Dirt-cheap DIY MIDI footswitch for Ableton Live Looper

    Oct 13 2013 | 5:58 pm
    I want to build a footswitch that I can use to operate Ableton Live 9's Looper device. The device is designed such that one button controls most of the essential functionality. My idea is to build some physical object that will receive some kind of physical impulse — any impulse, not a midi controller message — and then use Max to convert the impulse into a midi note that can be mapped to the Looper button in Live.
    I'm playing with the idea of repurposing a USB keyboard to do this, but does anyone have any other ideas? Maybe a way to do it with audio cables? (Ideally the design would be such that it could later be expanded to provide multiple midi notes in the form of multiple impulses that can be individually recognized by Max.)
    I want to do it this way so that I don't have to get into circuit-boards-and-solder midi hacking, since all I really want from it is a way to turn a foot-stomp into a mouse click.

    • Oct 13 2013 | 8:03 pm
      Hi I am by no means an "expert" hacker, but what you're seeking sounds very easy. It all depends on what gear you have lying around ready for hacking. My earliest attempts at this type of thing was a simple hobbyist switch soldered onto a guitar cable (tip-sleeve) and plugged it into the CV input of a Kenton Control Freak, then I did the same with one of those cheap plastic wall lights (touch for on/off). But they all centred on the Kenton. I guess you could do this as an audio signal, direct into your audio card. But that would require translation into MIDI (via M4L?). Your hacked keyboard idea sounds super simple, if you're just going direct into Live (it has a key-press learn function, right?). Just glue some overlays onto a small group of keys.
      Any other solutions I would suggest all centre on Arduino, so I'll just not bother with those right now ;)
      HTH Brendan
    • Oct 13 2013 | 9:08 pm
      Caveat with a keyboard is that the application (Live) needs to be in focus, so it stops working when something else is. A midi keyboard wouldn't have that problem. Tape a larger pad to a 2nd hand midi keyboard key and you should be good to go for a couple of €/$/£/¥'s.
      And once you have broken all the keys like this you can very easily solder something more solid to the contacts inside the keyboard ;)
    • Oct 14 2013 | 3:37 pm
      I know you said no microcontrollers but did you check the Teensy 3 ? It's pretty cheap at 19$ and it can be programmed as a class compliant USB midi device in minutes.
      If you only need switches you won't need extra components, just the Teensy and a switch. You can even use it directly with an iPad !
    • Oct 14 2013 | 4:21 pm
      Great ideas everybody, but what I'm thinking right now is like this:
      I got one of and am planning to mount it to a chunk of wood to make a stompbox, solder it to a 1/4" lead, and send the audio output to a Max device using a onebang object to trigger a midi note mapped to that Looper button. That should be workable, right?
      One more question, on the off chance that anyone has this arcane knowledge: in Ableton's Looper device, there's a functionality that depends on double-clicking the main button. Does anyone know the precise timing parameters of the double-click? It would be useful to know for the Max patch.
    • Nov 06 2013 | 12:44 pm
      This idea works for me in past. But I didn't use keyboard for direct 'typing' at Live, - if you're on Windows try GlovePie software - with it it you can easily convert keyboard/mouse/whatever events to MIDI messages.
    • Nov 06 2013 | 7:54 pm
      I missed this the first time around...Did you have a look at the c74 article? https://cycling74.com/tutorials/making-connections-building-a-usb-footswitch/
    • Dec 09 2013 | 10:13 pm
    • Dec 09 2013 | 10:19 pm
      yeah, teensy's will let you do universal plug and play. That's pretty incredible.
    • Mar 09 2015 | 2:53 pm
      I'm very new to micro-controllers but just want to be the 10th to say the teensy 3 is the way to go. I bought a broken old midi controller from a thrift store for 3$. Cut out the original electronics, leaving me with just the buttons each already grounded. I was even able to reuse the connectors and simply "plugged in" the pins to the teensy. Making sure to be mindful of which side should go to ground and which should go to a teensy pin. I just expanded the Button sketch that comes with the Teensy library and your done.
      Literally took less than an hour start to finish Now I have a 12 button midi controller
    • Mar 09 2015 | 2:56 pm
      There's also a new lower cost variant of the Teensy called the TeensyLC, it sells for around 11$ and should work quite well for midi !