custom USB QWERTY keyboard for Ableton Live

Discussion of music production, audio, equipment and any related topics, either with or without Ableton Live
bvl
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custom USB QWERTY keyboard for Ableton Live

Post by bvl » Tue Nov 28, 2006 2:31 pm

Here's a little project I've been working on for a couple weeks now. Instead of buying an expensive controller to expand my tactile control of Ableton Live (or building something custom with MIDI controllers), I decided to use an old USB QWERTY keyboard and custom-paint it to enhance its use as a live performance device.

The big idea behind the keyboard is that the humble QWERTY keyboard offers a ton of control possibilities, thanks to the flexible keymapping capabilities of Ableton Live. I've been using the built-in keyboard on my Powerbook for a while now to trigger clips in performance, but it's tough for a couple reasons. First, it looks like you're writing e-mail during a show, and that's kinda boring. Second, all the keys look the same (minus the markings, of course) - there's not much that lets you navigate easily in low-light conditions and in the heat of the moment on stage.

Image

My approach was to use grouping and color to present an easier-to-handle interface for the stage, and also to strip back some of the options that wouldn't get used for performance (like the function keys). I decided on a set of 4x4 and 2x4 grids of keys, along with a 9-key number pad. The 4x4 and 2x4 grids are used to turn the audio channel on/off or trigger clips, and the number pad is used to launch all clips in a song.

Image

You can see a whole set of photos from the process of stripping the keyboard down, repainting it, and re-assembling it here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/chromedeca ... 395102052/

Here are some behind-the-scenes details:

I started with the USB keyboard from an old iMac. After stripping all the keys off it and taking the enclosure apart, I washed all the keys in warm, soapy water and then rinsed & dried them. Once everthing was dry, I used plastic primer (in a spray can) to prime the pieces, then used some el-cheapo spray paint in different colors to hit the enclosure and keys.

Hope you enjoy it. Stay tuned for my next custom-painting adventure, coming soon! I decided I couldn't stop at the USB keyboard, so I stripped down my 16-fader PC1600x MIDI controller. Pictures coming soon, after I get all the painting done!

bvl

robin
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Post by robin » Tue Nov 28, 2006 2:38 pm

That looks ace. Nice one Bill.

I use the keyboard for control of quite a few things when djing. It would definitely help to have it all coded and visible in low light conditions.

Tarekith
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Post by Tarekith » Tue Nov 28, 2006 3:03 pm

I too use the QWERTY board when DJing, and that's one of the main reasons I went with a MAcBook Pro, versus a regular Mac Book, the backlit keys. Check out the Saitek Eclipse keyboards too, I bet those would be fun to mod.

bvl
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Post by bvl » Tue Nov 28, 2006 4:38 pm

Tarekith wrote:I too use the QWERTY board when DJing, and that's one of the main reasons I went with a MAcBook Pro, versus a regular Mac Book, the backlit keys. Check out the Saitek Eclipse keyboards too, I bet those would be fun to mod.
Ooh, that does look nice.

I'd like to fabricate a custom metal enclosure as a next pass, and maybe make a built-in light source from some LEDs.

In my dream world, the keys would give feedback (like the way the buttons light up on a Monome), but that's not going to happen any time soon.

Thanks for the comments!

Bill

glu
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Post by glu » Tue Nov 28, 2006 4:54 pm

awesome. Inspired to scrap my sticker making idea and head for the spray paint!

Know of any translucent alphabet stickers that would go nicely over a colored key so I can still reference the letters if needed?
no prevailing genre of music:
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Patch
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Post by Patch » Tue Nov 28, 2006 6:00 pm

It's a shame you can't do something about the areas where there aren't keys. Would've looked ace if all the grey keyholders were gone.

It's a shame you can't use a separate USB keyboard (with the CTRL or SHIFT key stcu down) with Live on PC - I'd love to make one of these...

Machinate
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Post by Machinate » Tue Nov 28, 2006 7:05 pm

Might I ask why you haven't kept F1->F8?

I love those.
mbp 2.66, osx 10.6.8, 8GB ram.

tricil
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Post by tricil » Tue Nov 28, 2006 7:12 pm

Machinate wrote:Might I ask why you haven't kept F1->F8?

