Microtuning in Bitwig Studio

Bitwig Studio enables microtuning along with a world of other ideas. Since the arrival of the Micro-pitch device, each update to Bitwig Studio has included more presets for it. Today, a few new presets have arrived and all tuning presets are now categorized for better browsing.

Taken together, Bitwig's support of various tunings and pitch workflows continues to grow with each release. So update your factory sounds, check out this tutorial video, and discover a new road for your productions.

What Is This Microtonality?

When you place your hands on a piano-style keyboard, there is a certain expectation of what an octave or a major chord will sound like. This predictability is what makes music possible. But coloring within the lines isn't always ideal.

From the perspective of Western music, a microtone is an interval smaller than a standard semitone. So any two notes that don't stay within this most familiar grid are expressing a microtonality. With twelve-tone equal temperament being ingrained in so many people, any intentional deviation can provide tension and coloration.

Whether choosing a sound that is "out" or mixing a modern instrument with a cultural flavor, you'll find something here. You might even end up approaching notes in a new way, or landing in a new frame of reference for composing. Just a few of the endless sonic possibilities are below.

Micro-pitch Presets By Category

Once you've installed Bitwig Studio's factory content, a world of sounds — and ideas — are already at your hands, including our various pitch tools.

Note FX presets using Micro-pitch are tagged with scale and tuning. Each of these presets is also in one of the following categories:

  • Historical (tagged scale-historical) - tunings made on the way to equal temperament, including scales from Werckmeister, Euler, (Wendy) Carlos Optimized, and even Pythagoras
  • Theory (tagged scale-theory) - temperaments based on mathematic relationships, including Just, overtone (Otonal) and undertone (Utonal) series, Bohlen–Pierce 13 ET, the soothing sounds of A4 = 432 Hz, and various Wilson hexanies for new compositional ideas
  • Cultural (tagged scale-cultural) - from the theory or instruments of other cultures, including various medieval Arabic modes, recording tunings of Chinese instruments, and the Javanese Chromatic 7
  • Artistic (tagged scale-artistic) - both scales made by musicians (such as Partch, Johnston, and Blues - Harmonic from Wendy Carlos's "Beauty in the Beast"), and performance-oriented layouts that reshape the keyboard (including Beating Lydian, Phrygische Mütze, and Hexacombs)

In addition, a number of instrument presets that use tuning ideas (including Pitch-12, the note-specific modulator) are also tagged with tuning, making it easy to find playable sounds that alter and sometimes modulate their pitches.

Installation Note: All Micro-pitch presets are part of the Bitwig Factory Device Preset package (in the Essentials Collection). To update your sound content in Bitwig Studio, first quit the program and then reopen it. After the program launches, it will notify you that "Some installed packages can be updated," along with an "Update All" button to click. And these updates are available to anyone with an active Bitwig Studio Upgrade Plan.

A Tune of One's Own

Like any Bitwig device, Micro-pitch offers plenty of presets but is fully programmable to express your ideas as well. This video tutorial focuses on ways to bend Micro-pitch to your will.

As the video explains, Scala (SCL) tuning files that describe 12- or seven-note scales can also be imported by dragging them either onto an existing Micro-pitch device, or by simply dropping them into a session where you would like a Micro-pitch device with the Scala data to appear.

For 12-note scales, all note values will be directly applied. Seven-note scales will import their values to the diatonic scale (with the default root of C, this means the white notes). In-between values will then be supplied for the other five notes.

Some additional resources for finding Scala files and exploring Erv Wilson's work:

  • The Huygens-Fokker Foundation maintains both the Scala software and a large repository of Scala files.
  • Here is a sorted ZIP of the Huygens-Fokker Scala repository, organizing the scales by their number of notes. When that file is unzipped, anything in the 7 or 12 folder can be dragged directly into Bitwig Studio
  • Scale Workshop, an interactive web app from musician/microtonal aficionado Sevish. Good for generating and even hearing scales, then exporting to SCL files. Fun and well-made
  • The Wilson Archives hosts a trove of Erv Wilson's theories and writings (the video thumbnail above uses a diagram from his hexany notebook). And Wilsonic is a free iOS app for hearing an interactive version of Wilson's theories

Closing The Circle

Bitwig Studio has always had a way with pitch. From per-note pitch expressions and MPE support, to the Micro-pitch device enabling a world of tuning ideas for software devices or CV hardware, these tools are all ready to connect. We can't wait to see wait to see what you do with them.

July 8, 2020

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