Standalone sequencers are something of a luxury in the modern music scene. These days, even the cheapest synthesizers and samplers have at least rudimentary sequencing capabilities. And although many MIDI controllers have onboard sequencers, they are usually intended to backup, rather than replace, live performance. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule (Arturia’s BeatStep Pro is still incredibly popular even eight years after its introduction), but you have to start looking into Eurorack’s complex and often intimidating world and modular mixing to appear across devices regularly for its sole purpose. Play the strings of notes for you.
Eventide, which is known for its high-end effects modules and TimeFactor, isn’t an obvious candidate to go into the world of Eurorack. But that is exactly what I decided to do , the first sequencer. Now, no one would blame the company for playing it safe with its first foray into space. Instead, I decided to throw the usual conventions out the window and make something unique that’s equal parts fun and confusion, especially if you’re deeply rooted in traditional music theory and keyboard-based composition.
I am not an accomplished pianist. I also do not have a deep knowledge of Western music theory. And even at first I still struggled to wrap my head around Misha. That’s because the buttons on its face don’t play specific pitches. Instead, they play intervals of time associated with the last note played within a scale.
The easiest way to explain it with an example. Let’s say we set Misha to play the C Major scale. Below the screen, which shows you the key and scale, are nine colored buttons labeled from -4 to +4. If you hit 0, you get a C right off the bat, because that’s the root note and it’s zero intervals off the start of the scale. If you press +1, instead of getting C#, you get D, the next note in the scale.
So far, so good, isn’t it? But if you press +1 again, you don’t get a second D, and instead you get an E, which is a higher interval in the scale. For a second D note, you’d have to press 0. And if you wanted to go back to C, you’d have to press -1. It’s not necessarily complicated, but it breaks a basic expectation that any musician will understand – that if you do the same thing, you should get the same note. If I play the fifth fret on the low E of the guitar, I expect to get an A every time. If the notes keep going up five notches, without moving my hand, I get a a lot Harder to play anything.
But this is the essence of Misha’s concept. It is not based on absolute pitch and instead forces you to compose based on the relationships between the notes in a scale. If that idea gets you running for the hills, this probably isn’t the sequencer for you. However, if you’re like me and fascinated by Misha’s unique approach, stick around and let’s dig a little deeper.
Before we go too far down the rabbit hole of scales, modes, and sequencing, let’s take a step back and look at the hardware. While my unit came with a cubby meant to house Misha, it’s ostensibly designed for living in a Eurorack setup. At 28hp wide, it’s a relatively large unit, but it’s very shallow at only 19mm deep, which means it should fit in even the most portable kayak. This show is kind of necessary. 17 buttons, two knobs, a microUSB port, a microSD slot, and 16-inch jacks for MIDI, and you’ll feel impossibly tight sound and control effort on anything smaller.
The layout feels spacious enough to be viable as a performance tool, without completely dominating the Eurorack’s smaller setup. The nine separator buttons are well spaced, the screen is large enough to present all the necessary information and the knobs are sturdy. My only hardware issue is that the shift buttons have a hollow spring that looks a bit cheap and they make an audible click.
The 12 CV (Control Voltage) sockets are three-way split, with three pairs of gate and CV outputs plus two inputs each. This gives you a decent amount of options to control multiple synth sounds or tweak Misha’s sequencer. There are also MIDI in and out jacks, as well as a stereo output and an internal clock. The microUSB port can also be connected to a computer keyboard for use with custom key mappings. You won’t like the call options here.
The dead center screen gives you all the information you need about navigating Misha’s interface, although it can take a bit to figure out how everything works. I highly recommend reading the guide. It is not long and can save you a lot of time and frustration. Once you get the hang of how Misha works, it’s almost as simple. Indeed, I have often felt that I must be missing something. That, sure, this unit, with all its buttons, knobs, and 1-inch screen, has been hiding features from me.
It definitely takes time to customize those four user buttons. While the default functions of one octave up and down (button one and two), and one chromatic step up and down (three and four) are useful enough, they can provide a lot of performance power when set to meet your specific needs. Personally, I like to toggle the “move step” of the chromatic steps, and set it to fifth. This adds a little more spice than a slight octave, but overall it still works well musically with whatever else is going on.
