16. Welcome to The Grid

We have discussed plenty of places where Bitwig Studio uses modular thinking. Most often, this is in the sense of reusable or contained blocks — whether that's audio clips being broken into audio events, controller scripting that can address different tracks/devices in identical ways, or even the drag-and-dropping of items across any project or into another. Sometimes, these modular ideas have had a sound synthesis connotation, most obviously in the expressions of the Unified Modulation System. But the idea of a truly modular sound-design environment within Bitwig was always, well, a good idea.

This idea has been made real with The Grid. Between the library of 150+ modules (see chapter 18: Device Descriptions for short descriptions), the intuitive editing gestures (spread throughout this chapter), and the twin supports of interactive help (see Interactive Module Help) and direct module scopes (see Module Scopes in the Inspector Panel), The Grid offers our take on modular patching.

Many rules of patching systems are perpetuated: Out ports are connected to in ports via patch cords. Parameters are directly accessible from the face of each module. In ports often have attenuators for scaling the signal on the way in. Control busses sum, and unconnected ports use a value of zero…

And the rules of Bitwig Studio are still applied: The parameters of any module used are the parameters of that device. Parameters can be automated or mapped, modulat(or)ed or accessed by controller scripts. MPE note signals are directly supported. CV signals can come in or out with simple 1x1 modules. Any signal can become a modulator that is used elsewhere…

And yet, there is something new here. Swapping modules and preserving their related settings just makes sense. Having sound never stop — even as modules are added and deleted — is joyful. Stereo control signals are logical but literally sideways. A module version of Bitwig's Sampler is like happening across an old friend with a new face. Seeing the sonic effect of a change before you hear it makes things so much faster, and somehow more natural…

But before we start dancing about architecture, let's talk about the patching framework that is The Grid.

Using the Grid Editor

As with any device, Grid presets can be loaded and immediately auditioned. Factory content will always have remote control mappings for adjusting the sound, and Poly Grid patches (generally) respond to notes, FX Grid patches (usually) respond to incoming audio, etc. So at minimum, The Grid provides additional sources of sound content.

The act of tweaking a patch or making one from scratch — patching, for short — means getting comfortable with the Grid editor. The Expanded Device View is used for the Grid editor window so all the normal rules apply (see The Expanded Device View). You can also interact with the overview display at the center of each Grid device.

To open the Grid editor: click on the Grid device's overview display within the Device Panel.

To scroll within a Grid patch: click (or click and drag) within the device's overview display to move the display box.

Within the Grid editor, you can also scroll by:

  • Using the scroll wheel of your mouse.

  • Hovering over an empty area of the patch, and either SHIFT-clicking or middle-click (with your mouse's scroll wheel button) and dragging on the background.

  • On a touchscreen, tap on an empty area of the patch with two fingers and drag.

And if you would like more room for the Grid editor, you can hide the Device Panel and others by clicking their panel icons (see Panel Icons ), or you can undock the editor by clicking the undocking button (see The Expanded Device View).

To close the Grid editor: double-click on the Grid device's overview display within the Device Panel, or click the x in the top right of the Expanded Device View window.

Now that we can open the editor, let's take a look around.

The Module Palette

The top of the Grid editor window is home to the module palette, which serves as our general browser for Grid modules.

The left side of the palette displays the 16 categories of module. Clicking on any category visually previews all of its modules to the right of the categories, as all modules in the selected Envelope category are shown in the above picture. In case the modules don't fit the available space, the preview area can be scrolled horizontally, or even with a vertical scroll wheel on a regular mouse.

[Note]Note

For a short description of each module by category, see Grid Modules.

To search for modules: click the search field in the top left of the Grid editor window, and start typing. The module categories are then hidden, using that entire area to display modules that best match your search.

In addition to the standard Expanded Device View buttons in the top left corner (to enable/disable the device) and in the top right (to undock and close the window), a few additional buttons are present in the Grid editor:

  • The padlock icon enables a locked mode, where parameters can be adjusted but modules cannot be added or cables changed. To differentiate locked mode, both the module palette is hidden from view and the background lines in the editor are removed, eliminating the blueprint-feeling for performances.

  • The icon to the right of the padlock looks like a four-by-four table, suggesting the category portion of the module palette. Clicking this icon toggles the visibility of the module palette (and its search field), which can provide more editing space when you don't need the palette.

  • On the right side of the window header is a trio of zoom buttons. They allow you to zoom out ( -), restore to 100% (the magnifying glass with a 1 inside it), and zoom in (+) on the patch within the Grid editor.

    [Note]Note

    This zooming is independent of the program's scaling level that can be set for each monitor in use (see Other Settings).

The rest of the window displays your patch for manipulation and editing.

Working with Modules

To add a module to the patch: drag any module from the module palette into an unoccupied area of the patch.

You can also right-click an unoccupied area of the patch to get a text-menu version of the categories and their modules.

Clicking on a module will then insert it into the patch at the location of your original right-click.

To replace one module in your patch with another: drag the new module from the palette onto the center of module you wish to replace.

In this example, we are dragging ADSR from the module palette onto the center of the AR module in the current patch. The highlight around the AR module shows that it is currently targeted.

The result, shown above, is that AR has indeed been swapped out with ADSR. This includes any compatible parameters being maintained, all relevant patch cords being recreated, and all modulator paths being remapped to/from the new module.

