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electronic music

https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/253745109/stream?client_id=3cQaPshpEeLqMsNFAUw1Q?plead=please-dont-download-this-or-our-lawyers-wont-let-us-host-audio

In theory, the vocals and the Romanian minor scale, time signature and tempo are all off, but somehow they kind of fit.

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https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/250531818/stream?client_id=3cQaPshpEeLqMsNFAUw1Q?plead=please-dont-download-this-or-our-lawyers-wont-let-us-host-audio

I made this with an old friend. Angry German kid, hard synths and tripping drums. Deutsch Schwedische Freundschaft.

I made this with an old friend. Angry German kid, hard synths and tripping drums.

Smod (with Katrin Hesse)

Understanding Hip Hop Production

I imagine that most readers of this blog are aspiring producers of electronic music. Its subject are not limited to only electronics, but I haven’t mention the word “flute” or “acoustic guitar” even once since the start of it all.

Anyway, electronic music is such a wide genre and has more to do with gear and techniques rather than a certain style of music.

So I’m into music production and old analog hardware. Here’s the thing, I’m into hip hop, and mostly trapish contemporary shit for the time being. And as a vintage gear head, I feel kind of alone.

Of course I’m influenced by Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk, older Depeche Mode, Warp Records, Hyperdub, Skinny Puppy, Front 242 and so on, but equally so by hip hop producers, such as J Dilla, DJ Premier, Timbaland, RZA, The Neptunes, Dr. Dre, DJ Shadow, RJD2.

And right now, I think my favorite producers/songwriters are Noah 40 Shebib and PartyNextDoor. And Noisia, and Zomby, and Burial, and perhaps Datsik around 2011.

Many electronic producers don’t seem to appreciate or understand hip hop production. I’m not talking about these people mentioned above, but about hte generic bedroom electronic music producer. They might think of hip hop as turntables and loops. But modern hip hop production uses the same gear and share many point of contacts with electronic music. (Of course, it’s kind of banal, because so do all popular styles of music.)

I don’t know, I don’t have an agenda here, I’ve just been thinking about this when browsing through different forums and groups. Most connoisseurs and nerds of synthesizers make techno, electronica, house, synthpop, industrial, edm or synthwave, not many make hip hop.

In lack of a real article here’s the corner of the bedroom. Not much have actually changed sinced the last man cave shoot. (I’ve bought and sold some gear, such as another SH-101, another Juno-106 and a Kick Lancet.) The latest addition to the setup is the mighty Analog Four. I’ve also made a couple of tracks in this corner of the world. The item on the far left of the desk is a sewing machine – not mine though.

Happy New Bass

If you’re reading and following this blog you ought to be interested in bass. And because of that, I’m giving you two – not so obvious – techniques on how to accentuate your synth bass sound.

Using the high-pass filter to boost bass

Okay, so you know what a high-pass filter is right, and that its cutoff frequency is the point at where the filter limits the low frequencies and lets the high pass.

You also know about resonance, and that it’s generally used to give a brighter/thinner sound. (And when the resonant setting is cranked to max, some filters go into self-oscillation and which make them scream.) But when high-pass resonance is added, the note and overtones near the cutoff are boosted – in other words, this is lifting the bass.

Just use keyboard tracking to make the resonant peak follow the pitch of the note and cutoff to follow the keyboard. The fundamental note will now be boosted while the surrounding spectrum is unaffected.

Use two filters in series if possible, set the other to low-pass filter and reduce harsh elements of the sound.

Get bigger bass by focusing on midrange

To get louder bass it’s not always necessary to pump up the level or to boost the lower frequencies, no you could just draw more attention to the bass element. Add midrange to it – it’s almost a mindtrick, and it shouldn’t make the bass any muddier.

So saturate the overtones of the bass or sculpt the thud of the kick drum. This is also valuable when there are several sounds competing for room in the low end.

Analog Sound Designed

Here’s a breakdown of a song that you maybe can learn something from. It’s not that profound, but should give you some hints of the sound design.

But first, listen to https://soundcloud.com/johaneckerstrom/read-me, so you can follow the article.

The song itself is fairly minimal and only consists of a few channel tracks, and therefore easy to analyze.

Drums

For the drums I used an old Roland TR-606 drum machine sequenced to the tempo of 110 BPM. I also added Boss DR-110’s hand clap and a slightly downpitched snare drum for the drum roll.

I put rhythm first in most of my songs, even if this particular pattern isn’t that complex.

Bass

The pounding bass is created on the Korg volca bass.

There are two VCOs grouped, an octave apart, playing the main ostinato, and the third VCO is introduced later in the song as a live pitch. In this case the effect of the VCOs sharing a common envelope and stuff renders a nice effect, where the gate length sounds chopped while the rhythm is intact.

The filter cutoff is slowly modulated by the LFO to make some movement in the sound.

