I love wires. You might even say I dream of them. But it’s time to stop thinking of MIDI as being a wire. MIDI has always been transport independent; that is, it’s a protocol that can run over anything.
Apple has been doing more than anyone lately to exploit that potential, building wireless MIDI capabilities into iOS and (with the upcoming Yosemite) OS X. Now, here’s where wireless starts to look appealing – when you go mobile. Bluetooth is now capable of more reliable, low-latency, easy-to-configure setup than before, which means you might want to wipe your brain of your previous impressions of what going wireless means. We’ll do a full test as this stuff comes out (I’ve just received a PUC, and need to do some proper performance testing). But here are some previews of some of the tricks this setup can pull off. And they all work today – well, in some form, though not always on released software.
‘Wej,’ at top (pronounced ‘wedge’), is the most ambitious Bluetooth MIDI-based solution. Cable lovers, it’s blasphemy. All MIDI and even all audio communication from the iPad is wireless, using bluetooth MIDI and AirPlay, respectively. Instead, you use the connector on your iPad exclusively for power. The Wej base station performs other functions, instead:
1. It powers and connects wired USB MIDI devices – acting as a hub for controllers, connecting them to iOS (or OS X) over Bluetooth MIDI.
2. It connects to external audio.
3. It acts as a sticky stand, propping up your iPad and keeping it from slipping.
4. It lights up in disco patterns, synced to your music. (An app controls the patterns.)
The packability of Wej is perhaps the coolest bit. There’s an Arduino inside, so you can reprogram its functions. Those 48 ‘ultra-bright’ LEDs are programmable. (For instance, you could … turn them off. Sorry, imagining this being slightly blinding in some situations. Okay, you might also come up with cool effects.)
And MIDI and USB, disco lights aside, are quite functional. You can reprogram MIDI functions, for making your own arpeggiators, filters, and the like. The USB ports are proper USB host ports, so they work not only with USB MIDI devices but gadgets like joysticks and keyboards, too.
I would still prefer cables for recording or rigorous live performance work, but as a sketchpad to keep on your desk daily, or as part of a larger live rig, I think it could be appealing. (I’m also guessing a lot of people are underestimating the quality of wireless performance these days – the iPad’s sometimes-buggy WiFi notwithstanding.)
It’s US$99 on preorder, assuming they get enough preorders, via the talented iOS developer Retronyms.