Custom MIDI Controllers by Dave Cross / 60 Works

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sixty Works’ Dave Cross was not satisfied with the selection of hardware MIDI controllers on the market, so he built his own. In fact, he’s built a bunch of them. 60 Works currently specializes in custom hardware creation of MIDI controllers that Cross builds by hand and he’s just launched a new site, Zayik, where you can design your own dream controller that he’ll put together for you. He’s collaborated with Matt Moldover on a MIDI controller for Bassnectar and he recently visited Richie Hawtin to talk shop about interface design for performance. What began as a sideline D.I.Y. project has now become a full time gig in developing creative hardware solutions for performers and producers.

The Briefcase

“I built the Briefcase (above) in 2006 while I was working at a DJ magazine,” Cross explains. “It predates most DJ-oriented MIDI controllers on the market. I wanted to fully encapsulate a 3-track DJ Mixing paradigm in a single controller. It was an attempt to motivate myself to play out more with Ableton Live.” The Briefcase was put together with an OEM parts kit from Doepfer that was arranged inside the chassis of a 70′s-era portable Sony microphone mixer. The project caught great response online and  from performers / producers (some of whom he’s not allowed to mention because of non disclosure contracts) who pushed him to follow this path of creating boutique devices. During that time Cross had also worked for Ableton’s press department, stockpiling more knowledge of what users want out of performance controllers while simultaneously building his own knowledge of music production and performance.

The Third Deck

60 Works’ Third Deck is a beautifully constructed unit that was created to do just one thing – add one digital deck to your setup. It’s an experiment in form and function because it’s something that the controller industry would most likely never make but something that DJs would use. “The Third Deck was me imagining how a vinyl die-hard could be eased into using a laptop in the booth. It was built for a certain type of DJ. This person understands the computer DJ experience, but wants to retain a traditional workflow, only dipping a toe into the computer world. They only want one laptop deck.”

Custom MIDI Solutions

“A lot of what I’m doing is a reaction to mass produced goods,” Cross says. “This isn’t some xenophobic reaction to Chinese manufacturing. Nor is it a indictment of plastic goods. I simply feel the market can bear a wider variety of manufacturers than is currently available. Especially in the controller realm.”

60 Works’ devices are built by hand in a variety of forms using Hale Micro OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) components built to the needs of individual artists. “If a client comes to me with an idea for a product, then it’s clearly their call. I may respond with suggestions based on ergonomics and parts availability, but I wouldn’t try to force them towards a particular performance philosophy. If they ask, I’ll share my opinion, but they’re the artist.”

On Meeting with Richie Hawtin

“Hawtin wrote me out of the blue about a year ago. This was right after I got some great press on the launch of 60 Works. He seemed to enjoy an article I had written. Lots of back-and-forth, email chats dying off, then picking up again. The focus of the conversation was mostly on DJ and Live PA tech. In early 2011, he had a short stint in the US without gigs, so we decided to meet while it was relatively affordable for me. I went to Windsor to meet with him, and it was a great experience. It was a geek-out weekend, talking about the state of custom MIDI Brains, about DJing iOS apps, gourmet hamburgers in Windsor, and the early days (this was just as he was wrapping up his Arkives box set). I got to meet his family, received advice on a variety of topics, and I shared some tips on what I’ve learned. He’s a genuinely nice guy. Canadians…”

Zayik Custom Controller Design Website

Most recently Dave Cross has launched a new brand and website that allows users to design a custom MIDI device through a software interface on the Zayik website. You can then have it built to your spec and shipped to your door. The interface allows you to drag and drop knobs, faders and buttons to be arranged on the control surface as you see fit. You can also start with a few templates for different purposes and customize them to your liking. “Zayik is a middle ground, a way for someone to start a conversation about MIDI controllers without having to dream up every single possibility. It purposefully sets boundaries to establish a frame of reference for controller-building.”

