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Electronic Musician April 2017

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REVIE
Exclusive
Interview
Tonight
Show
Keyboardist
James
Poyser
Joe
Zawinul
Synth
Secrets
Revealed
Jazz
Progression
Workout
MORE!
04.2017
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38
INTERVIEW
Tonight Show
keyboardist
James Poyser
48
ROLI BLOCKS
Polyphonic
multidimensional
controller
DEPARTMENTS
CONTENTS 03.17
42
6
THE ART
OF SYNTH
SOLOING
Joe Zawinul’s
Weather
Report years
18
44
LESSON
Jazz
Progression
Workout
46
TUBESIMULATION
PLUG-INS
SOUND
DESIGN
LFO
Modulation
Tricks
Music creators are always looking for ways to “warm up” recordings,
and one of the best methods is to add saturation to the signal. We’ve
found 11 plug-ins that can make snare drums sound thicker, add
sparkle to piano tracks, give a vocal presence and grit, and more.
10
12
NEW GEAR
The most
exciting
products
shown at
Winter NAMM
2017
2 01 7
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32
56
HOW TO
62
DIY
Mastering with
PreSonus Studio One 3
54
SAMPLE LOGIC
CINEMATIC
GUITARS: ORGANIC
ATMOSPHERES
Virtual instrument
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FIVE
QUESTIONS
Lars Murray of
Pandora
APR I L
TY SEGALL
MASTER CLASS
Tips and tricks for
Reason’s Thor
66
52
28
For his new album, the hardworking, analog-tape loving guitarist finds
a likeminded production partner in Steve Albini.
50
IK MULTIMEDIA ILOUD
MICRO MONITORS
Studio monitors
CASIO CZ FOR IPAD
Software synthesizer
THIEVERY CORPORATION
Citing diverse influences from Lee “Scratch” Perry to King Tubby and
Scientist, Thievery Corporation pushes vintage gear to create new sounds.
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E MU S IC IAN . C O M
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www.emusician.com | VOL. 33 NO. 4, APRIL 2017
EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
Michael Molenda
mmolenda@nbmedia.com
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
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grobair@nbmedia.com
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David Bryce
Geary Yelton, Mike Levine,
MODERATOR THE KEYBOARD CORNER
EDITORS AT LARGE
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CONTRIBUTORS
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Steve La Cerra, Mike Levine, Ken Micallef, Lily
Moayeri, Tony Ware,
FOUNDING EDITOR Craig Anderton
ART DIRECTOR
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E MU S IC IAN . C O M
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COMMUNITY
insight
Keyboard onboard, Keyboardmag.com,
and other changes
I am very excited to be back in the
Editor’s chair at Electronic Musician,
having written for the magazine
since 1998. For the past two decades,
I’ve seen first hand how technological innovation has shaped music
from the ground up; from the instruments we play and how we learn
them to the ways we create, distribute and monetize our work. EM will
continue to focus on the essentials of
music creation using technology. My
goal is to publish articles that help
you use the gear you already have,
determine which products you need,
and navigate the tech changes so you
can be successful in finding the level
of creativity to which you aspire.
When I joined the magazine as
an associate editor nearly 20 years
ago, it was also the beginning of a
long friendship with an editor at
Mix magazine, Sarah Jones. And it’s
out of friendship and respect for her
work that I want to acknowledge her
excellence as a journalist in the music industry, and to personally thank
her for the dedication and many
long hours she put into this magazine over the years. I know that her
strong work ethic, talent, and industry knowledge will lead to exciting
new projects in her life.
And while I’m on the subject of
change, you can see from the magazine
you are holding that we have included
selected articles from Keyboard magazine. That is because, this month, Keyboard will transition from a standalone
print publication to an online one. As
a result, Keyboardmag.com will continue to provide the same editorial
focus Keyboard has had for over four
decades, providing new articles on a
monthly basis, such as interviews, lessons, product news, reviews, and howto features. But as a web-based magazine, you will get the news quicker, and
it will be supplemented with additional video and audio examples.
To spearhead the change in format,
we’ve made Jon Regen the Editor of
Keyboardmag.com. In addition to being a busy performing and recording
artist in his own right, John has been
a regular contributor to Keyboard for
years, and his wide-ranging knowledge
of instruments, artists, and the music
industry will help make the website a
popular destination for keyboardists of
every skill level and interest.
Meanwhile, EM will also run articles focusing on the interests of Keyboard readers, such as interviews, lessons, and gear reviews. This month,
we have a feature interview with
James Poyser: In addition to being the
keyboardist for The Roots and on The
Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, Poyser is a major-league songwriter and
KEY SECRETS
producer for artists such as Mariah
Carey, Erykah Badu, and Adele. You
will also find Jerry Kovarsky’s column
“The Art of Synth Soloing,” which this
month examines Joe Zawinul’s playing on classic Weather Report albums.
One thing I didn’t anticipate with
the change is that the combined editorial resources of EM and Keyboard have
provided me with an even greater pool
of talented writers from which to draw.
Now you will see Keyboard writers
Francis Prève, Jerry Kovarsky, Stephen
Fortner, David Battino, John Krogh,
Robbie Gennet, and David Bryce joining forces with EM contributors Geary
Yelton, Mike Levine, Markkus Rovito,
Marty Cutler, Michael Cooper, Steve
La Cerra, and Ken Micallef. The results
will be a boon to the reader.
However, for us to serve you to
the best of our abilities, we need to
hear from you. Your ideas and feedback are crucial to our success, both
in the pages of EM/Keyboard as well
as at Keyboardmag.com. So feel free
to write and let me know what you
would like to see in these pages and
online. Our goal is to bring you the
information you need in order to take
your work to the next level, whether
you’re an artist, producer, engineer,
or a combination of the three.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you!
GINO ROBAIR
EDITOR IN CHIEF
grobair@nbmedia.com
| When Wrong Is Right
One of the fastest ways to get new sounds is to play your keyboard “wrong.” For
example, playing sampled sounds well outside their intended range creates earcatching artifacts. For example, the complex attack of a slap bass adds a bell-like
punch when you play it three octaves up as a lead. Instead of playing percussive
sounds precisely, try slapping clusters of keys for clouds of sound. And pitch-bending sounds that don’t normally bend adds sonic surprise: A low piano note gains a
wiry warmth when bent up slowly. Small pitch blips humanize drum hits and make
chord stabs stand out; large bends create trippy or monster drum grooves. A video
showing examples of this concept can be seen at keyboardmag.com.
— D AV I D B AT T I N O
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E MU S IC IAN . C O M
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MO D S QUA D
Fad or Future
Have modular synths peaked in popularity or are they here to stay?
LPs, cassettes, modular synthesizers—
there was a moment when these technologies were considered obsolete. Yet, like
vintage clothing of the same era, all three
formats are fashionable again…but for how
long? In particular, is the current popularity
of modular synthesis merely a trend or, like
the stompbox, has it joined the mainstream?
While some say that modulars have begun to decline, allow me to paraphrase a misquote attributed to Mark Twain: “The rumors
of modular’s demise are greatly exaggerated”
FAD GADGETS?
If you’ve paid attention to the NAMM show in
recent years, or heard of SchneidersBuero’s
Superbooth in Berlin, you’ve probably noticed
that modulars are more popular than ever.
The fact that Roland and Korg (historically
conservative in their offerings) have products with CV and gate connectivity indicates
that there may actually be a long-term future
for the format (Eurorack, in particular), even
if these products rarely sell in the quantities
of more conventional instruments. Moreover, the analog pioneers—Dave Smith, Tom
Oberheim, Dave Rossum, and the companies
named after Bob Moog and Don Buchla—are
back in the game.
Of course, anything you can do with a
classic analog synth can be modeled in
software. (Moog Music, itself, has done it
with their Model 15 app while producing
a high-priced hardware version.) Yet, it’s
clear that, just as stompbox effects haven’t
been replaced by plug-ins and apps, synth
modules are not going away any time soon.
And why should they?
These days, digital and analog technologies support each other. Today’s Eurorack
modules, which pass analog voltages,
often include some form of DSP. This allows developers to pack an extraordinary
amount of power into an affordable prod-
The Pittsburgh Modular Lifeforms SV-1 is an example of a gateway synth: an affordable semi-modular synth voice, with MIDI, in a powered case.
uct. In fact, we now take for granted things
that were technologically impossible for
Moog and Buchla to achieve when they
were designing their first systems.
And unlike 40 years ago, we have lowcost and reliable ways to digitally control
these instruments (MIDI, USB, OSC, Bluetooth), as well as capture their sounds
(DAWs, samplers). Consequently, patch recall is less of an issue because we can record whatever we create, then play it back
in a variety of ways.
Furthermore, synth modules are not
genre specific (unlike music delivery formats). You can use them onstage or in the
studio to create soundtracks, dance music, rock, jazz, hip hop, noise improv, and so
on. They’re merely tools, like hammers and
screwdrivers, and different ones serve different needs.
YOUR FIRST MODULAR
Every year, young musicians discover the
modular format for the first time and find
something intriguing about it. Maybe it’s the
sound, or the format’s extensibility, or the DIY
Maker-mindset that attracts them. Or, perhaps it’s that, after using digital re-creations
of classic synths, they want to get their
hands on the real thing if they can afford it.
Thankfully, the ubiquity of the Eurorack
format has lowered the barrier of entry.
Standalone starter-systems (with MIDI) are
available for under $600, while Eurorackcompatible semi-modulars, such as the
Make Noise 0-Coast, cost $499. At $299,
the Arturia MicroBrute offers rudimentary
patching and a traditional keyboard.
