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Reviewed By Enkerli [read all by] on January 31st, 2017
Version reviewed: 2.5.544 on Mac

This plugin (and associated app) can really do wonders for monophonic instruments like Wind Controllers (Akai EWI, Yamaha WX-5...).

Sure, some DAWs have MIDI chord support: you play a note and it plays a chord based on that note. In some cases, it even makes it so that the chords always fit the scale in which you are. (In Ableton Live, this is achieved by using both the Chord and Scale MIDI effects. Nice trick!) So, it's not like there aren't already solutions to play chords with a monophonic input.

What tonespace does is much deeper. For one thing, you have much more control over chord types and voicings. Plus the visualization in "spaces" is much more useful than simply letting a DAW build chords based on preset intervals. The plugin has an educational side and it manages to help you learn about chords even if you don't pay attention to that aspect.

Where tonespace shines, in my perspective, is in opening up the diversity of chord choices to a performance context. DAWs typically only allow for one chord type at a time, in my experience (though you can obviously change that type, possibly with MIDI control). The way tonespace does this through two distinct modes of "assist". Much easier to use that a separate MIDI control, such as a foot pedal.

In one mode, "Fit chord to scale (cycle)", tonespace will let you play different chords from the same note by cycling through the choices, from the most-fitting chord through the least fitting ones ending with a unison. The effect of this can be quite interesting as you can quickly play different chord types. It can get a bit repetitive, as you need to repeatedly play the same note to reach other chords, but it can add a bit of variety to your musicking.

In "Fit chord to scale (rand)", tonespace builds random (but scale-fitted) chords on top of the note you input. With a bit of practice, you can use that to play with tension and release, as you can move from a dissonant chord to a more consonant one. Since it's random, it can get a bit tricky, but it's really fun and creative. And since non-scale notes don't build chords in that mode, they work as passing notes. Again, the effect can be fun and creative. If, for instance, you're playing in a mode based on the C major scale (the "white keys" on a piano), you can use a pentatonic scale of passing notes (the "black keys"). These notes play solo, so you can play a melody based on them and add some chords for effect by playing one of the scale notes. Since tonespace supports several scale types, you could even do the reverse (play melodies on the "white keys" and have simple chords play when you hit the "black keys"). Life is full of possibilities.

Obviously, there are other chorders out there. One of them has explicit support for what we may call the "Michael Brecker Effect", after the well-known sax player who really put wind controllers on the map. In performance, Brecker was playing random chords through the Oberheim Xpander driven by his EWI but instead of having the chords built on top of the input note as a root, his melody was supported by chords built under it. The difference may sound a bit subtle, but it's rather large in terms of output. With tonespace, you basically play root notes for diverse chords, so you end up with different top notes from what you play (either randomly or deterministically but distinct from what you play). In the "Brecker Effect", you simply play melodies and other notes are added below it to provide accompaniment. Really wish tonespace supported this type of top note input to allow for a "Brecker Effect".

A huge advantage for a struggling musician is that we can use tonespace without paying any money. Since it exists as a standalone app, it can even be used without a DAW. It even has a Linux version, which can open up interesting possibilities (though it probably doesn't run on ARM-based boards, like the Raspberry Pi). If there were a mobile app with similar functionalities, it could make for a very compact setup. But, as it stands, tonespace will probably be my excuse to bring a laptop on stage.

(And speaking of my setup: either a Mac mini running macOS Sierra or a Lenovo laptop running Windows 10 or Ubuntu; Yamaha WX-11 wind controller plugged using a generic USB-MIDI cable; Alesis VMini for MIDI controls, triggers, and inexperienced keyboarding; Ableton Live Lite on macOS or Windows; iPhone 6s Plus or 3rd generation iPad running Sunrizer, iWavestation, etc.; Studiomux/MIDImux to connect iOS devices to Live; tonespace to play chords in realtime.)

In other words: love tonespace. So thankful to mucoder for making it available at no cost! Will surely give them money if it allows me to get a paid gig. ;-)

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