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8. Electronic and Analogue Instruments for the Dance Producer

Timbre Elements

The pallet of sounds available at the disposable to the modern Dance Music composer is vast and can be daunting to a beginner.  By categorising various instruments into descriptive categories, the production of new and unique sounds can be achieved.

 

The term instrument in the book refers to a source of sound that can be used in a composition.  An example include a computer generated Bass Synth, a sampled phrase of music or a vocal stab.

 

Individual Sound

To find your own sound and individuality as a producer, you must create your own Synth sounds, drum kits and sound effects for use in your songs.  There is nothing wrong with using Synth presets or using SFX from sample CDs, as long as they are used to compliment your own sounds.

 

VST V’s Hardware Synth

There has been much debate on the quality of sounds created by VST Synths (Steinberg’s Virtual Studio Technology) or if they can match the authenticity of hardware Synths.  If the tune gets the crowd dancing, they don’t care how the song was made.  They don’t care if an authentic 808 was used to record the Kick or a Sound Font sample bank of an 808 Kick.  They don’t care if the latest 192 KHz surround sound 64 stereo channel mixer was use for the final mastering or if was mixed on a home PC.  It is important that the quality of the recording is clear, well balanced and the song has a great vibe.

Pallet of Available Sound Sources / Instruments

Instruments fall into the following main categories:

 

Bass

The lower notes on a keyboard.  If Bass sounds are played higher up the keyboard, they can be used as Lead.

Lead

The mid to higher note on a keyboard.  If Lead sounds are played lower, they can be used as Bass sounds.  This book defines a Lead as an instrument played with a single note only.

Synth

This book defines a Synth, as any Lead sound played with more than a single note, i.e. harmony.  The difference between Synth and Strings; with Synths, the rhythmic qualities are more important that harmony.

Strings / Pads

String are sounds with the harmonic component serving a more important function than rhythm.  Pads are Strings with only 1 chord, i.e. their purpose is atmosphere instead of chord progression.

Wavetable Synth

Any other instrument that doesn’t fall into the above categories, e.g. Piano, Organ, Brass, Rhoads, Harp, Sitar or any other sampled orchestral or analogue instrument in a Wavetable Synth or SoundFont.

Music Samples (Unprocessed)

Real samples of analogue instruments.

Music Samples (Processed)

Real samples of analogue instruments, with additional filters and DSP.

Vocal Samples (Unprocessed)

Real samples of human voice.

Vocal Samples (Processed)

Real samples of human voice, with additional filters and DSP.

SFX Analogue

Analogue noise, e.g. dog barking.

SFX Digital Signal

Computer Generated noise, e.g. swoosh, laser, etc.

Pre Beat

A combination of rhythmic inputs and effects (more details below).

 

Timbre Matrix
The following classifications have been devised to describe timbres for; Bass, Lead, Synth and Strings / Pads.  Not all timbres are relevant to each instrument category.  Chapter 9 describes how to generate each timbre using basic tools such as VCO (Voltage Controlled Oscillator e.g. sine wave, square wave etc), ADSR (Attack Sustain Delay and Release) cut off filters, and DSP (Digital Signal Processing, e.g. distortion).

 

  • Most categories can overlap, e.g. Distorted Bass and Growling Bass.
  • Sounds in the matrix below that have n/a are technically possible but don’t particularly benefit from the specific timbre.

 

The sound examples below are examples are instruments with the minimal filters required for classification, and therefore are not necessarily ready for use in a song.  Chapter 13 lists a few simple filter techniques to turn any basic sound into a pro quality sample, ready for your tune.

 

Master Timbre

Description

Bass

Lead

Synth

Strings / Pad

Acid Stab

High resonance with zappy, laser qualities

Yes

Yes

n/a

n/a

Cut Off

Band Pass Cut Off filter modulated rhythmically.

Yes

Yes

Yes

n/a

Detune

Pitch varies subtly, creating an uneasy feeling

n/a

Yes

Yes

Yes

Didgeridoo

Dynamic electronic Bass with organic Didgeridoo qualities

Yes

n/a

n/a

n/a

Distorted

Distorted, gritty and dirty texture.

Yes

Yes

n/a

n/a

Dynamic velocity

Velocity of note modulated inversely to cut off.

Yes

Yes

Yes

n/a

Electricity

Sonic qualities of electricity.

n/a

Yes

n/a

n/a

Fall

Pitch fall, subtle or dramatic, short or long.

