Behind the Scenes: Modularity in Bitwig Studio
Alongside our Bitwig Studio 2 announcement, we’d like to take this occasion to give you a glimpse of what’s going on behind the scenes.
A WORD ON MODULARITY
From the beginning, the idea of modularity has been central to Bitwig Studio. While digital audio workstations (DAWs) aren’t known for taking a modular approach, creating Bitwig Studio from the ground up allowed us to rethink previous assumptions. This led us to focus not just on individual devices but on strengthening the ways they interact with and support one another. And this ideal has born interesting, user-friendly fruit.
BITWIG STUDIO 1
Nested Device Chains
The first outcome was nested device chains, which allow you to house devices within other devices. A seemingly simple benefit of this is that device presets can now contain multiple devices, but this also opened up novel signal routing possibilities. For example, what if any device or plug-in could be used in a multiband configuration? Or if it was easy to add effects to just the wet signal? Or if devices could be added to a feedback loop..?
A core principle of modularity is that different users with different wants and needs can use the same tools in equally accessible and unique ways. Nested device chains allow newcomers to focus on richer sounds while initiated users can use additional devices as a way of extending their sonic palette. Win, win.
Another powerful outcome of modular thinking in a DAW was modulation sources. First, we created an elegant, efficient way for modulation signals to be assigned — simply clicking an arrow to go into routing mode, and then using parameter knobs themselves as attenuators. With a clean interface, it became possible to create and manage an unlimited number of modulations, all operating at audio rate.
And from there, all nested devices can be modulated as well. So instead of putting an LFO on our synth’s cutoff filter and then spending a lot of time trying to rebuild a synced LFO-effect on the distortion amount, we just assign the synth’s LFO to both the cutoff and the distortion amount. Additionally, Bitwig Studio 1 had devices made just for modulating other devices (like a standalone LFO, or a routable audio sidechain effect). A lot of freedom was provided by these early modulator devices, but at the cost of having to nest any devices you might want connect to each other.
BITWIG STUDIO 2
The idea of modulators has been reclaimed in Bitwig Studio 2. Instead of using a standalone “modulator” device to modulate a single device, each device now has slots that can house true modulators. This means any device (or plug-in) you are using can now have an envelope added to some of its parameters. Or a stepper, or audio sidechain effect. Or 12 LFOs. As modularity dictates, how you use the tools is completely up to you.
This also serves to make things more efficient for both CPU cycles and screen real estate. Instead of building an arbitrary number of control devices onto each instrument — say, two LFOs — the user can now add and subtract these options as they see fit. And again, presets from Bitwig Studio 1 and 2 will load properly, with modulators added as needed.
We don’t add a chorus to every instrument just in case the user wants it. Instead, we create a good chorus device that you can add when you want it. We are just applying this concept to modulations now, and we look forward to what you will do with this extra flexibility.
Modularity will continue to play a key role in our upcoming releases, both for users and under-the-hood. Additional devices are always under development, including some which will bring modular concepts more directly to the user. And a little bit down the road, our internal development tool for programming Bitwig Devices will be available to anyone who wants to go down that road. (You’ve probably seen some older screenshots of that environment; new paint and programming languages are coming.) We look forward to inviting you in for these enhancements and much more…
Thank you for having read this far. If you don't own Bitwig Studio yet, then come join us on our journey. We’d love to welcome you as part of the Bitwig community.
The Bitwig Team