Richard D. James, the producer best known as Aphex Twin, has teamed up with a UK company called ODDSound to develop MTS-ESP, a software plug-in that allows non-standard tuning to be used. MTS-ESP acts as a master tuning device for compatible synthesizers, samplers and effects in digital audio workstations.

Most Western music is made using the 12 Tones of Equal Temperament (12 TET), the standard system for tuning a piano. Because of this, many pop melodies sound similar, and notes that are outside of these 12 increments on a scale will sound “out of tune”. But other cultures have used different moods for millennia, such as the microtones in Arabic maqam, the complex tuning systems of Indonesian gamelan, or perhaps best known, the microintervals in Indian ragas. From the point of view of James and ODDSound, the 12 TET is too restrictive and limits the scope of a composer to the most famous melodies. With MTS-ESP, users can use the built-in algorithms to import and edit existing tuning files or define tuning systems.

When James joined the project, he demonstrated the custom firmware of his Rhodes Chroma synthesizer to define new tunings and transfer them to other instruments. MTS-ESP software is currently compatible with synthesizers from Audio Damage, Expert Sleepers, U-He, Xfer Records, TAL, Surge and Audiorealism and is currently being expanded. With additional (and free) modules from ODDSound it can also be used for coordination with the virtual modular Eurorack synthesizer VCVRack and the visual programming environment Max / MSP.

James has already designed presets, but for specific hardware. In 2016 he made some for Korg’s monologue synthesizer and created unique scales and sequences with the microtuning function of the monophonic synthesizer. In October 2020, he announced the AFX Station, an updated version of Novation’s classic Bass Station II synthesizer.

Read on the square “If this Aphex Twin archive is fake, we don’t want to know what is real”.