Yamaha Motif ES 7

Yamaha Motif ES 7The latest addition to the arsenal is a cross between a piano and an airplane wing, the post-stretching Yamaha Motif ES 7 76-note sequencing-sampling workstation and part-time DeLorean spoiler.

You might recall that I purchased the Motif ES rack a while back for gigging, and the rack was essentially this keyboard with 76 fewer keys, no sequencer, no sampling capability, no master mode, no Smartmedia™ slot, and much, much smaller. And really, who needs all that crap anyway, particularly the obsolete Smartmedia card slot. Shame that’s the only way to upgrade the firmware. And what up with that? Bus speed? I seem to recall upgrading the MS2000R firmware with a sysex dump.

Well if I had one thing to complain about regarding the Motif ES 7, I’ve used it up. If I had two things, the second would be the amount of trouble I’m having getting it to communicate with the free Yamaha Studio Manager software on the Mac. But obviously I’m pretty nuts about the sounds, or else I wouldn’t have bought the same sound engine over again. And I’m thrilled about not having to patch a mile of MIDI cabling or program the Anatek Pocket Pedal to send control signals from the FC7 on channels 2 and 3 (more of a pain in the ass than you’d imagine) before every show.

Oh I’m sorry, I’m boring you.

The most interesting thing (just so you know, if what follows here isn’t interesting you can just stop reading) is that in spite of the fact that the sounds are pretty much the same, having them in a keyboard workstation format is proving to be somewhat inspirational. Maybe it’s just shopping endorphins. But I think there’s a real difference having this half-acre of synthesizer in front of me instead of a few square inches of rackmount faceplate. A decent sized LCD screen makes exploring patches and programming performances seem like an entertaining possibility rather than a chore. And ever since the DX7II (the black ones with the real buttons instead of the membrane switches) Yamaha has had the best patch selection interface. You could get to any one of 32 patches instantly, with a single button-press. Of course at the time they were all DX7 patches so it didn’t really make much difference. Now we have 1-button access to a bank of 16 plus a Master mode that serves as a live performance bank of 128 voices, performances, songs and patterns with 4 zones of MIDI control each. This keyboard was obviously designed with live performance in mind.

Even though I don’t have any practical use for the sequencer, I like how the transport controls have that chunky mid-70s sci-fi computer terminal feel to them. And the four assignable sliders? Way more useful than the four rotary dials on my previous controller (which is a steal at $300 used for an 8-zone 76-key MIDI controller) – for volume of individual zones in performance mode (banal but your main practical concern on a gig) to adding a bit of realism to a Hammond patch by emulating real-time voicing changes.

So more than 2 years after its introduction, and on the eve of the appearance of its successor the XS in a keyboard department near you, the ES is still a fine axe – and all the incentive anyone should need to roll up his or her sleeves and start pushing buttons. And don’t forget to check the Gear for sale page for great deals on the ES rack, the Quadrasynth Plus Piano, and a pile of other neat stuff.