FAQ DigitalLife MD06 - Syncing Multiple Devices
What if you want to sync multiple devices to a DAW? The best way is to use a MIDI interface with enough I/O to handle all your devices, USB connectivity, and the speed to provide extremely low latency. An interface also gives you the ability to change your signal path without switching cables, as you would have to do with daisy chaining. For instance, if you have a hardware synth, drum machine, and MIDI controller all synced with your DAW, you could easily arrange your synth to send clock to your DAW and other devices, or the DAW to send clock to all three devices, or any configuration that works best for you. If you’re looking to configure your own MIDI setup for live shows or your home studio, you’ll need a great MIDI interface. The MOTU micro lite USB MIDI interface is an excellent option with five MIDI In and five MIDI Out ports, 80 MIDI channels, USB connectivity, USB bus power, and Mac/Windows compatibility. So now that you have MIDI clock being transmitted from your DAW or keyboard, what else can you do with it besides locking sequencer timings? Well, you can synchronize arpeggiators, LFOs, envelopes, and effect parameters to magically create complex rhythms and sonic animations in ways that would be quite difficult without MIDI clock.
An arpeggiator can either run at a tempo chosen directly from the keyboard’s or module’s clock or it can be synchronized to an external MIDI clock via MIDI or USB. (And some can synchronize to an external analog clock signal as well.) When the arpeggiator is not running from its own internal clock, the rate or tempo knob usually switches to units of the beat, such as 1/16, 1/8, 1/8 triplet, 1/4 note, etc. This allows you to lock to the external MIDI clock with the freedom of not needing the arpeggiator to always play quarter notes.
The same goes for LFOs and envelopes. They both can be free running, but if you set them to BPM instead of Hz, you can have LFOs and envelopes that each can repeat based on chosen units of the master clock. Some can go as fast as 1/64 notes and as slow as four measures per LFO or envelope cycle. Multiple LFOs and envelopes that are affecting filters, amps, panning, etc., with each having different units of the beat, will create satisfying complex rhythmic patterns that move around the stereo field.
Now add clock-sync’d effects! Imagine having choruses, flangers, phase shifters, and tremolos all adding even more interesting complexity that will always be in sync, regardless of where you set the MIDI clock’s tempo.
But the single-most interesting effect to lock to MIDI clock is the delay. Whether you use a simple delay, a left/right delay, or a stereo ping-pong delay (my all-time favorite!), you will discover so many interesting variations as you set the delay time to BPM and then experiment with all the various units of the beat.
Obviously, you probably shouldn’t use all of these tricks all the time, as that particular type of complexity will quickly become old if overused. But careful and tasteful uses of MIDI synchronization will elevate all types of music to new levels of beauty. Have fun!
Sweetwater's synth guru, Daniel Fisher, is one of the most sought-after synthesizer sound designers in the industry. He graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelors Degree in Music Production and Engineering, as well as Cum Laude with a Bachelors Degree in Music Synthesis from Berklee College. Fisher later became an Associate Professor of Music Synthesis at Berklee College. He is now Sweetwater's Director of Product Optimization, having created dozens of libraries and synth programs for Kurzweil, Roland, Korg, Moog, Alesis, Yamaha, E-MU, TC Electronic, and many others. Daniel also currently teaches Music Synthesis and Sampling at Purdue University in Fort Wayne.