Being the sole member of my band The Bleeding Obvious I have to do quite a lot on stage when I perform “full electric” shows, so I use pedals to activate various things. My upcoming shows are becoming increasingly complex so I acquired a better sound desk, and set about attempting to get my existing pedalboard to talk to it.

As piano is my main instrument my performances hinge around the ability to control several things hands-free. While I do have a laptop and tablet on-stage, I need to toggle effects in a hurry, sometimes mid-sentence. On the 2018 tour my stage rig centred around an analogue desk (a Behringer X2222USB Xenyx desk) which I augmented with an FX2000 rack effects unit, controlled via MIDI from a FCB1010 foot controller. This meant I could switch programs on the FX2000 from reverb, to delay, to echo and also stack effects.

There were a few issues with this setup: it was heavy, unwieldy, everything had to be in a hard flight case as it was all cabled up. Occasionally a helpful stage-hand would disconnect all my cables for me at the end of a show. Sometimes someone would zero out my settings, leaving me to work out what was going on. Venue engineers would want mic output separate to the instruments. At one point the effects unit did something weird and packed up halfway into the second song. I was constantly amazed when I got to the end of a show and nothing had gone wrong (however minor). I really needed to be able to save settings, hence a requirement for a digital desk.

I’ve just embarked on the tech for the new show – it won’t tour until 2020 (in support of album 3) but I need to get my head around it all, and as a friend was selling their digital desk plus would let me be 100% satisfied it’d do what I wanted, I took a plunge.

The Desk: Behringer X32 Compact

Getting ‘this’ to talk to ‘that’.

The Behringer X32 Compact is a digital sound desk, one of several variants which stretch from huge production desks down to a rack version principally designed for use with a PC. It’s got tons of features – configurable buses, USB interface, ethernet (which I can connect to a wireless adapter and control from a tablet on-stage). It’s a pretty impressive piece of kit, save for a few little things involving XLR clips getting stuck (solution: remove the clips, job done) and for the secondhand price it’s great.

There are four effect inserts (FX1..FX4) which I have set up on four of the sixteen buses (BUS12..BUS16), as it comes out-of-the-box. Being able to use my pedalboard to knock those in and out would be key.

The MIDI implementation is sketchy at best – although the X32 firmware is up to v3.something now, MIDI implementation beyond v1 is barely documented. I knew I’d have to do a lot of fiddling around to see what worked or not.

The Pedalboard: Behringer FCB1010

My FCB1010 footboard is a configurable MIDI controller. Out-of-the-box it sends Program Change (PC) messages, but it can be configured to send Control Change (CC) and even note on/off messages. However, it doesn’t work in a “toggle” mode – ie. use a button to send one CC to switch on, then another CC to switch off.

Cue the FCB/UNO replacement ROM. It requires a little bit of surgery on your FCB1010 but it does come with some super additions including something called Stompbox Mode which does exactly what I’m after. A while back I bought one of these ROMs and fitted it (I can’t remember why originally) so I’d got the Stompbox functionality. Trouble is with the FCB1010 you need to do a dazzling amount of intricate footwork to program it from the board itself – we’re talking Fred Astaire levels of footwork here.

Last night I was trying to solve this problem. I discovered various editing programs but those for Mac users had a very pointed “no FCB/UNO support” notice at the top. Eventually I went back to the FCB/UNO site who in the FAQ mentioned they sold an editing program for €20 called “FCB Control Center” – I should in hindsight have looked there first, really. Unfortunately the demo warned me it needed updating for macOS High Sierra and crashed on first run (possibly to do with the MIDI interface I was using) but has been solid since and also allowed me to back up my configuration.

Requirements: Bus Mutes, Levels, Toggles

So back to the show. I’m going to need the pedalboard to do the following:

  1. Toggle the four effects buses (BUS12..BUS16) on/off and reflect the state on the pedalboard.
  2. Have a “kill all effects” switch in case of issues.
  3. Alter the reverb level on BUS12 (microphone bus).
  4. For an extra bonus, be able to adjust mic level.

X32 MIDI Implementation

As I mentioned before the X32’s v2 MIDI implementation is a bit badly documented. Behringer’s own wiki entry is really quite poor and gives no clues to channels, let alone busses.

Version 1 of the documentation states there are three MIDI channels in use for CC messages, alongside PC messages to change scenes, and I can only mute/unmute effects. I’ve immediately got a problem here: the original documentation for the FCB1010, it says it can only control one global MIDI channel. No trouble though – the FCB/UNO update allows me to send CC on multiple MIDI channels, and the Stompbox mode will reflect the state in the onboard LEDs.

My MIDI configuration on the X32

You do need to enable the X32 to receive the correct MIDI messages which you can do in the Setup-Config menu – switch on MIDI IN/OUT and in my case I didn’t need to receive PC events, but I did want fader and mute events.

More creative web-searching ensued which led to this Musictribe answer stating the X32 v2 MIDI implementation is similar (if not the same) as the XR18 – and helpfully giving a lot more information in this answer (which I’ve duplicated below). This adds in bus control and DCA (grouping) control, so I can mute in/out the effects busses as required.

Findings

So in all my findings of the X32 MIDI implementation of the CC MIDI events for v2 of the firmware onwards:

  • MIDI channel 1 is fader information, 0..127
  • MIDI channel 2 is mute/unmute. 0-63 is off (unmute), 64-127 is on (mute). This can be a gotcha with inverting it so be aware.
  • MIDI channel 3 is pan (0 full left, 127 full right)

Each control maps as the following:

  • 0 Ch 1 … 31 Ch 32
  • 32 Aux 1 … 39 Aux 8
  • 40 Fx 1 L, 41 Fx 1 R
  • 42 Fx 2 L, 43 Fx 2 R
  • 44 Fx 3 L, 45 Fx 3 R
  • 46 Fx 4 L, 47 Fx 4 R
  • 48 Bus 1 … 63 Bus 16
  • 64 Matrix 1 … 69 Matrix 6
  • 70 LR
  • 71 M/C
  • 72 DCA 1 … 79 DCA 8
  • 80 Mute Group 1 … 85 Mute Group 6

For example, to mute bus 16, I’d send CC 63 with a value of 127 on MIDI channel 2.

Using the FCB/UNO software to program each pedal, I was able to set my bottom row of pedals in Stompbox mode to mute/unmute busses 12-16 for effects, configure a pedal which would mute all four busses for an instant-off on effects, plus pedals to change the volume pedal to alter the DCAs for microphone and Mac, as well as my own monitor.

It’ll be interesting to see how well the top row works in practice, but for the moment the bottom row is what I’m principally bothered about. I take it on a full gig for the first time on 21st June so if I remember, I’ll write up an ‘aftermath’ of how it worked.