Sixty Works’ Dave Cross was not satisfied with the selection of hardware MIDI controllers on the market, so he built his own. In fact, he’s built a bunch of them. 60 Works currently specializes in custom hardware creation of MIDI controllers that Cross builds by hand and he’s just launched a new site, Zayik, where you can design your own dream controller that he’ll put together for you. He’s collaborated with Matt Moldover on a MIDI controller for Bassnectar and he recently visited Richie Hawtin to talk shop about interface design for performance. What began as a sideline D.I.Y. project has now become a full time gig in developing creative hardware solutions for performers and producers.
“I built the Briefcase (above) in 2006 while I was working at a DJ magazine,” Cross explains. “It predates most DJ-oriented MIDI controllers on the market. I wanted to fully encapsulate a 3-track DJ Mixing paradigm in a single controller. It was an attempt to motivate myself to play out more with Ableton Live.” The Briefcase was put together with an OEM parts kit from Doepfer that was arranged inside the chassis of a 70′s-era portable Sony microphone mixer. The project caught great response online and from performers / producers (some of whom he’s not allowed to mention because of non disclosure contracts) who pushed him to follow this path of creating boutique devices. During that time Cross had also worked for Ableton’s press department, stockpiling more knowledge of what users want out of performance controllers while simultaneously building his own knowledge of music production and performance.
The Third Deck
60 Works’ Third Deck is a beautifully constructed unit that was created to do just one thing – add one digital deck to your setup. It’s an experiment in form and function because it’s something that the controller industry would most likely never make but something that DJs would use. “The Third Deck was me imagining how a vinyl die-hard could be eased into using a laptop in the booth. It was built for a certain type of DJ. This person understands the computer DJ experience, but wants to retain a traditional workflow, only dipping a toe into the computer world. They only want one laptop deck.”
Custom MIDI Solutions
“A lot of what I’m doing is a reaction to mass produced goods,” Cross says. “This isn’t some xenophobic reaction to Chinese manufacturing. Nor is it a indictment of plastic goods. I simply feel the market can bear a wider variety of manufacturers than is currently available. Especially in the controller realm.”
60 Works’ devices are built by hand in a variety of forms using Hale Micro OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) components built to the needs of individual artists. “If a client comes to me with an idea for a product, then it’s clearly their call. I may respond with suggestions based on ergonomics and parts availability, but I wouldn’t try to force them towards a particular performance philosophy. If they ask, I’ll share my opinion, but they’re the artist.”
On Meeting with Richie Hawtin
“Hawtin wrote me out of the blue about a year ago. This was right after I got some great press on the launch of 60 Works. He seemed to enjoy an article I had written. Lots of back-and-forth, email chats dying off, then picking up again. The focus of the conversation was mostly on DJ and Live PA tech. In early 2011, he had a short stint in the US without gigs, so we decided to meet while it was relatively affordable for me. I went to Windsor to meet with him, and it was a great experience. It was a geek-out weekend, talking about the state of custom MIDI Brains, about DJing iOS apps, gourmet hamburgers in Windsor, and the early days (this was just as he was wrapping up his Arkives box set). I got to meet his family, received advice on a variety of topics, and I shared some tips on what I’ve learned. He’s a genuinely nice guy. Canadians…”
Zayik Custom Controller Design Website
Most recently Dave Cross has launched a new brand and website that allows users to design a custom MIDI device through a software interface on the Zayik website. You can then have it built to your spec and shipped to your door. The interface allows you to drag and drop knobs, faders and buttons to be arranged on the control surface as you see fit. You can also start with a few templates for different purposes and customize them to your liking. “Zayik is a middle ground, a way for someone to start a conversation about MIDI controllers without having to dream up every single possibility. It purposefully sets boundaries to establish a frame of reference for controller-building.”
Into The Future
“I have some plans to expand my portfolio with additional controller designs. One is a production unit based around parametric EQs. People keep saying EQ & compression are the true keys to production, so I thought I’d build a some controllers around that paradigm. The second is a dual-unit DJ design. One unit is for mixing and triggering. A separate unit is for track selection. This one is personal — I feel strongly about separating the act of track selection from the art of mixing. It’s a statement I hope to make, in controller form.”
Michael Walsh is the Editor of Dubspot’s Blog, a producer of audio/visual art and a journalist living in Southern California. Read more of his work at soundsdefygravity.com