The Sensel Morph’s specialized touch control lets you apply both multi-touch position and force (how hard you press). Some new and recent videos make it clear how to customize that for your different tools.
The Morph isn’t alone in the force + multi-touch position game. The growth of MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) depends on multiple controllers. But the Morph tool is uniquely adaptable, thanks to specialized overlays that let it adopt different layouts. So, as I’ve written before, you can swap between a musical control setup for a live show (say, with the Buchla Thunder overlay), and a different overlay for video editing (and fire up Premiere or Final Cut), and so on.
Peter Nyboer from Sensel is a perfect person to explain all this. Now we get to see his full presentation from Perfect Circuit in LA, right in the comfort of our own home. (The magic of the Internet – behold! It’s like we can be everywhere at once, instantly! Or something.)
Here’s his full talk on the overlays and how the customization software works – that last one being a big point, I know:
If you’re looking for a standalone control device, this isn’t it – it’s really more about being lightweight. But I do find the nice thing about the Morph is that it’s small enough you can put it in your backpack and forget about it – even more so than the iPad, and with greater accuracy and force sensing that the iPad lacks.
Sensel have also been busy with additional tutorials on how to work with the Morph. Bitwig Studio gets interesting because of its native MPE support – and there are custom control surface scripts there. (Bitwig seems well-suited to just this sort of tinkerer application.)
You don’t even need to buy a Bitwig Studio license to get started – there’s an included Studio 8-Track license included with the Morph.
It’s really the Buchla overlay that puts things over the top for me. Buchla himself had it right – this diagonal layout just ideally fits under the hand, especially for something performative.
And yeah, here’s the Buchla looking right at home with a modular setup – just as this controller was intended:
It may have been in the temple of wires and racks, but Berlin’s Bitwig chose this weekend’s Superbooth to launch a public beta of their all-modular DAW, Bitwig Studio 3. It lets you wire together with hardware, or just inside software, or as a combination.
It’s called The Grid – and it’s all about patching inside your music workflow, so you can construct stuff you want instead of dialing up big monolithic tools and presets. And that sounds great to builders, I’m sure.
Going modular was really the promise of Bitwig Studio from the start – something to rocket the software from “oh, hey, I can run something kinda like Ableton on Linux” to … “wow, this is something really special.”
The idea is, get a music making tool that not only behaves like a set of tracks and channels, or a bank of patterns and samples, and more like a toybox that lets you built whatever you want from various blocks. And before anyone tries to launch another of those “hardware versus software” debates (yawn), a friendly reminder that computers used a modular generator model for digital audio in the late 1950s – years before any recognizable hardware modular was even a thing. (Okay, granted, you needed a stack of punch cards and access to an IBM mainframe or two and the user base was something like ‘people who happen to know Max Mathews,’ but still…)
Bitwig Studio 3 is in beta now, so you can toy around with it and see what you think. (Bitwig are very clear about not putting important projects in there.)
— all in all, it’s a really nice selection of tools, and a balance of low-level signal tools/operators and easy convenience tools that are higher level. And it’s also not an overwhelming number – which is good; it’s clear this should be its own tool and not try to replicate the likes of Max, SuperCollider, and Reaktor.
Also in this build:
Reworked audio backends for every OS (good)
Ableton Link 3 support with transport start/stop sync
And – a little thing, but you can view the timeline with actual time (minutes, ms) …
More on this soon.
Beta users will find a really nice, complete tutorial so – you can start practicing building. Have fun!
Bitwig Studio may have started in the shadow of Ableton, but one of its initial promises was building a DAW that was modular from the ground up. Bitwig Studio 3 is poised to finally deliver on that promise, with “The Grid.”
Having a truly modular system inside a DAW offers some tantalizing possibilities. It means, in theory at least, you can construct whatever you want from basic building blocks. And in the very opposite of today’s age of presets, that could make your music tool feel more your own.
Oh yeah, and if there is such an engine inside your DAW, you can also count on other people building a bunch of stuff you can reuse.
Why modulaity? It doesn’t have to just be about tinkering (though that can be fun for a lot of people).