Best of all, well-built hardware synths
will outlast their software counterparts
and the devices that run them. Sure, you
can get a modular synth app for $1.99, but
that’s after you’ve plunked down several
hundred bucks for your phone, tablet, or
computer (plus accessories). But based
on your experience so far with digital technology, how well do you think your smart
device or computer will work 30 years from
now compared to the hardware modules
you own? —Gino Robair
A P RIL
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EMU SICIAN .COM
11
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NEW
GEAR
Exciting products from the
2017 NAMM Show
BY GINO ROBAIR, MIKE LEVINE, GEARY YELTON, FRANCIS PREVE, AND ROBBIE GENNET
From the moment the doors opened at 10am on Thursday, till they slammed shut four days later, this
year’s NAMM show felt like the biggest and busiest in years. With record crowds navigating a never ending
maze of demo rooms and booths, it was a challenge to see and hear all the new products—of which there
were literally tons on display. Fortunately, we had the resources of the combined editorial teams of EM and
Keyboard, who hit the floor running each morning to scope out all the cool new items.
Roland RD-2000
KEYBOARDS, SYNTHS AND
CONTROLLERS
Roland’s major announcement was the RD-2000
Stage Piano, which combines a dedicated sound
engine featuring the latest V-Piano technology
with a second engine offering electric pianos and
other instruments. Utilizing a PHA-50 progressive
hammer-action keyboard with escapement, the
RD-2000 has hybrid keys made of wood and
molded materials that have a classic feel. The redesigned interface provides Scene memories, LED
sliders and knobs, and up to eight assignable zones
(internal or external). In addition, the USB audio/
MIDI interface, stereo outs on XLR and 1/4" jacks,
and assignable stereo sub out give the user plenty
of options onstage or in the studio.
For those of you who absolutely hate minikeys, Korg announced the ARP Odyssey FS that
features—you guessed it—a full-size standard
keyboard. Otherwise identical to Korg’s earlier
Odyssey keyboard, this version is an “extremely
limited” edition. In other words, get on the phone,
now, if you want one.
Every year, Dave Smith Instruments releases
another must-have polysynth at NAMM: The
2017 entry, the REV2, will be of special interest to
Prophet 08 fans. It’s a 16-voice update that keeps
the original signal path and general structure, while
adding effects and more sequencing amenities. To
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those of us who know the Prophet 08, the REV2
had noticeably more “shimmer” and “air” to its
sound, based on what we heard during our demos.
While we’re on the topic of DSI, the Pioneer
Toraiz AS-1 was one of NAMM’s sleeper hits.
Designed for Pioneer’s DJ’ing market, the Toraiz
is a one-voice, fully analog Prophet-6, meaning that
it’s also a stealth update of the legendary Pro One—
and that’s even bigger news. Easy to use, it includes
a basic touchpad keyboard and ribbon strip,
onboard effects, and hands-on control over filter,
envelope and LFO. Moreover, it sounded huge!
At the Radial booth, we found Key-Largo, the
long-awaited keyboard mixer and DAC. Built
like a tank, as you’d expect, it’s a floor pedal that
accepts 3 stereo inputs and USB input, while
offering outputs on XLR and 1/4" TRS. But it also
includes MIDI I/O, an onboard sustain button (!),
and an effects loop with individual level controls
for each channel. Key-Largo is small, portable, and
solid feeling—just what you want when gigging.
One of the most unusual drum machines we’ve
seen is Teenage Engineering’s PO-32 Tonic.
Borrowing its sound engine from Sonic Charge’s
Microtonic plug-in, this new Pocket Operator
furnishes distinctive percussion sounds and a
pattern-based beat sequencer. It stores 16 presets
and lets Microtonic users transfer custom sounds
from their computers.
The Expressive E Touché is difficult to describe:
It’s like a paddle mounted on springs that lets you
articulate synth parameters by pressing, tapping,
swiping, and stroking it. The results feel and sound
quite natural, nuanced, musical, and expressive. It
comes with Lié, a soft synth based on UVI Falcon.
The E-mu Morpheus has retained its cult-like
status among synth connoisseurs thanks to its
innovative 14-pole(!) Z-Plane filters, which were
capable of mind-bending morphing tricks that
haven’t been duplicated. However, the Rossum
Electro-Music Morpheus Eurorack module
changes that. With over 280 filter configurations
called Cubes, each of which has 8 complex filters,
the module gives you smooth, CV control over
interpolation between the filters in a 3-D space. It
even includes a built-in sequencer!
Elektron’s new Digitakt drum machine
combines a sampling drum machine with an eighttrack MIDI sequencer at an affordable price. Yep,
this sounds like a 21st century MPC-60 to us, too.
But it’s made by Elektron, so we’re very excited
about getting our hands on it.
ACOUSTIC AND DIGITAL PIANOS
Steingraeber and Söhne, an innovative German
piano company, took us by surprise with one of
the most enjoyable grand pianos on the floor.
Besides having a fluid and comfortable action, their
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Pioneer Toraiz AS-1
Rossem ElectroMusic Morpheus
gradient Mozart switch lets you raise the hammers
and lower the action, and it worked exceptionally
well. The ability for musicians to make these kinds
of adjustment easily adds a flexibility to the playing
experience that has never before been available.
Another highlight was the Yamaha S7X. This
new line from Yamaha uses a treatment process
called Acoustic Resonance Enhancement, that
gives wood the acoustic properties of an aged
instrument. The S7X’s action was buttery and
smooth and our players all commented on the ease
of ability in expressing themselves.
The young company Ravenscroft has built a
reputation for itself one piano at a time. Crisp and
clear, its grand pianos produced big smiles from our
players. We also have to give a nod to their beautiful
custom Kawai VPC-1 controllers that take digital
piano action and sound to the highest level.
Which leads us to Kawai, the leader in portable
digital pianos with their MP series. Piano man Billy
Joel currently uses one on tour, lending real-world
credibility where it’s due. Add to that the stellar
Shigeru Kawai series, as well as their lovely 7-foot
GX BLAK grand and you have a piano company
standing tall in both the acoustic and digital realms.
Playing the stunning Bösendorfer 280VC
Vienna Concert Grand felt like driving a Rolls
Royce. It was majestic, powerful, elegant and had
more headroom than any player could dynamically
Elektron Digitakt
reach. It was very expressive and clear for such
a large instrument, and in the world of concert
grand pianos, it is truly hard to beat.
Tucked away in the back of the hall, you might
have missed Grotrian, but we sure didn’t. These
grands were very pleasing to the touch and ear.
Even in a spot that was not conducive to quietly
listening, the rich tone and supple action on these
instruments stood out.
We visited Seiler to play the custom ED186A grand, which uses a bamboo molding in
its hammer design. This easily machinable and
sustainable wood replaces the more traditional
choices of hornbeam and walnut. The piano had a
great feel to all of us who played it and the sound
was vibrant and warm. We also have to mention
the 7' German SE-208 grand, one of our favorites
and a really well-rounded and transparent piano.
STUDIO AND STAGE HARDWARE
The IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic Stage is a compact
and low-cost performance system for acoustic
guitarists. The pick-shaped mic clips to a guitar’s
soundhole and feeds a preamp that has onboard 32bit DSP to provide six preset tones: 3 steel-string and
3 nylon-string emulations. The preamp, which can
clip onto a guitar strap or belt, includes an aux input
with blend control, a USB output for recording to a
DAW, and feedback suppression.
IK Multimedia iRig
Acoustic Stage
Focusrite’s OctoPre and OctoPre Dynamic
combine 8, second-generation Scarlett preamps
with 24-bit, 192kHz converters. The models have
two ADAT ports, a pad on each channel, frontpanel instrument inputs, and 8 analog line outputs,
which can be used in live-sound situations. The
OctoPre Dynamic includes analog compression
and 8 channels of D/A converters.
The Neumann KH-80 DSP Studio Monitors
are compact, active close-field monitors with 4"
low-frequency drivers and 1" tweeters. The builtin DSP allows the user to tailor the monitor’s
acoustic response to the room, while the network
connector facilitates remote control using the
(soon-to-be-released) Neumann.control software
(Mac/PC, Android/iOS).
Like its predecessor, the Softube Console 1
Mk II functions as a hardware channel strip that
works with your DAW. New features include the
ability to work with select UAD plug-ins. And due
to a manufacturing change, the price of the new
version has been reduced by about 40-percent,
making it much more affordable.
The groundbreaking Aston Microphones
Starlight is a small-diaphragm condenser mic
that garnered lots of attention at the show. The
unusual-looking mic features a “sintered” head,
made with ball bearings, and is equipped with laser
targeting for marking mic positions. Variable voiceA P RIL
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NEW
GEAR
Mackie Big Knob Studio
switching lets you to dial in vintage and modern
sonic characteristics. Aston offers a matched
pair, with a stereo bar, at an introductory price.
Mackie unveiled three new Big Knob models
this year. The Big Knob Passive can switch
between two sources and two sets of monitors,
and includes Mute, Mono and Dim controls.
And, of course, it’s entirely passive, so it doesn’t
need a power supply to function. On the other
hand, the Big Knob Studio + and Big Knob Studio
incorporate USB-audio-interface capabilities
with monitor and source switching. The Studio +
has four Onyx mic preamps, whereas the Studio
version gives you two. Other features include
onboard metering and a talkback mic.
