15. Advanced Device Concepts

We have talked about and dealt with devices throughout this document. As we have seen, it's quite possible to operate devices in all the normal ways without delving into their advanced functionality. In this chapter, however, we'll explore device capabilities that are deeply powerful and generally unique to Bitwig Studio.

The aim of this chapter is not to educate you on any particular device or its parameters. While we will examine a few devices here in detail, our purpose is primarily to investigate concepts that are relevant to many devices. A separate reference section on the Bitwig devices themselves can be found in chapter 18: Device Descriptions.

In this chapter, we will investigate nested device chains, we will examine Bitwig Studio's unique Unified Modulation System (and the modulator modules that it supports), and we will take note of some of the advanced VST plug-in options provided.

Congratulations; we've made it to the deep end of the pool. Now take a big breath.

Nested Device Chains

We discussed long ago how each track has its own device chain. Since then, there have been references to "top-level devices," meaning the devices that are directly in a track's device chain.

Most of the Bitwig devices actually possess one or more device chains of their own. These lower-level device chains, or nested device chains, solve several problems inherent to software-based music production.

For one thing, a single preset can contain vast configurations of devices, from a standard single device to something far more ornate. For another, the idea of nesting devices allows for unique signal routings that aren't usually possible in software, such as blending serial and parallel structures across a single device chain.

But we will return to device chains in a moment. Since the idea of parallel signal structures has already been mentioned, we should start this discussion with the humble, crucial Mix knob.

The Mix Parameter

For many audio effect processes, it is critical that the original, unprocessed sound is blended together with the affected sound. A good example is a simple delay effect. Hearing the original sound provides context for the delayed copy that follows. (A simple delay effect with no original sound mixed in could be better described as "late.")

To facilitate this blending, the idea of a wet/dry control is common in audio effects. This is usually implemented as a single knob that cross-fades between purely "dry," unprocessed signal at the minimum value, and purely "wet," post-processed signal at the maximum value, with every value in between representing a gradual blend of the two.

In Bitwig devices, this function is found on many devices via a parameter called Mix.

In the above example, we are using the Freq Shifter audio FX device, which is a frequency shifter. With the Mix parameter set to 33 %, a third of the device's output is the result of the frequency shifting process. This means that the signal received by the device (before any effect is applied) makes up the remaining two-thirds of the output, for a 2:1 blend of dry to wet signal. If Mix was set to 66.6 %, the balance would be reversed, with wet signal predominating at a 2:1 ratio.

So when you find a Mix parameter knob in the bottom right corner of a Bitwig device, it is providing this same wet/dry, parallel processing structure. In any of these cases, a Mix setting of 100 % would produce an output with no truly dry signal, and a setting of 0.00 % would effectively bypass the device by outputting only dry signal.

[Note]Note

If you find a Mix parameter knob that isn't in the bottom right corner of the device, it is carrying out a different function that is specific to that particular device.

Finally, Mix is not exclusive to audio FX devices and can be found on some devices in nearly every category. In the categories that don't use this Mix parameter (note FX and instruments), any incoming audio is generally passed directly to the audio outputs.

Container Devices

After starting with a simple in-line routing control, we will move on to nested device chains. And we will start with devices that are made to provide parallel device chains.

Container devices are utility devices whose primary function is to host other devices. So while most devices contain some type of nested device chain, container devices couldn't exist without them.

Three particular container devices — (Drum Machine, Instrument Layer, and FX Layer) came up in passing when we first saw the mixer's track fold button (see Track Headers), and the two "layer" devices reappeared indirectly when we discussed dragging devices to layer them (see Working with Devices). Each of these devices allows for a large number of device chains within them.

[Note]Note

Among the container devices, the layer family exists for sending signal to multiple note effects (Note FX Layer), instruments (Instrument Layer), or audio effects (FX Layer). There is also a family of selector devices (Note FX Selector, Instrument Selector, and FX Selector) for sending signal to only one device at a time in a controllable fashion (see Instrument Selector).

When using devices in the layer and selector families, you can always right-click on the device header for various convert options, as shown here on the header of Instrument Layer.

Drum Machine

Drum Machine is made to house multiple instruments, each of which will be triggered by a specific note message (for example, C1 for a kick drum, F#1 for closed hi-hat, etc.).

Corresponding with the 128 possible MIDI notes, Drum Machine offers up to 128 device chains, each called a drum chain. 16 drum chains are displayed at a time, and the chain scroll area on the left allows you to click or scroll the focus to a different set of chains.

