Developers: How to add MPE Capability

If you are a developer of MIDI sound generators and would like to add MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) compatibility, this page will give you some help. MPE is pretty straightforward and is very similar to the old MIDI Mode 4 (Omni off, Mono). It is summarized here.

As I write this on April 7, 2018, the MMA has not yet published the official MPE spec but they should soon on their site.

Regardless of the details of the spec, the main work is:

1) routing each incoming Per-Note channel to its own voice, listening only for the above 5 per-note messages, and

2) routing the Common channel's messages to all voices.

Note the following text on the above-referenced page:

"Most MPE-compatible MPE synths do not implement a Common channel, instead applying all received messages other than the five per-note messages, regardless of the channel on which they are received, as Common and therefore applying to all notes."

One popular MPE implementation in plug-in software instruments is for each channel to act as a one-channel polyphonic sound generator, thereby working fine with either single-channel or MPE controllers. For example, if normal one-channel polyphonic messages are received from a traditional MIDI keyboard, the sound generator works as a single-channel polyphonic sound generator. Or if messages are received from an MPE controller with each note on a separate channel, it also works fine for MPE operation. There is no need to define which channels are received, just listen to all channels and the host DAW will send you one, some or all channels. If a Pitch Bend Range message is received--useful for changing between the common +/- 2 semitone range of traditional MIDI keyboards and the default +/- 48 semitone range of MPE controllers--it simply follows the rule of applying to all voices. That said, it would also be helpful to give users a simple way to change the Pitch Bend Range manually, and preferably globally so they don't have to change it after selecting each new preset.

Note that some DAWs (like Ableton Live) reassign all received messages to the track's assigned MIDI channel, thereby preventing MPE plug-ins from receiving the necessary multiple channels.

If you are adding MPE to a standalone software instrument (not a plug-in) or a hardware instrument, you'll need to provide a UI for the user to select single-channel or MPE mode. A simple way to do this is to permit the Receive Channel parameter to include options for single channel 1 through single-channel 16, or OMNI (all channels mixed together without channel information) or MPE (implemented as described above). And in case someone wishes to send two MPE streams as in split keyboard play, it would be helpful to be able to select the range of received channels. That would permit, for example, your synth to listen on channels 1-8 (from the MPE controller's left split) and another synth to listen on channels 9-16 from the MPE controller's right split).

If you have any questions, you're welcome to contact me.

- Roger

Roger Linn Design

Los Altos, CA