A modular setup is the very opposite of a preset mentality for music production. Experienced users of these environments (software especially, since it’s open-ended) do often find that patching exactly what they need can be more creative and inspirational. It can even save time versus the effort spent trying to whittle away at a big, monolithic tool just go get to the bit you actually want. But the traditional environments for modular development are fairly unfriendly to new users – that’s why very often people’s first encounters with Max/MSP, SuperCollider, Pd, Reaktor, and the like is in a college course. (And not everyone has access to those.) Here, you get a toolset that could prove more manageable. And then once you have a patch you like, you can still interconnect premade devices – and you can work with clips and linear arrangement to actually finish songs. With the other tools, that often means coding out the structure of your song or trying to link up to a different piece of software.
We’ve seen other DAWs go modular in different ways. There’s Apple Logic’s now mostly rarely-used Environment. There’s Reason with its rich, patchable rack and devices. There’s Sensomusic Usine, which is a fully modular DAW / audio environment, and DMX lighting and video tool – perhaps the most modular of these (even relative to Bitwig Studio and The Grid). And of course there’s Ableton Live with Max for Live, though that’s really a different animal – it’s a full patching development environment that runs inside Live via a runtime, and API and interface hooks that allow you to access its devices. The upside: Max for Live can do just about everything. The downside: it’s mostly foreign to Ableton Live (as it’s a different piece of software with its own history), and it could be too deep for someone just wanting to build an effect or instrument.
So, enter The Grid. This is really the first time a relatively conventional DAW has gotten its own, native modular environment that can build instruments and effects. And it looks like it could be accomplished in a way that feels comfortable to existing users. You get a toolset for patching your own stuff inside the DAW, and you can even mix and match signal to outboard hardware modular if that’s your thing.
And it really focuses on sound applications, too, with three devices. One is dedicated to monophonic synths, one to polyphonic synths, and one to effects.
From there, you get a fully modular setup with a modern-looking UI and 120+ modules to choose from.
They’ve done a whole lot to ease the learning curve normally associated with these environments – smoothing out some of the wrinkles that usually baffle beginners:
You can patch anything to anything, in to out. All signals are interchangeable – connect any out to any in. Most other software environments don’t work that way, which can mean a steeper learning curve. (We’ll have to see how this works in practice inside The Grid).
Any in can go to any out – reducing some of the complexity of other patching environments (software and hardware alike).
Everything’s stereo. Here’s another way of reducing complexity. Normally, you have to duplicate signals to get stereo, which can be confusing for beginners. Here, every audio cable and every control cable routes stereo.
Everything’s also in living stereo, reducing cable count and cognitive effort.
There are default patchings. Funny enough, this idea has actually been seen on hardware – there are default routings so modules automatically wire themselves if you want, via what Bitwig calls “pre-cords.” That means if you’re new to the environment, you can always plug stuff in.
They’ve also promised to make phase easier to understand, which should open up creative use of time and modulation to those who may have been intimidated by these concepts before.
“Pre-cords” mean you can easily add default patchings to get stuff working straight away.
What fun is a modular tool if you can’t explore phase? Bitwig say they’ve made this concept more accessible to modulation and easier to learn.
There’s also a big advantage to this being native to the environment – again, something you could only really say about Sensomusic Usine before now (at least as far as things that could double as DAWs).
Nesting and layering devices alongside other Bitwig devices
Full support from the Open Controller API. (Wow, this is a pain the moment you put something like Reaktor into another host, too.)
Route modulation out of your stuff from The Grid into other Bitwig devices.
Complete hardware modular integration – yeah, you can mix your software with hardware as if they’re one environment. Bitwig says they’ve included “dedicated grid modules for sending any control, trigger, or pitch signal as CV Out and receiving any CV In.”
I’ve been waiting for this basically since the beginning. This is an unprecedented level of integration, where every device you see in Bitwig Studio is already based on this modular environment. Bitwig had even touted that early on, but I think they were far overzealous with letting people know about their plans. It unsurprisingly took a while to make that interface user friendly, which is why it’ll be a pleasure to try this now and see how they’ve done. But Bitwig tells us this is in fact the same engine – and that the interface “melds our twin focus on modularity and swift workflows.”
