VST Expressions and VST 3.5

Hi All,

Ok. Finally VST Expressions looks like it could be a paradigm shifting technology for composers working to deadlines and needing control of beasts like Vienna Symphonic Library etc.

If Steinberg could make one final push with this, I think it will be a DP, Logic and PT killer, at least for those who use MIDI extensively. That push may mean a collaboration with the folks at Vienna Symphonic Library, and the key point is this:

VST 3.5 apparently now allows Nuendo/Cubase to query a plugin and receive all its patch (or at least key switch) information back. Allowing an automatic Expression map to be generated. The subtle but important thing here is that, rather than users being restricted to the pre-made maps and patches that work (or having to face hours and hours of Map programming) the user can now freely create VSL patches and get Expression Maps automatically.

This allows VSL users to work within the philosophy originally dreamt up by VSL - that the user is in command of customising patches all the time. And this is a big thing!

Personally I have tried, in an effort to tame VSL, various control methods, none of which have worked 100%. From programme changes (now defunct in VST 3) to key switches (that don’t properly chase unless you sustain them with manual editing or create separate tracks for patch assignments) and my final idea, CC control messages in MIDI automation lanes. This last I had high hopes for, until I learnt that Nuendo/Cubase does not chase these well, and it’s bugged it would seem when in cycle mode. I spent much time developing Logical Transformer presets to adapt CC Data into digestible form for VSL. It was working - but bugged. Sadly.

VST Expressions 2 has a couple of quirks that also need ironing out. I am personally still discovering these, but one is that, at the end of a MIDI part, the expression map spits out a reset to the VSTi. It would be great to be able to change this.

Sooo, my point is, VST Expressions is by no means dead in the water. Well done SB for continuing to develop it. It’s so nearly there but just needs a final push. SB: please help VSL to go VST 3.5. And maybe Native Instruments (Kontakt) and others will follow suit. This would open things up for LA Scoring Strings for example, to name but just one.

MIDI is a terribly old protocol. It’s really creaking at its foundations when faced with behemoths like VSL. But changing the MIDI protocol will never happen. VST Expression almost cracks the problem. Some lateral thinking is still to be done (EG could Polyphonic Pressure data not be used as a way to tunnel note specific information down that MIDI pipe?)

Thanks for reading


Great post! :slight_smile:

I don’t have VSL, but, with HALionSonic (SE), if you load a factory preset with “VX” in its name, then in the VST Expression module of the Instrument track (or MIDI track) then an extra option becomes available…“Import Key Switches”, which does then indeed import the corresponding VST Expression Map :slight_smile: (but there is no such import from “regular” HSSE presets)
Not having the “full” version of HALionSonic, I don’t know whether the same would currently be true for user-created presets.

I think they were really on to something with VST Expression but with Cubase 6 (and Halion Sonic/SE) I was disappointed to see that there were not really many (if any?) new patches with articulations built in. I installed the trial for Halion Sonic and there are a ton of new guitar patches and they sound very good but none of them had any articulations! They have things built in like phaser, distortion, arpeggios, etc. but the ability to do that stuff already existed (external to the instrument). No matter how good a guitar sound is it doesn’t sound real without at least a few articulations.
Just my opinion.

i think the vst 3.5 is a new dimension and is revitalizing and “will” sculpt the future for midi .

as you say goodbyenine there is quite a bit to sort out with the articulation but this is a new dawn for the tired midi system for which i am grateful to be a part of and all it needs as you say is for future software ,samplers and softsynth developers to jump onboard . Once again steinberg have created a monster of all technological monsters and i for one do think with the right development is going to cause a major stir and headache for the competion in the DAW world


The vst expression maps take a lot of work to set up, certainly for all those vsl instrument articulations, but work well for me. It would be so great if somebody, good in XML programming could make a programme to set up the expression maps more easily (far more easily then having to go through each instruments’ map and add or chjange each articulation setting.
(Unfortunately I am not eloquent enough to do that in the time I can spare for it, copy and paste in XML files works, so far, for simple things.)


Glad to see that I am not alone in my championing of VST Expressions! The potential is GREAT, but at the moment it is just that - potential, but in huge dollops (amounts).

Regarding XML programming - yes I had a similar thought myself, but then realised that the way forwards with this is for us (the musicians) to not worry, and for the developers (SB and VSL and everyone else) to do all the worrying for us. MIDI needs to become transparent. And it can.

