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Bedroom music production, gaming and random shit

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Bedroom Studio Tips Revisited

Three years ago I posted a list of some music production methods and tips on my blog that still gets some attention. Now, here’s some other good read (I hope).

Moreover, you really should check out the most popular post on this blog about the best tips on music production that I can think of.

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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.

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.

The Final Countdown of the microKORG

I thought the microKORG was okay sounding and quite fun even to program, but it was hard to find the right sonic spot in my productions for it; it competed with major league players, like the analog Minitaur and the Juno-106, or some great softsynths like the Thor. So I sold it (and by selling it, I made room for another purchase).

Still, just because there wasn’t any obvious place for the microKORG in my personal setup, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad or redundant synth for everbody.

Anyway, before I sold it, I printed down two generic bass sound designs, very basic but still good sounding.

The FM Bass

The first sound is a FM-esque bass, though it doesn’t try to mimic the style of the classic Yamaha DX7 of the 80s (for that, choose sine waves for both oscillators, carrier and modulator, and bypass the filter section entirely).

You can use a LFO as the modulation source for the oscillator, but in this case I’m using another oscillator to achieve a fairly complex overtone structure with only two operators. So by definition, the bass is actually a Cross Modulation (X-Mod) bass type. Let’s start by breaking down the oscillators:

Osc 1: SIN, 25, 0, -, –
Osc 2: SQU, OFF, 24, 0, –

The first oscillator (carrier) is set as a fundamental sine wave with no overtones. Some depth of cross modulation is added (in the patch below, adjust this with the modulation wheel).

A square wave is used for the second oscillator (modulator), with the oscillator modulation turned off, and detuned two octaves upward for harmonic-component effects. Also, try tweaking the tuning for different sounds.

Here’s the full program (another timbre was layered to fatten the sound up a bit):

*The default factory value, just skip to next setting.

Timbre 1
Edit Select 1
Voice: SYT, LAY, MON, MLT, –
Pitch: -12, 0, 0, 2, 0
Osc 1: SIN, 25, 0, -, –
Osc 2: SQU, OFF, 24, 0, –
*Mixer: 127, 0, 0, -, –
Filter: 12.L, 37, 41, 23, 34
Filter EG:  0, 31, 0, 0, ON
Amp: 127, CNT, OFF, -16, –
*Amp EG: 0, 64, 127, 0, ON
*LFO 1: TRI, OFF, OFF, 10, –
*LFO 2: SIN, OFF, OFF, 70, –

Edit Select 2
Patch 1: MOD, 1.CT, -8, -, –
*Patch 2: LF.2, PTC, 0, -, –
*Patch 3: LF.1, CUT, 0, -, –
Patch 4: LF.2, PAN, 23, -, –
*Mod FX: FLG, 20, 0, -, –
*Delay: STR, OFF, 40, 0, –
EQ: 320, 5, 6.00, 0, –
*Arpeg. A: 120, 1.16, 80, UP, 1
*Arpeg. B: OFF, 0, OFF, 8, BTH
*Global: 40.0, 0, CRU, PRE, OFF
*MIDI: 1, ON, INT, -, –

Timbre 2
Edit Select 1
Voice: SYT, LAY, MON, MLT, –
Pitch: -12, 0, 0, 2, 0
Osc 1: SIN, 0, 0, -, –
*Osc 2: SAW, OFF, 0, 0, –
*Mixer: 127, 0, 0, -, –
Filter: 12.L, 25, 11, 29, 42
Filter EG:  0, 31, 19, 0, ON
Amp: 127, CNT, OFF, -16, –
*Amp EG: 0, 64, 127, 0, ON
*LFO 1: TRI, OFF, OFF, 10, –
*LFO 2: SIN, OFF, OFF, 70, –