There’s also a significant dedication to signal fidelity. There’s 4X oversampling throughout. That should generally sound better, but it also has implications for control and modularity. And it’ll make modulation more powerful in synthesis, Bitwig tells CDM:
With phase, sync, and pitch inputs on most every oscillator, there are many opportunities here for complex setups. Providing this additional bandwidth keeps most any patch or experiment from audible aliasing. As an open system, this type of optimization works for the most cases without overtaxing processors.
It’s stereo only, which puts it behind some of the multichannel capabilities of Reaktor, Max, SuperCollider, and others – Max/MSP especially given its recent developments. But that could see some growth in a later release, Bitwig hints. For now, I think stereo will keep us plenty busy.
They’ve also been busy optimizing, Bitwig tells us:
This is something we worked a lot on in early development, particularly optimizing performance on the oversampled, stereo paths to align with the vector units of desktop processors. In addition, the modules are compiled at runtime for the best performance on the particular CPU in use.
That’s a big deal. I’m also excited about using this on Linux – where, by the way, you can really easily use JACK to integrate other environments like SuperCollider or live coding tools.
If you’re at NAMM, Bitwig will show The Grid as part of Bitwig Studio 3. They have a release coming in the second quarter, but we’ll sit down with them here in Berlin for a detailed closer look (minus NAMM noise in the background or jetlag)!
Oh yeah, and if you’ve got the Upgrade Plan, it’s free.
This is really about making a fully modular DAW – as opposed to the fixed multitrack tape/mixer models of the past. Bitwig have even written up an article about how they see modularity and how it’s evolved over various release versions:
We’re coasting to the end of 2019, but Bitwig has managed to squeeze in Studio 2.5, with feature the company says were inspired by or directly requested by users.
The most interesting of these adds some interactive arrangement features to the linear side of the DAW. Traditional DAWs like Cubase have offered interactive features, but they generally take place on the timeline. Or you can loop individual regions in most DAWs, but that’s it.
Bitwig are adding interactive actions to the clips themselves, right in the arrangement. “Clip Blocks” apply Next Action features to individual clips.
Also in this release:
“Audio Slide” lets you slide audio inside clips without leaving the arranger. That’s possible in many other DAWs, but it’s definitely a welcome addition in Bitwig Studio – especially because an audio clip can contain multiple audio events, which isn’t necessarily possible elsewhere.
Note FX Selector lets you sweep through multiple layers of MIDI effects. We’ve seen something like this before, too, but this implementation is really nice.
There’s also a new set of 60 Sampler presets with hundreds of full-frequency waveforms – looks great for building up instruments. (This makes me ready to boot into Linux with Bitwig, too, where I don’t necessarily have my full plug-in library at my disposal.)
Browser results by relevance
Faster plug-in scanning
50 more functions accessible as user-definable key commands
To me, the thing that makes this newsworthy, and the one to test, is really this notion of an interactive arrangement view.
Ableton pioneered Follow Actions in their Session View years back in Ableton Live, but they’ve failed to apply that concept even inside Session View to scenes. (Some Max for Live hacks fill in the gap, but that only proves that people are looking for this feature.)
Making the arrangement itself interactive at the clip level – that’s really something new.
Now, that said, let’s play with Clip Blocks in Bitwig 2.5 and see if this is helpful or just confusing or superfluous in arrangements. (Presumably you can toy with different arrangement possibilities and then bounce out whatever you’ve chosen? I have to test this myself.) And there’s also the question of whether this much interactivity actually just has you messing around instead of making decisions, but that’s another story.
Go check out the release, and if you’re a Bitwig user, you can immediately try out the beta. Let us know what you think and how those Clip Blocks impact your creative process. (Or share what you make!)
Just please – no EDM tabla. (I think that moment sent a chill of terror down my spine in the demo video.)
The folks at Bitwig have been picking up speed. And version 2.4, beta testing now, brings some promising sampler and controller features.
