A new, six-track EP (or short LP?) by (d): Exception. It’s more of the usual stuff that comes out of my head (cool sounds, dark atmospheres, old-school WARP feel, etc.?), but better than anything else I’ve ever done.
Stream or download it: https://glitched.bandcamp.com/album/exception
If you’re a producer or synth-nerd, this post is for you. Continue reading if you’re interested in the making of Exception.
I don’t usually make music with a theme in mind. I just do tracks and when they’re done, I compile them and arrange them so that they make sense as a collection. Every six months or so, I say to myself, it’s time to release something again, and that becomes the album. I do respect those that can maintain a common sound-set throughout each song, but I always want each track to be a work unto itself. It can be difficult to stitch together a “story” from such disparate pieces, but I think I did a pretty good job with Exception.
The EP starts out with “Spectral,” which, predictably, involves some spectral-processing. If you don’t know anything about this spectral stuff, it’s all about modifying the harmonic spectrum (the “content”) of the audio. I have a bunch of plugins that can render a signal totally unrecognizable, but that’s not what happened here.
Back in January of 2014, I recorded a bunch of material from the Monomachine which sounded nice, but maybe a little too “derivative” of early-WARP (Black Dog, B12, etc.) Of course, nothing’s wrong with that, but it just seemed to simplistic. Even after adding a couple layers and editing, the track still didn’t do that much for me. (Scroll down to hear the original.)
Whenever I run into a wall, one of my inspirational tricks is to pitch-down the material. 88-106 BPM is usually my sweet spot and pitching “Spectral” down by 25% turned the 141 BPM track into a lazy, 105 BPM slow-jam. Something about that key-change just worked.
I was close, but the “simplicity” of the track was still bothering me. The aforementioned spectral processing plugin added a huge amount of movement, dynamics, and “smearing.” More than that, with the “constant shift” parameter at -1.2kHz, it emphasized certain frequencies that wouldn’t naturally be there. I was surprised at how cool it sounded I wish I had kept the efx settings for that track, but I chose to render it instead.
One thing about doing spectral stuff is that the sounds can be extreme. A lot of effort was put into taming those frequency crescendos which appeared mainly in the mid-to-upper frequency range.
A leftover Monomachine SWAV-ENS recording I found happened to fit perfectly in the background and it really brought the track together.
Here is the original track which inspired both “Spectral” and “Still in My Memories”:
Still in My Memories
This is a crazy track. Surprisingly, it came from the same Monomachine-based track from which “Spectral” came.
In the process of attempting to improve that original song, I added a filtery, percussive Analog Four track at one point. It instantly reminded me of good ol’ AFX, when he used to create drums out of synth sounds. After recording around 10 minutes of tweaking and p-locking, I found the perfect beat. I recorded the fresh version while altering LFO MULT parameters and filter cutoff. I LOVE the A4′s efx, so I played with them, too. (Yes, I almost always record with FX. I feel they’re part of the Elektron experience.)
Stripping away the main Mono track allowed the percussive synth-track to shine…but it needed to be messed-up a bit more. Spectral processing to the rescue!! As opposed to the previous track, I didn’t overdo it. This was more or less just adding a bit of “pre-echo” to the beat. Take a listen:
There are a couple voice-samples in there, too, but you’ll never guess where they’re from.
This is probably my favorite song on the EP, maybe of all-time. The centerpiece of the sound-design is the “FM sax” type of thing, produced with the Orgone Accumulator module. If you didn’t know already, I love this DIY module. (Read more about it and even how to build one on my synth-diy blog: http://synth.glitched.org .)
Anyway, much of the “meat” of this track is modular-based, with the Analog Four driving the rhythm by way of triggering (clocking) the Rotating Clock Divider. The “clock” was not just a 4/4 pattern; about halfway through the track, I added a few and removed a few, which really altered the pace.
I can’t remember everything about the patch, but I do know that drums were provided by the essential SD808 and BD808, from Tiptop Audio. I brought them in as I recorded, live.
A note on composition: when working out ideas for a song, I let the sounds, melodies, and beats lead me. I don’t work anything out ahead of time. When I create a cool pattern on the A4 or whatever, I start recording and tweak, tweak, tweak in realtime. Using the DAW (Reaper) as a glorified tape-recorder, I put down all of my “skeleton” ideas and refine and edit them later.
I realized that this way of working might not be an obvious way to go about composing, after speaking with my buddy, who had been frustrated with the output of his modular setup.
Coming from a standard, MIDI sequencing type of setup, he wanted to visualize the notes, record separate channels of musical information, and just hit “play.” Modular-based composition isn’t like this. I would argue that the best type of electronic music isn’t like that. Anyway, I think if you have a modular setup with a bunch of random-generators, sound-sources, and controllers, you should just play and play until you find something cool. You HAVE TO EXPERIMENT! Then, you record it and put together the pieces in a logical way to form a song. But that’s just me.
Anyway, “Exception 1+2″ is called that because it’s like a 2-part song. The first part, with all that crazy synth-action, then the second, softer part.