What’s notable about the new MOTU USB/
AVB audio interfaces is that, except for a frontpanel headphone jack, their I/O is exclusively
digital: The 8D has two sets of AES/EBU and
two sets of coaxial S/PDIF jacks; the LP32
has four sets of optical I/O, supporting ADAT,
optical S/PDIF and SMUX; and the M64
contains one bank of coaxial MADI and one
bank of optical MADI (each MADI bank
supports a whopping 64 channels). All three
units come with Word Clock I/O.
The Roland Rubix 22, Rubix 24 and Rubix
44 are class-compliant USB interfaces offering
2x2, 2x4, and 4x4 I/O counts, respectively.
The Rubix 22 and Rubix 24 include two mic
preamps each, while the Rubix 44 has four.
What’s more, the Rubix 24 and 44 are equipped
with onboard dynamics processing.
The next-gen version of Universal Audio’s
popular UAD Thunderbolt desktop-interface
is the Apollo Twin MKII. New features include
improved A/D/A conversion, dedicated
14
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Electro-Harmonix Blurst
monitoring switches, and a talkback mic. The
MKII comes in three DSP configurations:
Quad, Duo and Solo.
A new version of RME’s 30-in/30-out USB
interface, the UFX II, handles 12 analog, 16
ADAT, and two AES I/O channels. The UFX
II one-ups its predecessor with improved
THD and SNR specs, USB 2 support (which
allows it to connect with the optional ARC USB
remote controller), more powerful headphone
monitoring, and improved functionality for its
DURec direct-to-USB-stick recording feature.
The Slate Digital VRS-8 Virtual Analog
audio interface, which connects via Thunderbolt
or PCIe, is the centerpiece of the company’s
new Virtual Recording Studio system, which
integrates with Slate Digital’s plug-ins and
microphone modeling. The VRS-8 provides
eight mic preamps and two headphone outs and,
according to the manufacturer, achieves latency
measurements as low as 0.7 ms at 96 kHz.
Another new component of the Virtual
Recording Studio is the ML-2, a smalldiaphragm modeling mic that can emulate 20
different classic condensers and dynamics.
The developer’s demos, which compared the
emulations with the mics they were based on,
were quite impressive.
The Electro-Harmonix Blurst offers
guitarists and other instrumentalists the ability
to create synth-like modulated filter sounds.
It contains an analog lowpass filter with three
modulation shapes, adjustable resonance, and a
modulation rate controlled by either knob or a
tap footswitch. You can also plug an expression
pedal into it for further control.
Warm Audio has released an updated version
Tech21 Q Strip
of its single-channel mic preamp, the WA12 MKII,
featuring XLR and 1/4" inputs and a front-panel
Tone switch that changes the impedance from
600 to 150 ohms. The WA12-500 MKII, a version
in the 500 series format, was also released.
The Tech21 Q/Strip is a channel strip in DIpedal form. It’s equipped with highpass and
lowpass filters, a 4-band EQ featuring two semiparametric mid bands that can be set to mimic the
response of a speaker cabinet, XLR and 1/4" inputs,
parallel 1/4" outputs, a pad switch, and more.
SOFTWARE INSTRUMENTS AND
EFFECTS
At the Ilio booth. we were treated to the Synthology
Ivory II Studio Grands virtual instrument,
featuring Steinway B and Bösendorfer 225 grand
pianos. Shipping with the new Ivory 2.5 Piano
Engine, these VIs offer 24 velocity levels, multiple
levels of Soft pedal and Release samples, digital
effects, tuning tables, and much more.
Blocks Dashboard turns Roli’s new Lightpad
Block into an open-source multidimensional
polyphonic controller for Mac and Windows
software. You can customize its preprogrammed scripts to control DAWs, software
instruments, and more.
Spectrasonics launched Keyscape Creative,
a collection of more than 1,200 Omnisphere
patches designed for Keyscape users.
Showcasing the power you get by combining
the two instrument plug-ins, the new library is
included when you purchase Keyscape and is
added automatically when current users install
a free update to their software.
Studio 2 is the next-generation update to
Bitwig’s customizable DAW that combines
E MU S IC IAN . C O M
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BandH.com
The
Professional’s
Source
Visit our website for the most current pricing
JBL 7-Series 705P 5” Powered
Master Reference Monitor
JB705P | $999.00
Arturia MatrixBrute Analog Monophonic Synthesizer
ARMBAMS | $1,999.00
Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII DUO Desktop Interface
UNAPT2DP | $899.00
Positive Grid Amp Matching
Guitar/Bass Amplifier
Elektron Analog Drive Multi-Circuit
Distortion Pedal
ELPFX1 | $359.00
Softube Console 1 MKII
Hardware and Software Mixer
SOCNSOLE1MK2 | $499.00
POPGBIASHEAD | $1,299.00
Auray Stylus Music/Microphone Stands
AUIA300/440/500 | Set - $597.00
Tips & Techniques
s
From the Pro
1 Rest Those Ears
When we listen to music, either recreationally or professionally, it’s easy to forget that our ears
can get tired, often fatigued to the point where they exhibit symptoms such as numbness, soreness, an inability to clearly hear frequencies, and so on. This is commonly referred to as ear
fatigue, and it is often caused by listening to music at extremely loud volumes (95 dB and up) for
a prolonged period. An effective way to prevent ear fatigue is to take occasional breaks to let your
ears “reset” themselves; even allowing them to rest for 15 minutes in between listening sessions
could go a long way to ensuring long-lasting ear health.
2
Use Short Delays for a Pseudo-Stereo Guitar Effect
How do you make that killer guitar take your just recorded sound fatter, without trying to double
it by replaying it perfectly note for note? Simply use a short delay to create a nice pseudo-stereo
effect to beef up your performance. First, create a new mono Aux track, pan it hard right, insert
your favorite delay plug-in, and set the delay length to about 25ms. Next, pan the original guitar
track hard left, and use an Aux send to buss the signal from the guitar track to the delay you just
created. Make sure the level of the send is set to zero.
3
Record a Bass Drum with Dynamic & Condenser Microphones
Though it’s certainly possible to get a nice bass drum sound by recording with one mic, the use
of two microphones can often give you a fatter kick sound, and ultimately more sound-shaping
possibilities when it comes time to mix. Start by placing a dynamic mic (Shure SM 57, for example) about 4” inside the kick drum. Next, position a large-diaphragm Condenser mic about 4”
away from the front head, with the capsule facing the drum. Have the drummer, or whomever is
available, play the kick drum at a slow and steady interval, and adjust the mics’ positions in small
steps until you hear a sound with which you’re happy.
Electronic Musician Feb.indd
1
elm503878_0417.indd
1
Pittsburgh Lifeforms SV-1 Blackbox Desktop
Analog Modular Synthesizer - Eurorack
PIPMS1008 | $699.00
Warm Audio WA-87 Multi-Pattern
Condenser Microphone
WA87 | $599.00
Shop B&H, where you will find all the latest gear
at your fingertips and on display in our SuperStore.
Cash in or Trade up
Used Equipment
We Buy, Sell, and Trade
Consult a
Professional w/
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online
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*Applies to In-Stock Items. Some restrictions may apply. See website for details.
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Service Dealer Lic. #0907905; NYC DCA Secondhand Dealer – General Lic. #0907906
© 2017 B & H Foto & Electronics Corp.
2/7/17 7:33
3:08 PM
PM
2/8/17
Plugin Alliance
bx_subsynth
NEW
GEAR
MOK Waverazor
Eventide Fission
linear and nonlinear sequencing. Rebuilt from
the ground up, Bitwig Studio 2 offers a modular
architecture with 24 new modulators, dynamic
display panels and other new devices, as well as
superior integration with MIDI hardware.
Eventide Fission is an innovative plug-in
that uses the developer’s new Structural Effects
technology to split the transient and tonal
parts of a signal and process them separately
before they’re recombined at the output. Some
application examples include tuning drums
without affecting the transients and changing
the depth of tremolo on a recorded guitar track.
Taiho Yamada is one of our industry’s
most prolific synth designers, with credits
on both the Alesis Andromeda and M-Audio
Venom. His new softsynth, MOK (Media
Overkill) Waverazor, is poised to be another
groundbreaking instrument, with its ability to
slice, shift and shape individual waveforms, then
process the heck out of them. Taiho personally
demoed it for us and its sound can pivot from
smooth to nasty with just a few clicks.
Zynaptiq Wormhole combines spectral
“warping,” high-quality pitch shifting, lush
reverb and MIDI control over pretty much
everything. From what we heard, there’s some
very sophisticated processing going on under
the hood and the results were unlike anything
we’ve heard in a plug-in for quite a while.
Line 6 introduced Echo Farm 3.0, a
collection of 12 modeled echo effects for Pro
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McDSP EC300
AAS Objeq Delay
Tools, based on vintage processors that include separately in low-cost packs containing five
the Maestro Echoplex, Roland Space Echo, and different cabinet and mic configurations.
Electro-Harmonix Memory Man. Now with
Applied Acoustics Systems showed Objeq
native 64-bit AAX performance, Echo Farm Delay, which combines an acoustic filter with
supports sample rates up to 192 kHz.
a delay unit to impart the acoustic resonances
McDSP plug-ins are always of excellent of physically modeled objects (beams, plates,
quality, so our anticipation is high for the drum heads, strings) onto any audio input.
EC300 Echo Collection, a multifaceted plug- Objeq Delay includes highpass and lowpass
in that features three different delay types— filters, an LFO for modulation, and the ability
Magnetic (tape), Digital, and Analog.
to process repeats separately—wow!