So in a way, it would be preferable if an XML editor did not appear on the market. We need some big commitment from the developers to make what I imagine to be pretty simple organisational tweaks to the VST Expressions implementation within Cubase, and some clever code in VSL and Kontakt, to feed it.

Bye for now…

As someone just getting into articulations and awed by VST3.5 Note Expression … I do have this gnawing question in the back of my mind: how is it going to be possible to midi sync all this stuff with all the extra midi data running through the port?

Also, having recently grabbed a couple of used Midex 8s with the release of Steinberg’s ‘unsuported x64 drivers,’ after giving up that I’d ever find a way forward to the x64 world with my MOTU MTPs, I had a good read on Steinbergs Linear Time Base technology.

Suddenly, all my midi annoyances were clear, clear, clear: serial processing! As the OP states, midi is an old technology with no real prospect of being superceded.

So, even if VSL or other instruments go 3.5, won’t everything start choking on all the additional midi data I must suppose Note Expression generates?

Maybe it will be like 4 track bouncing: get one killer arrangement, render it and start working on the next instrument?



Note Expression will of course work with MIDI, but can really not be fully exploited since MIDI controller data was not designed on the premise of individual notes but rather per channel.

So then, in terms of “extra data” through the MIDI ports, NE has functionality to “Consolidate Note Expression Overlaps” to weed out excessive controller data actually being sent to MIDI.

E.g. say you have three sequential (and overlapping) notes all with their own Modulation Wheel settings. This would cause problems on a MIDI instrument, since MW data is per MIDI channel. The consolidation method mentioned above will remedy this and so it will not send the NE data from all three notes, but from one at the time. Naturally this will not necessarily sound exactly as intended, but it never could, NE or not, since the limitation is with MIDI.

No matter how much people give Steiny hell in in regards of NE, one has to stand in awe of their elegant solution to the MIDI limitation and how they had the cojones to actually implement it, against all odds and much uproar and criticism. I’ll say it again, Bravo, Steinberg!

But MIDI does have a note specific protocol: Polypressure.

Now, after around 20 years of living with MIDI, I have never come across any real-world use of polypressure except in expensive mother keyboards. It was one of the few forward-thinking ideas in the original MIDI spec, which has been a white elephant. Until now.

Polypressure, as far as I understand, has a similar resolution to Keypressure (ie 7 bit, meaning 128 possible values), plus note information embedded somehow. Whatever, it works. So it’s not as resolved or “fine-tuned” as Pitch Bend (which is 14 bit I think, giving 16,384 possible values). However, the whole point of polypressure was to be able to do a vibrato on one note alone, within a cluster of notes sharing the same MIDI channel. Keypressure however is NOT note specific, and behaves similarly to Modulation. Back in the day, vibrato was about all the MIDI committee could think up, as a use for Polypressure. Polypressure vs Keypressure: two different animals.

So there we have it Steinberg - Polypressure is there, waiting to be utilised. It’s not been taken up by instrument manufacturers - but it’s in the MIDI spec. It’s a blank slate for the taking!

SB, you could empower users to create a multi-patch chord on one MIDI channel for example (if the receiving VSTi could support it), or articulations, or whatever. Potentially very powerful indeed. Thinking about it, you could elect certain very high or low range notes (that we never need, eg way below the bottom of a Bosendorfer) and create a small bank of command channels - per MIDI channel! Even one octave of notes would offer 12 channels of 7 bit information simultaneously. Here I am thinking beyond just note expression, and looking at how SB could “harvest” this un-tapped data stream.

I think it’s important for Steinberg to not get too bogged down by the Score side of this. No serious composer really uses Cubase Score. I am sure some would disagree, but Key Edit is the powerful tool when it comes to editing MIDI. With all due respect (and Cubase Score is a great achievement, granted) let’s remember that power users need control of patches and sounds above all else. The whole point of a score is to instruct real players in a session. Once this is a user’s objective, expression becomes rather academic. Making a visual score “sound right” is really a gimmick, or an aid for composers who, to be honest, are not using a score for what it’s really designed: live use. The attempt to absorb score conventions (eg staccato markings et al) into VST Expression is a mistake in my opinion.