Again, we have to highlight the contributions of the Elektron Analog Four. I had that first part and another, more affected, compressed, and dynamic section, but the song needed more. I created a simple, 1-osc, droney type of sound, which was almost perfect. As I played it, I realized that I wanted it to sound much bigger. ”When in doubt, always throw on more EFX,” is what I always say. In this case, it was ++bubbler, by Tom Erbe (Soundhack).
With a high feedback setting and long delay time, the sound radiated outward which was exactly what I wanted. Epic!
Another modular-centric track; as such, this one started out with lots of experimentation (as usual.) If I recall, this patch involved standard synth-parts, but the Makenoise ModDemix was the key to the filtery, introductory sound. I can’t remember which filter was used, possibly the one in the Pittsburgh Synthesizer Block unit. Sorry, but the details are a little fuzzy on this one. I do know that three recording channels were used: one for the drums (Tiptop Audio SD808, BD808–>Makenoise Optomix—>Steinberg UR824) and two for the noisy synth sound (ModDemix out–>Monomachine in [reverb, compressor]–>Monomachine out–>Steinberg). Yes, that’s right, I used the Monomachine’s reverb and compressor!
People sleep on the Monomachine’s EFX, citing issues with “quality” and ease-of-use, but I’m here to say that I like them quite a lot. I had never really fooled around with the compressor prior to this album; using it with the internal sounds don’t really show off its good qualities. With (analog) external gear like the modular, the compressor comes to life! More on that when I speak about “Traces.”
So, I had this cool, yet sort of barren loop with the 808 sounds and that filtery, modulated synth sound. Where to go with it? After some extensive editing to get to the meat of the session, I had a good base. Analog Four to the rescue once again.
That sort of moody, growly PWM bass was the sound that gave the track real “meaning.” I’m a sucker for PWM bass. Actually, PWM and sync sounds are my favorite. This had both qualities. That bassline was played by hand, sort of in-time. I like off-kilter grooves (this one produced by sending trigs to the RCD/SCM combo), so just about nothing is really 4/4 or whatever. I just went with the feel of the track.
The final layer was, again, provided by an Analog Four sound, a swirling, animated high-pass sound. Several layers of this pulled everything together for me.
What Fools We Were to Trust Our Makers
This track is the favorite for a lot of people. I think it might be mine, too. It’s just so simple and honest. The title comes from a misheard line from Front 242′s “Controversy Between,” from Geography.
There’s not too much to say about this track. The singular synth line was produced by a Doepfer Dark Energy with some linear FM modulation of the filter. The basic sound is the great combination of saw+PWM pulse, low frequency resonance, and a short amplitude decay.
Sequencing, of course, was provided by the Monomachine, the last MIDI sequencer I’ll ever need. I can’t remember if the patterns was part arp, part sequence, but I made a couple different patterns for this song. They were, again, not exactly 16/32 steps–probably 32 and 48 steps–changed on the fly while tweaking freq cutoff, etc.
I think the effects play a big, yet subtle role in this one: it’s a little reverb and wide, stereo chorus (actually, Soundhack’s++delay plugin).
The final modular-driven track on Exception. It starts of with this dark, far-away type of sound, which is basically just the main song loop, stretched out and filtered, with 100% wet reverb. The main track is just one big modular “jam session” (oh god, what an awful term) or “noodle” (even worse?) that went really well.
I think I used every module in my setup, but the main players were: Pitts Synth Block, Wiard Osc, Musicthing Turing Machine (Random Looping Sequencer), Makenoise Optomix, 4ms stuff, and 808 drums. The whole thing was chucked into the Monomachine’s compressor. Holy crap, I was so surprised at how that compressor pulled everything together and made it sound even more noisy and analog!
The main note sequence was something random from the Turing Machine, quantized by the uScale. The shifts in scale were initiated by hand, live.
That rolling, percussive pattern was, as usual, a click coming from the A4 and multiplied/divided/shuffled by the SCM/RCD/”clocker” suite, from 4ms. Actually, every trigger came out of one of those modules and into the noise-producing ones. That is, this song, drums, synths, and all, came from one modular patch.
Of course, there was a ton of editing. Some people, like my friend I spoke about above, seem to think that whatever comes out, comes out, and it has to stay like that. No. No way! Edit until it sounds right. Edit until it matches that picture in your mind. It might take hours or days, but you’ll be more satisfied with the end-result.
Anyway, that underlying ambient, distorted, tonal texture is just a bunch of efx, 100% wet, the send coming from the main track, so there’s some harmonic relationship. There’s a little melody hiding in there, too. AYE FOUR! ”AY FOUR, YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE POOR ANYMORE! Jesus is here!” (Ahem, “Welcome To Paradise,” Front 242, anyone?)
You want to talk about mastering? Maybe another time. 2,000 words written on one’s own 6-track EP borders on narcissism. Still, I hope there’s some good information in here for you producer-types and synth-nerds (of which I am clearly one!)
Oh, since you’ve gotten all the way through this article, use one of these codes (or pass them along) to get the EP for free:
Enter one of those, here: http://glitched.bandcamp.com/yum