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With any new radical instrument or performance system, a learning curve is anticipated. Despite its complicated-looking interface, the AlphaSphere is actually easy to use. With its native AlphaLive software and its fairly intuitive user interface, learning to maximize your AlphaSphere becomes quick, simple, and highly rewarding.

Of course, it’s not without its difficulty. Playing technique aside,setting the various pad functions and sequences can be tricky if you’re going to be experimenting with complex musical pieces. But even with that, it can be made easier. Here are few tips to make the best out of your AlphaSphere

Using Samples

As a sample player, the AlphaLive is pretty conventional, even basic. When you set a pad to sampler mode, you can drag-and-drop your audio files and it’ll be ready to use. From here, you can also set your trigger and pressure settings. The trigger settings affect the sample to be used while the pressure settings affect any pressure-sensitive effects you might want. You can also set attack and release times for loop points.

There’s also a great selection for triggering modes, which allow you to loop, latch, or toggle the sample playback. This can be set to synchronize trigger with a global clock using a time-quantize feature. Pads can also be set into exclusive groups, which allow you to cancel a playback by hitting a pad of the same group, much like in drum machines.

AlphaLive has an impressive library of drum and rhythm loops, which you can play with by fiddling with the playback options. This allows musicians to create unique loop-based performances with real-time control and polyphonic effects processing. This means that each pad’s unique effects are controlled by the amount of pressure you hit a pad, giving it a more dynamic feel when you’re playing it. AlphaLive uses fairly conventional effects: tremolo, reverb, flange, delay/echo, filters, and two distortion algorithms, with each effect having a wide selection of wet/dry mix parameters. These can all be augmented by external software too, so while AlphaLive does have an amazing selection, it can be beefed up by third-party providers.

AlphaLive’s sequencer MIDI mode
Source: B&H

Using MIDI

The MIDI mode of the AlphaSphere pads comes with its own layout and settings display which allows you to select multiple pads that you can program all at once. The pad triggering for the MIDI mode and the sample mode are fairly similar, with the only notable difference being the lack of a looping option for MIDI.

The MIDI mode also gives you the option to map out pressure points in the controller, pitch-bend, or mono/poly aftertouch. Normally, keyboards that can send independent controller streams per note are not the best for MIDI, so mod wheels, pitch bends, and other monophonic controllers have to be assigned to different channels.

Sequencing

AlphaLive’s sequencer mode gives users access to a 32-step sequencer that can support up to 12 different pitch values. A sequencing pad can be used to trigger samples or generate MIDI sounds from sequenced notes.  In AlphaLive’s sequencer MIDI mode, a preset scale can be assigned (or even transposed) to the 12 pitch positions of a sequence.

In the same mode, MIDI velocities and sequence lengths can be edited and set to different values. Just like in the non-sequenced MIDI mode, various MIDI controllers can be assigned different pad pressures, although these pressures can’t be used to modify note velocities.

In the sequence sampler mode, AlphaLive allows each sequence pitch to trigger its own sample. This can then be dragged-and-dropped as an audio file. As is the case with the non-sequenced sampler mode, audio effects are controlled by pad pressure.

AlphaLive comes pre-equipped with sampled drum kits and demo sequences, which can help newbie electronic musicians be inspired to create newer sequences and samples of their own.

One unique feature of AlphaLive is the Pressure Link. By turning this on, a pad’s pressure is mapped to switch dynamically between up to 8 different sequences.  These sequences have a distinct set of notes (albeit similar tempo division, length, and pitch division). Using the pad, a musician can go up and down the sequence list, using or turning off different sequences as they go along. This can be used for a variety of functions, like adding layers to a sequence, or shifting between different sequences. With every pad having its own stack of sequences, the opportunities for creativity, diversity, and control are massive.

AlphaSphere
Source: University of Brighton

Room for Experimentation

All in all, the AlphaSphere allows musicians to experiment with sound as much as they want. By combining the different modes with the unique playing technique of the sphere, musicians can create distinct styles and sounds, even incorporating visual imagery by pre-setting the AlphaSphere’s LED backlights.

At the end of the day, it’s best to treat the AlphaSphere less as a music pad or effects machine, but rather as a unique musical instrument all on its own.

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