As for MIDI clogging - well, the MIDI protocol is not the same things as the original MIDI cable baud rate. That is slow. But most MIDI is being transmitted over USB, lightpipe (System Link) or even Ethernet (VSL) now. Much in fact is on a virtual cable within the CPU. So clogging should not be an issue.

I think things look potentially very interesting indeed. MIDI is not that bad!


Thanks Elektrobolt and goodbyenine …

What an illuminating thread! Yes, I am clearly mixing apples and oranges … thinking of controlling my hardware over standard midi cables. Hardware that will not be VST3.5 compatible anyway.

Make an ignorant comment and learn something. :astonished:


This is true, but truly never really was.

I am sure the odd hardware manufacturer could muster up some cool use for Poly Pressure, but on the whole, if PP is not really taken up by any manufacturers, and since any VST3 plug-ins are capable of doing this without MIDI, what would be the point?

Also, if I further understand you correctly, part of what you are suggesting has actually already started with HALion. A number of programs have keys are being used to control other aspects of the keys (articulations, etc.). Not necessarily with the additional granularity, but it’ll come! :wink:

And I agree, mate. MIDI was never bad at all. There is a reason why it survived this long (and other “replacements” failed)!

Oh, look over there … an Ensoniq ASR-10! Polypreasure! Yummy! :sunglasses:

Just keeping an eye on the thread :smiley:

@ Elektrobolt

You’re right - I was possibly mixing metaphors. If VST 3.5 introduces an alternative means of communicating (to MIDI) then my point about PP was not quite right, in that respect. My point was that because PP is so un-used, it’s ripe for harvesting.

However, PP does offer a means of developing VST Expression further, without the need for the likes of VSL to “go 3.5”. The problem I anticipate is, would a developer such as VSL go VST 3.5 and leave the AU side of their product lagging behind?

Incidentally, VE Pro and VI Pro do not have PP implemented as far as I can see…

Would be nice if SB could chime in here.


(concerning polypressure)…
There are surprisingly numerous VSTis (and hardware synths) that respond correctly to polypressure (although some of them merely “look” as if they respond simply to channel aftertouch, but will receive and respond correctly to pp on the “aftertouch” parameter, while others do have a dedicated “polypressure/polyphonic aftertouch” parameter).
That means that, even if the receiving instrument is not “VST 3.5-ready”, and even though you might not have an external keyboard that transmits pp, you can already make use of Cubase’s Note Expression, on any of the receiving instrument’s parameters that can be controlled by pp, simply by routing any incoming external CC data to polyphonic aftertouch (or by inserting the pp data directly in the note’s Note Expression Edit window).
If you are playing live, then that will of course apply the pp to all notes that are currently playing (but you can delete it from the unwanted notes afterwards), but if you are using Note Expression in Overdub mode, then it will be applied only to the selected note(s)… so you can quite easily write pp to the receiving instrument by sending it channel aftertouch.

Here’s a (not complete) list of VSTis that respond to polyphonic aftertouch…

Arturia: all instruments
U-He: all instruments
Korg Legacy: Wavestation and M1 (wasn’t able to check any others)
Native Instruments: Kontakt (from Kontakt 1 thru Kontakt 5), and all versions of Reaktor (a bit cumbersome to set up in Kontakt 2 thru 5, however)
Virsyn: Tera (and even miniTera)
MachFive (all versions)
Rob Papen: Albino 3 (don’t know about others)
GForce: MiniMonsta and Imposcar
Spectrasonics: Omnisphere 1.5 (for pitch and volume, but not vibrato, because their LFOs are layer-wide, not individual per note anyways)

So… try setting up a desired parameter in one of those to respond to (poly) aftertouch, then enter some pp data in a Note Expression Edit window. Not as great as realtime polypressure, but does give the correct result.
(of course, manual editing was equally true, prior to the arrival of Note Expression, but much more cumbersome to implement :wink: )

And… if you are lucky enough to have an external keyboard with polyphonic aftertouch, you are ready-to-go already with Note Expression on all the instruments mentioned above :wink:.

… and… editing a note that has polyphonic aftertouch is awesome now (using Note Expression)… move/transpose the note, and the polypressure follows it without any further action on your part :wink:.

Just FYI, when developing a VST3 plug-in, you get a VST2.4 and an AU plug-in automatically.