How to use a Korg ElecTribe ER-1 drum machine as a MIDI controller

korg er-1 drum machineThe Korg Electribe ER1 was released in 1999 as a dedicated electronic drum machine to complement the Korg bass synths. It features a 64-bit sequencer and has midi functionality. It’s easy to program and was affordable. The overall sound character can be described as synthetic, similar to classic Roland TR drum machines.

It is controllable using a MIDI input on the rear of the unit.  It also sends a limited set of MIDI signals out, however you’d be foolish to assume that all the knobs and buttons send basic  MIDI signals.  They send NRPN messages,  NRPN stands for “Non-Registered Parameter Number” and is part of the MIDI specification for control of electronic musical instruments.  Most digital audio workstations do not recognize NRPN messages. NRPNs allow for manufacturer-specific or instrument-specific MIDI controllers that are not part of the basic MIDI standard.

I’m going to show you steps to convert the NRPN messages from the Korg ER-1 into standard MIDI messages utilizing some free software and a message mapping file that I have created.

USB MIDI converterIf you use a computer with no MIDI ports you’ll need a USB to MIDI converter, similar to the one in the photo to the left. You can easily pick one up on ebay for a few Euros.

If you’re running Windows you’ll need Midi-OX and it can be downloaded here. It will be used to convert the incoming NRPN messages into MIDI messages. This tutorial is based on Windows because I use Reaper64 on a laptop running Windows. If you’re running Linux or you’re a Mac user, get in touch and I’ll try to assist you.

Converting NRPN to MIDI using Midi-OX mapping

Connect the ER-1 to you computer, ensure it’s powered on. Install MIDI-OX and run it.

Goto Options -> MIDI Devices. Ensure you have your MIDI device (USB to MIDI converter) selected as an input

MIDI input monitor MIDI-OX

 

Goto View -> Input Monitor. Play a pattern on the ER-1. You should see clocking signals and when you will see CC data on the input.

When you move a knob or select one of the ‘part’ / percussions buttons you will see NRPN message on the input. These will need to be converted to Midi messages so that your DAW recognizes them.

I made a note of the NRPN number for every button and knob on the ER-1. I then used this to create a map file. You need to know what’s coming in and from where before you convert it. You can easily view the NRPN value by going to View -> Midi Status.

When you move a knob or a button that produces an NRPN message you will see it’s value on the Midi Status window.  By experimenting I discovered that each ‘part’ or the percussion, hit-hat, crash, and H.Clap buttons all have unique NRPN values and the oscillator and delay knobs can be used for each.

Here are the NRPN values the Korg ER- 1 outputs. There are 8 knobs (1st column) that can be utilized for each of the 8 parts.

You can create a map to convert specific NRPN messages and outputs MIDI.  I have meticulously created a map for you. You can download it here. Feel free to alter it to meet your requirements.  To edit, load or save a map, select Options -> Data Mapping.

translation-map-midiox

If you wish to create a new mapping file, click on ‘Insert’ or if you have loaded my translation map, choose a map entry, then click on ‘Edit’.

define-mappings-midiox

Input matching
Event type : select NRPN
NRPN # : NRPN number corresponding to a knob or button. Enter the same number in MIN and MAX.
Value : enter its min and max values. I used zero and 16256.
Set output
channel :  match input
event type : Ctrl. Now you will need to set the Ctrl# values, choose a controller value between 0 and 127.  Although for the ER-1 you will need to avoid using 0,1,6,98, and 99.

Save the map and click OK.

You’ll need to create 90+ mapping, this is somewhat laborious and tedious. You can download my map here. You’ll now be able to utilize the part buttons and 8 of the knobs as standard Midi inputs in your favorite DAW. If you have any questions  please write a comment below.

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