Expressive E Touché Creative MIDI Controller
If you like to get hand-on with your sounds, then you need to take Touché’s hand surfboard out for a spin.
MIDI controllers come in all shapes and sizes but I reckon you’ve never seen one like the Touché. It’s not often we get to review something that doesn’t quite fit the mould of an established product category — the last thing that came close would be ROLI’s unique family of keyboards — but it’s always fun when we get our hands on something truly fresh; like the Touché.
There are two sides to getting the most from a virtual instrument. The first, of course, is the input of MIDI notes to play the instrument. The second is the input of control information to manipulate the instrument using the various MIDI CC parameters available to you. Most off-the-shelf MIDI keyboards offer control over two such parameters by way of the pitch and mod wheels. Two, however, is often insufficient for the numerous expressive controls found on today’s virtual instruments. If you can tweak more of these controls in real-time, it makes for a more articulate and colourful performance.
The Touché is a solution that offers expressive control in a unique format. It makes a departure from more common ergonomics like faders, ribbon sliders or wheels. Instead, Touché is built around a single contact surface with both directional information and pressure sensitivity. The oval-shaped mahogany wooden pad forms the primary medium of expressive input and is slightly shorter than the length of my hand. The pad is sprung from underneath and rocks backward and forward, as well as sliding from left to right, each with a few centimetres of travel.
Touché has a USB connection for use with a computer along with four CV outputs to hook it up to your analogue synths or modular setup. There are MIDI in and out ports, too. Expressive E’s budget version, Touché SE, comes with just a USB connection.
Lié is Expressive E’s control software which partners with Touché. Once installed, it’ll let you know if the connected Touché has the latest firmware and download it if not.
Lié scans your drives for all of your virtual instruments and can host them individually within the software, a bit like how Kontakt hosts sample libraries. The left/right buttons at the bottom of Touché let you move through presets. With Lié you can also configure Touché’s CV and MIDI outputs and a number of mapping presets come included for various hardware synths.
Early this year, Expressive E released Arché, a suite of three stringed instruments (violin, viola, cello) designed specifically for use with the Touché controller. When you load up any of the three instruments in Lié, you can assign Arché-specific control options to Touché’s physical movements — things like Bow, Vibrato Gain, Vibrato Frequency. I found Arché a great primer to get comfortable using the Touché as a performance controller.
Assigning the Bow control to the Touché heel while twiddling vibrato with left/right movement lets you rest one hand on the Touché and another on a keyboard, offering an enormous amount of dynamic expression in quite a natural-feeling manner. Tapping the surface mimics a bow striking the strings, or you can emulate long legato bowed notes by pumping the surface like it’s the bellows of an accordion. Keyswitching and button pushing becomes largely unnecessary when you have this much tonal control under your palm. The whole experience is both fun and functional.
Yes, Touché is unique. But how much value does it have once the novelty wears off? A lot, I say. Especially for people who care about getting the most from their virtual instruments; either on stage or in the studio. If you’re the type who’d rather input some notes with a keyboard and then draw in MIDI control automation in a more surgical manner, after the fact, Touché probably isn’t for you. On the other hand if you care about having more control options at your disposal while performing or recording — perhaps you compose for film or TV or produce music on a regular basis — then Touché offers you an extra set of tools to lay down the perfect take first go.