Go go gadget DAW. That’s the feeling of Bitwig Studio 2, which is packed with new devices, a new approach to modulation, and hardware integration.
Just a few of these on their own might not really be news, but Bitwig has a lot of them. Put them together, and you’ve got a whole lot of potential machinery to inspire your next musical idea, in the box, with hardware, or with some combination.
And much as I love playing live and improvising with my hands, it’s also nice to have some clever machinery that gets you out of your usual habits – the harmonies that tend to fall under your fingers, the lame rhythms (okay, that’s me I’m talking now) that you’re able to play on pads.
Bitwig 2 is full of machinery. It’s not the complete modular environment we might still be dreaming of, but it’s a box full of very powerful, simple toys which can be combined into much more complex stuff, especially once you add hardware to it.
A few features have made it into the final Bitwig Studio 2 that weren’t made public when it first was announced a few weeks ago.
That includes some new devices (Dual Pan!), MIDI Song Select (useful for triggering patterns and songs on external hardware like drum machines), and controller API additions.
The controller API is a dream if you’ve come from (cough) a particular rival tool. Now you can code in Python, but with interactive feedback, and performance – already quite nice – has been improved.
I’m just going to paste the whole list of what’s new, because this particular update is best understood as a “whole big bag of new things”:
NEW FEATURES AND UPDATES
A re-conceptualized Modulation System
Numerous device updates, including dynamic displays and spectrum analyzers
Fades and crossfades
Better hardware integration
Smart tool switching
Improved editor workflow
MIDI timecode support
New menu system
Adjustable track height in arranger
Controller API improvements
…and much more
25 ALL NEW MODULATORS
HW CV In
17 ENTIRELY NEW DEVICES
Hardware Integration Devices
MIDI Program Change
MIDI Song Select
HW Clock Out
HW CV Instrument
HW CV Out
At some point, we imagined what we might get from Bitwig – beneath that Ableton-style arrangement and clip view and devices – was a bare-bones circuit-building modular, something with which you could build anything from scratch. And sure enough, Bitwig were clear that every function we saw in the software was created behind the scenes in just such an environment.
But Bitwig haven’t yet opened up those tools to the general public, even as they use them in their own development workflow. But the new set of modulation tools added to version 2 shouldn’t be dismissed – indeed, it could appeal to a wider audience.
Instead of a breadboard and wires and soldering iron, in other words, imagine Bitwig have given us a box of LEGO. These are higher-level, friendlier, simple building blocks that can nonetheless be combined into an array of shapes.
To see what that might look like, we can see what people in the Bitwig community are doing with it. Take producer Polarity, who’s building a free set of presets. That free download already sounds interesting, but maybe just as much is the way inw which he’s going about it. Via Facebook:
The modulation approach I think is best connected to Propellerhead Reason – even though Reason has its own UI paradigm (with virtual patch cords) and very distinct set of devices. But while I wouldn’t directly compare Reason and Bitwig Studio, I think what each can offer is the ability to create deeply customized performance and production environments with simple tools – Reason’s behaving a bit more like hardware, and Bitwig’s being firmly rooted in software.
There’s also a lot of stuff in Bitwig Studio in the way of modernization that’s sorely missing from other DAWs, and notably Ableton Live. These have accumulated in a series of releases – minor on their own, but starting to paint a picture of some of what other tools should have. Just a few I’d like to see elsewhere:
Plug-in sandboxing for standard formats that doesn’t bring down the whole DAW. Extensive touch support (relevant to a lot of new Windows hardware) Support for expressive MIDI control and high-resolution, expressive automation, including devices like the ROLI hardware and Linnstrument (MPE). An open controller API – one that anyone can use, and that allows hardware control to be extended easily. The ability to open multiple files at once (yeah, kind of silly we have to even say that – and it’s not just Ableton with this limitation).
All that, and you can install Bitwig on Linux, too, as well as take advantage of what are now some pretty great Windows tablets and devices like the Surface line.
There’s also the sense that Bitwig’s engineering is in order, whereas more ‘legacy’ tools suffer from unpredictable stability or long load times. That stuff is just happiness killing when you’re making music, and it matters.
So, in that regard, I hope Bitwig Studio 2 gets the attention of some of its rivals.
But at the same time, Bitwig is taking on a character on its own. And that’s important, too, because one tool is never going to work for everyone.
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