To replace one module in your patch with a related module: right-click on the module you wish to replace, and then select the new module from the Replace with section of the context menu.

Both methods of replace would produce the exact same outcome — in this case, a Pulse oscillator in place of the Triangle oscillator, using any corresponding settings and the connections that the original had.

[Note]Note

Another device using Grid technology is Polymer, a hybrid modular synthesizer based around slots which can select different Grid modules for the oscillator, filter, and envelope generator. The clickable menu in each slot is the equivalent of the Replace with function, preserving whatever related settings and modulations when swapping devices, and the device itself even offers a Convert to Poly Grid function by right-clicking on the device header (see Polymer).

To delete a module: select the module in the Grid editor, and then press DELETE or BACKSPACE.

In the example above, we deleted the ADSR module in the patch. Instead of just deleting the module and all attached cords, The Grid saw a signal running thru ADSR and replaced the cord, straight from the Triangle oscillator to the Audio Out buss. Drones away.

Interactive Module Help

One feature of The Grid is that documentation of each module is built into the program. While we are happy to have you reading this manual, details local to each module are more useful when deploying the modules themselves.

To view a module's documentation: select the module in the current patch, and then select Show Help Item from the Module menu.

You can also access this feature by selecting the module and then either clicking the Show Help button in the Inspector Panel or pressing F1 (the default mapping for Show Help Item). The special show help window will appear.

On the surface level, the help view displays all relevant parameter information for this type of module. In addition to the module's regular interface, any Inspector parameters are also shown below. This can be especially helpful as these parameters are often out of sight, out of mind.

Beyond the text on screen, this help view is indeed showing the same module that is in your patch. This means that port signal indicators and modulator rings are reflecting the current state of this particular module, and parameters can be freely adjusted while this view is open. And if a mode setting changes the available parameters on this module, the help view will follow. Using the Mod Delay example shown above, switching the delay unit from 16th notes to free time will change both the parameters available and the descriptions present, as seen below.

Module Scopes in the Inspector Panel

When a module is selected in the Grid editor, the Inspector Panel shows more than its available parameters. It also displays an oscilloscope view of the signals at each in and out port.

In the example above, the AR module is selected in the Grid editor. So the Inspector Panel automatically displays three in port scopes (two for the ports on the device, plus one for the pre-cord that is currently enabled) and two out port scopes (for signal at the two out ports). Note that the Gate In scope is dimmed and folded away because no cord is currently connected to this in port.

Working with Patch Cords

Now that we can add modules, we have but to connect them. That means we need to put our (virtual) patch cords to work.

To create a patch cord: click on either an in or out port, and then drag to a port of the opposite kind.

Cables will snap to nearby ports as you drag them around. Once you release the mouse button (or let go of your finger), the cable will be connected, and signal will begin flowing.

[Note]Note

The Grid allows an out port to be connected to multiple in ports, but in ports can only receive one cable. You can, of course, merge multiple signals and connect the result to an in port. The Grid even allows you to do it with modifier keys (see Inserting Modules with Cords, and Vice Versa).

To delete a patch cord: double-click the in port or out port where the cord is connected.

To move a patch cord: double-click and drag either end of the cord to another port and release. This will move all cables at that port so if you are dragging from an out port that has several connected cables, they will all be moved together.

[Note]Note

If you double-click and move a patch cord(s) to an unoccupied area, the connection(s) will be deleted.

Inserting Modules with Cords, and Vice Versa

We've already covered the necessities for any virtual modular environment: adding and removing modules, and then connecting them with patch cords. But The Grid goes beyond these baseline requirements, placing a premium on clear gestures plus some patching intelligence from Bitwig Studio. We already looked at replacing modules (see Working with Patch Cords), but inserting modules and patch cords together is another way to prioritize sound design over patch management.

To insert a module with patch cords: drag the new module from the palette to the port where you want it connected, and then release.

Dragging over an empty in or out port will connect a corresponding port to it.

Instead of dragging to a particular port, you can also drag to the left or right edge of a module.

Bitwig Studio will then connect the new module to the in or out port that seems most appropriate.

You can also drag a new module onto a port where a patch cord is already present.

This previous signal path will be connected thru the new module.

[Note]Note

If you drag the module onto a connected in port, that one cable will be rerouted thru the module (if possible). If you drag onto a connected out port, all cables present will be routed thru the new module.

There are also gestures for adding common processor and merge modules when drawing new patch cords.

To add a processor module when creating a patch cord: draw the cord from the desired out port to the in port, and then hold one of the available modifiers listed in the window footer.

In the case above, SHIFT is being held so when the mouse or touch is released, an Attenuate module will be added in line.

And since in ports can only receive one cable, there are also gestures for creating an additional in port by means of various "merge" modules.

To merge a preexisting signal with a newly created patch cord: draw the cord from the desired out port to the occupied in port, and then hold one of the available modifiers listed in the window footer.

In the case above, the modifier for a Mixer module is being held, so both the original cord and the new one being drawn will be merged via a Mixer and connected to the original in port.

Reordering Modules

Modules can also be reordered with similar behavior as the workflows for inserting modules with patch cords (see Inserting Modules with Cords, and Vice Versa).

To reorder a module within your patch: drag the module from its current position onto the port where you want it connected, and then release.

One the click/touch is released, the module will be rerouted within the patch.

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