well duh

So obviously, this is The Season That I Got Into Microtonal Stuff (STIGIMS).

I wound up grabbing Entonal Studio, a plugin that manages microtuning. I really wish I’d picked it up earlier — it’s what I should have been using all along.

Bitwig Micro-Pitch has two modes:

  • 12-Note mode, where you can tune each keyboard key and resize the octave. All units are in 12TET semitones, aka “dollars” (100 cents) with no conversion from ratios, EDO etc. If you want a scale with less than 12 notes you’ll need to copy and paste values; if you want one with more than 12, too bad.
  • EDO mode, where you set just the interval size and number of divisions. You can’t skip divisions, so if you want a nice diatonic scale with 19edo tuning, you’ll have to work out the conversion elsewhere (e.g. Scale Workshop) and enter it into 12-Note mode instead.
  • Both of them give you control over the root note and fine tuning. There’s also an intriguing “wet/dry mix” that interpolates between 12TET and your specified tuning. (And yes, that is extremely weird with EDO mode.)
  • There’s a decent set of useful presets.
  • It works via MPE, effectively sending pitch bend messages for each note. It works poorly with non-MPE synths.

So, while you can do some cool things with it, it’s got its limits.

Entonal Studio’s radial graph, with harmonics enabled

And then there’s Entonal Studio. You can have any number of notes in your scale, and you can specify each one by ratios, cents, divisions, etc. You can just drag pitches around the circle to adjust them if you like, and optionally snap to ratios or equal divisions. There are very handy visualization tools, which help not just in constructing a scale but when playing it. You can edit the mapping any way you want. You can see a table of MIDI note numbers to names, Hertz, cents, the expression that created it, and its ratio relative to a root frequency. There’s also a Lattice view, which gets into aspects of theory that I skimmed over in the Gann book.

It supports not just MPE, but monophonic MIDI (using pitch bend), multichannel MIDI, and MTS-ESP (a new quasi-standard not yet widely supported, but Plogue OPS7 can use it). It can host a plugin within itself (which tends to work better for non-MPE synths). It can import and export Scala and XML tuning files.

What’s it missing? Hmm…

  • The ability to compare two scales. It’d be nice to see how they align with each other, whether you’re checking for general consonance or because you want to play different scales simultaneously. (Comparing to 12TET isn’t hard if you just look at the cents values, but seeing it visually would still be nice.) I’ll probably write to the developer to ask about this!
  • A tool for approximating by ratios or divisions, like Scale Workshop does. But you can sort of do this interactively with the snap feature, and you can always export a Scala file, mess around in SW and re-import, which gets you a lot of other nerdy stuff.
  • This is more of a pie in the sky thing, but after reading up on dissonance curves in the Sethares book, I kind of want that integrated into scale creation software. It’d be very cool to enter a few partials and their amplitudes (or even take an FFT of a sound for you), and have it generate a dissonance curve and have it fit possible ratios or EDO scales. This would be major new feature territory or even a separate addon or product, but I might ask about it too.

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