Saturday, September 25, 2021

DAW REVIEW: Bitwig. Part Three. Unified Modulation System, Instrument Containers, and The Grid.


In this part of our journey through the latest version of Bitwig, I'll take a look at three great features that help Bitwig stand out from other music production platforms (DAWs) and may help you if you're considering going for Bitwig as your first DAW or if you are considering switching. 

In part two I took a look at some of Bitwig's major instrument devices, in this part, I'll look at the The Unified Modulation System, the concept of Instrument Containers, and The Grid modular patching feature. 

Bitwig Unified Modulation System. 

You will notice that on many of Bitwig's major instruments, e.g. Polysynth, FM-4, etc. that they are equipped very few modulators. Polysynth, as standard, has filter and amp EGs but that's about it. There is a reason for this. 

Bitwig employs a system of unified modulation which allows all instruments to access the same comprehensive 'suite' of modulator devices. So instruments such as Polysynth, FM-4, and Phase-4 can draw upon the resources of all the modulator devices. 

The little circle with an arrow coming out of it (see image above) represents all things pertaining to The Unified Modulation System, so if you this symbol you know what you're dealing with. Using this system, you can add any of the modulator devices to your instrument and use them to modulate any fully variable parameter of the instrument. 

It's almost a form of virtual instrument creation. You can create a version of FM-4, Polysynth or Phase-4 with your own suite of modulators. When you've created a sound, all the modulation devices, routings and values are stored within the patch so, of course, it sounds exactly the same every time you load/recall it. 

The list of modulator devices are many and varied. They include, as you would expect, ADSR and AHDSR envelope generators and various types of LFOs but there are also other modulators such as XY Pads, randomness generators, simple buttons and step sequencers. 

You can also use the Unified Modulation System to create a set of Macro Controls that give you grouped and instant access to a collection of the most used parameters of an instrument. 

Simply use the the little arrow symbol on the left hand side of any instrument, then use the 'plus' button to add a modulator from the pop up list. Double click the modulator window, and the instrument will enter a modulation routing mode. You can then select any parameter on the instrument to select modulation routing and amount. So modulation types, routings, and values can be set up in just a few clicks. 

Bitwig Instrument Containers. 

Bitwig also allows you to connect and 'embed' other FX devices and Note FX devices within a single 'Instrument Container', so you can create your own effects suite within an instrument patch alongside Note FX devices. Note FX devices include such things as arpeggiators, chord memory devices, etc. 

Bitwig's major instrument devices have tow boxes on their right side marked FX and Note FX and these allow you to add additional devices to the instrument. These additional devices and their associated controls and graphics the appear to the right of the instrument so you can create 'nested' device chains. 

So you could, for example, create a sample based instrument using Bitwig's Sampler instrument, then add a reverb, a powerful 5 band EQ, a filter, and maybe a compressor. You can then edit all the associated FX parameters to create a variety of patches and then save them to your library. When recalled, all the patches will have their associated FX devices and parameters recalled and set as they were when you saved them. So you've created your own 'effects suite' to go with the instrument.

Similarly, if you wanted to add an arpeggiator to a Phase-4 patch, for example, you can. Simply drag Bitwig's arpeggiator into the 'Note FX' box and write your arpeggiator patterns. Again, the pattern is stored when you save your creation to your library. Other 'Note FX' devices are available such as 'chord memory' type processors that allow you to memorise a chord and then play it with a single key. 

This is all part of what Bitwig describes as 'modular thinking'. Allowing all devices to interact and combine to maximise the creative possibilities. 


Bitwig's 'The Grid'. 

The final major feature of Bitwig we'll take a brief look at is something available from version 3 onwards and that's The Grid. This takes Bitwig's 'modular thinking' to it's ultimate conclusion and allows the virtual construction of modular synthesizers (Poly Grid) or modular audio effects processors (Audio Grid). 

A 'library' of 150+ modules are available to The Grid. There are sound generators, filters, mixers, modulators, note processors, effects, and audio processors. These can all be combined and connected in almost any way imaginable to create your own unique instruments. A module version of Sampler is available as a sound generator here, so sample based instruments are possible as well as 'synthesizer' creations. 

You can construct your modular sample or synth creation using The Grid editor. This shows a categorized 'palette' of devices at the top, which you can drag into the main editing space. Devices are connected for audio via patch cords. Bitwig will often intelligently provide a pre-cord for regularly used connections between devices. Of course, other types of signal paths are required such as data for logic, phase, and pitch information and these use a system of colour coded cords. Zooming and scrolling are possible for larger instrument creations. 

As with the Unified Modulation System, modulation devices can be used to modulate almost any parameter(s) from The Grid instrument. FX and Note FX devices can also be nested within the Grid instrument to form an 'effects suite' for your instrument and, like, the other major instrument devices, your Grid creation can employ Note FX devices such as the arpeggiator. The instrument you create within The Grid essentially becomes another instrument device and can be used in exactly the same way with the 'nesting' of additional FX. 

So, once again, Bitwig is really adding to the recording and mixing function of a music production platform, and adding 'instrument creation' to this list of functions. Through The Grid it is now possible to create an endlessly varying collection of sample and synthesizer based instruments. This really makes Bitwig a platform for sound design as well as recording and sequencing in a single software package.

Whilst you can experiment and play with The Grid in the 8 Track and 16 Track versions of Bitwig, you can save your creations, so you really need the full version of Bitwig Studio to fully experience it.  


So as well as being a powerful recording and sequencing platform, Bitwig is also a sound designer's dream, delivering creativity and flexibility in spades, but that doesn't mean it's for everybody. All of this does come with a price, and that's really complexity and a learning curve. Bitwig have clearly gone to great lengths to make their software, despite it's flexibility and creative possibilities, as accessible and as quick to learn a possible. It's also produced a great deal of written and video support resources for it. But it's never going to be for everyone. If you're a singer/songwriting looking for a tool to quickly produce piano/guitar/vocal/drum based song demos then it may not only not be for you, but also provide much that you will never use. 

I think it could also be argued that 'hardcore' electronic sound designers and producers may wish to get their inspiration from a variety of sources rather than just one. Many software designers specialise in some of the things that Bitwig does as a whole. Would it be more interesting and creative to put together a 'suite' of tools from a variety of sources rather than a single 'do it all' box? The full version of Bitwig Studio isn't cheap, and it may be more creative and fun to build something from a variety of suppliers. A more basic DAW, a modular synth VST from one supplier, a wavetable synth from another, etc, etc. 

Having said all that, Bitwig is an impressive and powerful creative tool, and really is a sound developer's and experimenter's dream. It's fast becoming the DAW of choice for committed electronic music producers and sound designers. Just make sure it's for you.

In Part Four, we'll take a look at Bitwig's recording and sequencing facilities.  


More information, tutorial videos, user manuals, and information on the different Bitwig products is available from their website at:

Here are the links to the other parts of this review. 

For updates on all my blog posts, reviews, new product news and soundware products, including sample libraries, synth patches, loops and breaks, you can follow/like my Facebook Page. 


The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software. 

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