Plugin Alliance showed the Brainworx bx_
In a few short years, Gadget has become the
subsynth, based on the Waveform Modeling engine go-to iOS sequencer for legions of electronic
of the dbx 120XP Subharmonic Synthesizer but music producers. Now Korg has added
with new features. The plug-in is designed to add recording capabilities and will make it available
subharmonic information to enhance the bottom for Mac users later this spring, with all of its
end on drums, basses, guitars, and keyboards.
synths included in AU, VST and AAX format
Amptrack Technologies showed Amped for use in other apps. It’s been a long time
Studio, a new “hybrid” DAW that can be accessed since we’ve seen a truly new desktop DAW, and
as native or online (browser-based) versions, Gadget is poised to be a game changer. n
both with identical feature
sets. Amped Studio allows you
to work on your projects at
The latest firmware for the Roland System-8 automatically
home or remotely, with your
installs the new Juno-106 Plug-Out synthesizer,
tracks saved in the cloud.
which emulates the classic Juno-106m down to its
With Impulse Response,
original sound, patches, effects, and timbre-building
Celestion provides impulse
parameters. Yamaha released the free OS v1.5 update for
responses from seven of its
its flagship Montage, which adds 50 new Performances,
classic 12-inch speakers. Load
a rotary speaker effect, a dynamics processor, MOFX
them into a convolution plugcompatibility, MIDI scene control, and improved Auto
in and insert them onto your
Beat Sync, among other things.
guitar track. Each speaker’s
impulse responses are sold
Important Updates
E MU S IC IAN . C O M
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Keep Them Saturated
11 tube-simulation plug-ins to make your tracks come alive
BY MIKE LEVINE
In the pristine world of digital audio, musicians, producers, and engineers are
always looking for ways to “warm up” recordings. One of the best methods
is to add a little saturation to the signal. Whether you want to make a snare
drum sound less dry, add a little sparkle to a piano track, give a vocal presence
and grit, or make an entire mix sound more energetic, a little saturation can
go a long way. You can also go beyond subtlety and add crunch or distortion
to a guitar, bass, kick, snare, piano, or any other instrument.
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Although the term “saturation” originated with the effect of overloading analog
tape, it’s now used to describe a number of
different distortion types. One of the most
prominent is the harmonic distortion created by running a signal through a hardware
device with a vacuum tube in it.
You don’t have to track through an actual
tube preamp or amplifier to get saturation,
however. There are many plug-ins on the
market that do a convincing simulation by
modeling tube circuitry. What’s more, you
can use them during mixdown, meaning
you don’t have to commit to a particular
amount of the effect—as you would if tracking through a hardware-based device—thus
giving you more sonic flexibility.
In this roundup, I’ll focus on 11 plug-ins
that are either designed solely for adding
tube-style distortion or have it as a significant part of their saturation offerings. The
products are presented in alphabetical order
by manufacturer.
112DB REDLINE PREAMP ($129)
If you want to make an instrument or vocal sound like it was recorded through a
tube preamp, Redline Preamp is an excellent choice. It excels at adding coloration to
digital tracks. In addition to tubes, it can also
emulate saturation from analog tape and
analog consoles. Its effects are subtler than
some of the other plug-ins in this roundup—
you probably wouldn’t choose it to create
super-saturated tones—but it accomplishes
its mission authentically.
The heart of the plug-in is its three Tube
bands—Tube Lo, Tube Mid, and Tube Hi—
which govern how much
of the effect is added in
specific, user-adjustable
frequency ranges. The
Frequency knobs for the
Lo and Hi bands set the
range in which they operate—below the setting
for Lo and above it for
Hi. For the Mid band, the Frequency control
sets a center frequency, and a Width knob
sets the bandwidth.
You also get controls for Drive, which
turns up input volume, and Warmth, which
lets you choose whether to emphasize odd
or even harmonics (the former adds punch
and the latter warmth) to the signal. The
Clip knob sets the threshold for soft clipping, which adds more crunch as it’s turned
lower and more clipping occurs. Controls
for Wet/Dry and Makeup Gain are included,
and you can choose between stereo and midside operation.
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ANTARES AVOX WARM ($69)
Although Warm is available separately, it’s also
part of the Antares AVOX 4 vocal-tool suite. Ostensibly designed for vocals, Warm is also great on
drums, guitars, and virtually any source.
You can switch it between two different tube-circuit emulations: Velvet, which models the sound of a tube
preamp—and leans towards the subtle
side, from a saturation standpoint—
and Crunch, which is based on a tube
guitar amp and, as its name suggests,
can get quite a bit crunchy when the
drive is cranked.
The plug-in has a graphic of a glowing tube in the middle, which lights up
brighter as you add more gain to the
circuit using the Drive
slider. When Velvet is
selected, it lights up
blue. When Crunch is
picked, it turns red.
Warm offers Input
and Output sliders and
a clipping indicator. It
also features a button
for a unique feature
called OmniTube. As Antares explains it, most tube preamps work
on the portions of the signal exceeding the clipping threshold, which
are mainly transients. When Warm
is in its default mode, that’s how it
works, too. But when you switch
in OmniTube mode, the processing
acts on the entire signal, making the
whole thing sound more crushed.
D16 GROUP REDOPTOR ($45)
Redoptor is a powerful plug-in with a host of features, a very low price, and a lot of EQ options. Based
on its presets, Redopter appears to be aimed mainly
at the EDM market, but its tube emulation can be
used on instruments or
voices in many styles.
The input signal flows
first into Redopter’s
preamp section, where
Lo Cut and Hi Cut filters let you tailor the
sound before it hits the
“tube” circuitry, and
a Preamp Gain control that controls the
amount of distortion.
The Tube section
has a Bias control for
adjusting the level of
odd harmonics in the signal,
and contains Tone and Brightness knobs. The next stop in
the signal flow is
a fully parametric
Coming Soon
Plugin Alliance Black Box Analog Design HG-2
By the time you read this, a new saturation plug-in from Plugin Alliance should be
available. It’s called Black Box Analog Design HG-2 and is an emulation of the hardware
tube processor of the same name, with some added digital controls.
Individual level knobs for Pentode and Triode let you mix and match the sound of the
two modeled 6U8A tubes. The Saturation control is used to dial in one of two 12AX7
simulations,
whose
sonic
character can be changed with
a three-position Saturation
Frequency switch.
A three-position Calibration
adjustment—Dark, Normal and
Bright—affects the overall sonic
character; and the Air switch is
designed to add a little high-end
sparkle. Moreover, Density lets you boost the pentode and triode tube-level simultaneously,
with automatic compensation on the output stage.
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EQ section, featuring bands for Low, Mid, High
and Presence. In addition to an Output control, the
master section has a Wet/Dry knob, which lets you
adjust the ratio of wet to dry signal, providing further tweaking power and making it easy to back off
a bit if you dial in too much distortion.
Redopter can create a wide range of effects,
from slight break-up to super trashy distortion.
I was particularly impressed with it on guitars,
synths, drums and electronic percussion.
FAB FILTER SATURN ($154)
FabFilter plug-ins are renowned for offering power, options and ease of use, and Saturn is no exception. It offers several types of tube- and guitar
amp-style saturation as well as tape saturation,
bit-crushing and FabFilter’s proprietary Smudge
algorithm. Two other key features are its modulation and multiband capabilities.
The default is single-band operation, but you
can create up to six independent bands with frequency boundaries that can be easily dragged to
the desired position. Even cooler, each band can
have its own front-panel control settings, including the distortion type, Mix (wet/dry), Drive, Panning, Level, Feedback, Feedback Frequency,
a 4-band EQ, and Dynamics.
The Dynamics feature lets you add expansion or compression to the signal, on a perband basis. The multiband capability makes it
possible to, say, distort the heck out of the mid
and high frequencies, but use a lighter setting
on the lows, or vice versa. It’s quite flexible. In
addition, you can switch between Left/Right
and Mid/Side operation for each band. You
can even solo or mute individual bands.
If you want to take your settings even further out, open the Modulation section, where
individual parameters can be altered with
five different types of mod sources including XLFO
(LFO), Envelope Generator, Envelope Follower, an
external MIDI Source, or an XY Controller.
MELLOWMUSE SATV ($79)
If you’re looking for quality saturation that’s super
easy to use, you’ll like SATV. Not only does it offer a Tube algorithm, but also ones for Transistor,
Transformer and Tape.
Three large knobs dominate its GUI. Drive controls the input gain. The harder you hit the input,
the greater the saturation. Mix sets the wet-dry
level, and Output governs the output level. A VUstyle meter measures the output. Included are a
global on/off switch and a phase reversal switch.
Saturation type is chosen using one of the four
switches that sits below the VU meter. There are
no onboard EQ options, but you can always insert
an EQ plug-in before or after it if you need more
sculpting power.
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FULL SIZE KEYS
with FULL SIZE SOUNDS
At Williams, we’re dedicated to designing and producing superior-sounding digital instruments with outstanding
feel and unmatched value. The result is a line of full-size portable digital pianos with advanced features and authentic
voicings that rival that of large console models. Experience the sound, style and value of a Williams piano today.
An affordable, semi-weighted, 88-key digital piano with
5 great sounds (piano, electric piano, organ, synth, and bass)
and built-in speakers, perfect for performance and practice.
A fully weighted, hammer-action 88-key piano, complete with
a new custom sound library, including classical and modern
pianos as well as favorite electronic keyboards and synths.
