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Surge XT is a software synth plugin. Version 1.2 is now released. This version improves upon its tuning functionality, accessibility and other things. An excerpt from the changelog reads:
Major Feature: Tuning Upgrades
- Surge can act as an OddSound MTS provider (‘master’) allowing the Surge tuning editor to provide tuning to an entire session.
- Remediate yet more edge cases in our internal tuning, including keyboard mapping larger than a scale.
The short explanation is, if you are using synths that support tuning via MTS-ESP, Surge XT can now act as the MTS-ESP master, which means that you specify your tuning within Surge XT and then the other synths will follow the same tuning. This is intended to be more convenient than loading the same tuning data into multiple instances of various synths.
Surge XT is free and available on Linux, Windows and macOS.
With the recent release of Scale Workshop 2, lead developer Lumi Pakkanen has started producing video tutorials to demonstrate what this tuning application can do. Learning some Scale Workshop basics will aid you in your study of musical tunings. The first two videos are below. For the rest, you’ll have to follow Lumi’s youtube channel.
This tutorial demonstrates the on screen keyboards where you can play microtonal scales in your browser.
This tutorial will answer a lot of questions about how you can enter your own scales from numerical values.
Since Bitwig Studio is a pretty good DAW for making microtonal music, you might find yourself working with a musical scale that contains more or less than 12 notes. Particularly if you’re working with a large scale, you will want the piano roll to visually reflect what you’re hearing. You might have thought this was not currently possible in Bitwig Studio but I have found the quick workaround for you. All you need is to watch the tutorial video below and then spend a few minutes setting up your custom piano roll.
The tutorial music is Yeah Groove from my very recent album Morphable, in 26 tone equal temperament.
Scale Workshop has been updated this weekend. Let’s take a look at what this useful microtonal web tool is capable of.
Launch Scale Workshop in a new tab
With a web MIDI compatible browser, you can use Scale Workshop to enable microtonality on your hardware synths and sound modules. This is achieved by 16 channel note output with pitch bend on each channel.
Rotate your scale so that a different interval becomes the new 1/1.
When using the mouse cursor, you can now play the virtual keyboard stylophone style, i.e. click and drag across the keyboard to hit a sequence of notes.
REAPER supports custom piano roll layouts. You can now export a txt file from Scale Workshop to import directly into REAPER.
Export your tuning to Korg Librarian format. This can be imported into the Korg Librarian software so you can write it to your synth.
Scale Workshop now has better handling of large numbers and ratios.
Issues with the synth audio dropout are resolved. Various new waveforms are added. The default waveform is changed to semisine which is more ideal for auditioning tunings than the previous triangle.
As this version is a major milestone for the app, we have made sure to update the documentation to cover all the new features.
Early development work has started for Scale Workshop 2. This involves a complete rewrite from scratch and a new UI. The project will remain on the permissive MIT License so that synth developers can re-use parts of Scale Workshop’s code to add microtonal functionality to their own projects. Scale Workshop 2 is intended to be released when it reaches feature parity with Scale Workshop 1.5. Scale URLs will remain backwards-compatible. Scale Workshop 1.x will receive no new features except for bug fixes.
Gleam is perhaps the iconic Sevish track (or so I am told), but have you ever wondered how it was made? Lumi’s recent video analyses Gleam from a music theory perspective, explaining how I used 22-tone equal temperament (22ed2) to make a catchy piece of music.
Here are some of my thoughts on various microtonal scales. These thoughts are my own subjective impressions and there’s no need to take them seriously. Enjoy!
What are your own impressions?
It’s a bit oldschool, it’s a bit Web 1.0, but I think it could be quite helpful – I’ve started collecting a list of bookmark links! The links are on-topic for Sevish music: tuning practice, tuning theory, fractals, music playlists, etc.
Have a link to suggest? Send me a quick message on my contact form.
In discussion of musical tuning there is often talk about “equal divisions” of an octave or other interval. There is potential here for confusion as there are two different ways of equally dividing an octave.