Edit Select 2
*Patch 1: LF.1, PTC, 0, -, –
*Patch 2: LF.2, PTC, 0, -, –
*Patch 3: LF.1, CUT, 0, -, –
*Patch 4: LF.2, CUT, 0, -, –
*Mod FX: FLG, 20, 0, -, –
*Delay: STR, OFF, 40, 0, –
EQ: 320, 5, 6.00, 0, –
*Arpeg. A: 120, 1.16, 80, UP, 1
*Arpeg. B: OFF, 0, OFF, 8, BTH
*Global: 40.0, 0, CRU, PRE, OFF
*MIDI: 1, ON, INT, -, –

The Juno Bass

The other bass is merely a sawtooth, yet beefy, virtually analogish with emulated drift and such. It’s straight forward, yet powerful, and I think it showcases the strengths of the microKORG’s MS2000 sound engine.

There’s a number of ways to enhance this sound. For example, you can turn up the second oscillator, detune it a bit, add some chorus, and get a lead-like sound. Or you can modulate the cutoff slightly with a LFO to make subtle movements in the sound.

Anyway, here’s the program of the punchy single sawtooth bass:

*The default factory value, just skip to next setting.

Edit Select 1
Voice: SYT, SGL, MON, MLT, –
Pitch: -12, 0, 0, 2, 5
*Osc 1: SAW, 0, 0, -, –
*Osc 2: SAW, OFF, 0, 0, –
*Mixer: 127, 0, 4, -, –
Filter: 12.L, 35, 12, 50, 45
Filter EG:  0, 25, 6, 30, ON
Amp: 127, CNT, OFF, -14, –
Amp EG: 0, 33, 101, 0, ON
*LFO 1: TRI, OFF, OFF, 10, –
*LFO 2: SIN, OFF, OFF, 70, –

Edit Select 2
*Patch 1: LF.1, PTC, 0, -, –
*Patch 2: LF.2, PTC, 0, -, –
*Patch 3: LF.1, CUT, 0, -, –
*Patch 4: LF.2, CUT, 0, -, –
*Mod FX: FLG, 20, 0, -, –
Delay: STR, OFF, 40, 0, –
EQ: 320, 6, 6.00, 5, –
*Arpeg. A: 120, 1.16, 80, UP, 1
*Arpeg. B: OFF, 0, OFF, 8, –
*Global: 40.0, 0, CRU, PRE, OFF
*MIDI: 1, ON, INT, -, –

Control Your Gear

I got another new piece of equipment, a Behringer B-Control Rotary BCR2000. It’s a cascadable desktop control surface that was released over 10 years ago. So I’m late on this, but I haven’t had the need until now. (I’m aware of Behringer’s newer product range X-Touch, but in short, I do favor the many rotary knobs to a few faders, even if they’re motorized.)

The purpose was mainly to have the BCR2000 act as a programmer for a recently purchased Alpha Juno-2, and it really does open up the synth. Even if I know a thing or two about subtractive synthesis, to have all parameters laid out like this, and being able to make multiple adjustments simultaneously, well that’s just unbeatable.

Not Perfect

Now the BCR2000 isn’t perfect. To set it up and upload custom presets (SysEx) could have been easier. The knobs feel alright, but not as good as the microKORG’s or MiniBrute’s. The illuminated encoders can also be a bit imprecise; there are 15 LED in the ring around each knob, and they transmit values from 0 to 127, which should mean that each light holds approximately 8-9 steps, but in reality the amount jumps, i.e. the first light covers 5 steps and the second 8 steps.

To shift between USB and stand-alone modes, which is necessary in my case using both hard- and software, is a bit fiddly.

I’d also prefer the clumsy thingy to be a little more compact.

Conclusion

Anyway, it’s a great device. And it turns out the BCR2000 also talks to my microKORG, which makes the notorious menu diving redundant. And on top of that it works wonderfully with Live and Reason’s softsynths and features.

There seem to be plenty of resources for the BCR2000 like a Yahoo group and a several threads on Gearslutz.

