Synth Pedals

Simon O'Rorke using synth pedals: Mission Engineering custom latching footswitch; M-Gear EX-P; two Mission Engineering EP-1s; Mission Engineering EP-1R

I usually augment my synthesizer's keyboard with four expression pedals and a footswitch. I don't know why more synthesists don't do this, but it is evidently not very common. So at gigs I often get asked to explain why and how I am using all these foot controllers.

I developed the technique for use with the Access Virus TI synthesizer, whose design particularly lends itself to control by multiple expression pedals. Three of the Virus's many knobs are known as the soft knobs. These can each be configured to control several parameters to differing degrees and even in different directions, facilitating richness and complexity of timbral variation in real time. I have found several advantages in emulating the soft knobs with expression pedals:

• Both hands are free to play the keyboard.
• The feet can easily control two soft knobs simultaneously.
• For even more complexity of timbral variation, one hand can control a knob, such as a third soft knob, while the feet control up to two soft knobs.

So I use one expression pedal to emulate each of the Virus TI's soft knobs and a fourth expression pedal to control the synthesizer's master volume. If you are a synth player, you may be interested in this article I wrote explaining the details of how to do this. The article is specific to the Virus TI but many of the principles apply to other synthesizers. Indeed I have subsequently developed a way of controlling the Moog Voyager synth with the four expression pedals.

I control sustain with a latching footswitch rather than with the usual momentary footswitch. A "momentary" footswitch switches on when pressed, but switches off immediately the foot is lifted off. A "latching" footswitch stays on when the foot is lifted off and remains on till pressed again, whereupon it switches off. This is much better when my feet are so busy with the expression pedals.

(Photo by Mary Roberts. Simon O'Rorke using synth pedals: Mission Engineering custom latching footswitch; M-Gear EX-P; two Mission Engineering EP-1s; Mission Engineering EP-1R.)

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