Plus, Modulation/FX control provides realistic rotary and
vibrato effects on select instruments.
Available exclusively at
* The optional Williams ESS1 Essentials pack includes
AC power supply, sustain pedal and headphones.
elm517532_0417.indd 1
WilliamsPianos.com
1/23/17 4:25 PM
OHM FORCE OHMICIDE ($103)
This powerhouse plug-in can do everything from
adding saturation to creatively mangling a sound
beyond recognition. Like Redopter, it appears designed predominantly for EDM, but works great
for other applications.
Its unique interface features four separate
frequency bands, with user-adjustable frequency
boundaries. You can select from one of multiple
algorithms for each band, including tube sounds
and myriad other distortion types.
Sliders at the bottom allow you to mix the
signal of the various bands. Individual Wet/Dry
Plug-In
Comparison
knobs are provided, as are mute and solo switches,
and a pannable feedback circuit.
On every band you also get a Gain control governing the amount of distortion, a noise gate, and
dynamics control that lets you add compression or
expansion.
Ohmicide has a unique control section called
Melohman Mode, which lets you morph between
presets using MIDI input. The time and smoothness of the morph is also controllable.
Once you master Ohmicide’s rather complex
GUI, you’ll find the plug-in to be capable of an impressively wide range of saturation and distortion.
Company/Product
112dB Redline Preamp
Antares Warm
D16 Group Redopter
FabFilter Saturn Mellowmuse SATV
Ohm Force Ohmicide
Plugin Alliance SPL Twin Tube Soundtoys Decapitator
UAD Thermionic Culture Vulture
URS Saturation Plug-in WaveArts Tube Saturator 2 PLUGIN ALLIANCE SPL TWINTUBE ($199)
The TwinTube plug-in (which is also available in a
UAD version) is based on an actual SPL hardware
unit. It splits two different aspects of tube sound,
Saturation and Harmonics, into separate processes that can be used together or independently. Activation buttons let you turn on or off each process.
The Harmonics process has two types of controls:
a large knob that governs the intensity of the effect,
adding presence as you turn it up; and two Harmonics Switches, which are used to set the fundamental
frequency for the processing. The choices are 2 kHz,
3 kHz, 6 kHz, and 10 kHz. Doing quick comparisons
Price Algorithm Types Multiband
$129 $69 $45 $154 $79 $103 $199 $199 $299 $249 $99 TB TB TB
TB, TP, GA, MSC
TB, TP, TR, TR
TB + MSC
TB
TB , TR, TP, TRN
TB TB TP, TR , TRN
TB Yes (3)
No
No
Yes (up to 6)
No
Yes (4)
No
No
No
No
No
LEGEND: TB-Tube, TP-Tape, TR-Transformer, TRN- Transistor GA-guitar amp,
elm0417_Coverstory_Roundup_dc4_F_prod.indd 22
2/14/17 4:46 PM
between these or
other settings is
easy with the A,
B, C, D switches.
A single knob governs the amount of
saturation.
TwinTube also
offers signal-present and overload
lights, an Output slider, a Power switch for turning the
effect on and off, and a very cool feature called Mouse
Wheel Control. If your mouse has a wheel, hover the
cursor over one of the knobs or the slider and you can
control the parameter with the mouse wheel.
I found TwinTube to be useful on a variety of
sources, whether I was going for subtle warmth,
crunchy saturation, or something in between.
SOUNDTOYS DECAPITATOR ($199)
Available individually or as part of the Soundtoys 5 bundle, Decapitator is a versatile processor
that features two different tube algorithms, modeled from the Pentode and Triode settings on the
Thermionic Culture Vulture hardware unit (see
the UAD plug-in version later in this article). In
Wet /Dry
Mid/Side
EQ
Also Notable
Yes
No
Yes
Yes (per band)
Yes
Yes (per band)
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes (per band)
No
Yes No
No
No
No
No
Per band
No
4-band parametric, Tone
4-band
No
Global: Pre & post distortion
No
Tone, Low Cut, High Cut
High-pass filter
No
3-band (pre or post)
Harmonic adjustment
OmniTube mode
Bias control, MIDI control, 4 quality settings
Modulation, MIDI control, Freq Display, Feedback
Phase switch
Preset morphing, MIDI control, feedback, noise gate
Separate Harmonics and Saturation processing, Mouse Wheel Control
Punish button (+20dB), Thump switch, Auto Gain
Overdrive (+20 dB), Bias, Control Link
Phase switch
2X Oversampling
MSC-Miscellaneous
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addition, it offers algorithms based on the preamp
in an Ampex 350 tape machine and input channels
from Chandler/EMI and Neve.
The Drive knob controls the amount of distortion. Pressing the Punish button gives you a 20dB
gain boost and kicks Decapitator into overdrive,
greatly increasing the amount of distortion.
Other controls include Low-Cut and High-Cut
filters, a Tone knob, and a Thump switch for dialing in a low-end boost at the frequency to which the
Low Cut filter is set. Another handy feature is Auto
gain. Turn it on and it automatically reduces
the output level to compensate for increases in
the Drive control, so the volume doesn’t change
when you’re auditioning different levels of
Drive. The ability to keep the volume constant
makes it easier to realistically compare settings
and avoid the “louder sounds better” effect,
which can be misleading in any audio situation.
The big VU-like meter is called the Attitude
Meter and is a visual indicator of the amount of
Drive you’ve dialed in. A Mix control allows you to
set the Wet/Dry level. Decapitator includes a large
collection of presets, including instrument-specific
patches for Drums, Bass, Guitars, Vocals, and more.
processor of the same name, UAD’s Thermionic
Culture Vulture is capable of everything from a
little bit of tube warmth to total sonic mayhem.
The original unit was stereo, and you get the most
options when you instantiate it on a stereo track or
in a mono-to-stereo configuration.
The plug-in has two identical channels, each
with three knobs: Drive, Bias, and Distortion Type.
Drive controls the input gain. The higher you set
it, the greater the distortion. The Bias knob on the
original unit controlled the amount of current that
UAD THERMIONIC
CULTURE VULTURE ($299)
An emulation of the iconic studio tube-distortion
aas-keyboad-em-half-page-2016-ultra-analog-va-2.pdf
4 5/30/2016 14:49:30
ULTRA ANALOG VA-2
was sent through the 6AS6 distortion tube.
If you look closely at the meters, you’ll notice
that they’re measuring milliamperes, not VU, and
reflect the setting of the Bias knob for each channel. Bias alters the saturation characteristics of the
signal, making it thinner on lower settings and fatter on higher settings.
The third knob, Distortion Type, has three settings.
Triode is the most subtle, and UAD suggests it for situations where you want warming without obvious distortion. Pentode 1 offers more saturation, and Pentode
2 is off the charts, creating heavy distortion. You
can make any setting more extreme by clicking
the Overdrive switch, which adds 20 dB of gain.
Other controls on each channel include a highpass filter that can roll-off at 9 kHz and 6 kHz,
Output Level, and Bypass.
Several global switches are included,
as well as two that were not on the original
hardware: Control Link and Mix. The latter is
a wet/dry control and the former lets you link and
unlink the two sides when running in stereo or
mono-to-stereo configurations. When not linked,
you can create some pretty dramatic stereo effects
by using different settings on each side.
URS SATURATION ($99)
True to its name, this plug-in is all about Saturation,
offering four different tube preamp algorithms as
ANALOG SYNTHESIZER
C
M
Y
CM
MY
CY
CMY
K
Applied Acoustics Systems
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well as several that emulate transformer and tapehead saturation. Its controls are simple and intuitive. The Input knob governs how much level is
coming in, and at higher settings accentuates the
saturation effect. The Saturation knob turns up the
intensity of the effect. The Wet/Dry slider gives
you another variable for controlling the degree of
saturation in the signal. The other two controls are
a global on/off switch and a phase-reversal switch.
(Saturation, along with SATV, are the only plug-ins
in this roundup that offer phase reversal.) Near the
top of the plug-in are meters for input and output,
each with clipping indicators.
Just below the Saturation knob is a pull-down
menu that lets you choose an algorithm. The tube algorithms are all based on Class A mic preamps. MotorCity emulates a mic pre similar to what was used in
the Motown studio. Tape Machine re-creates a tube
preamp from a ’50s-era tape machine. 1951 is based on
a vintage tube mic preamp. German emulates a German-made tube pre used in Europe in the ’60s.
Also notable is Saturation’s exceptionally large
collection of instrument- and vocal-specific presets. If you’re looking for ideas for settings, these
make excellent jumping-off points.
WAVE ARTS TUBE SATURATOR 2 ($99)
The latest incarnation of Wave Arts’ saturation
plug-in is an emulation of a dual-triode preamp
with an EQ stage.
The sounds are
crunchy and warm,
and the GUI is intuitive and fully featured. It can be run
mono, mono-to-stereo, and stereo. Only
one set of channel controls is available, but in stereo configurations, the effects are independently
applied to the left and right.
Tube Saturator 2 has three distinct sections. To
the far left is Saturation. A switch lets you choose
between the 12AX7 or 12AU7 tube emulations.
The 12AX7 emphasizes even harmonics and has
a thicker sound with a slightly heavier saturation.
The 12AU7 signal features both odd and even harmonics. The Drive knob increases the input gain,
and as it does, drives the virtual tube harder, thus
increasing saturation.
The next stage is the Baxandall-style EQ. It’s
simple—Bass, Mid, and Treble knobs—but is extremely effective for sculpting the sound of whatever source you’ve inserted it on. It can even be
used with the saturation turned off. The EQ can
be switched between Pre and Post saturation or
bypassed.
