Last week, we were fortunate enough to get an Akai APC 40 at work for development purposes.
So I took the unit at home for the week-end, to test drive it together with Ableton Live. It was quite a while I had my sight set on it because it looked really cool but I never could effectively try the unit.
It took only a friday night for me to go from curious to totally extatic. It’s a wonderfully designed product and, with some creativity, you can turn it into a LOT more.
Here’s why, in three points:
- It’s well designed: the unit feels solid, it’s not that big and, to my surprise, not really heavy. All knobs and sliders feel good (they are typical akai pro material), the pads are nice, only the switches are a little more dodgy. It’s default mapping to live is obvious, in half an hour you’ll get all the ideas down, even if the manual is only about 2 pages.
- You can override default mapping: this is pretty clever. After my first half an hour with it, I started thinking about a few things that wouldn’t fit my use (pan & send control) or would be straight scary (like having a ‘stop all clip’ and ‘stop transport’ waiting to be accidently depressed during a gig.
But the thing is, if you map manually a knob in ableton, the new knob functionality overrides the old one. This is golden since it lets you keep the basic template for clip navigation and triggering but lets you extend it with whatever you don’t use. So for example if you don’t need the pan/send of the 4 banks of 8 knobs at the top, you can re-map them to something more useful. Or you can map the stop buttons to something completely harmless…
- It’s midi control so you can hack it: ..and to a fairely big extent. The video underneath shows some example of that simply using Bome’s MIDI translator, not even using the liveapi. The most amazing part of his configuration is that he uses kind of a “paging” system where page one it the default behaviour but then has one page dedicated to drumming on top of whatever’s running and another one for navigation. The fact he can keep the original layout and add stuff on top is too good to be true.
This makes the controller pretty darn attractive. I do believe that with a bit of configuration and research, you can do sets with no peek whatsoever to the computer actually running the program which is something I’ve been wanting to for a long time. Of course, it had been talked on Create Digital Music a while ago, but distracted by the rest of the post, I had not caught the essence of what was possible….