Sonic LAB: KMI 12 Step Foot Controller/Keyboard

You put your foot on it and play   07-Mar-12

    MP4 9:41 mins    

The Keith McMillen products seem to grow from a niche need for something you just cant get anywhere else, fueled by the brain of Mr McMillen - who many consider to be  a bit of a genius. Their Soft Step is to my knowledge the only programmable foot switch/trigger with such complexity the forthcoming Quneo has captured the imagination of many controllerists too - their crowd-funding project being a runaway success.

The 12 Step is another foot controller - this time its a single octave keyboard that you operate with your feet. Built with the same sturdy yet yielding carbon fibre format and with 13 (C to C) keys plus a Select button, all of the keys are brightly back-lit with a four character LED display. Put it this way, the stage would have to be seriously foggy to miss this in the dark.

Connections and power are USB - with both a B-Type  standard (from your computer) and a B-type mini - for hooking up the KMI MIDI Expander box (sold separately) - this adds MIDI IO to the 12-step and also the Softstep. Additionally, you get the mini jack expression pedal input - also mappable to a controller of your choice.

Top Of The Class
The unit is class compliant, just plug n play though I did find this wasn't quite the case with the iPad 1 we have here - it powered up fine and talked to coreMIDI savvy apps, but when I hit the select button, the additional current required to flash all the LEDs appeared to be too much and the iPad withdrew power with the “This device draws too much power” message.

Back to the Mac, I also installed the 12 Step Editor - a free download for Mac or PC. This give you much more insight to what the 12 Step can do. As well as velocity on all keys, you get Pressure (channel or poly) and Tilt  - pressing a key then moving your weight forward or back on the key will give you another mappable control.

Step On It
Once I had it on the floor I was itching to get busy with my feet, though I must confess unless you already have this skill, your gonna find it something that requires practice to be able to play meaningful notes - especially if you want to use black keys. My bulbous ended shoes were just not equal to the task - and yes, a bad workman does always blame his tools. But seriously it is a little cramped for swift, accurate use.

Fortunately, there are many options to allow for the clumsy-footed operator to get satisfaction - each note can have up to 5 note values stacked up on each - a simple matter of selecting the keys in the editor, you can program chord progressions in no time - indeed many presets show this off very well.
I also found that mapping pressure or tilt to various performance parameters pretty rewarding once I got a feel for them. It would have been cool to enable or disable pressure or tilt on a per key basis though, as its almost impossible not to transmit some control even when you only want to press a key.

12 Step Live
Where I found the deepest joy was when interfacing with Ableton Live - using certain notes to trigger clips or scenes and pressure to control other parameters, I think given that most of us are not blessed with the dexterity of a monkey’s feet, that this may be where it wins. Although its entirely possible to hit drones and pads and progressions - say if your hands are full of guitar, or bagpipes or whatever.

Key Modes enable a wide variety of applications:
Normal - on off operation
Legato - held till a new note is triggered
Toggle - note held until turned off
Hold - continuously on

12 Step also allows for mono or poly operation - this prevents clumsy footed people such as myself from triggering more than one note at a time.
All these settings are stored within a patch. Additional program and bank changes can be transmitted when selecting programs for setting up other gear in your rig. So you can use it as kind of control hub for other gear.

Overall, I was impressed with the 12 Step, though honestly, I’m not sure how I would find a regular use for it given my setup. Where it scores is if you just dont have any more limbs free to run your rig, or perhaps you are a solo performer or guitarist and want to be able to control even more with your feet while you play.

Priced at £225/$259/€249
Available at most good dealers.

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