The big deal here is that Bitwig is going with a full-functioning sampler. And as Ableton Live and Native Instruments’ Maschine pursue somewhat complex and fragmented approaches, maybe Bitwig will step in and deliver a sampler that just does all the stuff you expect in one place. (I’m ready to put these different devices head to head. I like to switch workflows to keep fresh, anyway, so no complaints. Bitwig just wins by default on Linux since Ableton and NI don’t show up for the competition. Ahem.)
Meet the new Sampler: manipulate pitch, time, and the two in combination, either together in a traditional fashion or independently as a digital wavetable or granular instrument. Those modes on their own aren’t new, but this is a nice way of combining everything into a single interface.
The re-built Sampler introduces a powerful wavetable/granular instrument. At its heart are multiple modes that combine effectively different instruments and ways of working with sound into a single interface:
“Repitch” / Speed + pitch together: The traditional sampler mode, with negative speeds, too (allowing it to behave the way a record player / record-scratch / tape transport does).
“Cycles” / Speed only: Speed changes, pitches stay the same. There’s also a Formant control, and the ability to switch on and off keyboard tracking. (In other words, you can scale from realistic-sounding speed changes to extreme metallic variations.)
“Textures” / Granular resampling / independent pitch and speed: Granular resynthesis divides up the sound into tiny bits allowing independent pitch and time manipulation (in combination), and textural effects. Independent speed, grain size, and grain motion (randomization) are all available as parameters.
Freeze: Each mode lets you directly manipulate the sample playhead live, using a controller or the Bitwig modulators. That emulates the position of a needle on a record or playhead on a tape, or the position in a granular playback device, depending on mode – and this is in every single mode.
Oh. Okay. Yeah, so those last two are to me the way Ableton Live should have worked from the beginning – and the way a lot of Max, Reaktor, Pd, and SuperCollider patches/code might work – but it’s fantastic to see them in a DAW. This opens up a lot of live performance and production options. If they’ve nailed it, it could be a reason to switch to Bitwig.
But there’s more:
Updated Multisampler Editor: Bitwig’s Sampler already had multisampler capabilities – letting you combine different samples into a single patch, as you might do for a complex instrument, for instance. Now, you can make groups, choose more easily what you see when editing (revealing samples as you play, for instance), and set modulation per zone. There’s also ping-pong looping and automatic zero-crossing edits (so you can slice up sounds without getting pops and clicks).
Multi-sample mode lets you work with zones in new ways, for more complex sampling patches.
There’s a new device that lets you step sequence modulation. Here’s how they describe that:
ParSeq-8 is a step sequencer for modulation.
ParSeq-8 is a unique parameter modulation sequencer, where each step is its own modulation source. It can use the project’s clock, advance on note input, or just run freely in either direction. As it advances, each step’s targets are modulated and then reset. It’s a great way to make projects more dynamic, whether in the studio or on the stage. (Along the way, our Steps modulator got some improvements such as ping-pong looping so check it out too.)
Also in the modulation category, there’s a Note Counter — count up each incoming note and create cycles of modulation as a result.
Note FX Layer.
More powerful with controllers
Bitwig has been moving forward in making it easy to map hardware controls to software, even as rival tools (cough, Ableton) haven’t advanced since early versions. That’s useful if you have a particular custom hardware controller you want to use to manipulate the instruments, effects, and mixing onscreen.
Now there’s a new visualization to give you clear onscreen feedback of what you’re doing, making that hardware/software connection much easier to see.
Visualize controllers as you use them – so the knob you turn on your hardware makes something visible onscreen.
There’s also MIDI channel support. MIDI has had channels since the protocol was unveiled in the 80s – a way of dividing up multiple streams of information. Now you can put them to use: incoming MIDI can be mapped and filtered by channel. That’s … not exciting, okay, but there are dedicated devices for making those channels useful in chains and so on. And that is fairly exciting.
MIDI channel support – essential for working with MIDI, but implemented here in a way that’s powerful for manipulating streams of control and information.