Moreover, SynthGraphics offers a few ready-made SysEx files and custom panel overlays. While the overlay of the Alpha Juno is a great translation of the PG-300 map, the microKORG overlay is okay but fails the ease of the original virtual patch matrix – still it’s much better than using the microKORG on its own.

Bass for Dummies

Here’s  a song I’ve made with the volca bass and keys, https://soundcloud.com/johaneckerstrom/house-of-missiles.

The bass sound is actually programmed in Step Mode as a simple pattern in 1/16 notes, and then resampled a few times with different manually movements. There are not many effects on the bass, just a multiband compressor and a little Haas for stereo width. (Then of course side-chain, triggered by the kickdrum.)

Breakdown

The bass sound is made on the volca bass. First group all three VCOs together (VCO GROUP) and turn them on (VCO1, VCO2 and VCO3 lit). Leave PITCH 2 off but detune PITCH 1 (down) and PITCH 3 (up) for a thick unison effect. Have the first (VCO1) and second (VCO2) oscillators generate a sawtooth wave and the third a square wave (VCO WAVE).

On the low-pass filter section (VCF) you’ll need a little resonance to make the LFO go well into audio range, so put PEAK level on 11 o’clock.

Set CUTOFF frequency at 11 o’clock. (As for knob movement, slightly raise CUTOFF level at the same time as EG DECAY/RELEASE drops.)

Now, set the LFO RATE to max and TARGET to CUTOFF modulation. Adjust intensity (INT) to 9 o’clock or so. This little trick – modulating the filter cutoff point (or pitch) with an audio range oscillator – introduces some buzz or grit (read: distortion) to the sound. And if you turn down the intensity a bit, you will get a fat analog sound.

Turn on the envelope generator for volume (AMP EG ON). On the EG section, set ATTACK to null, DECAY/RELEASE to 1 o’clock – turn this knob to about 10 o’clock and back again – and CUTOFF EG INT to 10 o’clock.

Problems

There were two technical problems with recording the volca modules: first MIDI latency and second, mono recording.

I’ve spent an hour or two trying to solve the MIDI offset, but didn’t succeed. In the end I just ignored it. (Well, someday I will fix it, for sure.)

And about the mono recording. The volca modules (bass and keys) are each a 3 VCO strong monosynth, and both of them have a stereo audio output. I can’t make much sense of this, but I could connect the each device to (A) a mono or (B) a stereo pair input on the audio interface (Propellerhead Balance). I chose to mono to save input ports. Moreover, I’ve read somewhere that the so called stereo, is just one mono signal rendered as left and right. This might be wrong though.

A microKORG Growl Bass

Hi, here’s how to make a dupstep wobble/growl bass on the microKORG. Or at least a good starting point. The raw sound is pretty standard, still full and with some fine overtones, that you should be able to take a step further with compressors, saturation and effects outside of the microKORG. Just resample an process.

You can manually change (or automate) the wobble speed with LFO 2 > Frequency, which is tempo synced to the BPM set on Arpeg. A > Tempo. Alright, start with initializing a program on the synth and follow the money.

Edit Select 1
Voice: SYT, SGL, MON, SGL, –
Pitch: -24, 0, 0, 2, 5
Osc 1: DIG, -, 61, -, –
Osc 2: SAW, OFF, 0, 0, –
Mixer: 127, 100, 10, -, –
Filter: 12.L, 38, 53, 0, 0
Filter EG:  0, 64, 127, 0, ON
Amp: 127, CNT, ON, 0, –
Amp EG: 0, 64, 127, 8, ON
LFO 1: TRI, OFF, OFF, 10, –
LFO 2: SIN, VOC, ON, 1.3, –