The Output section is equipped with a VU-style
meter that measures output level, an Output level
knob, and a Wet/
Dry knob. In addition, you can switch
on 2x Oversampling,
which
upsamples
the signal to double
the normal sampling
rate to avoid aliasing
distortion, and, according to Wave Arts, “more accurately simulate true analog circuitry.” The 2x Oversampling mode also doubles the CPU load: If you’re
reaching the end of your processing power, you can
run in normal mode, which also sounds really good.
ALL WARMED UP
All of the processors in this roundup provide realistic-sounding tube saturation effects. Making a
buying decision comes down to your budget, what
features you need, and whether you’re looking for
more than just tube-distortion algorithms. Virtually all these plug-ins have a demo version available, so I urge you to try out a few and see which
one you like.
I can say with confidence that once you start
adding saturation to your tracks or on the master
bus, you’ll wonder how you lived without it. n
Mike Levine is a composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist
from the New York area.
Orion32 HD
Upgrade to a higher tier HD
Compatible with any DAW on the market via
HDX port or USB 3.0, Orion32 HD offers zero
latency monitoring, I/O streaming of 64-channels,
flawless clocking, and pristine AD/DA. The 8 DB25
connectors handling the I/O are accompanied by
MADI, ADAT and S/PDIF connectivity.
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Thievery
JEN MALER
Corporation
Thief Rockers return!
BY KEN MICALLEF
Ever since their 1996 debut, Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi, the
Washington, D.C.-based duo of Eric Hilton and Rob Garza, aka Thievery
Corporation, have mined a rich vein of musical delirium. From dub and reggae to Indian classical, Middle Eastern, hip-hop, electronica, and the wide plethora of musical zest under the Brazilian banner, Thievery Corporation have coupled a
DJ’s skill set to a record collector’s passion. Collaborating with such famed artists as David
Byrne, Perry Farrell, The Flaming Lips, Anoushka Shankar, Femi Kuti, Seu Jorge, and Bebel Gilberto, Hilton and Garza see no reason to jump off planet Jamaica now.
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“Jamaican music, dub music in particular, is
crucial in the development of electronic music,”
notes Hilton when discussing the duo’s latest effort, The Temple of I & I. “As electronic musicians,
dub is a very inspirational sound for us, and something we incorporate into our own music. And
then the revolutionary aspect of certain Jamaican
music is very appealing. Jamaican music, early
rock steady and early reggae is my go-to hang music. Jamaica is its own continent when it comes to
music. It’s such an overachieving country.”
The Temple of I and I’s 15 tracks of unerring vibrations blasts off with the sizzling dub of “Thief
Rockers,” a laid-back homage to interstellar space
and deep Illuminati secrets. “Letter to the Editor”
fires up the beat, its hook pure smackdown-to-theears ecstasy. “Strike the Root” rocks steady and
lean. The title track is delayed, looped, and layered
to perfection, followed by the outer-space kinetics
of “Time and Space,” love’s warning, “Love Has No
Heart,” and closer, “Drop Your Guns.”
“Our records have always spanned many genres
of music,” Garza adds, “so you’d have different
sounds within one album. After Culture of Fear
(2011) we did Saudade (2014), which was influenced
by our love of Brazilian music. That’s very organic
and bossa nova-heavy. A lot of soundtrack-worthy
cinematic songs on there. We wanted to make a record built on our love for Jamaican dub and reggae.
The Temple of I & I has a very strong presence of Jamaican music; that’s the predominant theme.”
Citing influences from Lee “Scratch” Perry, The
Revolutionaries, Linville Thompson, King Tubby
and Scientist, Thievery Corporation share a similar
fondness for pushing old gear to create new sounds.
“We love Space Echoes and plate reverbs,” Hilton says. “Some of that early outboard gear sounds
the best. You can make great music with plug-ins but
we’re very into vintage gear. I watched a reggae documentary recently about Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry; he was
using this phaser that looked like an Akai MPC 3000;
a mini one. And I still can’t find that piece of gear.”
Vintage tools used on The Temple of I & I include a Roland RE-201 Space Echo, Teletronix
compressor and classic hardware keyboards, including those by Korg, Moog, Crumar, Hohner,
Roland, Rhodes, and Wurlitzer. Basic tracking for
the album happened at Geejam Studios, located
within a resort in Port Antonio, Jamaica.
“A simple studio that was quite modern,” Hilton said. “They have a good grand piano. But they
didn’t have a shaker! We had to make one out of
an Advil bottle and some rice. We did most of the
heavy effects at our D.C. studio.
“We might have recorded the drums to an Otari
tape machine,” Hilton adds, “but most of it was
digital recording using the preamps from a Rupert
Neve 5088 console. We recorded drums, bass, guitar, keys, and percussion at Geejam then edited in
D.C. Geejam is a great place to record.”
Prior to tracking in Jamaica, Hilton, Garza, engineer Gianmaria Conti, and band conducted jam
sessions at Thievery Corporation’s recently completed D.C. hub, Montserrat House Studios.
“Our space is cool and it also has a Caribbean
connection,” Hilton says. “It’s an abandoned
head shop that we fixed up. We did a lot of jam
sessions and took the basic tapes to Jamaica. We
didn’t even take files because we were going to
recut everything anyway. We selected our favorite
rhythms and progressions from D.C. and re-recorded 28 rhythms at Geejam, then dressed up the
music with vocals and effects back in D.C.” Drum
loops were also added to fortify natural drum
sounds, “grabbing things off old vinyl for that cool
vintage quality,” Hilton says.
Eric Hilton’s love of vintage keyboards looms
large; all made their way onto The Temple of I & I
in various ways, shapes and forms.
“We love vintage Wurlitzer keyboards,” Garza
says. “We used the Roland JP-8000 to death and
vintage drum machines: the Sequential Circuits
TOM Drum Machine; a Korg Rhythm 55, a really
old drum machine; a Korg PolySix analog synth,
it’s a little difficult to use but we got some great
sounds off of it. We used modern things like [Native Instruments] Maschine, too, which we use for
programming beats and chopping stuff up. Sometimes our drums will be a combination of a live
drummer and a kick from one loop and a snare
from another loop. Or that and another loop added in. We create hybrids to get a bionic drum set.”
After 20 years of mixing flavors, Hilton and
Garza have their respective recipes down cold.
“I’m a drums-and-bass and rhythm-andgroove guy,” Hilton says, “and Rob is more of a
melody guy. I focus on drums and bass lines for
the most part, and he will focus on melodic elements. But sometimes that switches.”
Though Geejam Studios is tiny and minimal in
terms of gear, the band had a blast.
“Gear-wise it’s unique,” Garza says. “It’s a resort on top of a hill, only four rooms: Very small
studio. It’s got this beautiful view, a huge window
that looks out over the ocean. In the control room
there’s the booth, then after the booth, the ocean.
GeeJam has a real vibe, and an original Rupert
Neve 16-Channel 5088 console. We recorded 12,
13 hours a day; we couldn’t stop. We were in this
magical environment. We’d swim in the ocean in
the morning then go straight into the studio.”
Gianmaria Conti has engineered Thievery Corporation sessions for years, and he brought his Agame balancing the various pieces between Jamaica and DC. Minimal vocal tracks were cut at Geejam, with Conti running their Neumann U87 into
the 5088 console’s internal microphone preamps.
Back in D.C., Conti’s go-to vocal setup included
the Shure SM7B microphone running into a BAE
1073D 500 Series Mic Pre/EQ, a Chandler Limited
TG2 Preamp/DI, or an API 512c mic preamp.
“The Neve console is a benefit if you’re going to
go ahead with tracking and mixing,” Conti notes.
“We were just tracking there, using the Neve’s
preamps, then mixing in D.C. We used the Neve’s
mic preamps, compressors, and its channel strip.
Just being in front of that board feels good.”
Down in Jamaica, Conti was limited to Geejam’s smallish gear complement. For example,
he tracked a Fender Twin Reverb guitar amp using Shure SM57 and Royer 121 microphones as
well as a DI, using “three lines in case I wanted
to re-amp.” A Neumann U87 was used on an Ampeg B-15 Portaflex bass combo amplifier. Tracking
drums in the studio’s small environs, however,
tested Conti’s resourcefulness.
“I used a Shure Beta 52 and Shure Beta 91A on
the kick, in and out,” Conti explains. “Then a Shure
SM57 for snare, Neumann U87s for overheads, a
Shure SM81 for hi-hat and ride, Sennheiser 421s
for the two toms.
“For the room mics, we used a U87 placed
inside the grand piano and slammed with compression,” Conti adds. “It worked well. That was
the best room sound, in the piano, which was
across from the drums. You have to solo the room
mic. What I’m looking for in a room mic is that
crunchy hip-hop beat you’d hear on a record. The
room mic in the piano gave me the whole kit. Once
I found the place where it sounded good by itself,
I left it. It was vibrating the piano strings! There’s
no science, you move the room mic until you find
the best position.”
Back in D.C., Conti worked entirely in the box,
using an API Summing Mixer Console to “stem
out tracks and give it an analog mixdown.” A Universal Audio Apollo interface, to convert analog
to digital, and various compressors and analog
preamps also saw serious action. Conti’s favorite
compressors in Montserrat House Studios include
the Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor and dbx 160
VU Compressor.