Yes

Yes

n/a

n/a

Garage Warble Bass

Warble, wobbly garage Bass

Yes

n/a

n/a

n/a

Gate

Gate, i.e. volume controlled by rhythmic input.

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Growling Bass

Lots of harmonics for rhythmic Bass - Note held long

Yes

n/a

n/a

n/a

Harmonix

Phatt Bass with lots of hi frequency, with micro gating

Yes

n/a

n/a

n/a

High pass

High pass filter

Yes

Yes

n/a

n/a

High Pitch

Using higher notes on the keyboard

n/a

Yes

Yes

Yes

Low Frequency

Using the lower notes on the keyboard

n/a

n/a

Yes

Yes

Motion

Complex cut off motions, non repetitive

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Motion Regular

Step or Sine wave LFO motion

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Motion Increase

LFO increases frequency

Yes

Yes

n/a

Yes

Phatt

Strong, clean but heavy sound

Yes

n/a

n/a

n/a

Portmento

Portmento, or glide from one note to the next.

Yes

Yes

n/a

Yes

Pump / (Duck Gate)

Instrument with duck gate

n/a

n/a

n/a

Yes

Resonance

Tone with high resonance and low cut off for, warbly drum and Bass sound

Yes

Yes

n/a

n/a

Retro Rave

Retro old school timbre

Yes

Yes

n/a

n/a

Rise

Pitch rise, subtle or dramatic, short or long.

Yes

Yes

n/a

n/a

Scratch

Scratching timbre  (cut off or VST variation) in time to the beat

Yes

n/a

n/a

n/a

Siren

Siren Stab (Pitch rise and fall)

Yes

Yes

n/a

n/a

Slow Attack (soft)

Slow Attack (soft)

Yes

Yes

n/a

Yes

Square Bass

Few harmonics for melodic tuneful Bass

Yes

Yes

n/a

n/a

Squeltchy

Additional hi resonance cut off to produce squeltchy sounds

Yes

n/a

n/a

n/a

Stab

Quick stab with energy and lots of harmonics, without a gradual release.

Yes

Yes

Yes

n/a

Sub

Low frequency Bass

Yes

n/a

n/a

n/a

Sweep

Smooth Modulated motion

n/a

Yes

n/a

Yes

Theramin

Retro sound with non static pitch that glides from 1 note to the next.

n/a

Yes

n/a

n/a

Tremolo

Subtle pitch variation at a regular modulation.

n/a

Yes

Yes

Yes

Vocal Timbre

Sound that has human vocal qualities

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Wowo

Cut off modulated to sine wave

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Wowp

Cut off rise and fall, i.e. linked to ADSR.

Yes

Yes

Yes

n/a


Wavetable

Most Synthesisers and Samplers come with Orchestra in a box sounds, e.g. Harp, Violin, Trumpet etc, where actual audio recordings of each note are mapped to a MIDI keyboard, e.g. Sound Fonts. This is called, Wavetable synthesis, and it is generally more convincing than Physical Modelling synthesis.  They will never be able to compete with recordings or real instruments, but the obvious main advantage is that any musician who can play the keyboard, can play any orchestral instrument as long as they have the correct Wavetable Sample Bank.

 

Although a Violin or Trumpet sound mapped to a keyboard sounds quite fake due the subtle intricacies of the real instrument, a sampled Wavetable Piano can be hard to distinguish from the real thing, especially when layered under drums.

 

Fig: The list of Wavetable synthesisers is vast.  A few examples are listed below.

 

Brass

Trumpet, Trombone

Chromatics

Glockenspiel, xylophone etc samples

Moog

Moog

Organ

Rock Organ, Church Organ, Jazz Organ.

Piano

Rhythmic chords

Rhoads

Rhoads

String

Harp, Violin, Viola

World

Sitar



Pre Beat

Pre Beat samples are a combination of rhythmic inputs and effects.  Due to the nature of quick rhythms, multiple effects and a range of ideas, they build anticipation.  They are most effectively used during a breakdown before the drop, hence the name.

 

Pre Beat Example.mp3

There are 7 categories of Pre Beat, most of which are used in the example above...

 

Fig 1: Glitch samples micro sequence.

Sequence of tiny glitch sounds using grid size less than 1/16, e.g. 1/24, 1/32, 1/64, 1/96 etc.  Glitch sounds are short drum samples with extreme fitters to completely warp the sound.

Audio file Pre Beat 1 MS.mp3

 

 

Fig 2: Glitch samples rhythm.

