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Archive for February, 2007

Microediting and stutter edits

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

Sometimes it’s good to have your music do things a human normally could not. The technique I call microediting has gained much popularity in the past decade, and it is featured in music such as Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Mum, etc. To get that stuttery, robotic, glitchy sound, you have to zoom in really close on your notes. 1/64 is a good resolution to view at.

Here’s a small clip of a good example of microediting:
Microedited Beat in Reason

That second microediting part can be seen in the screenshot. Try setting your snap resolution to 1/64 and drawing sequential 64th on/off bars in your master or lead part volume automation. You can create really interesting, rhythmic stutter patterns this way.

Reverse hits

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

A reversed hit soundOne of the most popular reverse hits is a reverse cymbal. You hear it all the time in pop or techno songs. The reverse cymbal crash leads to the next bar. It works well as a buildup and transition. To make your own reverse hit, try taking a nice loud percussive sound that hits and then gets quieter from there on out. Then in any sound editor such as Audacity, reverse the sound. Save it and import it into your sequencer with a sampler. Then experiment with the amount of time you have to play the sound so that it reaches its peak right at the point where the next bar begins. Check out this reversed sound of a metal barrel being hit (I use this one all the time as a precursor to a huge transition).Example 2: a cool free reverse hit on freesound

Filter Cutoff Automation

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

This is a widely used technique for giving an instrument more life, and for creating buildups. In most software sequencers, you can automate knob settings over time. One of these is the cutoff frequency of a filter. Try using a low-pass filter or high-pass filter on a sound and automate the cutoff frequency.

Check out this example from “echonomix” by infected mushroom. They are using a high-pass filter and automating the cutoff frequency here.



Thursday, February 15th, 2007

The best buildups I can think of are by Infected Mushroom. They use many of the techniques described in Edits & Efffects to create tension before a beat busts in and you just HAVE to dance. Buildups will combine many of the following tricks all in one go for full effect.
Listen to this example from infected mushroom’s sailing in the sea of mushroom. Notice all the different components used in this segment to create tension. They used a very long reverse hit, they introduced new, different layers each bar or so. They also automated the cutoff filter of the lead gated synth. Then when the buildup reached its peak, everything was silenced as a drumloop kicked in and another shorter reverse cymbal played. Then it reintroduces the full ensemble of layers for that full intensity effect.


Thursday, February 15th, 2007

In most sequencers, there is a quantize function. This will take all of the note data on a track and aligns all of the notes to the nearest division. So if you play sloppily or you just have bad latency on your midi keyboard, quantize is your friend. Select the division most appropriate to what you’ve just played. 1/8th and 1/16th divisions are most common. Another cool thing about quantization is that it will sometimes snap a note to a division that you didn’t intend. But it sounds good anyway, minus a few odd parts. Then this quantized melody may inspire you to come up with a new melody altogether. Of course, not all music sounds good with quantization. If you’re going for an organic, human sound, then you probably won’t want to quantize 100%. There are options in most sequencers to quantize to a certain percentage. This is useful if you want to correct your timing, but not to the point of computerized perfection.

Expressive Melodies

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

So, you don’t want your melodies to be boring? My first suggestion would be to come up with different variations on a melody that you can use as a loop. Then vary which loop you use in the sequencer. For example, if you wrote two melodies (we’ll call them A and B) and then made a variation on B (call that one C), you could sequence A B A C. This is a very common pattern. Or perhaps try A A B B, or A B A B, etc. My next suggestion is automation of several different knobs on your synth. For example, you can automate the cutoff frequency, vibrato, volume, modulation depth, etc. One trick I commonly use on my synths is to route an LFO to the filter cutoff frequency. Then I route the modulation wheel on my keyboard to the LFO’s depth (the LFO speed should be synced with the tempo at 1/8th or 1/16th). You could also route the modulation wheel to the LFO’s speed for an interesting combo-modulation. The modulation wheel on any midi keyboard is handy for live performances. But when it comes to sequencing, there are no limits to how many automation tracks you can use. I suggest automating many parameters at once to keep things interesting. For an example, listen to the solo synth on my track, “your best shot”. In this track, I am automating the cutoff frequency for those intense moments (on a low-pass filter), amount of vibrato (depth of LFO routed to cutoff frequency), and amount of delay (via the aux send knob). All of these combine to make for an expressive, almost human-like quality to the synth.

In this screenshot of my song, (made with Ableton Live), you can see the automation of the vibrato amount overlayed on top of the notes.
Listen to the melody shown in this image.



Thursday, February 15th, 2007

The vertical lines in a sequencer are what slice up musical notes in time. Depending on what resolution you are viewing your sequence at, there can be many variations between how closely the vertical lines are spaced. But before we can look at the divisions of time, we must talk about time signature.

