I love my Volca FM, but I really want to be able to get the patches off it, and maybe even record some automation into Ableton that I can then use. But no MIDI Out 😱
Fortunately it turns out the connections for a MIDI port are right there on the inside, and with a little bit of soldering (and a lot of Googling) you can have yourself a fully MIDI capable Volca. Here's my little box of FM goodness after the surgery...
To get going I suggest you take a look at all of these links. There are good tutorials out there. Below I have noted some of my experiences that might be helpful to read before you get started.
Tips and Gotchas
Attaching the Female MIDI connector
Use a Female MIDI connector with a cable, rather than trying to house the connector in the box. It’s much easier to punch a small whole in the box and have lots of available cable to play while you are soldering.
I just bought a MIDI to 3.5mm cable and cut off the 3.5mm jack. You can then use your multimeter to check which pins are connected to which wires - make a note!
Pin mapping is: TX = Pin5, VD = Pin4, GND = Pin2. Use this diagram to make sure you are wiring it correctly.
Your MIDI cable
Make sure the MIDI cable and Interface you use to connect to your computer can handle SysEx. Apparently some can’t 🤦♂️. If you can, try out your setup on a different bit of gear that has factory support for MIDI Out / SysEx.
I used this cable and my Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 which worked fine.
Volca sends ActiveSense and Clock continuously. If you don’t see those it didn’t work.
Use MidiMonitor to filter our clock and ActiveSense. Now hit Play on the volca. You should see the Note and CC messages from the sequencer.
The keyboard does NOT send MIDI Note information, so don’t think your implementation is broken if you don’t see it.
Twisting the knobs on the panel should also generate MIDI cc.
Hitting EDIT, then EXPORT and EXPORT again, should Generate a 163 byte SysEx message with a Yamaha Manufacturer code (the Volca FM pretends to be a DX7 for SysEx purposes).
You can record and send SysEx back and forth for all or just one program using SysEx Librarian from Snoize
The SysEx is not quite the same as the DX7 🤦♂️. It is missing a Checksum byte immediately before the terminating F7 byte. For me, this meant that Dexed did not import the SysEx data. You can add a junk byte to the Hex using iHex and Dexed will complain, but nonetheless import it.
The Volca itself cares not whether the Checksum is there. It’ll accept either.
For some totally unknown reason, the MIDI Out is actually implemented as MIDI Thru. This means any CC messages that are sent to the Volca are immediately echoed back.
Be careful not to set up MIDI loops in your DAW or your params will go haywire!
If you want to turn the knobs on the Volca then play them back after recording them: Disconnect MIDI In while perperforming. Disconnect MIDI Out and reconnect MIDI In when playing back
If you want to control it remotely all the time, just disconnect MIDI Out
If you want to avoid lots of cable switching and have Max4Live, then download my Volca FM MIDI Performer and put it on your Volca channel