Sunday, May 13, 2012

Synth Chronicles 3: Creating Sounds

The cool thing with synthesizers is that you can create amazing, complex, undefinable, unthinkable sounds. The bad thing with synthesizers is that you can create amazing, complex, undefinable, unthinkable sounds. In this particular Chronicle, I will tell you ways to create certain sounds using the most popular form of synthesis, subtractive.

Most people tell you how to create the sounds of normal instruments, like pianos, trumpets, guitars, various strings, et cetera, and therefore I have no real reason to tell you how to make those sounds. I'll tell you how you can create 5 interesting sounds: a full-sounding saw lead, a square-saw lead with a 'squelchy' sound, a sine wave without using a sine wave, the lately-popular Wobble bass, and the familiar 8-bit 'blip.' Shall we get started?

First, let's get one thing straight: I have so much synthesis power I'm not entirely sure what I can do with it all, so if there is something you can't do in this little series, don't fret! I will tell you what instrument I am using for each sound (even though they could all very well be done on my favourite, the Minimogue va by Gunnar). They are all free downloads from teh interwebz!!

1. Full Sounding Saw Lead

Synth: ElektroStudio's Sixth Month June

Let's start with the LFO. Set it to a moderate speed, and if you can set it to have a fairly long delay. Make sure it doesn't reset after you press a key. Make sure that it affects the pitch of the oscillators. Now, the oscillators. Yes, multiple. You want a square wave with a fair amount of pulse width modulation, such that it sounds like it's going through a high-pass filter. This is what gives the next oscillator some punch. Now set up a ramp wave. It's similar to a saw wave, and if that's all you have use it.

Set the whole synth's tuning down an octave. This is important as somewhat lower frequencies tend to give a fuller feel. Now, set up a Low Pass Filter to use a normal envelope generator to control its cutoff frequency. If you can, give it some keyboard tracking, also affecting cutoff. This will give you epic lows and singing highs. Now the important parts: Set the cutoff frequency to about 40%, resonance around 20%.

Finally, set up your envelope generator(s) to have 0 attack speed and nearly 0 release speed. Give it max decay and about 80% sustain. Set up your VCA to use this as well to control volume. Finally, play. You may need to screw with the setting just a tad, and if you want add some delay!

2. Square-Saw Lead With a 'Squelchy' Sound (say that five times fast)

Synth: Minimogue va

Using a normal square and saw wave, set your cutoff frequency on a low pass filter to about 35%, and resonance to about 90%. Give it the ability to use an EG, about 90%. Then, set up your filter EG to ADSR=0,55,0,0. Adjust the decay rate as needed, but this should give you a nice "squelch" on the decay of your note. You can also use aftertouch and release rates to control this squelch, which may be easier and more useful if you want a less constant squelch.

3. Sine Wave Without A Sine Wave

Synth: Minimogue va. You can really use anything with multiple waveforms and a low pass filter.

Use anything but a sine wave: in this case, a saw wave. Note: it takes a lot more than this lesson to get a true sine wave, but you will get damned close. Now, very simply set your low pass filter to have a cutoff frequency which sounds like a sine wave. That was hard.

"WTF, bro??" Look, all waves have higher harmonics, even triangle waves. Using a low pass filter filters out these higher harmonics, leaving you with a purer and purer signal, until eventually you are only passing sub-audible sounds. A filter saw looks more like a really round saw, a square will end up really close to a sine, a triangle will become a sine very quickly, even noise can be a really dirty sine wave. Don't believe me? Record each filtered wave and look at the waveforms. Not perfect sines, but damned close.

4. Wobble Bass

Synth: Dubtron by Psychic Modulation (note that there is a demo version available)

This sound is used a lot in heavier electronic music, and prominently in Dubstep. Use (yes, again) a saw and square wave, and set them to an octave down. If you can, set up a sine wave two octaves lower. This is a sub-octave way to destroy club walls. Now, put the first two oscillators through a low pass filter (all of them is ok, too), set the cutoff to 50% for now, no resonance, no EG following.

Set your LFO to a moderate speed and a sine wave. If you can, set the LFO's speed to track the keyboard such that the lower pitches are slower and higher is faster. If you are using Dubtron, just set the oscillator LFO's the same and use the Master Wub control to do tracking. Cool thing with Dubtron is that you have a separate filter and LFO for each oscillator.

Of course, you will have to change the LFO speed and Cutoff Frequency to suit your needs, but this is a good starting point.

5. 8-Bit Blip

Synth: Bleep' by Tonebytes

Use a triangle and square wave, detuning the triangle an octave. Set your ADSR to about 35,60,0,30 respectively. Here's where having multiple filters helps: run the triangle through a band pass filter, then both through a high pass filter. Set both filters to 100% cutoff and 0 resonance.

Then, just set up an arpeggiator to go up at 1/8th note speed or so, and let it cover 2 octaves. Given maybe some messing with the ADSR, you now have a classic 8-bit blip heard sometimes in some of OVERWERK's songs, namely n00b pwner.

So, I hope you have learned something interesting today, and if you want help synthesizing any other sounds, please leave a comment! I will be glad to help you.

Next post will be about how to synthesize a sound by ear!

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