During the crescendo, the filter is manually opened up to two-thirds – and what a liquid filter it is.

A quite high resonance is applied to make the bass scream a bit.

The bass channel is side-chained (triggered by the kick drum) and duplicated to a parallel channel, with bass rolled off (using a high pass filter) and fed through a phaser effect to enhance the stereo image and add further movement.

Motif

The motif is a minimal, almost atonal, figure made on the Korg volca keys. The synth is best used for plucky shit, and set to poly ring voicing (square waves through a ring modulator). The noisy internal delay is bypassed, in favor of an external digital reverb with a plate algorithm.

Arpeggio

This is sequenced internally on the Roland SH-101. Mixed waveforms are used and noise modulation of the VCF for that gritty sound. Cutoff sweeps are manually made and pretty randomly so. Also with high resonance level to add an acid touch. There’s not much use of the sub oscillator here, because the arpeggiator shouldn’t collide with the bassline.

Accent

Only two notes where played twice on the Yamaha CS01, and they are almost unmotivated. Nevertheless, they sound good – yeah, it’s that notorious PWM sound.

Coda

This is the small but big Moog Music Minitaur producing a 8-bit colored sound. The synth is run by a software monophonic arpeggiator which makes these octave jumps when programmed with more notes that it can handle.

A Modern Day Home Studio

I had the same setup, more or less, for years. This year though, has been some kind of paradigm shift for my little home studio. I’ve bought, tried and sold stuff. I’ve also changed room in the flat.

For a long time, I mostly used software, but now I’m leaning towards hardware. The two main reasons for that are: I got space (even if it’s not much) and I find it inspirational to work with new and tactile gear.

Also, I had an ambition of switching from Reason to Live, but since I’ve acquired so much gear, I haven’t had time to dig into Live properly.

Some changes

I upgraded my studio monitors from the Yamaha HS 10W (with subwoofer HS 50M) to the Genelec 8030A. I got rid of a good MIDI controller, the M-Audio Axiom Pro 61, with semi-weighted keys and all, to make room for a full-size, real synth, in this case, the Roland Alpha Juno-2.

Since March I’ve picked up and sold a microKORG and a volca sample. They had a few qualities, but didn’t quite fit my rig – neither sonically nor workflow-wise. I also got a BCR2000 MIDI controller this summer, for the microKORG and the Alpha Juno-2, but sold it because I didn’t needed it and it was too big and clumsy for my limited desk.

I understand this whole post isn’t that interesting. It’s merely some navel-gazing shit, totally nerdy. And to top this, here’s my hardware inventory of the home studio as of today.

Synths and drum machines:

  • Arturia MiniBrute
  • Boss Doctor Rhythm DR-110 Graphic
  • Gakken SX-150 Mark II
  • Korg volca bass
  • Korg volca keys
  • Moog Music Minitaur
  • Roland Alpha Juno-2
  • Roland Juno-106
  • Roland SH-101
  • Roland TR-606 Drumatix
  • Yamaha CS 01

Other stuff:

  • Fender Squier Bullet Strat with Tremolo HSS (Electric Guitar)
  • Genelec 8030A (Studio Monitors)
  • Mackie 1202VLZ4 (Analog Mixer)
  • Midiman Oxygen 8 (MIDI Controller)
  • Sennheiser HD 25-1 II (Headphones)
  • Shure BETA 58A (Microphone)

Many Mini-Keys

I’ve always fantasized about some small toy-like Casiotone with lots of sliders with good and usable sound, well at least in my younger days. (Actually, I think there’s a Casio SA series ToneBank keyboard laying around somewhere at my parent’s house.)

Anyway, now I’ve found one – the great sounding Yamaha CS01. It looks good too, it fits perfectly next to the SH-101.

The CS01 is an analog monosynth from 1982. The sound is much bigger than its tiny frame would suggest. The PWM is just great. It might not be the best synth for bass, but it would definitely produce competitive lead sounds.

The CS01 has an uncommon feature, a breath control, which is an optional mouthpiece controlling the VCF and VCA. I reckon it’s mostly a gimmick, but I don’t have it, so I shouldn’t really judge. Moreover, the synth has a built-in amplifier and speaker, it runs on batteries (or external power). There’s also pins to attach a shoulder strap like on the SH-101.

If I could decide, I’d trade the breath control and speaker for other features, like MIDI or CV gate, or the ability to mix the noise with any of the waves, or sample and hold on the LFO. I would also change the step-wise glissando to a regular portamento (however, it is nearly continuous with a short setting).

Some say the mark II of the CS01 is superior with its 24 db voltage-controlled filter and adjustable slider control over resonance, but I think the original version is good enough, and I usually don’t modulate peak level that much anyway.

I got it pretty cheap, although I had to repair the pitch lever (the pot was broken). Vintage analog synths on eBay can be overpriced, but this should be one of the less expensive.

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