This eye-catch­ing French MIDI con­troller puts four di­rec­tions of fully con­fig­urable and highly cre­ative plugin wran­gling right at your fin­ger­tips

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Look­ing like an or­gan­i­cally sourced wah-wah pedal, Ex­pres­sive E’s Touché MIDI con­troller is de­signed to work with both hard­ware and soft­ware in­stru­ments. It con­trols up to eight plugin pa­ram­e­ters at once, and out­puts MIDI CCs and CV sig­nals, through move­ment of a ‘float­ing’ wooden sur­face – called the Skin – in four di­rec­tions: down­wards at the top and bot­tom ends (or both to­gether), and left and right in its en­tirety. The whole con­trap­tion is sprung, re­turn­ing to the cen­tre when re­leased. For the body of this re­view, we’re look­ing at Touché as a soft­ware con­troller – Stand­alone mode dis­cusses its use with hard­ware synths.

The idea is to tie mean­ing­ful sets of in­stru­ment pa­ram­e­ters to the four axes for col­lec­tive one-handed con­trol. For ex­am­ple, mo­du­late a synth’s fil­ter cut­off and res­o­nance in­di­vid­u­ally or to­gether by as­sign­ing them to the top and bot­tom of the Skin, and cou­ple them with, say, mod­wheel and vi­brato depth on left and right. As­sign­ing plugin pa­ram­e­ters and man­ag­ing pre­sets is done in the in­cluded Lié plugin. You also get 500MB of mapped pre­sets for UVI’s free UVI Work­sta­tion plugin – basses, pads, bells, keys, leads, etc – mak­ing a com­pelling show­case right out of the box.

Phys­i­cally, Touché feels ev­ery bit as ‘pre­mium’ as its price sug­gests it should. The cas­ing is solid and weighty, and the Skin feels great un­der the fingers, with a sat­is­fy­ing de­gree of re­sis­tance in all four di­rec­tions. It’s USBpow­ered, too, so no juice is re­quired when plugged into a com­puter, and a mo­bile phone charger will suf­fice for stand­alone op­er­a­tion.

The two but­tons at the bot­tom are used to nav­i­gate in­ter­nal and com­puter-stored pre­sets, and the ro­tary en­coder in­creases and de­creases the Skin’s tilt sen­si­tiv­ity. The lat­eral sen­si­tiv­ity is tweaked by re­mov­ing the (mag­net­i­cally­at­tached) Skin and ad­just­ing a slider un­der­neath. We as­sume there’s a me­chan­i­cal rea­son for the dis­crep­ancy be­tween the two ad­just­ments. Push­ing the en­coder like a but­ton, mean­while, freezes Touché’s out­put, hold­ing as­signed pa­ram­e­ters at their cur­rent val­ues un­til pressed again.

Reading the Lié

The Lié VST/AU plugin acts as a ‘host within your host’, like Na­tive In­stru­ments’ Komplete Kon­trol, con­nect­ing the hard­ware to the plugin loaded into it. Hav­ing scanned your plug­ins folder, all your VST in­stru­ments ap­pear in the Plugin menu at the top and the pre­set browser on the right. Choose an in­stru­ment from the for­mer and all of its au­tomat­able con­trols be­come avail­able for se­lec­tion in the pa­ram­e­ter menus of the eight as­sign­ment slots. Se­lect a pa­ram­e­ter in a slot, click the top, bot­tom, left or right (or left and right for bipo­lar con­trol) of its Skin graphic to as­sign that con­troller to it, set the Min/Max range with the slid­ers, and you’re good to go. Al­ter­na­tively, pa­ram­e­ters can be linked to slots in the plugin in­ter­face it­self, to which the Lié ‘shell’ adds a row of slot but­tons at the top. Click a slot then a pa­ram­e­ter to make the link, or ac­ti­vate the Speedmap­ping but­ton to have the next eight pa­ram­e­ters clicked au­tomap to the eight slots in or­der.

The out­put of each slot and the base po­si­tion of its plugin pa­ram­e­ter are in­di­cated in the ver­ti­cal scale next to the slot by an an­i­mated meter and an orange ar­row, re­spec­tively.

Click­ing the square but­ton at the bot­tom of a slot opens its re­sponse curve dis­play; click­ing that opens the Curve Ed­i­tor on the right, for free­hand draw­ing and de­tailed edit­ing of the re­sponse map. When not oc­cu­pied by the Curve Ed­i­tor, the right hand panel houses the Scope – a

“The Skin feels great un­der the fingers, with a sat­is­fy­ing de­gree of re­sis­tance in all four di­rec­tions”

graph­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Skin, giv­ing ex­cel­lent real-time feed­back on the pres­sure ap­plied in all four di­rec­tions. The but­ton above sets left/right move­ment to out­put pitch­bend as well as their as­signed pa­ram­e­ters.

Lié’s browser fa­cil­i­tates fil­ter­ing (by in­stru­ment and tags) and load­ing of Lié pre­sets. Th­ese aren’t the fac­tory/user pre­sets of the hosted in­stru­ments, but those cre­ated within – and read­able only by – Lié, com­pris­ing both the state of the plugin and the stored Touché con­troller map. Sav­ing your own patches is easy, and Ex­pres­sive E have al­ready re­leased free pre­set packs for Diva, ARP2600 V, Mas­sive, Monark, Prism, Spire, Sy­lenth 1 and Syn­th­mas­ter, amongst oth­ers, with more to come. How­ever, while it’s sta­ble and per­fectly func­tional, the browser needs some work. The In­stru­ment and Tag win­dows are far too small, the in­abil­ity to clear mul­ti­ple selections with a sin­gle click is mad­den­ing, and the lack of cus­tom tags hurts. The rest of Lié, for­tu­nately, is a plea­sure to use.

Touché to­tal

Play­ing Touché is in­tu­itive and fun. Slide your fingers along it to bal­ance the pres­sure be­tween top and bot­tom; push it lat­er­ally to mix in a bit of left and right; tap it for rhyth­mic ef­fects – it’s like a cross be­tween a joy­stick, the afore­men­tioned wah-wah pedal and a drum pad. And the sen­si­tiv­ity of the thing is as­tound­ing.

On the down­side, the po­si­tion­ing of the pre­set but­tons on the near edge of the unit means care needs to be taken to avoid ac­ci­den­tally hit­ting them with your wrist. It should also be noted that Lié only out­puts the MIDI CCs it uses in­ter­nally for plugin con­trol (CC 16-19), not VST/AU au­to­ma­tion data. In­deed, the Lié-hosted plugin is com­pletely in­vis­i­ble to the host DAW’s au­to­ma­tion sys­tem.

With those caveats ac­cepted, though, Touché is a bril­liant per­for­mance MIDI con­troller, the unique phys­i­cal­ity and de­sign of which put it in a class all of its own. We’re ad­dicted!

“While it’s sta­ble and per­fectly func­tional, the browser needs some work”

The back panel houses MIDI and CV con­nec­tions

Mi­nor browser is­sues aside, Lié is a com­mend­ably solid host and pre­set pro­gram­mer/man­ager

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