“The dbx does something unique to percussion and kick and snare drums,” Conti says. “It’s
very particular. You don’t have to hit it hard and
it makes a very ‘70s, very punchy sound; it’s exceptional. And we used the Roland RE-201 Space
Echo for dub effects and spring reverbs and the
UA EMT 140 Classic Plate Reverberator plug-in.”
An sE Electronics Z5600a II large-diaphragm
condenser was used on many of the amplifiers
including an Ampeg Classic head driving a Markbass cabinet, a “crazy-huge Fender Bassman cabinet with inward drivers; it’s great for guitars,” and
Fender Twin and Fender Deluxe amps.
Vintage keys tapped for this record include two
distinct Wurlitzers (a 200 and 200A), a Rhodes
A P RIL
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electric piano, a Moog Satellite coupled to a Farfisa organ “which looks insane,” Korg PolySix and
Monopoly, a Yamaha CS30, a Hohner Clavinet, a
Lowry organ, and a Roland JP8000.
“The Wurly has a speaker so we miked that, or
blended it with a DI,” Conti says. “My Wurly is pretty
pimped up. There’s this great site called Vintage Vibe
[vintagevibe.com] if you want to push your Wurly
into an amazing state. Wurlys are really noisy but
with modifications you can make them completely
quiet. You can DI it and there’s no buzz. We also used
Rob Garza’s amazing synths, including a Roland SH7,
Korg MS20, and different Crumars.”
Conti used both vintage and modern microphones
to cover drums, including one with a devilish bent! “I
like the Shure Beta 52 or an old Electro Voice 666 as
a kick drum mic,” Conti says. “The 666 is a great mic;
they used it back in the Motown era; it rejects a lot of
reflection. It’s nice and smooth in the bottom end. I
used a Shure SM57 for snare, again, Sennheiser 421s
for toms, and in the studio some very cheap mics that
are awesome. They’re replicas of the RCA 44, the
Chinese-made Nady RSM-2. It’s $100; a huge ribbon
microphone. I use those for horns and overheads;
they’re smooth sounding. Great cheap ribbon mics
for overheads and room mics. Then the silver AKG
C451 B for snare drum and guitar. Not a lot of stuff.
And the old Unidyne III SM57, which sounds better
in the low-end than the [modern] Shure SM57. I got
those from my dad in Italy.”
One trademark of a Thievery Corporation production is a deep, swaying drum track, which blazes through the mix like hot asphalt.
“For fat, thick drums and bass I treat the drums
like hip-hop samples,” Conti explains. “And we do
a lot of layering. There are real drums playing, and
a simple loop underneath reinforcing them. We
do a lot of tricks to create the heavy banging beats.
Mainly if we’re using an analog drum, I tune it low
so it cracks like a hip-hop snare. It’s got to be very
dead. You have to kill all the sustain; tape the heads
entirely up. But the kick and snare can give you
that old groove. And you can mixdown an acoustic
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“For fat, thick drums
and bass, I treat the
drums like hip-hop
samples. And we do a
lot of layering. There
are real drums playing,
and a simple loop
underneath reinforcing
them.”
—GIANMARIA CONTI
drum like it’s a drum sample. And I use a lot of compression, before and during tracking. So my drum
sounds are already in place when they’re printed.
“A lot of times we use samples from old records.
One trick l like to do is make a MIDI version of
that sample then re-create it in Maschine. I’ll
make a clean version that is more powerful and
energetic than the sample.”
Recording in multiple locations in various formats with diverse gear requires work in both pre
and post, but that is nothing new for Conti.
“We did a lot of editing,” he recalls. “The way
it works with this band is you lay down a scratch
and that might become the song, but that doesn’t
happen in a demo version; it happens in the studio.
You don’t go into the studio and play a song and it’s
done. It’s the opposite with Thievery Corporation.
You keep changing and editing. The post-editing
was the work, not the recording. Often we just jam
then we chop it up to make sense.”
Finally, the production is mixed, and once
again, it’s a family affair.
“We mix during the recording process,” Garza
notes. “We’re working and listening constantly all
the time and making adjustments. By the time we
get to the end we’re all in the same room making
decisions. It’s not a traditional mixing session.
Eric and I and Gianmaria make the final decisions.
“Our biggest talent as producers is knowing
when a song is done,” Garza adds. “Some musicians have sketches that are never finished. The
key to actually being a producer or artist is knowing when something is done and saying, ‘That’s
finished.’ How do we know? We look at each other,
and we know. It’s intuition.”
“We’re inspired by music,” Eric says. “Not necessarily fads or trends. There’s mountains of music
to mine through. I remember being in Brazil in the
’90s when Brazilians thought bossa nova was dead,
and they said, ‘People like yourself and artists in Germany and Japan are doing the same thing, mining
our music.’ Music is a big mountain of what many
consider junk, especially in the pop mainstream, but
there’s so much treasure to be taken out of the past.”
And like all good dub and toast-masters, Thievery Corporation is inspired by their gear. Over the
course of 20 years they’ve seen equipment of all
shapes, sizes and connections.
“When Rob and I began making electronic music, neither of us had a computer!” Eric marvels.
“Rob had an Akai MPC 3000 and I had an Ensoniq ASR-15, with a whopping 200 seconds of sampling time. And our biggest challenge was storage.
We were dealing with floppy discs and some songs
required 8 to 10 floppy discs to store and reload.
Looking back, it’s insane the way we worked. But
on the other hand, that tight parameter of technology forced us to be resourceful and nimble. We were
ironically most prolific during that period of using
such a bare-bones set up. Yet I don’t think either of
us would trade our Pro Tools setup and plug-ins for
that primitive approach we used back in the day.”
How have Thievery Corporation maintained
such a long and fruitful career in the treacherous
music business?
“I have no idea,” Hilton replies. “We love making music. The best Thievery song is the one we’ll
make next week. It’s always out there. We have no
lack of passion or ideas.” n
E MU S IC IAN . C O M
elm0417_Feature_ThieveryCorporation_dc4_F_prod.indd 30
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2/10/17 12:37 PM
Ty Segall has
had a prolific
career as a
rock-oriented
singer/
songwriter
and performer.
Outside The Box
TY SEGALL makes his record the old
fashioned way with STEVE ALBINI
By Mike Levine
When Ty Segall decided to make a studio album
that captured the energy and interaction of his
stage shows, he jumped at the chance to work with
engineer Steve Albini. The resulting album, Ty
Segall, features the artist’s eclectic blend of rock
styles, which includes elements of psychedelic,
punk, jam music, and pop. Engineered entirely by
Albini and produced by Segall, it was released in
January on Drag City records.
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CHANGE OF PACE
Segall was familiar with Albini’s Chicago studio,
Electrical Audio, having visited a couple of years
prior and taken a tour of the facility. “I really
loved the environment,” recalls Segall. “It’s like
every room has been immaculately designed from
scratch to capture specific sounds. It’s crazy.”
For Segall, who has his own analog-tape-based
home studio, going to an outside facility was a departure. “He’s used to recording mostly in his own
home setup,” notes Albini, “which is obviously significantly less of an investment than going to an
outside studio, traveling, and having to put people
up and all that sort of stuff. So, it’s a significant
commitment of resources, if you’re used to doing
it that way, to sign on to doing it someplace else.”
Segall chose to record the album with his touring band—guitarist Emmett Kelly, bassist Mikal
Cronin, drummer Charles Moothart, and keyboardist Ben Boye. “That version of the band was
well-rehearsed,” Albini says. In a commercial studio situation where time is money, having a tight
band is a huge advantage.
Recording to tape, the exclusive format at Electrical Audio, was entirely comfortable for Segall.
“I’ve only done tape,” he says, “All my records are
various [multitrack] formats, whether it’s cassette, 8-track [reel-to-reel], or 1/4-inch, 1/2-inch.
I have a 1-inch machine at my house that I use. I’m
definitely with Steve on that.”
The project was recorded on Albini’s Studer 820 multitrack, which has swappable headblocks, allowing it to be configured for either 16 or
24 tracks. Segall chose 16 for this project, which
is Albini’s preferred configuration if the artist can
get by with the limited track count.
“Sixteen-track sounds significantly better than
24-track,” Albini explains. “There’s much less back-
ground noise, both because the individual channels
are less noisy and because there are fewer channels,
you end up with less aggregate noise. The frequency
response and the headroom on each individual track
is also better. You get better bass response, and you
get less saturation, so you have less high-frequency
distortion, and the sort of extended high end on a
per-channel basis. And because there are only 16 of
them, you also get the benefit of clarity from not having as many signals competing. So, the stereo image
tends to be a lot more solid. You tend to have a much
heftier low end and clearer high end.”
However, the 16-track format can be problematic if a band isn’t well-prepared. “You can’t always do
it,” Albini explains, “but if you do your homework
and figure out how many tracks you’re going to
need before making the record, then often you can
find a way to condense things to the point where
you can fit a whole arrangement in 16 tracks.”
IS IT LIVE?
Electrical Audio’s facilities were well-suited for
the live nature of the album. “The way that studio
is laid out,” says Albini, “there is an isolation room
on either side. There’s a large central live room
[called Center Field], and that’s where Ty and Emmett were. And then there’s a smaller live room in
the center of the studio and the drum kit was in
there. And then the bass amplifier was in an isolation room off to the side of that. So, everyone could
see everyone, and there were lines of sight, so Ty
could sing along if he wanted. But there was some
practical isolation between the instruments.”
Thus, they were able to cut the basic tracks
with most of the band playing together. The only
instrument parts recorded exclusively as overdubs were Boye’s piano tracks.
