Ever wondered how to get various software synthesisers to play microtonal scales? A while ago I added a lot of info about this to the Xenharmonic Wiki. Summarised below.
Many software plugins (VST, AU, RTAS etc.) allow you to create microtonal music. Not all of them, though. The ones that do mostly accept tuning data by one of the following methods:
To find out how your synth can be microtuned, look it up in this table of microtunable software plugins. From there you’ll also find a few free VST downloads to experiment with.
If your softsynth loads .tun files (AnaMark, Linplug instruments, Omnisphere, etc.) then check out my tutorial on how to create a .tun file using Scala.
If you’re using something like PianoTeq, ZynAddSubFX, Plogue chipsounds or Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 (amongst others), these synths can load .scl files. It’s simple to find this kind of file for download on the internet, and they are easily created using Scala.
Synths such as Xen-Arts’ instruments can be tuned by using MIDI tuning messages. Such data can be generated by software like Scala, alt-tuner, CSE or LMSO. Then, the data is either sent to the synth in real-time or dumped into a file to be read later.
One approach is to include the MIDI tuning messages in a MIDI track within your DAW. The MIDI track should output to all tracks which contain an instance of the synth. This approach works well in a DAW like Reaper, which has powerful routing. Unfortunately this approach won’t work in Ableton Live or FL Studio, because these DAWs filter out all SysEX data, thereby stopping your synth from receiving the MIDI tuning messages.
Another approach is to create a MIDI tuning dump. This is a .mid file containing only MIDI tuning messages. Some synths, such as XenFont, IVOR, and Xen-FMTS 2, conveniently import this kind of file. The tuning dump can also be created using Scala.
Very few synths allow you to actually input tunings via their interface, though I know of at least one that does: ZynAddSubFX!