I love those.
seconded... as well as f9 (record) f10(back to arrangement) f11(full screen) and f12 (clipview)
MacBook Pro T7600 / OS X 10.5.7 / Ableton Suite 8.0.2 / Peak Pro XT 6.1.1 / ReMOTE 37SL

Nokatus
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Post by Nokatus » Tue Nov 28, 2006 7:18 pm

Patch wrote:It's a shame you can't use a separate USB keyboard (with the CTRL or SHIFT key stcu down) with Live on PC
Huh? Why not?

glu
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Post by glu » Tue Nov 28, 2006 8:11 pm

don't know, but If you hit caps on an external qwerty, the notebook qwerty is in caps as well, visa versa.

I know with a mac in OSX you can do this, but XP is retarded like that. There has to be some kind of patch for this.
no prevailing genre of music:
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bvl
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Post by bvl » Tue Nov 28, 2006 8:17 pm

Machinate wrote:Might I ask why you haven't kept F1->F8?

I love those.
You know, I'd actually never used any of the function keys in Live, the main reason being that I'm on a Mac and F9-F12 are dedicated to Expose functions in the OS. Also, on my Powerbook's keyboard, I have to hold down the FN button to get them to work, since that keyboard does double duty with things like F1 and "lower screen brightness".

Now that I see F1-F8 turn speakers on and off, I'm tempted, but I still probably won't add them back in.

Here's why: with the arrangement of keys I chose to keep, I get 10 channels of dedicated keys (a bank of 4, another bank of 4, and a bank of 2). Right now, I have the top row of keys dedicated to speaker on/off, and the bottom 3 rows dedicated to triggering clips. Since everything corresponds one-to-one, there's no need to think or hold down multiple buttons in the live performance environment.

I did choose to leave the Caps Lock key in there (even masking off the part where the LED glows through) so I can do a cheap-and-dirty "bank switch" kind of thing with the bottom 3 rows of keys. Since Live recognizes "a" (lowercase) and "A" (uppercase) as two different keys, I have the first 3 rows (as lowercase letters) mapped to rows 1-3, and then pushing Caps Lock gives me another bank of 3 (to trigger cilps in rows 4-6) as uppercase letters.

Thanks for the feedback, and the new understanding of how the Function keys work in Live! I feel like I keep learning new things about it every day. Wait til I finally load my free upgrade to Live 6 and can do macros and racks - the madness!

peace,

Bill

darbyjones
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Post by darbyjones » Wed Dec 13, 2006 3:13 am

I've been looking into key mapping as a substitues as I haven't really seen a midi controller I've fallen in love with yet.

Has anyone ever experimented with game controllers? FPS game keyboards or DDR pads?

Would like to know if it's worked for anyone...

thanks,

dhilsabeck
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Post by dhilsabeck » Wed Dec 13, 2006 9:41 pm

darbyjones wrote:I've been looking into key mapping as a substitues as I haven't really seen a midi controller I've fallen in love with yet.

Has anyone ever experimented with game controllers? FPS game keyboards or DDR pads?

Would like to know if it's worked for anyone...

thanks,

i've got a nostromo speedpad n52 from belkin. seems to be a lot of people here who enjoy it as well.

http://catalog.belkin.com/IWCatProductP ... _Id=157024

just a word of warning, they don't have drivers for os 10.4 so that put a little damper on things for me. but, it was only $30 so oh well. it will catch up at some point.

stratusseeker
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Post by stratusseeker » Wed Dec 27, 2006 10:40 pm

When using an additional usb keyboard with live can it differentiate between the main keyboard on your laptop and the usb keyboard?

Can Live somehow keep track of multiple computer keyboards with different key commands?

It would be cool for the main laptop keyboard to still operate as usual and use the usb one for more specific midi commands.

gafferuk
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Post by gafferuk » Wed Dec 27, 2006 10:45 pm

tyson wrote:When using an additional usb keyboard with live can it differentiate between the main keyboard on your laptop and the usb keyboard?

Can Live somehow keep track of multiple computer keyboards with different key commands?

It would be cool for the main laptop keyboard to still operate as usual and use the usb one for more specific midi commands.
Not without creating a custom driver and ableton making changes.
Good idea though :)

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