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How To Stack Synths In Studio One's Multi-Instrument Environment

PreSonus Studio One Tips & Techniques By Robin Vincent
Published September 2019

A control can be linked across multiple Mojito synths using Macros.A control can be linked across multiple Mojito synths using Macros.

Studio One's Multi-Instrument environment can make even the simplest instrument sound like a million dollars! Find out how...

Studio One has had its Multi-Instrument environment since version 3. It's a remarkable place where you can build complex and multi-faceted virtual instruments that combine sound sources, audio plug-ins and MIDI effects. It's often used as a means of mixing a couple of instrument sounds, or to split and layer sounds across a keyboard. But in this workshop, we're going to look at the value of stacking up multiple instances of the same synthesizer to create sounds so fat you'll be tempted to spell them with a 'ph'.

Multi-Instrument

First of all, let's generate a Multi-Instrument track. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  • One is to stumble into it by accident, by dragging a second instrument onto an existing instrument track. This will bring up a dialogue window asking if you want to Replace the current instrument or Combine it. If you choose Combine, the Multi-Instrument is automatically created for you and the editor will open showing the two instruments side by side.
  • The other way is to drag a New Multi-Instrument from the browser to a new track — you'll find it at the top, under Multi–Instruments in the Instruments tab. This gives us a blank Multi-Instrument environment into which we can drag the synths we want to use.

Let's start with a nice fresh blank Multi-Instrument and take it from there.

In this workshop, we're going to look at the value of stacking up multiple instances of the same synthesizer to create sounds so fat you'll be tempted to spell them with a 'ph'.

Monster Mojito

The aim is to create one heck of a bass sound with the simplest of Mojito patches. So, drag in a Mojito from the browser, retaining the default patch that plays a simple triangle wave. Drag in a second one and have them sit side by side. Give them a bit of a play from a MIDI keyboard and you'll find that other than being a bit louder they sound the same as one Mojito. To jump straight into why I think this is going to be an awesomely fat bass sound, pin both of their windows up, and while holding down a MIDI note, put your mouse over the Pitch knob in one of the instances and roll it one notch in either direction. Behold, the phasing fabulousness of detuned oscillators.

Is that it? No, but the sound is already immeasurably better than one Mojito by itself. Let's add another, this time rolling the pitch of the third Mojito in the other direction. Thick enough for you yet?

Each mouse roll adds or removes 24 cents from the pitch, which can be a bit much when detuning oscillators. The Pitch knob does not have a particularly fine resolution: even by grabbing it with the mouse you can only move it in increments of 12 cents, and I tend to find that the sweet spots lie between 3 and 12 cents. Fortunately, you can enter these manually by opening up the Edit Mapping bar at the top, which is accessed using the little cog icon at the top right of the GUI. Do note that the Edit Mapping bar shows the currently selected parameter regardless of which Mojito's GUI you are looking at, so if you have multiple Mojito windows open, you'll see that value change in the Edit Mapping bar on all of them.

We've now got a cool three-oscillator bass synth, and you can add further Mojitos to keep on thickening the sound. Be aware, though, that the summing of these waveforms might start pushing the track into clipping, so keep an eye on their output levels as you go.

Macro Bionic

As yet, this is not a synthesizer, but a stack of three synthesizers. That need not be the case, and we can make use of Studio One's Macro control system to combine the parameters.

The Macro control is accessed by clicking on the little knob icon at the top left of the Multi-Instrument editor. You'll be presented with eight knobs, eight blank labels and eight buttons. If you expand the window, you'll also discover a pair of very useful X/Y pads. For the purposes of this exercise, let's take four commonly used parameters and bind them to the Macro knobs. Within the first Mojito, right-click on the Cutoff knob, select Connect Filter Cutoff to Instrument Macro Control, and choose Knob 1. In the same way, assign Reso to Knob 2, Envelope to Knob 3 and FX Drive to Knob 4. You can assign as many different parameters from different instruments as you like to a single Macro knob, so go to the other Mojitos and repeat the assignment. (It's at this point that you wish that the Multi-Instrument allowed you to copy and paste or duplicate instruments and assignments within it...)