The time signature tells you how many beats are in a bar and what note or rest is equivalent to one beat. Most time signatures are 4/4, but things can get interesting when you change the time signature. Whenever the second (or lower) number of a time signature is 4, this means that one beat is equal to a quarter note. When the second number is 8, one beat is equal to an eighth note.
Get a more detailed explanation.

For a 4/4 time signature:
1 bar = 4 beats (4 quarter notes) = 16 sixteenth notes = 32 thirty-second notes
As you can see, there are many different resolutions that you can split 1 bar into. Typically, resolutions of 1/32 and 1/64 are in the realm of microediting because any change of notes at these divisions will sound very quick.

Say this out loud to get an idea of what 16th notes are like:
“1 e and a 2 e and a 3 e and a 4 e and a”
This whole phrase is equal to one bar. Each utterance equals a 16th note. Count ’em up, you’ll see that there are 16 separate divisions.

Vary your note lengths: If you want your melodies to be expressive and interesting to listen to, you must vary your note lengths. After drawing a sequence of notes, try altering the length of the notes and shifting them from the left or to the right in the sequencer.

Vary your note velocity: Same as if you’re programming a drum track. Unless you specifically want a track to sound mechanical and computerized, you should randomize your note velocities a bit. All the while, loop your sequence and listen to it as you go. You will get sick of it eventually, and that’s when you know that it’s time for a break.

Sequencing With a Pencil

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

Sometimes it’s just easier to draw melodies in a sequencer than it is to actually play the melody on a keyboard. Especially if your music is fast. Essentially what you will be doing is drawing a rhythmic pattern composed of note segments that can be organized within a scale. Most software sequencers have 2 dimensions: The horizontal, or time dimension, and the vertical, or pitch dimension. As the playhead progresses along from left to right, the notes that are drawn on the horizontal lines are played. The rest of this section will be divided into two parts, one for each dimension.

Creating a bass patch with Reason’s Subtractor synth

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

The first thing I do is create a new Subtractor synth. By default, the selected waveform is a sawtooth wave (the sawtooth wave just happens to be a nice waveform for a cool bass sound. Also by default, in the lower right corner of the synth, the velocity is mapped to F.env (filter envelope). By this default, when you hit a key harder, it will sound more bright. You will briefly hear these higher frequencies before the filter cuts them off at the speed set by the attack and decay on the filter envelope.

Next, I change the polyphony to 1 instead of the default 8. That way, if I press more than one note at a time, only one will be allowed to play. For the most part, bass instruments do not play chords or simultaneous notes. Next, I lower the octave on Osc 1 to 2. You will want to lower your octave on any bass patch to get a nice deep sound. Then, I change the mode of the oscillator to X (there are 3 options directly to the left of the waveform selector: X, -, O) What this does is creates a duplicate copy of the waveform and stacks it on top of itself. Then you can control the “alignment” of the two stacked waveforms with the phase knob. With the X mode, the waveforms are multiplied, and create a nice fat sound. If one waveform is subtracted from the other (- mode) then it will sound weaker. If O is selected, then a duplicate waveform is not created at all. So for a thick juicy bass patch, I leave the mode set to X and shift the phase knob to my taste.

Next, I decide how I want the filter envelope to sound. If I increase the amt (amount) knob, the filter envelope will be more noticeable. Then I can create a sort of fade-in effect on the filter by increasing the attack time. This is nice for slow notes that build in intensity as time passes. If you only want this fade-in effect when the keys are pressed lightly, and not when you hit them with force, you can also change the amp (volume) envelope. Increase the attack time and then turn the A. Atk knob in the Velocity area to the left. Now when you press lightly on the keys, the sound will fade in, and when you press hard, it will snap right into action.

Finally, I add EQ and Compression (not the dinky old kinds, I’m talkin’ about the MClass units). Emphasize those low frequencies with the EQ to really make your subwoofer rumble. Then use the aforementioned compressor settings to make sure the bass cuts through all the other parts.

download the example RNS file

Making your bassline thump

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

Do you have a problem making your basslines thump in different audio systems? Do they sound nice on one set of speakers, but weak on the next? Are you having a hard time getting the power you want from your basslines without making the mix too muddy? Here are a few tips on how to make your basslines bang. (from Future Producers)

The Frequency Range
If you want your bass to bang in a system with nice subwoofers AND in crappy home shelf systems, it is pointless to use a bass patch whose energy lies only below 40 Hz, because most home systems will not play sounds that low in frequency. You need to make sure bass has a lot going on in the 70-90 Hz frequency range. So just how do you do this? How do you get a sound that is both felt and heard on a number of different speaker systems?

Layering Other Waveforms
The sine and triangle wave produces that low thumping bass tone we electronic composers love (e.g. sub bass, 808 boom, DnB drone). These waveforms have few or no harmonics, so they are felt more than they are heard. If using a synth (or even a sampler), try layering these waveforms with a waveform rich in harmonics, such as a square or saw wave. After layering, use the synth’s or sampler’s low pass filter cutoff to trim away some of the higher harmonics from this new bass patch.