Over the last few days, I’ve realised there’s a studio toy I really want, but can’t quite find. If I can’t find it, maybe I can build it – or maybe that should be the other way ’round, eh? Regardless, maybe some of you guys can help.

One of the many cool things about midi is how you can have arbitrary controllers in variety of functionalities. You can, for example, buy banks of knobs and sliders. And all they do is send MIDI signals. This is great, because then you can assign them in whatever software you’re controlling to any function you want controlled. There are also banks of buttons, and so on. More commonly, you get mixed devices.

drool pad not included… or needed, really, but I would like this one or this one

I want that, but USB (or wireless-to-USB), and sending user-settable keyboard character combinations. I want a small remote pad that I can set up to have one button send a space, another button to send Shift-R, another button to send HOME, another to send END, and so on. Ideally, it should be able to send any button combination from a 101-key keyboard.

There are two reasons I want this.

One: If you’re surrounded by drums and mics (just for example) in my studio and you want to enable record and start the virtual transport, it’s difficult to do so in time to sync up with the pre-existing tracks you might be working against. Not that this was driving me crazy over the weekend or anything.

Two: Ardour is FULL of keyboard shortcuts. No, I mean full, like every goddamn key on the keyboard does some damn thing. If you’re reaching over something to get to some key or other (say, SHIFT-R, to enable master record), or in the wrong mode (which this mostly won’t fix), it is really easy to either hit the wrong key(s), or hit the right keys, but have them do different things, because not only are they loaded, they’re overloaded.

overconfidence not included

Basically I want a control panel that isn’t so overloaded, and I want it to go anywhere in the room.

I’ve thought about getting a minikeyboard, maybe a wireless minikeyboard, and hax0ring it. I may well do this, because I don’t want to build a USB interface and I don’t want to build a keyboard interface for that USB interface, and besides, I might want to add some more buttons later. But I worry about how easy (or difficult) it might be to send numeric keypad keys specifically, and how reliable soldering to surface pads will be, since I want to move this thing around a bit and it will get knocked about.

Now, there are some gamepads out there that might be good. The cheaper one I found doesn’t actually let you reprogramme what keys the pads send, and as annoying as I can find Ardour’s spaghetti of hotkeys, I don’t want to change them. I might want to use someone else’s workstation at some point. The ones which do let you reprogramme the pad’s keys are a bit spendier, and tend to be large and/or weird. But more importantly, they appear to require external software. This may just be for the purpose of changing key assignments, so I could run it once on a different machine and forget about it – but the data pages don’t make that entirely clear. If someone knows for sure, tell me?

Also I’d need to take a hacksaw to parts of it because of all the do-not-want.

Really, do I need to go all Arduino for this? I don’t want to. Anybody got ideas?