Glitch sounds are used in a standard drum pattern sequence.

Pre Beat 2 Glitch Rhythm.mp3

 

 

 

Fig 3: Extreme DSP

A drum beat is filtered through an extreme filter, e.g. Phaser, Distortion, Flanger etc.

Pre Beat 3 Extreme.mp3

 

 

 

 

Fig 4: Polyrhythmic Stabs                       

Any stab e.g. Trumpet, Bass, Vocals etc.  A Polyrhythm is sequencing 2 different rhythms together, e.g. 5 vocal stabs (5/4) on top of a 4/4 beat

Pre Beat 4 Poly Stabs.mp3

 

 


Fig 5: Machine Gun Drum                      

Rapid and repetitive sequences of percussion in different time signatures.

Pre Beat 5 MG.mp3

 

 


Fig 6: Irregular Drums and Glitch.

Combination of irregular Drum pattern and glitched Drums.

Pre Beat 6 Drum Mad Glitch.mp3

 

 


Fig 6: Left and Right Glitch

Use extreme pan to add an extra dimention.

Pre Beat 7 Pan Trix.mp3

 

 




Music Samples (Unprocessed)

Sampling other peoples songs and adding them to your own is a common practice in modern production.  The sample can be used as the main hook of the song or be used to fill out an original production.

 

If you are concerned about being sued for infringement of mechanical recording rights, copy the sample using your own instruments.

 

The following represent the main classification of unprocessed samples.

 

Classical Sample loop

Loop of classical music

Modern loop

Funk, Pop, Rock etc

Individual instrument

Flute, Harp, Sax, trumpet etc.

World

Anything else that doesn’t fall into the above category.

 

Music Samples (Processed)
To give samples a more distinctive electronic music edge, apply the following techniques.

 

 

Sample with filter

Take a section of any unprocessed sample, and add a DSP filter (see chapter 13).

Sample time loop

Sample time loop.mp3

A sample, with certain fractions of a second looped at different lengths.

Grains

Grains.mp3

Tiny bits of music, usually cut up into notes or fractions of a note.

Glitches

Glitches.mp3

A sample that is processed by a variety of filters rhythmically, i.e. each occupying a fraction of a bar.

 

Guitar
The Electric guitar, is one of the most versatile instruments available for the modern producer.  Almost any genre of music can include a guitar riff without it sounding out of place.

 

Distorted

Distorted and overdrive.

Delay

Delay, effective when remaining on 1 key.

Retro

Tremolo

Gated

Gated fast or slow

Wah Wah

Funk based riffs

Vocal Elements (Unprocessed)
Vocals can add distinction and professionalism to a song.  They can give personality to an otherwise faceless, digital composition.

 

Choir Human

Rap Female

Rap Male

Singing Female

Singing Male

Shout Female

Shout Male

Vocal Elements (Processed)
An unprocessed vocal element may be sufficient for your tune, but if the addition of a vocal line adds an unwanted Pop or Cheesy vibe, you may wish to take back the electronic edge with some nifty processing.

 

Ambience

e.g. Reverb for stadium / church

Auto Tune Extreme

The Extreme Auto Tune, which forces natural pitch changes into accurate tones has been overused. 

Cut up

Phrase cut up into syllables and re-arranged into a rhythm

Choir Vocoder

Harmonise several individual Vocoder voices to create a robotic barber shop.

Crackle

Emulate the static nose interference of an old Record

Delay

1) Short e.g. 60’s Vocal
2) Multiple delay, forming Polyrhythms.
3) Feedback Loop, i.e. more than 50% feedback.

Distortion

Bit crusher, to remove quality and emulate Police Radio.

EQ

Emulator the voice heard on Telephone

Gate

Useful for screams, or long whoooo’s

Glitch

A sample that is processed by a variety of filters rhythmically, i.e. each occupying a fraction of a bar.

Jungle

Jungle voice, speech slowed down.

Modulation

Flanger / Phaser

Muffled

Indistinguishable vocals

Robot / Vocoder

See Vocoder

Pitch FX

Use Pitch warp for comic chipmunk vocals.

Reverse Delay

Reverse sample, add delay / reverb, and reverse again.

Squidgy

Use Cut off modulated to LFO with high resonance to add a high frequency.

Spread and EQ narrow

Use a stereoscopic EQ to spread certain frequencies to the left and right channel.

Speed Up

 Make Rap lines even faster.

Vocoder Instrument

Use a Vocoder to play melody using speech.

 

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