Edit Select 2
Patch 1: LF.2, CUT, -40, -, –
Patch 2: LF.2, PTC, 0, -, –
Patch 3: LF.1, CUT, 0, -, –
Patch 4: LF.2, CUT, 0, -, –
Mod FX: ENS, 20, 12, -, –
Delay: STR, OFF, 40, 0, –
EQ: 60, 7, 1.00, 3, –
Arpeg. A: 140, 1.16, 80, UP, 1
Arpeg. B: OFF, 0, OFF, 8, –

Doubleretro

Recently I got an original microKORG. It’s something like a modern classic, first released in 2002, and is still in production. While you don’t by a book by its cover, the microKORG has a distinctive vintage look. Now 13 years on, it’s retro in a new sense – it’s meta- or doubleretro.

image

Anyway, it’s hugely popular and not without reasons. The microKORG is a DSP analog modelling synthesizer/vocoder from Korg, and one of its best-selling synthesizers ever. It’s pretty well covered on teh internets so I shouldn’t delve further into details here.

Inspiration

Usually I’m abusing softsynths for my productions, so to sum up what I now was looking for was some inspiration by stepping outside the software ecosystem. For that I wanted some hardware that could produce both warm rounded and cold sharp tones, had a reasonable deal of oscillators, a sharp filter section and MIDI controller functionality. Among others, the microKORG matched this.

Moreover, it also has an arpeggiator and a patch system that let you assign different modulation routings. And it’s possible to run external audio source via the microKORG and process it with filtering and effects.

The microKORG’s signal path is straight forward and easy enough to follow, but programming a sound is a little bit muddled, due to all diving into the menu system to find the right parameter to edit. (When hooked up to a computer, there’s this software, the SoundEditor, but its interface is simply awkward.)

Two-thirds of the stock presets are bad, but it’s alright because these encourage you to make new, own and better sounds. So far I’ve made like 10 usable sounds.

Limited Space

Because my home studio is very small, I needed something compact that I would be able to squeeze in. First I had some trouble with noise interference and hum. It was probably ground loop, which I manage to solve by re-arranging some gear. (And no, this time I wasn’t looking for any rack versions or modules like Nord Rack 2X or Mopho, even if both of them are terrific synths.)

In this case, the microKORG suited my setup, mostly because of its size. The mini-keys didn’t bother me. If I ever need to play live, I’d anyway use my full size master keyboard with semi-weighted keys (Axiom Pro 61). By the way, I think the microKORG’s design is overrated and its build could be more sturdier.

Compared to the microKORG XL+ or R3, I prefer the raw sound of the MS2000 engine to the MMT analog modelling.

The Wavetable

While you can make tons of random noise with simple waveforms (sine, sawtooth et cetera), wavetable synthesis offers even more possibilities. And softsynths – like the semi-modular wavetable synth Massive – are hugely popular among dubstep producers.

Before I move forward, let me just say that there are several definitions of what a wavetable is, and the word itself has seemingly different meanings to different people.

Moreover, nowadays, there are elaborated wavetables, such as Malström (which is mixed up with granular synthesis) or Serum (which is able to create, import, edit and morph wavetables, and manipulate these on playback in real-time), not to mention samples and synthesis (S&S) or vector synthesis.

Essentially, however, a wavetable synthesis is based on periodic reproduction of an arbitrary, single-cycle waveform, and it implies modulating (scanning) through a wavetable in real-time as part of the synth architecture.

More simply put, a wavetable is a set of sampled single-cycle waveforms that a synth can read from and use as its oscillator shapes.

The two fundamental aspects of wavetable synthesis are making the sound evolve in time and changing the timbre at different points across keyboard.

What to Expect

The kind of sounds wavetable synthesis can produce is almost limitless. Sweeping through a wavetable is a wide palette to use as the basis of sounds. Not only can wavetables emulate sounds reminiscent of analogue synthesis, but also strange, moving and unearthly sounds with unique timbres suitable for all kinds of shit. Expect the unexpected.

I think I stop there, this post is just supposed to be an introduction to get you interested in wavetables (if you weren’t already). Maybe there’ll be reason to return to this subject later on.

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