Create Morphing Instruments in Bitwig Studio

If you've got Bitwig Studio, you're likely to be impressed with the workflow and effects. In this tutorial, Gary Hiebner shows how to create morphing instruments using Bitwig's XY instrument.  

Bitwig Studio has introduced some interesting and functional effects, such as container devices. These can really help streamline some of your workflow production techniques. The XY Instrument is a great tool to build up complex instruments. The beauty of this container is that you can combine 4 instruments together plus morph between the 4 with the XY interface of the device. Let's take a look at how to build up a multi-instrument with this container and how to morph between them to create interesting soundscapes.

Using the XY Instrument

Bitwig Studio's devices are broken into 3 categories: Audio FX, Instruments, and Containers. On the Browser panel on the right you can see these three types of devices. Expand the Container folder, and then drag the XY Instrument onto a blank area on the tracks panel. This will create an Instrument with the XY Instrument container loaded into it. Double-click this instrument to open up the XY Instrument. You'll see on the interface that it has four quadrants: A, B, C, D. An instrument can be loaded into each of these. 

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Select the A quadrant by clicking on it. Now click on the plus sign column that appears once the A quadrant is selected. I'm going to add a PolySynth instrument. You could also drag and drop the instrument directly on the A box, as Bitwig supports drag and drop functionality throughout the application.

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How about choosing a preset for the Polysynth? To do this select the Polysynth under the Browser - Devices and Presets tab on the right and then underneath it, it'll show the presets. Select the Astropad preset and drag it onto either the Polysynth instrument or the A quadrant. 

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Now load up another instrument into the B quadrant. This time let's use the FM4. Do the same by dragging an FM4 preset to the B quadrant. I'm going to use the Airhorn preset. Go through and add an extra two instruments of your choice to the C and D quadrants. You can even use your third-party instruments in these quadrants, as it doesn't only have to be Bitwig instruments. Maybe you want to build up a complex instrument to include Bitwig Studio synths, plus Sylenth, and Massive. Your third-party instruments will be shown in the VST Plug-ins Folder.

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If you want to edit a particular quadrant just click on it, and its respective instrument will be shown on the right of the device panel. You can also add extra effects to each instrument. So for example, let's say you wanted to add a distortion effect to the Polysynth, and then some delay on the FM4. Simply select an audio effect under the Audio FX folder in the Browser Devices - Presets tab, and then drag it onto the B quadrant. Bitwig will add the effect after the instrument. If you have added a few effects, you can drag the header of the effect to change its location in the effects chain. Maybe you want your distortion to be placed after a chorus effect. So adding effects to each individual instrument in the XY Instrument container gives you even more control on designing a complex sound for your multi-instrument.

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Morphing in Action

Now that you've designed your multi-instrument with the XY container, let's go in even deeper to see how you can morph between these instruments for creative effect. To hear how you can morph between the different instruments, let's first record in a MIDI part on the XY Instrument. Record arm the track and record in a simple MIDI part. Now set this region to loop. Enable Loop mode, and set the left and right locators for the loop region. 

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Okay, get ready for it now. When you play back your part, move around the orange circle in the XY pad of the interface and hear how it morphs between the different instruments that you added into the XY instrument container. This is a great way to add interest in your song arrangements. Let's say your want your song to start with a Polysynth preset that has a chiptune sound such as the Commodore preset, then as the intro of your song progresses you want it to morph to an Airhorn FM4 preset, this is all possible with the XY Container.

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Morphing in Action

You can even map the X and Y coordinates to a MIDI controller. Click on the wheel icon under the Post FX button. This will now display the X and Y coordinates and rotary knobs. Right-click on the X knob and then click on 'Learn Controller Assignment'. Now move a knob or fader on your controller, and it'll be assigned to that knob or fader. Do the same for the Y axis. Now move both controllers at the same time and see how they move in the XY pad. If you have an XY pad on your controller, then assign the X and Y axes to that for even smoother control.

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Automate your XY Morphing

What's even better is that you can record or write in the movements on this XY pad, so that each time you place back your song the same movement happens in the XY Pad. Let's take a look at how the automation is done for the XY Container. First, enable the automation recording, and choose the mode you want to use. I'll choose Touch mode.

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When you start playback any movements you make with your MIDI controller or on the XY pad will be recorded to the MIDI region. Touch mode works really well as it records any movements made, and when you release the control it'll jump back to its previous location. You'll find when you recording in your automation for your morphing instrument you may want to edit small areas of the automation, but still retain the rest. That's where touch mode comes is handy. It'll record any changes, and then jump back to any previous automation recorded. 

To view this automation go to the Automation editor Panel. This is accessed by clicking the second icon symbol after the Edit option. Here you can view the automation for the Mix X and Mix Y if you want to fine-tune your automation. 

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That's how to build up a complex multi instruments with the XY instrument container. With the XY pad you can morph between each instrument and with the use of automation you can build up these evolving instruments that can really add interest to your songs and music production. So try this trick out in your next production and see what color it can add to your song.

Gary Hiebner is an enthusiastic South African Sound Designer and Apple Tech Head! Gary has been involved in the South African music industry for the decade, and in this time has also been involved in the sound design and music production for many advertising agencies and media houses. Gary is a devoted Logic and Ableton user, but he al... Read More


Nice tutorial - Thanks!

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