Before Logic X, there was no easy way for a plug-in to send MIDI directly to the instrument on the same track/channel. This is why Apple added MIDI FX. They’re positioned on Logic’s channel above the instrument. The MIDI you play comes in first through the MIDI FX, then from any MIDI FX to the instrument, then out of the instrument to be processed with Audio FX.
MIDI FX in Logic allows you to send note and MIDI data from your MIDI controller to be processed by plug-ins that can utilize, change, and convert that data in fun and musical/rhythmical ways. They can also generate MIDI themselves (no input or MIDI controller required).
In this article, I take a quick look at four third-party MIDI FX plug-ins I feel “extend” Logic’s built-in offerings like Arpeggiator and Chord Trigger. These mini sequencers and arpeggiators can be easier to program than opening up a blank Logic Piano Roll editor, or going for Apple’s own Arpeggiator. Many have quick and interesting ways to manipulate MIDI on the fly like easily controlling note length/decay by drawing across a grid, or have easy ways to build solid chord progressions. Some give you the power to lay out drums like you would in other popular Applications/Apps. These plug-ins are not presented in any particular order (other than alphabetical) and I believe each one has its own distinct reason to like it. You install them as you would a regular AU (Audio Unit) plug-in. Simply download the demo or full version from the developer, run the installer, and restart Logic so it can scan it and make it available.
1. Cream by Kirnu
In Cream, the MIDI notes you send it get modified in many great ways. If you’re a bit less accomplished on the keys, simply set Kirnu’s Scale, Key, (the musical mode can be set too) and feed it some MIDI notes. You can play complex chords by hand on your controller to arpeggiate, or play single notes that trigger any of the 16 chord slots. Like Cthulhu (see below), you have preset chord settings, or each of the 16 chord slots can be built by hand. Cream is first and foremost an arpeggiator. There are tons of great parameters here that allow you to alter specific steps in the arp like gating, changing the length of individual notes, transposing, looping and more. Not only is Cream great for coming up with complex arpeggios, but is also perfect for “automating” plug-in parameters. You can use up to 8 different MIDI continuous controller (CC) numbers to easily “automate” parameters on the instrument (whatever synth/sampler you’ve chosen to arpeggiate). Most third-party instruments like Sylenth, Massive and Diva can “learn” any MIDI being sent from Cream, for control over any knob or slider within it—all with MIDI I might add… no automation necessary! These are “MIDI FX.” http://www.kirnuarp.com
2. Cthulhu by Xfer Records
Cthulhu is actually both an arpeggiator and a chord bank MIDI processor together in one body. Kind of like Apple’s own Arpeggiator and the Chord Trigger joined. The Chord triggering and the Arpeggiator can be run individually or at the same time. One excellent way to use Cthulhu is as a chord triggering device. It’s a great way to come up with new and interesting chord progressions. When Chords are enabled, every individual MIDI note can have a separate chord assigned to it! You trigger them with MIDI notes on your keyboard, and can either build-up progressions you make on the fly, edit them by hand, or use one of the presets that have chords already assigned. If you play keyboard, each key has a “learn” button so you can simply enter it from your controller. There are some great “Bach Chorales” presets that supply hundreds of combinations. Cthulhu’s talk bubble even displays the exact chord currently being triggered by name. The arp section has some great stuff too like randomizing each step, transposing, gating and velocity per step. If you get frustrated assigning chords in Apple’s own Chord Trigger, you’ll love Cthulhu. https://xferrecords.com/products/cthulhu
3. Numerology by Five12
Hands down this is the most robust of the 4 sequencer/arpeggiators (and for good reason), Numerology is first a stand-alone application for making music in and of itself. It was only in the last couple of years that Five12 made this excellent add-on Audio Unit MIDI FX. The sky is the limit here. Not only is there a basic arpeggiator, but there are step sequencers, randomizers, LFOs and a very useful drum sequencer. You can easily create a “playlist” of drum sequencer loops, and arrange them in any way you’d like by simply dragging around like songs in a playlist. In the image above, you can see four variations of a beat; each one will play one after the other, but I’ve chosen to play each one two times. If you program MIDI drums in Logic, you’ll no doubt understand how cool and easy this method is. Whether you methodically lay out your drums or like to experiment, this is an extremely easy and fun way to build up drums very fast. That barely touches on Numerology’s capabilities. http://www.five12.com
4. Thesys by Sugar Bytes
Recently Sugar Bytes updated Thesys with the addition of the MIDI FX version. Thesys would be considered a step sequencer as it doesn’t use incoming notes to trigger chords or play sequenced intervals. The only notes it uses from your controller are for triggering specific patterns, nearly all the parameters on its interface, and for recording specific notes into its own looping/sequencing window. Thesys makes MIDI notes itself in the same way Numerology does. You have 16 patterns you can create and trigger back in any order. Patterns can alter notes, velocities, note length, and there’s a “modulation” lane that lets you assign it to a standard MIDI controller number for modulating instrument parameters. There’s a great “Action” section that gives you eight buttons you can press with the mouse or MIDI note to trigger effects like looping at the specific spot, slowing down MIDI from fast to slow, and starting back at the top of the sequence momentarily. Thesys, unlike some of the others reviewed here, has a MIDI drag button! This creates a MIDI file you can easily drag to the arrange window like you do in Ultrabeat. http://www.sugar-bytes.de/content/products/Thesys/
The MIDI output from a MIDI FX can be easily captured with another third-party MIDI FX called MIDI FX Freeze by AudioCR. After installing it, simply place it below the MIDI FX you’re capturing from and press its record button. You can then drag and drop the captured MIDI to Logic’s Workspace/Arrange. Dying to start automating the way you’re used to? All MIDI FX also work with Logic’s own automation just as Audio FX do.
Thanks for reading!