MIDI controllers are an obsession for a lot of us. As sometimes the sole physical component of a performance setup, it’s hard to ever feel totally settled on a single device. For many years I was a die-hard fan of the Korg NanoKontrol as my go-to MIDI device. It fit a perfect combination of “toss-it-in-your-backpack” size, usefulness, no musical affiliations, and affordable enough to mistreat it and buy a new one next year. I still keep one around, but over the past year I had been looking for something a little more substantial to travel with. I have a hard time giving up on a familiar solution, but I get a little tired of showing up to a visuals gig and having the LD snicker at my tiny sliders.
I first spotted the Launch Control XL when I was doing a visuals night with my co-worker Tom Hall. He was using one to run his DJ set. It struck me immediately as a good solution for what I was after. With 8 nicely sized sliders and 24 knobs above, it was clear that it could take over all the controls I needed from my NanoKontrol while only needing to reprogram a couple of things in my patch. The way the knobs are laid out in triple rows recalls my long-gone days with my old UC-33e, and lends itself nicely to things like RGB or HSL controls, leaving the sliders to do more expressive gestures. The editor app is pretty simple to work with, and it was a short time to having a completely custom template that matched my previous controller mappings. The addition of backlit, multicolored buttons along the bottom of the Launch Control immediately found use as indicators for different sections of a performance, to cue new presets, and to activate different features of my patch. Lighting up the buttons is just a matter of sending MIDI note messages back to the Launch Control and using special values to set the color. You’ll want to download the Programmers Reference from Novation for reference.
If you want to jump in right out of the box, check out a user-submitted Toolbox entry from HAZEN that provides a complete Max controller mapping.
Besides all the available controls, this thing looks pretty good lit up and sitting next to my laptop at the show. The all-rubber bottom keeps the thing sitting steady on the table (a real problem with the NanoKontrol). It also pairs nicely with the Novation Launchpad for jobs that require more light-up buttons. The low-profile design also makes it fit nicely into my backpack - which is ultimately the deciding factor on whether a piece of gear will get regular use in my life.