Into The Future

“I have some plans to expand my portfolio with additional controller designs.  One is a production unit based around parametric EQs. People keep saying EQ & compression are the true keys to production, so I thought I’d build a some controllers around that paradigm. The second is a dual-unit DJ design. One unit is for mixing and triggering. A separate unit is for track selection. This one is personal — I feel strongly about separating the act of track selection from the art of mixing. It’s a statement I hope to make, in controller form.”

(Originally published on

Konkreet Labs to release Performer iPad app in January 2011

December 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m truly excited about this app. Check out the beautiful combination of graphic interface and sound control. Information from the Konkreet Labs website:

Konkreet Performer is a control instrument for live music performance. Its unique and intuitive multi-touch interface reconnects the musician’s actions directly with the music.

Taking full advantage of the possibilities created by the latest multi-touch technology, Konkreet Performer delivers a revolutionary new way to control your DAWs, synthesizers, samplers (anything that receives MIDI/OSC).

More than a studio controller, Konkreet Performer has been designed from the ground up to be a superior live performance instrument, bringing the dynamic audio and visual connection between the musician and the audience to the stage. It will be released as an iOS App at the beginning of 2011.

Great CDM post on SoundPrism iPad App – Visually Organizing Tones and Harmony

October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment


“The idea for SoundPrism is quite old actually. About 22 years ago Gabriel’s father found that organizing tones of keys in a circle of thirds makes it very easy to understand basic harmonic theory because the visualization ‘just makes sense’. Back then he taught it to his two sons, Gabriel and David, and from then on they passed all music school theory exams with flying colors. He tried to convince their teachers that this method was far better for teaching children but they didn’t listen to him at all.”

Read more at Create Digital Music


APC40 vs OHM64 – More details from Create Digital Music

June 5, 2009 § Leave a comment


Thanks to Create Digital Music for this great breakdown of the Akai APC 40 and the Livid Instruments OHM 64. Like many of you I have been studying the specs on both machines, wondering which would work best for Ableton Live performances. Peter Kirin (of CDM) is one of my favorite bloggers and always has his finger on the pulse of technology and music. Below is a breakdown of the two machines, snipped from CDM. Read the entire article HERE.

So, you’ve been looking at that Akai APC40. And it’s appealing. It’s got lots of lights and a huge array of buttons for triggering samples or video or what have you, and plenty of knobs and faders.

Now the APC40 has some serious “indie” competition, though, in the form of Livid’s Ohm64. Let’s compare:


  • Proprietary connection to Ableton Live
  • A proprietary handshake that ensures only a real APC is being used with Live
  • Fixed MIDI assignments – no MIDI assignment editor
  • MIDI only
  • No MIDI out jacks, so you can’t use it with outboard gear
  • No bus power
  • 40 buttons
  • Made in some factory somewhere we’ve never seen

Livid Ohm64:

  • Open source editor, partially open source firmware, open source patches to connect to whatever you want
  • Custom MIDI assignments, for use with whatever you want
  • MIDI for now, but the chipset supports open source solutions for OpenSoundControl (OSC) in the near future – and even DMX (for lighting) is a possibility
  • USB and standard MIDI jacks so you can sequence outboard gear
  • Bus power
  • 64 trigger buttons in a more logical 8×8 array
  • “Made in the USA by humans” – with a beautifully-crafted body
  • Free Cell DNA video software included

Both the APC and Ohm are class-compliant, so at least neither needs drivers to work over USB for MIDI on Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Sure, the APC is plug-and-play with Live. But just as lots of non-programmers use open source browsers like Firefox, the whole point is that the Ohm could wind up being more plug and play with more tools thanks to its more open approach.

Most important is the programmability of the Ohm64. You can make your own custom light interactions – or, if you’re not into that sort of programming, count on what may be a growing community of open source musicians and visualists doing it for you.

In fact, Livid is so committed to customization that in addition to the natural, blue, and red finishes, you can order it unfinished and stain or paint it whatever color you like.

