging musician.
You can download the corresponding software application for free directly from the TEControl website. The user interface might not be the trendiest thing in the world, but the controls are intuitive, and there are actually some very useful options for manipulating the velocity curve and also configuring the MIDI output. I love the option to “Control Change” the MIDI CC from a breath controller (#CC2) to a mod wheel (#CC1), which allows me to play freely throughout the keyboard while using the breath controller in place of a mod wheel. You can also take advantage of both the Attack and Decay Filters if you prefer smooth transitions.
If you want to use a breath controller with an instrument that features a traditional MIDI interface, you can purchase the TEControl UNI MIDI Breath Controller which has both a USB and 5-pin DIN connector. Also, the Breath and Bite Controller and Breath and Bite Controller 2 have a “bite force sensitive” mouthpiece, and the latter of the two has an inclination sensor that tracks both “nod” and “tilt” positions along two axes.
In any case, regardless of whichever model you curl up with, I can’t suggest this device strongly enough for anyone with an interest in sample modelling synthesis or experimental sound design. Nothing could be more exuberant or alive than the human breath. Having one of the most primal aspects of human expression literally hardwired to your equipment is one of the most inspiring things I’ve experienced both as a composer and sound designer… and it’s also a great way to free your little finger from the mod wheel.
More info: TEControl USB MIDI Breath Controller (€99.99)
TEControl USB MIDI Breath Controller Review
Nothing could be more exuberant or alive than the human breath. Having one of the most primal aspects of human expression literally hardwired to your equipment is one of the most inspiring things I’ve experienced both as a composer and sound designer... and it’s also a great way to free your little finger from the mod wheel.