An empty drum chain simply displays the note that it responds to and an Add Device button (+) for loading a device directly into that chain.

Used drum chains each have their chain name listed at top, and at bottom are a preview button, a solo button, and a mute button.

To the right of the displayed drum chains is the selected chain channel strip. Whichever drum chain is selected is surrounded by a blue-green border, and this area of the device provides a small channel strip for that chain, including larger solo and mute buttons, a volume fader, a pan knob, and level meters.

Every used drum chain also has a small chain preview displayed across its middle. This central line with squares placed along it is a silhouette of the drum chain, with the squares representing the number of devices currently at the top-level of the drum chain.

[Note]Note

While only so many squares fit within this small chain preview area, additional devices may be added to the drum chain.

To view an individual chain: click the chain.

What can now be seen is the drum chain itself, which is, again, a device chain. The two squares from the chain preview were representing these E-Hat and Delay-1 devices, which have the exact same interfaces we are accustomed to.

With the drum chain fully expanded, note that the selected chain is now ringed by a dusty blue frame. The devices within this chain also have a downward-facing bracket above them, both showing the boundaries of the chain contents and connecting these contents to their source by using the same highlight color in both places.

To reiterate this idea, the Delay-1 device is currently within this drum chain. This means that only this particular instrument (triggered by F#1) will have this device applied to it.

If I were to move this device to the right and out of the drum chain, it will now be in the track's device chain just after the Drum Machine.

Accordingly, all audio coming out of Drum Machine is now being affected by Delay-1.

One other function unique to the Drum Machine container device is its ability to have certain triggered notes cut off, or "choke," other notes. This allows you to associate related elements into a single choke group, allowing only one of those elements to sound at a time. A classic choke group example are hi-hat elements of a drum kit, where triggering a closed hi-hat sample should silence an open hi-hat sample that was playing. But many other uses can be imagined.

To assign a chain's choke target: right-click the chain in question, and then from the Choke targets submenu, select the chain you want to be choked when the current chain is triggered.

To assign a chain as a choke target: right-click the chain in question, and then from the Choked by submenu, select the chain you want to cause the current chain to be choked.

These two equivalent options allow you to create a choke group relationship either from a source or destination perspective. But also note what this unique interface implies: that chain A could choke chain B, but chain B could allow chain A to continue playing.

Instrument Layer

Instrument Layer is made to house multiple instruments, all of which will be triggered by any incoming note message. The general effect of this device is to make layered sounds or "stacks."

The chains in this device can be called instrument chains or layers. Each is still representing a full device chain, but unlike Drum Machine, there is no set number of chains. Because of this, there is only one Add Device button in the main interface of Instrument Layer, with each added device being placed on a newly created instrument chain. If enough layers are added, the chain list itself can be scrolled vertically.

Each layer has its own built-in channel strip, quite similar to each track header in the Arranger Timeline Panel. Also as in the Arranger, the selected layer is given a silvery tint.

[Note]Note

Also similar to instrument tracks, each layer has settings in the Inspector Panel to control the Channel that messages are being heard From (see Setting a MIDI Source). This allows you to set up multitimbral Instrument Layer devices, where a single track could trigger different layers by placing notes and other messages on different channels.

FX Layer

FX Layer is virtually identical to Instrument Layer except it is made to house a layer of FX layers.

Other Common Device Chain Types

There are several other types of nested device chains within Bitwig Studio. Some appear rarely or only once, but a few are reused multiple times.

Some of the most common types of nested device chains include:

  • FX (or Post FX): A nested device chain for processing the device's entire audio output. The only difference between placing effects in this device chain instead of after the device is that this chain is fully stored with this device, which makes moving the device along with its modifiers (or saving presets) much easier. This chain type is mostly possessed by instruments and containers for instruments.

    Post FX chains work in exactly the same way, but tend to show up on devices where other chains occurred first.

  • Pre FX: A nested device chain for processing signal immediately before it enters the device.

  • Wet FX: A nested device chain that processes only the wet portion of the device's output. The dry signal skips this chain and is mixed back in afterward. All devices with this chain also have Mix parameter knobs.

  • FB FX: A nested device chain that is placed within the device's feedback loop. This is common on delay devices.

[Note]Note

Just like Bitwig devices, VST plug-ins can be used in any device chain at any level.

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