The Ohm64 is also priced at just US$599, meaning it doesn’t cost much more than the APC40. And with future OSC support, hardware MIDI support, bus power so you don’t have to carry a dongle, fully programmable visual feedback and assignments, and open source editing software, the APC has some real explaining to do about what its long-term payoff may be.

The editor is currently built in Max/MSP with some interesting possibilities coming up in Max for Live, but I’m also interested in working on some editing and performance tools in fully open source environments. Stay tuned.

Now, mind, this isn’t a review – I’ll get my hands on the Ohm64 next week here in New York, and I’ve only had a brief encounter with the APC. But if I were a betting man, I have to say, the contest here isn’t looking like it’s in the APC’s favor.

Available now.

Livid Ohm64 blog with more videos

Updated: I should note, one issue is definitely that, in order to maintain bus power, there are some compromises. You don’t get quite as much interaction from the lights as you do on the Akai APC – I do like the APC’s lovely LED rings around its encoders. You can interactively dim the lights on the knobs on the Ohm, though, which would work nearly as well. More once I get my hands on the Ohm, and theoretically, I should have an APC for testing at some point, too, assuming I didn’t just make Akai angry. (Uh…. competition is good. Blogs are all about opinions. Don’t hurt me.)

By the way, if you aren’t convinced and think you can do better, Livid is also distributing the brains of this device – the MIDIDIY – so you can build your own creations. Other such solutions exist, but the MIDIDIY is distinguished in its ability to support a lot more contacts for doing this sort of more complex device.

Pacemaker mobile DJ performance tool now available on Amazon for $499

May 4, 2009 § Leave a comment


Tonium’s pocket-sized DJ performance tool has just been released in the US and is currently availble for $499. This is a bit of a price drop from the previous prices we’ve seen or expected with the current euro/dollar conversions. Lots of talk about this device has DJ’s geeking. Tonium have been promoting the device for at least a couple of years now, with videos from major DJ’s around the world having fun with the device. Most reviews look really positive and I’d love to hear feedback if anyone has actually gotten hands on one. You can buy Pacemaker now on Amazon. Create Digital Music has a nice piece on the device posted HERE. Engadget has a really nice writeup about the unboxing of the device with photos (very clever packaging.) Check out their writeup HERE.

Monome alternative: PICnome is open-souce D.I.Y. project

April 30, 2009 § Leave a comment


PICnome is just what I have been waiting for. The do-it-yourself version of the highly-popular midi/music interface Monome comes from Japan’s Shunichi Yamamoto and seems to be a very high-quality piece of gear. It’s based on the Monome’s open-source hardware which is very hard to acquire. I have been on the waiting list for months and it’s constantly sold out.. so PICnome comes as a pleasnt surprise to many DIY music enthusiasts.

From Shunichi Yamamoto’s blog: “The schematic, layout, firmware of the PICnome and the source code and the package for Mac OS X are published based on GNU General Public License Ver3. Atmel AVR is used monome. But the Microchip PIC is more popular than AVR in Japan. Also, there are a lot of reference for PIC. And so, I started to development of monome PIC version because I want to make an interesting device such as monome pervasive to Japanese electronics DIY hobbyist and mania.”

Check out the specs and order a kit HERE
Check out Shunichi Yamamoto’s blog HERE

Richie Hawtin integrates Twitter into his DJ sets

April 30, 2009 § 5 Comments


Super-Dj and technology enthusiast Richie Hawtin has created software to integrate NI’s Traktor software with twitter. The end result is a constant stream of tracks that he is playing in real-time. Updates come every 30 seconds and include track, artist and usually “A1″ or “B2″ indicating the side and cut of the record. Cool idea. This has spawned many discussions on newsgroups and blogs about the future use of twitter and applications for electronic music. You can join Hawtin’s Twitter stream at More info on Hawtin’s integration as well as using Max MSP with Twitter (Tweet A Sound) at Create Digital Music. (Awesome blog.)

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