Post by Marcus Hobbs
AudioKit Synth One, AudioKit Digital D1, and Wilsonic have a revolutionary new feature called TuneUp which enables you to tune synthesizers to the same microtonal scale. It’s like Ableton Link for tunings (instead of tempo).
How does it work?
Let’s say you want to use a scale from Synth One in Digital D1.
First, select a microtonal scale in Synth One.
Then, press the “TuneUp” button to bring up the TuneUp popover. Now, you can choose an app to TuneUp. In this case, you’ll choose the “Digital D1” button.
You’ll be fast-switched to Digital D1. Boom—both synthesizers are now in tune with each other.
Press the “Back” button in Digital D1 and you will be fast-switched to Synth One. You can fast-switch back and forth without leaving the apps to go to iOS to switch.
Design your own scales with Wilsonic
I’ve also implemented this same feature into scale-design app “Wilsonic”. You can interactively design a microtonal scale in Wilsonic and tune up Synth One and Digital D1. The “back” buttons will then redirect you to Wilsonic. Aurelius demo’d this in his keynote at ADC.
I also added Scala file (a limited but ubiquitous scale file format) support to Synth One and Digital D1. Share your Scala files as you would any iOS document such as by email and are presented with the option to import them. You can find an enormous (perhaps overwhelming) library of scala files here.
Listen to Marcus Hobbs explain TuneUp & Microtonality:
If you’re already hooked on microtonality then you know that the word “revolutionary” is not hyperbole—this is a big deal. For millennia musicians from every age and every civilization have been creating scales with their voices, woodwinds, and plucked strings. Even western civilizations created their own scales before settling on 12 tone equal temperament. The word “microtonality” implies that 12ET is the norm and hides the history of rich scales of the ancients.
Microtonality is not widely supported by hardware and software synthesizers, and the synths that do have support don’t do it consistently, and don’t make it easy to share. It is still challenging to tune different synthesizers to each other. Most synths and hosts don’t save state for scales which is crucial for workflow. You could work on a masterpiece today and not be able to ever recreate it.
WHY MICROTONALITY IS IMPORTANT
If you haven’t been exposed to microtonality you might be asking yourself, “Why is this a big deal? How can this help me make music?”.
Microtonality is a liberating idea. It absorbs and dissolves ideologies. You may not realize it but the 12-tone scale that you use is just one, albeit useful, tiny little palette of an infinite universe of emotional color. How many times have you reached for a note that wasn’t there?
I was first exposed to microtonality by Ervin Wilson in 1995. We found out we lived a few miles from each other when we both purchased Kyma Sound Design workstations. We met at film composer Stephen James Taylor’s studio. And that’s when Erv dropped one of his microtonal designs on me. He had all these hand-drawn papers of crazy scale designs with no context, no instructions. He patiently explained this design with enough detail so I could code it up on the Kyma and I heard the most beautiful sounds ever.
That was it for me…I never wanted to create music in 12 tone equal temperament ever again. Microtonality is a big deal for me because to my rebellious thinking 12 tones are an invisible cage that hold us all back from reaching for the entire range of human emotion, and creating our own unique sounds. People tell me all the time, “There are a million great songs in 12ET, and there are infinitely more”. True, but painters use different palettes of color to express their emotions for every single painting—so why should we musicians use the same palette of 12 pitches for every single work of the past hundreds of years?
Wilson was not an academic but yet was a very intuitive mathematician and he had created a massive body of work that he freely shared. His designs involved the kind of math you learn in school where you’re like “I’m never going to use this in real life”. Pascal’s triangle, fibonacci sequences, recurrence relations, combination product sets, lattices, etc. His genius was combining math with how humans hear pitch. Erv had an early career as a draftsman and rendered his beautiful designs in pencil on paper. You can see some of the most important papers curated by Kraig Grady here: http://www.anaphoria.com/wilson.html
At that time it was very difficult for Erv to hear his designs. He could cut some aluminum pipe to make xylophones, or painstakingly tune up a mellotron. Stephen was able to tune up some hardware synths such as the Ensoniq MR rack, but it involved using some limited software which got in the way and there was always the problem of the software not being able to recall the scales. I struggled with the same problem as I began implementing Erv’s papers at first on Kyma, and then eventually Reaktor.
A DREAM OF OPEN-SOURCE MICROTONALITY
Every time Erv heard his scales on a real instrument he was overjoyed. Like Beethoven, he could hear these designs in his mind, but it was an altogether different experience when he could interact with an instrument. When the iPad came along I created an app called “Wilsonic” which let him interactively play his papers as if they are musical instruments.
But, Wilsonic suffered from my lack of software tools to write a great synthesizer. It was enlightening but not a performance instrument. Who cares about tunings if all you can hear are sine waves?
My search for amazing sounds led me to AudioKit. Aurelius helped me begin to integrate AudioKit into Wilsonic. I added microtonal features to AudioKit that could be leveraged by Wilsonic. Before I got too deep into that he asked me to work with him and Matthew Fecher on Synth One which was already awesome to begin with. I knew right away that this was the sound design engine that I had been looking for. It is a joy to collaborate in the AudioKit community, and especially on such a popular and well-loved synthesizer.
I had a career at Disney Feature Animation as a 3d computer graphics artist. For each film we took time to create palettes of color and to build artistic tools to create a unique look of the highest quality. I wanted to bring that tradition to Synth One. Starting with Aure’s DSP design and AudioKit library I focused on adding features with the highest quality I possibly could. Matt had a deep history of hardware and software synthesizers, and a vision for how musicians would use Synth One for performance and recording. He designed the musical controls and created the gorgeous UI. None of us were trying to monetize it—we were building the synth that we ourselves wanted to use to create music. Take the time to read the app store reviews and you realize that thousands of musicians can feel that this synth is special.
I put every subtle performance and quality trick I learned at Disney into the DSP, and we all added many controls to sculpt the sounds. Even so, the synth is so deep that when Matt started working with sound designers to create presets. I heard sounds I could not have imagined.
Aure and Matt were pretty aware of my obsession with microtonality. Matt even named me “Lord of Microtonality”. One day Aure and Matt asked me what I thought about adding microtonality into Synth One. They were so supportive and enthusiastic about it. I was overjoyed.
While integrating Synth One into Wilsonic was a herculean task, going the other way was even harder. I chose to add scale presets to Synth One. Along with Erv’s closest circle of students, I curated my favorite scales into Synth One as a tuning bank. And now, If you know how to browse synth presets, you can easily browse through the most musically useful historic tunings.
This is when Aure came up with the idea of TuneUp which solved these problems. We moved in the direction of leaving scale designs to Wilsonic, and performing these scales via TuneUp in Synth One and Digital D1. Now we could play to the strengths of each app, just as you would expect in an iOS ecosystem.
What are you waiting for?
Now, at last, you can paint with all the colors of your every emotion with perhaps the most downloaded and loved synthesizers on the App Store. You have everything you need to start a revolution.