Artiphon Bow Mode (with Cubase)

One of the more intriguing modes of the Artiphon Instrument1 is bowing mode (a.k.a. violin mode).  In this mode, a sound is generated when you press the bridge key. The pitch is determined by your finger position on the fret board. This is analogous to playing a violin. No bow, no sound. The harder you bow, the louder it is. The bridge keys are velocity sensitive (how hard you tap it can vary the sound) and after touch sensitive (you can control the volume by pressing harder or softer after the initial press).  Bow mode puts the Artiphon in fretless mode giving you the freedom to micro tune notes and the responsibility to aim accurately. The result is a very expressive configuration that is challenging to play. (Here is a video.)

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Configuring the Synth

The iPhone app works out-of-the-box, of course.  For a PC or Mac synth, Artiphon recommends the Kontakt ,so it should also work well.  Download instructions are here.

I use Steinberg Cubase and have a wealth of VST (Virtual Studio Instruments) including HALion 2 and Orchestral Symphonic instrument set that I wanted to use.

Setting up Cubase with the Instrument 1 (i1) required some configuration (with great technical support from Artiphon.)  Here’s what you need to do in Cubase.  Other synths will require similar configurations.

Changing the pitch Bend to -24 and +24

Most synth keyboards have a pitch bend wheel and it is part of the MIDI standard.  The Artiphon uses pitch bend in fretless mode when you slide. The MIDI standard specifies a pitch bend position, opposed to pitch change, so it’s the synth’s job to convert the pitch bend position to pitch.

Synths will usually let you configure the range. This is a must for Artiphon in fretless mode because to calibrate a slide of one fret to be one semitone, you must configure the synthesizer to be -24 when the pitch bend “position” is all the way down and +24 when the “position” is all the way up.

The typical pitch bend range is 2 semitones. This will result in a slide of the entire length of the Artiphon changing the pitch by one semitone.  Not what you want.

This answer is specific to Cubase. If you are using a different setup, just remember, the change is in the instrument, not the workbench. It took a long time for me to find it in Cubase because it was nested deeply and it changes depending on the VST you are using.  Here is a screen shot with red outlines to hint navigation and options using HALion SONIC 2.

pitch bend.png

This will let your slides work as expected. But, it still will not work correctly when playing on multiple strings.

Multi-Channel Configuration

Midi pitch bend was designed to tune all the notes being played by a single keyboard. But the Artiphon allows a musician to independently slide up to six “strings” at the same time.  Sliding two notes at a time or quickly moving between strings when there is a miniscule overlap will cause a buggy sounding behavior without correct configuration.

The solution is to route each “string” through its own MIDI channel. This way the pitch bend for each “string” works independently in its own MIDI channel. To do this, first make sure the Artiphon itself is in Multi-Channel mode.

multi channel.png

In Multi-Channel mode, the i1 uses MIDI channels 2-7 for each “string”. You will also need to set Cubase to pass these channels to the VST.  After you have created a track for your instrument, change the MIDI routing beside the instrument selector.

Cubase midi channel.png

Then, you need to bind the VST to each of MIDI channel. In HALion this is easy as you can right click, copy and right click past in the loading console.

Midi Channel.png

Instrumentation

My goal was to use the HALION Symphonic Orchestral (HSO) VST instrument set because it has high quality samples. However, I found it much harder to control than the out-of-the-box string samples despite my attempt to adjust.  Pressing the bridge on the i1 changes the volume and, for some reason, the HSO was very twitchy, so for the viola, I used “Viola Solo” from HALion Sonic SE.

I also experimented with a few different voices.  The pan flute seemed well suited to bow mode.  Synth leads were also a lot of fun.

Playing

Here is a video.

A few tips to speed you up getting started:

  • Usually, you want to press the fretboard before the bridge key. It is easy to get the open position note when you don’t want it.
  • Similarly, if you release the string, while the bridge is being pressed, the open position will sound.
  • Move the bridge key back and forth (parallel to the frets like changing directions on the bow) when changing notes. This seemed to work better than pressing the bridge.
  • I retuned the strings to be one fourth apart so it is more like a guitar. (The strings are fifths apart in violin mode out-of-the-box.)

The i2, tended to make ticking sounds with sudden volume changes.  This appears because more frequent midi controls are required.  If you add more in a DAW, the ticks go away.

smooth.pngThis screen shot shows the midi expression cc11 events. The area outlined in red has been manually “smoothed” and does not have the tick artifacts.  The two notes to the left are the way they were recorded and have subtle ticking sounds that can be annoying.

Conclusion

The i2 in bow mode is enormously expressive. Mastering it will take time, just like any other instrument.  It works well with Cubase when configured properly but is not 100% glitch free as of the time of this writing.

 

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