One last thing worth noting is that Misha has a built-in oscillator that you can turn on in the settings. But, besides providing a simple sound source for testing tunes and generally getting familiar with the sequencer, it’s practically useless. In fact, it is not mentioned in the manual.
Misha ships with They range from the basic (melodic minor), to the odd (the obscure), to the microtonal frenzy (48 notes isometric). And if that’s not enough for you somehow, there are 100 user slots for uploading your own scala files. Between the various scales, modes, and keys, the musical options baked into Misha seem endless.
The most immediate way to start exploring it is to select a scale and then start hitting the comma buttons. This is actually a very satisfying way to play an instrument as well. I don’t have a big device to stick to this one, but I paired it up, as well as an Elektron Digitone and all to great effect.
This isn’t the kind of process you go to when you want to translate a tune you’re hearing in your head to the real world. Maybe someone could train themselves to think in intervals to use Misha in this way, but it would take a lot of work. Instead it can create happy accidents. You just have to pay special attention to what you’re playing to make sure you can recreate anything that catches your eye.
Now, yes, there are ways to lock the controller to a specific scale, Misha-style – making it impossible to play out of tune. But there’s just something about playing intervals instead of notes that feels intuitive and surprising, in a way a keyboard never could. Crafting melodies becomes a rewarding exploration as I’m essentially forced to relinquish control, rather than a frustrated attempt to use my limited theoretical knowledge to turn ideas into reality.
One of the few things I have to decide beforehand is how many octaves I want to play with. Setting the note range to two octaves, for example, means that once I step over that cap, the intervals will swing to two octaves below the root note. It’s probably best to try to avoid going all-in. Jumping down two octaves can sound a little harsh.
Octave limits also apply when using Misha as a sequencer, so you can play a melody line spread over four octaves in its scale value before starting over. The sequencer is where things get a little dicey, though. It is based on the ideaA device used in serial composition in which all twelve notes in a chromatic scale are played, without repeating, to create a pattern. The innovation here is that this tone row concept can be applied to any scale, not just the twelve-tone, Western chromatic.
This method of mounting is definitely on the experimental end of the spectrum and with some measures can come off quite a bit. This also means that the number of steps in the sequence depends on the scale you are using. A sequence of one octave in the minor pentatonic scale will have only five steps, while two octaves of the quarter-tone scale will have 48 steps. While I appreciate the new approach, part of me really wishes the Tone Row was a mode you could turn on and off. I’d like to see Eventide add a more traditional series through a firmware update where notes can be repeated.
There is also a chord mode that allows you to send three notes via MIDI or split between three resumes. If you have a Eurorack setup with multiple synth sounds, this is a great way to create some complexity and variation, especially if you have other utilities that can tweak what Misha puts in. For example, you can send the root note through a simple bass vocal host while using the other notes to play leads or pads. Unfortunately, there is no onboard way to sequence the chord sounds. You can change it manually while performing, but it’s kind of a pain. Alternatively, you can use another sequencer to send MIDI CC cards to Misha and change the chord sounds, which seems like overkill.
Misha is best used as a performance tool in combination with an external MIDI controller. Here, the white keys give you a wider range of interval jumps (nine in either direct) as well as quick access to the root note, while the black keys can repeat a note, play a random scale note, or move chromatically up and down one step at a time. And of course, you can still press the four user programmable buttons on the front of the unit or even set other notes on the keyboard to put even more variables at your fingertips.
It is contained
At $599, Not cheap. That jumps to $699 if you need a Eurorack case and power adapter. But it’s also really unique. If the allure of interval-based performance or pitch-row sequences is what you’re after, well, this is the only game in town (at least that I know of). I’m sure there are ways to get a similar effect using software, but when it comes to hardware, this is it.
I do wish Eventide made a few more concessions to the traditional configuration, though. I want to be able to repeat notes or program segments of arbitrary length, rather than being limited to the number of notes in a scale. Perhaps these will be added in a future firmware update, at which point it may be difficult to come up with reasons no to buy one. At the moment, Misha is an expensive, fun, and undeniably ingenious niche tool.