Wait, two ways? You’d think there was only one way to divide an octave equally. You make all the notes the same size! But I’m being serious. You can equally divide an interval either arithmetically or logarithmically.
Arithmetically equal = each step is the same Hz difference from the next
Logarithmically equal = each step is the same ratio difference from the next
Let’s say you have two notes, A 440Hz and A’ 880Hz. The interval between these two notes is an octave. If I want to divide this octave into arithmetically equal notes then we simply split it in a way that the difference in frequencies are equal.
For example we could split it into 8 intervals. We get the difference between the two notes by subtracting the frequencies. 880 – 440 = 440. Then divide this into 8. 440 / 8 = 55. So the base step size is 55Hz.
Constructing the scale is done by starting from 440Hz and then adding 55Hz each time until we reach the octave at 880Hz:
Each note is 55 Hz apart from the next. You can move up and down the scale by adding/subtracting 55 Hz. The result is the harmonic series segment 8:9:10:11:12:13:14:15:16 with a fundamental frequency of 55 Hz. This scale sounds nothing at all like the equal tempered scale, in fact it sounds similar to the scales you get by playing harmonics on a guitar string.
To hear what it sounds like, you can follow this Scale Workshop link – it will open a page where you can press qwerty keys to play in this tuning.
Let’s take the octave from A 440Hz to A’ 880Hz and look at it as a ratio. 880/440. This can be simplified to 2/1.
To divide 2/1 into 12 logarithmically equal steps we need to find the step size. 2/11/12 = 1.05946309436 (approx).
Constructing the scale is done by starting from 440 Hz and then multiplying this value by the step size 1.05946309436 twelve times until we reach 880 Hz:
These steps don’t look equal in terms of frequency – the Hz values get larger with every step. Maybe by now you have noticed one way in which the steps are equal… Each step is an equal ratio difference from the next.
To hear what it sounds like (I mean it’s just 12edo at A440Hz), you can follow this Scale Workshop link – it will open a page where you can press qwerty keys to play in this tuning.
In an equal temperament, you can modulate between keys and every key will sound equally in-tune. Whereas arithmetic divisions will only give you perfectly-tuned harmonics of a single fundamental with no concept of tonal modulation.
Which of these two methods sound equal to the ear?
It’s the logarithmic version – also known as equal temperament or EDO (equal division of the octave).
When tuning theory people mention “equal” scales, safely assume that they’re probably talking about this method.
Equal temperaments sound equal because our perception of pitch is logarithmic itself. The hearing system isn’t listening out for equal difference in Hz, it’s listening out for equal difference in step size ratio. This isn’t immediately obvious until you’ve compared the two for yourself.
So this was just a quick and simple post to explain something that has caused a little confusion in the past. Hope someone will find it useful.
I started a small project where I take existing Sevish tracks and adapt them to different musical tuning systems. It is called Re-Tuned and is available from my Bandcamp page to stream or as a free download. In this project, you’ll hear many tracks with altered tunings. Many of these are originally written as microtonal pieces that are re-tuned to standard 12 equal!
Why have I done this‽ The project originally started out as trolling youtube videos which rendered familiar microtonal tunes in 12edo. It turned out to be an effective demonstration that 12edo is just another tuning with its own character, and that this kind of retuning subtly or dramatically altered the feeling of the music. I then started to produce microtonal retunings, for example Desert Island Rain (originally in 313edo) is rendered in 24edo, 19edo, 14edo and 9edo.
My musical philosophy is that music is a fun craft to be involved with and I’m glad it exists. When expressing yourself through music there are various tools in the toolbox – for example dynamics, timbre, tempo, tuning – though tuning is often forgotten about. I hope Re-Tuned makes the case that deliberate use of tuning is one more powerfully expressive and aesthetic parameter that musicians can use to hone their craft further.
Cover artwork by Juha Penttinen.
A new original Sevish album is coming out next month…