And more stuff
Also in this release:
Bit-8 audio degrader gets new quantization and parameters for glitching or lightly distorting sound
Note FX layer creates parallel note effects
There’s more feedback in the footer of the screen when you hover over parameters/values
Resize track widths, scene widths
Looks like a great upgrade. Beta testing starts soon, to be followed by a release as a free upgrade for Upgrade Plan users this summer.
MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) is now an official part of the MIDI standard. And Superbooth Berlin shows it’s catching on everywhere from granular synths to modular gear.
For decades now, it’s been easy enough to add expression to a single, monophonic line, via various additional controls. But humans have more than one finger. And with MIDI, there was until recently no standard way of adding additional expressiveness for multiple notes/fingers at the same time. All of that changed with the adoption of the MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) specification.
“Oh, fine,” naysayers were able to say, “but is that really for very many people?” And sure enough, there haven’t been so many instruments that knew what to do with the MPE data from a controller. So while you can pick up a controller like the ROLI Seaboard (or more boutique items from Roger Linn and Madrona Labs), and see support in major DAWs like Logic, Cubase, Reaper, GarageBand, and Bitwig Studio, mostly what you’d play would be specialized instruments made for them.
But that’s changing. It’s changing fast enough that you could spot the theme even at an analog-focused show like Superbooth.
Here’s a round-up of what was shown just at that show – and that isn’t even a complete list of the hardware and software support available now.
Thanks to Konstantin Hess from ROLI who helped me compile this list and provided some photos.
Polyend/Dreadbox Medusa. This all-in-one sequencer/synth is one I’ll write up separately. That grid has dedicated X/Y/Z movement on it, and it’s terrifically expressive. What’s great is, it uses MPE so you can record and play that data in supported hosts – or presumably use the same to sequence oteher MPE-compatible gear. And that also means:
Polyend SEQ. The Polish builder’s standalone sequencer also works with SEQ. As on the Medusa, you can play that live, or increment through, or step sequence control input.
Tasty Chips GR-1 Granular Synthesizer. Granular instruments have always posed a challenge when it comes to live performance, because they require manipulating multiple parameters at once. That of course makes them a natural for MPE – and sure enough, when Tasty Chips crowd-funded their GR-1 grain synth, they made MPE one of the selling points. Connect something like a Seaboard, and you have a granular instrument at your command. (An ultra-mobile, affordable Seaboard BLOCK was there for the demo in Berlin.)
The singular Gaz Williams recently gave this a go:
Audio Damage Granular. The newest iOS app/desktop plug-in from Audio Damage isn’t ready to use yet, but an early build was already at Superbooth connected to both a Linnstrument and a ROLI Seaboard for control. Set an iPad with your controller, and you have a mobile grain instrument solution.
Expert Sleepers FH-1. The FH-1 is a unique MIDI-to-CV modular interface, with both onboard USB host capabilities and polyphonic support. But what would polyphonic input be if you couldn’t also add polyphonic expression? And sure enough, the FH-1 is adding support for that natively. I’m hopeful that Bastl Instruments will choose to do the same with their own 1983 MIDI module.
Polyend Poly module. Also from Polyend, the Poly is designed around polyphony – note the eight-row matrix of CV out jacks, which makes it a sophisticated gateway from MIDI and USB MIDI to voltage. But this digital-to-analog gateway also has native support for MPE, meaning the moment you connect an MPE-sending controller, you can patch that expression into whatever you like.
Endorphin.es Shuttle Control. Shuttle Control is both a (high res) 12-bit MIDI-to-CV converter and practically a little computer-in-a-module all its own. It’s got MPE support, and was showing off that capability at Superbooth.
Once you have that MIDI bridge to voltage, of course, MPE gives you additional powers over a modular rig, so this opens up a lot more than just the stuff mentioned here.
I even know some people switching from Ableton Live to Bitwig Studio just for the added convenience of native MPE support. (That’s a niche, for sure, but it’s real.) I guess the key here is, it takes just one instrument or one controller you love to get you hooked – and then sophisticated modular and software environments can connect to still more possibilities.
It’s not something you’re going to need for every bassline or use all the time, but for some instruments, it adds another dimension to sound and playability.
Got some MPE-supporting picks of your own, or your own creations? Do let us know.