Review: Joué, An Expressive, Modular MIDI Controller

Joué is a unique MIDI controller with an emphasis on creativity and expression. Steve H found that it pressed all the right buttons when he put it through its paces...  

Pure Joué

As an electronic music composer and performer (hear my stuff at www.stevehmusic.com) I’m drawn to the non-traditional MIDI controllers that somehow find their way into the electronic music marketplace. Conversely, I have little interest in the plastic black and white keyboard controllers with their predictable and mostly copycat layouts and functionalities. Perhaps it’s a problem with the very term that is used to describe these devices… controller. Come on, we don’t control music, we want to “play” music.

Enter Joué. Joué means play in French. And play is what Joué is all about. This musical device defies simple definition. Not because it’s complicated but because it's so user friendly, adaptable, smart and playable. Let me explain: It just feels right.

All great instruments from Martin guitars to Moog synthesizers, by their appealing design, cry out to be played. Likewise with the the Joué; you just want to touch it. There’s no cheap plastic here. Everything about it looks and feels well crafted from its elegant wood base unit (the Sensor) to the soft, natural feeling, expressive touch modules and well thought-out color scheme. I know that I might sound a bit dramatic here but an instrument that doesn’t resonate with my feelings and/or feels awkward or uncomfortable may adversely affect the resulting music, IMO. When I started playing and recording with the Joué I found that that it brought out the best in me as a musician and a composer. I wasn’t just mechanical going through my all-too-comfortable licks. The Joué inspired me to be more experimental and “play” outside the box.

Watch the Joué interview and demo from NAMM 2018:

Modularity

Imagine a modular synth but instead of sound modules (OSCs, VCAs etc) there’s a collection of touch modules. Joué is modular in that it comes with a collection of interchangeable, naturally soft silicone Magic Modules. And every module responds to touch in many musical, three dimensional ways. There’s a Scaler that by design will instantly conform to scales and modes. Next is Fretboard which is based upon the guitar/bass. Followed by Synth, Bubbles, Pads, Area, Rounds and Strips. It’s an absolutely freeing experience to be able to rearrange and recreate my instrument based upon the type of music I’m playing. I found it that it created a fluidity to my creative thinking and performing.

 Joué Is Magically Smart

Here’s the magic: every module can be preprogramed using the elegant drag and drop Joué Editor software to transmit MIDI in a multitude of ways. This MIDI info is stored in the modules themselves and is transmitted to the Sensor base unit via the RFID reader when the modules are placed in the base’s slots. So imagine that each pad is assigned its own, independent MIDI channel and performance features and each pad’s MIDI data is sent to to a different, corresponding tracks on your DAW. So, in effect, you just place down a pad, even in the middle of a take, and the sensor automatically reroutes the MIDI to the right instrument in your track list. Now that’s smart! But more than smart because it allows you to reconfigure your keyboard in realtime without having to do any other pointing and clicking on your DAW. I found that this truly was magic and fun.

 Joué Is Playable

With a name that literally means “play” it had better be playable! No worries - it is. All the different pads feel really good and use a very natural feeling rubber that gives the proper feedback whether I’m playing fast and precise, sliding glissandos or pressing into the pads for expression. In every instance they react as expected, play well and, maybe most importantly, inspire the Joué-er to create tracks that are full rich with nuance.

Denouement

So, sadly, after writing this article I’ll be packing up my newfound playmate and sending it on its way to the next reviewer. As I finish this review I find that I’m already missing it. I really have grown quite fond of its many desirable attributes. So with a tear in my my eye I say, au revoir mon amie Joué… until we meet again! 

Price: 399 EUR

Pros: Looks, feel, great software… everything!

Cons: I wish they made a bigger version. The rubber pads can get a bit dirty although I’m sure there’s an easy way to clean them!

Web: http://www.play-joue.com

Learn more about MIDI performance and programming: https://ask.audio/academy?nleloc=new-releases

"Twice Emmy-nominated Steve Horelick is a Logic Pro Master and industry-leading audio producer. You might know him from TV's "Reading Rainbow" ... he scored every episode of that program." Read More

Discussion

Devorefgmailcom
This is the most intriguing of the new MIDI devices (don't wanna say controllers) I've seen yet since it allows you to mix and match the parts that work best for me. Gonna check out their website and try and get a better overview. Hard to gauge size from these photos, but like Steve said, bigger is always better for ham fisted players like myself!
Steve H
Actually, the size and layout are perfect IMHO.., I simple wanted more octaves and pad real estate!

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