I recently picked up a Novation Launchpad because I wanted the control options of a grid controller, even though I don’t use Ableton live. I plan on using the Launchpad with Reaktor, Audiomulch, and possibly Processing. The price wasn’t hard to swallow either. I’ve seen very little info thus far on people using the Launchpad with anything besides Ableton Live, except for people who are using the “nonome” max/msp patch that allows you to load up other monome applications via the Launchpad. So, I thought I would do a write-up on my thoughts. The way I prefer to work is making my own custom midi mappings with my controllers. Novation’s Automap system might be interesting for others, but I always prefer to have my own configurations because I’m picky about those sorts of things. So I’ll be detailing how I went about that.
First thoughts: Build quality:
I think the launchpad is well built and feels solid under the fingers. It doesn’t look like there is any way it could possibly break, and it even comes with a nice right-angle USB cable. I had a monome before, and sold it, and even though the monome was sleeker and nicer-feeling, I don’t feel like it was really that much better for music performance. I felt the buttons on it were too small and close together for a lot of purposes. The buttons on the launchpad work well enough, and are tactile and responsive. Sometimes they feel a little chunky, and give a bit too much of a rubbery “click” if you push on them fairly hard. But actually, you don’t have to push on the buttons very hard at all to get them to work.
To make custom midi setups for the launchpad, you have to use their automap software. Otherwise, you have to roll your own in max/msp, processing, or something similar. I’m considering doing this at some point, depending on how much the automap software for the launchpad improves. At this point, it provided the basic functionality I need to do what I want, but I wish it could do much more.
The automap software allows you to make multiple templates across several midi channels that you can toggle through via the four round buttons at the top right of the device. These templates are called “pages” which can be arranged under groups that are accessed via those buttons, and the pages can be flipped through with the left-right arrows to the top left.
each button can be custom configured to either send a midi note or a CC. No program changes, NRPNs, or anything else. The CC’s and midi notes can be set to four modes: normal, momentary, toggle, and step. “Normal” mode just sends the note or CC once. Momentary sends the max value (or note on) on press, and a zero value upon release. Toggle is just what it sounds like, and “step” allows you to step through a sequence of values based on a customizable increment. Pretty nice! I wish there were program changes, etc, but I can fix stuff like this with reaktor if I need a workaround.
There are some things that seem like they are missing though. For instance, despite the multi-color LED’s, all the user templates display in red only. Also, “off” state of the buttons are displayed in a dull red that isn’t much dimmer than the full brightness setting that they show when they are toggled on or pressed! I wish these settings could be adjusted.
Something that isn’t really explained in the launchpad’s (basically nonexistent) manual is that in order to use the midi output of your automap settings, you have to use a sotware midi system like the IAC bus on OSX or MIDI yoke on windows. I spent a some time trying to use the “novation launchpad” midi input in my software before I realized this. Maybe there are some features that I haven’t figured out yet, because of the nonexistent documentation. Who knows.
The launchpad buttons respond quickly and seem snappy enough. However, as explained in the “launchpad programmer’s reference,” the USB connection of the launchpad is somewhat low-speed, and you can see this in the slow refresh rate when you are flipping through templates.
Issues with the display speed also seem to come up when using the “nonome” max/msp patch for using monome patches on the launchpad. Simple patches seem to work fine (the ones I could get to work properly, at least) but more complex ones seem to struggle. I tried using the launchpad with Molar VST, and it the basic functionality was intact, but the display update lagged in a way that I didn’t experience on the monome. I was able to get other monome patches working just fine, though. I think that more emulators will be coming out, anyhow, and with some smarter coding, I think that this display update issue could possibly be resolved. Anyhow, the emulation seems pretty good, and I think it will only get better. I was also able to get the “pages” monome app working just fine, and that one was written in Java! So almost anything seems to work with the emulators.
How I’m using it:
Right now I’m using the launchpad to control an audiomulch patch of mine. The most important parts of this, to me, are controlling a matrix mixer, and switching between preset patterns and effects, as well as muting and unmuting looper channels (which isn’t demoed in this video). I have one page that has the matrix mixer and the mute buttons for the looper, as well as a column of buttons for controlling the speed of the matrix mixer’s fade time.
This is a very simple, and visually rather boring, use of a very capable controller, but for me, it’s a world of difference between doing the same things with a mouse or on a standard midi controller. I’ve found that I can actually play a matrix mixer like it is a sort of instrument, and that’s without changing the input source of the processed sound very much! As far as the audio for this demo… it was very thrown together , since it was just a demo after all. I have some better sounds in the other mp3′s you can find on this site…
I think the launchpad is a great controller, and is ridiculously cheap for what it is. It has multicolor LED’s that none of the competing products in the range (except for the apc40 of course) have, and is built very sturdily. I think the software implemenation of the MIDI mappings could be much, much better. And I hope that the emulation software gets better too, because there are apparently ways to make things run a little more tightly. Honestly, though, I don’t think that the launchpad will ever be a perfect monome emulation, because the monome is really much, much faster. The programs I made for my monome when I had it could run blindingly fast, and the launchpad obviously isn’t capable of this.
However, I think that people should write software for the launchpad! It is a fertile playground for controller stuff, and has some very nice colorful LEDs, which can provide all kinds of information. Anyhow, I got this controller so I could use it in a live performance I have next month, and I think it’s going to make it much, much more fun for me.