Tags: posts polarity-music Bitwig MPE Sound-Design Roli

Exploring Soundscapes with Bitwig Studio's Expression Modulator and ROLI Light Block Controller.

Tutorial | May 06, 2020

In this video, I show how to use the Expressions modulator in Bitwig Studio alongside an MPE controller, such as the ROLI Light Block, to create soundscapes. I explain how to set up the controller and the modulator, and then demonstrate how to use it with the Impulse synth and the Zebra 2 VST plugin. I also provide tips on how to use the modulator with a keyboard and the mod wheel. Overall, the Expressions modulator is a great tool for adding movement and depth to your music.

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In this tutorial, I explain how to use the Expressions modulator in Bitwig Studio to enhance soundscapes with a ROLI Light Block, an MPE controller. Here's a summarized walkthrough:

  1. Setting Up: I start by customizing the ROLI Light Block via the ROLI dashboard, setting it to a C minor node grid. I then configure Bitwig Studio to use a ROLI Seaboard Rise script, with the Light Block as the input, setting a MIDI bend range of 48 semitones.

  2. Basic Instrument Setup: I insert a Polysynth instrument and explain that the Expressions modulator allows for dynamic sound control through parameters like timbre, velocity, and pressure.

  3. Sound Design with Expressions:

    • Using pressure to detune unison voices for a richer sound.
    • Adjusting filter frequency and resonance based on pressure.
    • Modifying timbre to control filter openness and introduce a second oscillator.
    • Implementing a random modulator to slightly alter pitch, with timbre affecting the modulation's amount and speed.
  4. Enhancements and Effects:

    • Adding a reverb effect and using the Expressions modulator to control its mix, width, and time based on pressure.
    • Using a chorus effect within the reverb to fine-tune the sound's spatial qualities.
  5. Additional Techniques:

    • Introducing a multi-note setup to create depth with octaves and a perfect fifth.
    • Demonstrating the adaptability of the Expressions modulator with VST plugins, like Zebra 2, showcasing how parameters within these plugins can also be dynamically controlled.
  6. General Tips:

    • Highlighting the utility of the Expressions modulator with standard MIDI keyboards, focusing on velocity and mod wheel data for expressive control.

I conclude by emphasizing the versatility of the Expressions modulator for both hardware and software instruments, encouraging experimentation with MPE controllers and MIDI keyboards alike for nuanced sound design. For discounts on gear and to support my channel, use my code "polarity" in the shop. If you found this tutorial helpful, consider liking, subscribing, and supporting my content on Patreon.

Questions & Answers

Maybe you dont watch the video, here are some important takeaways:

What is the Expressions modulator in Bitwig Studio?

The Expressions modulator is a small modulator in Bitwig Studio that can be attached to all devices, including VSTs. It allows the user to control every parameter and create various soundscapes. It can be used with an MPE controller, making it a handy tool for sound design.

How can the ROLI Light Block be customized for use with Bitwig Studio?

The ROLI Light Block can be customized for use with Bitwig Studio using the ROLI dashboard. Users can control the layout of the Light Block and set up the MPE zone. There are various apps available to create different layouts, and users can edit those apps for their desired settings. Every highlighted square on the Light Block is a key in the selected scale, making it a useful tool for playing notes in the desired key.

Can the expression modulator be used with a MIDI keyboard as well?

Yes, the expression modulator can be used with a MIDI keyboard, even without an MPE controller. Users can use the velocity sensitivity feature of the keyboard to control how loud the sound is. Additionally, using the mod wheel as a MIDI controller will enable users to modulate the sound further.

How can the expression modulator be used with a VST plugin?

Users can use the expression modulator with VST plugins as well. By inserting the plugin in Bitwig Studio and then adding the expression modulator, users can modulate all the parameters of the plugin, such as the cutoff of a filter. The expression modulator will list all the parameters of the plugin, and users can apply modulation to those parameters, creating various soundscapes.


This is what im talking about in this video. The text is transcribed by AI, so it might not be perfect. If you find any mistakes, please let me know.
You can also click on the timestamps to jump to the right part of the video, which should be helpful.

