Wind Controller Performance Tips and Setup

This page contains information on the wind controller setup I use for performing. I primarily use the WX-5 in reed or wind settings as part of a traditional ensemble. Most recently I refined my current setup to provide five reed instrument parts for one of the reed books in the pit orchestra for the community Holiday Spectacular production. For this gig I covered Bb clarinet, Bass clarinet, alto, tenor, and bari sax with several tenor and alto patch settings for different music (the 3 Reese's pieces on the music stand are non-critical to the setup, just the performer!).

HARDWARE SETUP. The hardware setup includes from left to right (click on the link provided for more details on any of the components):

  • Mackie SRM150 powered 150w speaker (this only weighs 8 lbs!). Typically only had the master volume set about 10 o'clock high with sufficient volume to balance with the brass section behind me in the pit orchestra. The 3 channel EQ is a nice feature that I found myself using more and more.
  • Yamaha VL70m Wind Synthesizer with the Patchman Music Turbo VL ROM of digital wind and other sound physical modeling patches custom designed for the VL-70m/WX-5 combo
  • Yamaha WX-5 Wind Controller
  • DIY stand for the WX-5 from PVC parts at Menard's. This idea was contributed by one of the Wind Controller members of the Yahoo Group Forum (Thanks Tim!). The instructions for making this were as follows: Get a 6"x6" PVC Hinged Bell Trap (mine was from Menard's) (with 2" pipe coupling) and a 2" PVC Sanitary Tee. Cut a slot to accomodate the cable. Put some styrofoam inside to fill the bottom. Didn't glue the two parts together so I could take it apart and stuff in my gig bag.
  • Yamaha FC-9 Stereo Volume Foot pedal
  • Two (2) Musicians Gear Low Profile Tripod Base Mic Stands for the Mackie and the VL70m. One of the tripod stands holding the VL70m has a Raxxess AR-5 accessory riser with velcro to hold VL70 to stand.

(All of this fits in a padded gig bag and a two-wheeled, portable hand cart for transporting.)

TIPS. For all my research and experimentation there are two key friends on the web: (1) the Patchman Music site that is totally devoted to wind controller users and (2) members of the Yahoo wind controller group. Here are some tips I learned along the way for using the WX-5 setup to best blend as a traditional reed in an ensemble:

Custom presets or program patches. Transpose and alter the settings for each program patch for an instrument and save the set to the INTERNAL bank on the VL70m. I arrange the instruments in the INTERNAL bank for the best sequence and manually switch instruments as needed during the performance. For now this works for me. If I needed to do a lot of on-the-fly switching I'd investigate a MIDI foot controller; the Patchman site shows a MIDI Solutions Footswitch Controller that could be used to for a basic solution to this need (probably my next research project!). The key for accessing any of the single voice or patch settings is to press the PART- and PART+ buttons on the VL70m at the same time (I've done this enough I can do this with my thumb on the two buttons in one motion); then the SELECT button 4 times gets you to the transpose setting (systran). Be sure to save your patch to the custom slot you are using each time you make a change. (Many of these details are presented in more depth on the Patchman FAQ document online.)

Octave settings and range. I set the transposition so that the primary range I will be playing in for any given instrument is in the most common low octave range (no octave keys on the WX-5 pressed). Further, the primary octave that I'm most likely to be pressing an octave key to go up than down. For the bari sax, for example, I only had to press a down-octave key when I needed to play the lowest A or Bb in the range. All other notes where no octave key or an up octave keys. The transposition for the bari was set to 3.

Reverb. I took a good deal of reverb off of the Patchman settings (typically down from 40 to about 10-16) to blend better with the other reed players. To change this, again go into Single Voice mode, and the first setting is RevRtn.

Amplitude and mic placement. The 150 watts of the Mackie was more than enough signal strength for playing in the orchestra pit (the only time I had the volume foot pedal all the way to the floor was when the brass section was full out and I needed to compete). The audio engineer for the hall wanted to run my audio directly into the mixing board, but I opted instead to balance my volume with the rest of the reed section and use their mic placement; again, my goal was to blend with the acoustic reed players.

Volume control. The Yamaha foot pedal was absolutely critical. It allowed me to quickly adjust the analog, stereo volume to blend with the rest of the orchestra from very soft, sensitive passages, to full-out high volume passages. It also is quite effective for long crescendo/decrescendo passages or sustained notes. I ran stereo audio from the VL70m to the FC-9 to the Mackie SRM150; not sure I needed to do this but somewhere I read that the Patchman physical modeling patches were designed for stereo so I'd didn't mess with researching this.

Tuning. There's much to learn here; I struggled to get in tune with the other reed and brass players. You basically have two controls for tuning: (1) the master tuning for the VL70-m (M.TUNE under the UTILITY SYSTEM settings) and the lip pressure settings. I ignored the instructions for calibrating the lip settings in the WX5 manual and the Patchman FAQ for some time; but, after a frustrating rehearsal I finally dug in and read them very carefully. The key to my understanding was getting the lip zero point set BELOW center so that I "came up to in tune" when I applied my average lip pressure. The bar graph on the VL70m was essential. When I heard myself being slightly out of tune I'd look at the bar graph and lip up or down the tuning. (I hope I've described this accurately; again, the Patchman FAQ is a must read!)

THANK YOU. Getting sufficient control and technique with the WX-5 and the synth rig took me a lot of concerted effort. The sax fingering wasn't an issue; but looking at a Bb or bass clarinet part and fingering sax took some doing on my part (having played these instruments for some 60 years). Gaining proficiency with the octave key arrangement was another newly acquired skill. I'm practicing reading bassoon in bass clef with the wind controller at the moment; besides reading bass clef and thinking sax fingers, I doubt the octave keying is any more complex than managing bocal keys on a bassoon.

I need to give much credit for solving many of the hardware issues to the Patchman website and the services they provide, and the wind controller group on Yahoo. The DIY stand came from the wind group and my final selection of the Mackie SRM150 came about after generous sharing of experience from this same wind group.

Dave Williams

December 2008

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