Now you've got a synthesizer going on with single controls over the shaping of the sound. I like to drop an Arpeggiator into my Multi-Instrument from the Note FX drop-down menu and to start automating those Macro knobs in the track. For instance, set a four-bar loop going, hold down some keys and enable Hold on the Arpeggiator. In the track, select Show Automation, go to Add/Remove and add the first Macro knob labelled 'Filter Cutoff ++'. Draw into the track a nice sine wave using the paint tool and hold Alt to drag it across the entire loop.

While you've got your arp and your filter sweep going on, you can now start fiddling with the other Macro controls, or perhaps more interestingly, you can start fiddling with the individual Mojitos to blend different waveforms, bring in some sub-oscillator and add modulation. If you want to do something to the Multi-Instrument as a whole, simply assign the controls from each instance to another Macro knob. There's a ton of scope for sound design: you could offset pitches to create chords, apply different envelopes to different oscillators, add audio effects to some or all of them and start getting some nicely complex results from the straightforwardly monophonic Mojito.

Mighty Mai Tais

You could do exactly what I've just described with any synth. Mai Tai too is fabulous for creating fat basses, as it gives much finer control and more detail than Mojito, but in this example I'll look at using it to build an impressive pad, showing how changing the range of control between the instances can have an interesting effect.

Add a new Multi-Instrument and drop in a pair of Mai Tais. If you wanted to try the simple bass-synth thing, load the '+ Init' preset and start playing with the Fine knob on any of the oscillators. But we're going to let Mai Tai do some of the hard work for us by loading the 'Simply Hypersaw' pad preset. This already has detuned oscillators and is quite a lovely sound that gets even better once you start stacking up the Mai Tai instances — but to give you a flavour of what I'm trying to do, let's stick with two Mai Tais for now.

Pin up both Mai Tai GUIs. Right-click on the Fine pitch control on Osc 1 and assign it to Macro Knob 1, and do the same on the other Mai Tai, leaving Osc 2 unassigned. You now have fine-tuning of Osc 1 on both Mai Tais tied to that one Macro Knob. Hold a chord and roll your mouse wheel on the Macro. That's rather nice. Osc 2 on each Mai Tai is maintaining the original pitch, so we have the delicious sound of Osc 1 pushing against that. But to make it even more interesting we can use the Macro Control Transition Settings to alter how the knobs on the individual Mai Tais respond to the Macro knob.

The Transition Settings option makes it possible to vary a  Macro's action across different Mai Tai synthesizer instances.The Transition Settings option makes it possible to vary a Macro's action across different Mai Tai synthesizer instances.

To open up these controls, click on the little spanner icon at the top left to show the mapping editor. Knob 1 should already be selected, with our two assignments shown in the middle. Click on the box with the diagonal stripe alongside the second Mai Tai assignment to open the Transition Settings. This shows the range of what's being controlled, starting with the Macro knob turned fully left up to the knob being turned fully right. The straight diagonal line shows a linear response ranging from -100 to +100. Grabbing the handles on either end, set it to +40 and -40. (You have to click away from the response curve window to apply it and be able to move the Macro knob again.) Now you have a much more interesting and more sinister thing going on when you move that Macro.

Add a third Mai Tai with the same preset and same mapping, but this time, set the response to ±60 and invert the line (Invert X) so that it's going up in pitch when the rest are going down. Also, pull up the Sub on this third Mai Tai for a bit of emphasis. Moving the knob 5-10 percent in either direction adds some really subtle movement and mystery to the sound, and when you bring the knob slowly back to the 12 o'clock position, there's something of a THX vibe going on.

Pitch is not the only parameter where this is effective. Filter Cutoff is asking for it, although it takes a bit of experimentation to find the right range for each one — you can invert them all over the place to have alternative Mai Tai filtering back and forth under sine-wave modulation. Experimentation is always the key to unlocking evolving and animated sounds competing for dominance within ranges of modulation. In other words, try it with everything!

Stacking up the same instrument in this way can strengthen weak patches, fill out synth lines and embolden your bottom ends. The simplest of tweaks can bring remarkable changes and enliven even the most sterile of synth sounds. And there's no need to stop at three or four instances; you can make a hearty soup of sound with a dozen or so detuned oscillators.

Published September 2019

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