[00:00.000] Inside Bitwig Studio you have a small modulator called Expressions and you can attach this modulator
[00:07.760] to all devices of Bitwig Studio to all VSTs and you can control every parameter.
[00:14.920] And together with this small MPE controller like this here it's a ROLI light block.
[00:19.440] You can create nice soundscapes and I want to show you how.
[00:29.520] Use my code polarity in the shop to save 10% on the price and support my channel.
[00:36.120] So before we start I show you with the ROLI dashboard where you can control how the layout
[00:42.480] of the ROLI light block looks like.
[00:45.480] And I'm using here for the apps.
[00:46.960] I'm using a node grid, it's called node grid and you can go here to edit.
[00:52.000] And it did some settings here, the pitch range or the MPE zone.
[00:56.960] And I think I already installed the minor scale so I think it's C minor.
[01:03.160] So every highlighted block or square on this light block is basically a key in the scale
[01:08.800] of C minor.
[01:10.520] So when you press something on the light block itself you can see there's a small graph
[01:16.880] in top of the app where you can see where you're pressing and how much pressure you are applying
[01:21.960] to the board or to the pad and yeah.
[01:27.480] Inside Bitwig Studio here in the settings you can see I'm using a ROLI Seabord Rise script,
[01:34.080] controller script and the input output is the pad block mini and the MIDI band range is
[01:40.600] 48 semitones so I'm using this for that.
[01:45.800] And inside Bitwig Studio here I'm using All-In, you can of course use Seabord Rise.
[01:50.560] You can also see there's MIDI input happening and all we have to do now is insert some random
[01:57.000] instrument and I'm starting with an Polysynth here.
[02:01.800] And by default we can just play the ROLI light block just like with the normal keyboard
[02:10.560] and we can use the velocity sensitivity to use velocity or basically how hard we hit
[02:20.160] the pad itself to decide how loud the sound is and in front here of the police synth
[02:28.280] we add now the expression module I'm talking about.
[02:35.200] And now we have more options, we have Timbre velocity again, this release velocity and
[02:41.440] the pressure.
[02:42.680] So the pressure is basically how much pressure we apply to the pad.
[02:47.600] And the Timbre is when we press or hold and slide upwards and velocity is basically
[02:54.280] how hard we hit the pad itself.
[02:58.600] So we are going to start with the pressure here and maybe we tuning the initial sound
[03:03.000] here a bit so we're starting to use unison.
[03:15.560] So we're going for a small pad sound here.
[03:21.840] So the first thing is we use pressure here to spread the unison voices apart so when
[03:28.880] we apply some pressure you can hear it's detuning all the voices in the stereo field.
[03:39.720] So this is nice, then maybe the pressure also decides here the filter oscillator or the
[03:46.440] frequency modulation.
[03:53.320] Just a touch.
[03:55.720] Maybe we're also opening here the filter a bit and we bring it down the resonance and
[04:05.120] maybe bring it up the sub.
[04:17.360] So it's basically up to you what you want to do a control with the expression module
[04:24.040] later.
[04:25.040] So it's a sound design process.
[04:32.720] So then we have here the Timbre what you later handle and this is basically when we press
[04:38.600] and slide upwards what happens then.
[04:41.800] So we use this here and maybe open up the filter also and maybe we bring in the second
[04:51.000] oscillator.
[04:52.360] Something like this.
[05:06.960] Maybe we also go here for a random modulator and this one is going for hertz and it's moving
[05:14.200] as all the way to the right, Bipolar and we're going to free and then we are modulating
[05:19.840] the pitch slightly M on it 22 and let's see how this sounds maybe a bit more.
[05:43.960] So now we are gonna go here to zero and use the Timbre modulator to bring in the amount
[05:49.560] of the random modulator and maybe we also bring here down the speed and raise this only
[05:57.360] with the Timbre.
[05:59.080] So now when we slide upwards we bring in this random modulator and amp up the speed basically
[06:05.000] of the modulation.
[06:08.320] Okay, so this maybe a bit too much here the second oscillator.
[06:23.360] Also the bandings works initially without you doing anything so you can band the voice
[06:32.360] and pitch anytime.
[07:02.360] So all we need now is I think maybe go with the pitch modulation a bit too much so 25.
[07:18.600] So all we do now is we add a reverb and because the reverb is now inside the Poly soon
[07:26.240] we can use the same expression modulator here to modulate some settings so maybe the pressure
[07:34.120] decides how much the reverb is mixed in maybe also the width and maybe the reverb time.
[07:47.280] So inside the tank of x here we use the chorus and we also change of course the mix of the
[07:54.560] chorus and the speed.
[07:59.800] Okay, then we go here to white and this up because we want pretty wide and try this out.
[08:21.040] So maybe the speed is a bit too much so we're going down a bit.
[08:51.040] What we also can try is a multi note here but instead of a chord we're using the
[09:20.960] root note and a second note just an octave below or maybe also two octaves below and maybe
[09:43.920] we bring any up perfect fifth.
[10:13.920] So I think this already works pretty well and you can see just by applying some small
[10:40.960] amounts of modulation to some of the values here of the Polysynth and playing some
[10:46.080] notes with the MPE controller you pretty much bring in a lot of movement and voices and
[10:55.960] yeah room to make it epic.
[11:12.960] So
[11:33.240] So this is basically something you can do with the Polysynth.
[11:53.160] We can also use the VST of course because this Bitwig studio can make anything also with
[12:00.160] the VSTs, so maybe go to the instrument here and search for a VST plug-in.
[12:08.720] I've actually a demo version of Zebra 2, so let's use this.
[12:16.960] I think this still can work.
[12:25.960] So we can apply of course also an expression modulator and modulate all the stuff here because
[12:33.160] we have a list here of all the parameters inside Zebra and maybe go here to what we have
[12:43.400] here, the cutoff of this one, so you can see when I'm moving we move this button here
[12:49.520] so I can go with the pressure and just open up the cutoff.
[13:06.720] So we can do all the stuff also with the VST, so this is just an example here.
[13:14.840] That's also possible.
[13:16.200] So the expression modulator is basically pretty great if you have an MPE controller.
[13:21.720] You can also use it with a keyboard because when you have here let's go to Polysynth.
[13:28.440] My keyboard is still active, nice.
[13:33.440] So you can use here for instance the velocity setting.
[13:40.080] So you have a velocity data modulator handle and you can open up certain stuff, how hard
[13:51.440] you press something on your keyboard.
[14:02.720] Also a small tip if you want to use the mod wheel with the MIDI controller, all you have
[14:09.640] to do is basically search for MIDI modulator and the first thing that's by default installed
[14:16.880] or set up here is the mod wheel.
[14:19.840] So all you have to do is insert the MIDI controller and do nothing and just use the modulator
[14:24.680] handle here and modulate something and now you can use the mod wheel.
[14:38.160] So when you don't have an MPE controller you still have a lot of possibilities with
[14:42.160] your MIDI keyboard with the mod wheel and the velocity modulator handle in the expression
[14:49.920] modulator itself.
[14:51.400] Thanks for watching this video, that's it for now and if you have questions then please
[14:56.120] leave a comment and if you liked the video then please leave a like, subscribe to the
[15:00.680] channel, maybe think about the subscription over on Patreon to support my content.
[15:06.640] And yeah, thanks for watching and I'll see you in the next video, bye.