The drums on the album have a very natural
sound to them. Moothart’s bass drum was on the
large side, and that can sometimes be problematic
when recording. “Over the years I’ve developed
some techniques that help with a big boomy bass
drum to keep it under control, such as a particular choice of mics,” Albini says. “In this case it was
a Beyer M380, which was on the resonant side of
the bass drum, and another small-diaphragm condenser microphone was used on the batter side to
pick up the attack of the bass drum beater.”
The M380, which is out of production, is a dynamic mic with a figure-8 pattern. Albini used that
pattern to his advantage on the kick. “It tends to reject the sound being reflected back into the mic from
the ceiling, and the ambient environment on the
side. So, it tends to pick up mostly the front to back
movement of the resonant head. And it has a very
strong proximity effect, so you can control and sort
of tune the depth of the low-frequency response of
the bass drum by moving the microphone in or out.”
DOUBLE FREEDOM
Electric guitars play a major role in Segall’s music,
and he and the other guitarist, Emmett Kelly, recorded a number of double lead parts on the album. For
the most part these were mixed with Segall’s guitar
panned hard left and Kelly’s panned hard right. What
made them unusual is that Segall and Kelly weren’t
playing synchronized, harmonized parts, they were
playing independent lead parts simultaneously. While
you might think that would create sonic chaos, it has a
feel and flow to it that works well.
Segall calls them “double freedom leads,” and
he’s been using the technique on albums and onstage for a while. However, he says they only work
with the right combination of players. “A lot of
times you play with guitarists and you feel like
they’re trying to one-up you in a negative way,”
COURTESY ELECTRICAL AUDIO
COURTESY ELECTRICAL AUDIO
Drums set up and miked in
Electrical Audio’s live room.
Center Field at Electrical Audio is where Segall
and Kelly were placed during the recording.
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COURTESY ELECTRICAL AUDIO
“Where there’s interplay
between the instruments,
you want to exaggerate
that, or make it as
apparent as possible.”
—STEVE ALBINI
Steve Albini at the
Neotek console
Segall points out. “There isn’t a harmonious situation happening. You’re not playing together. With
Emmett and I it’s the complete opposite. It’s so
much fun, we’re always trying to lift each other up
to a different level. It’s really cool.” According to Segall, the parts also work because of their different playing approaches. “I
think Emmett and I have very different guitar
styles. I think that was one of the main reasons
it works. I have like one thing I can do, and Emmett is arguably the most talented guitar player I
know. So, it’s like he’s always switching in and out
between different styles, and I have my one kind of
thing. We also have very different guitar setups, so
tonally, it’s very complementary.”
Albini would use two microphones on the
amps. “Typically, a ribbon microphone and a condenser microphone, or a fairly bright dynamic
microphone. And then I would balance those two
against each other, or, if there’s space available,
keep them separate for bouncing later in the mix.
But normally, on a 16-track session, I would balance those two together.”
Albini recalls that his choice of ribbon mics for
the guitar amps would have been either an STC
4038, an RCA 74-B, or an AEA N8. “It’s a ribbon microphone,” he says of the N8, “but it has an active
head amplifier in it, so it’s phantom-powered. That
gives it more gain, but it also controls the impedance the ribbon element sees. So, no matter what
you plug it into, it has the same basic sound quality. Ribbon microphones are notorious for sounding
different depending on the impedance matching.”
SUMMING TRACKS
In the age of in-the-box mixing, it’s easy to forget just
how much work is required when mixing on a console. For Segall, console-based mixing is what he’s
used to. “That’s the only way I know how to mix. I
know how to use Pro Tools. I can do some editing,”
Segall says. “But there’s a wild-style live mix when
mixing off the board. Every mix is a performance.”
Because Electrical Audio is strictly analog,
34
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they’re all console-based mixes. The console used
on the Segall album is from a company called Neotek. “It’s a customized console, but it’s based on
the Neotek Elite,” Albini explains.
At the time Albini bought the console, Neotek
was in the process of being purchased by Martinsound, the company that invented Flying Faders
for Neve. As a result, Albini was able to get Electrical Audio’s Neotek console equipped with Flying
Faders. “They’re a tremendous help in mixing,” he
says, “not necessarily for the sake of automation,
but because you can group a bunch of faders together and control them from a single fader. The
grouping, and muting, and manipulating aspect of
that is really helpful.”
On the mix of the album, you’ll notice that Segall and Albini weren’t hesitant to push elements
out to the edges of the stereo spectrum, especially
the lead guitars. Segall who describes himself as
a “total headphone freak,” has historically done
some pretty radical panning.
“If you listen to a lot of my old records,” he says,
“it’s like the drums are in the left, the whole record. This [the new album] is actually more of a
tame, live-band-style mix. I love having kick in the
left, snare in the right, vocals in the right.”
When asked about his own panning preferences,
Albini says, “It really does depend on the character of the music. Some bands that I record are quite
noisy and quite chattery. Where there’s interplay
between the instruments, which is a feature of the
sound of the band, then you want to exaggerate
that, or make it as apparent as possible. Having the
stereo between the instruments quite wide is one
way to do that. So that when the playing is moving
from instrument to instrument, it’s also physically
moving in space in the room you’re listening to.
“Another way to do it is to make it so that those aspects that you’re trying to focus attention on are eccentric from the middle of the mix in some way. For
example, you could have the bulk of the band sound
in either center channel or very modest stereo, and
then if you want to draw attention to an overdub or a
backing vocal or a particular moment, have that one
element stuck off in one speaker, so that it seems to
be breaking the pattern of your listening.”
Another noticeable aspect of the mix on the Segall album is the lack of effects used, particularly
on the vocals. “I think vocals are always the biggest
challenge for me,” Segall says, “because that’s the
thing I’ve had to work the hardest on. If you listen to
my first couple of records, I’m singing through guitar
amps, and it’s all kind of shrouded in sketchy recording techniques. I used to get frustrated, which I don’t
anymore, but vocals are always the hardest. For this
album we said, ‘No effects. Super-loud vocals. Dry.
Hear all the words and stand behind it.’”
Because the vocals would be reverb free, Albini
used room mics to add space. “There was an ambient microphone out in the big room on at least
some of the songs,” he says, “that provided a kind
of a natural ambient quality to the vocals.”
A GOOD MIX
“I think we generally have the same idea of making records,” Segall says. “Feel is the most important. He’s obviously more than an engineer. I went
into the session thinking, ‘I’m going to ask for your
opinion and bounce things off you.’ And then it
was really great. He seemed excited and had ideas,
and he wasn’t just sitting there hitting record. He
was very much a part of the process.”
Albini seemed pleased with the way the project turned out. “I recall it being pretty smooth
sailing,” he says. “The band was in really good
shape, they had been playing a lot, so the takes
were effortless. Ty is a really terrific guitar player,
so when he’d do leads and stuff, we didn’t have to
build them up out of micro takes in order to have a
tolerable lead. He’s got an idiomatic singing style,
but he has a very clear idea of what he wants each
song to do, so the singing persona on a per-song
basis is mapped out in his head. It wasn’t like he
was trying random stuff and trying to figure it out
on-the-fly; he had a pretty clear plan for each song.
I recall it going very, very smoothly.” n
E MU S IC IAN . C O M
elm0417_Feature_SegallAlbini_dc5_F_prod.indd 34
2/16/17 11:27 AM
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2/10/17
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James
Poyser
JUAN PATINO
U
U
Groove, Grace, and
Late-Night Keys on The
Tonight Show
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elm0417_Feature_Poyser_dc3_F_prod.indd 38
E MU S IC IAN . C O M
2/16/17 11:13 AM
BY JON REGEN
P H O T O G R A P H Y B Y J U A N PAT I N O
For millions of late-night television viewers, James Poyser is known as the keyboardist for hiphop renegades The Roots on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Every weeknight, Poyser displays his ability to tackle impromptu intros with ease, like the piano-drenched theme to
Fallon’s famed “Thank You Notes” sketch.
But long before The Roots were offered one of the most coveted gigs on television, Poyser had carved a career out for himself as a keyboardist and producer of near legendary
status, working with artists including Mariah Carey, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Lauren Hill,
Common, and Adele. He’s got chops for days, and the taste to know when, and when not,
to use them. Poyser is closely linked with the sound known as Philly Soul, but he actually
hails from another part of the world, an ocean away.
“I was born in England,” he says. “My parents are Jamaican, and they moved to England, where my brother,
sister, and I were born. I grew up in the Pentecostal
church, and music was a big part of that worship experience. There’s always drums, guitars, basses, and keyboards. And there’s always dancing and a lot of loud singing and jumping around. When we moved to PhiladelErykah
phia, that’s when I taught myself how to play drums, and
Badu—
little bit of bass and keyboards to play along in church.
Mama’s
There was a drum set there and I was like, ‘I’m gonna be
Gun
the drummer!’ I was terrible [Laughs], but I got better.
D’Angelo—
Eventually, I taught myself keyboards and later I went
“Chicken
back and got lessons. But I’m pretty much self-taught.
Grease”
“One thing that I learned playing in that church, where
(song from
a majority of people were from the Caribbean, was that
Voodoo)
there was a simplicity to the music that was popular,” PoyCommon—
ser explains. “If you listen to Reggae or other music from
Like
that area, it’s simple. The chords are one, four, and five,
Water for
and once in a while, they’ll throw a two in there! So to
Chocolate
make them dance, I had to play it simple. When I played
Mariah
at other Pentecostal churches in America, I noticed that
Carey—
their point of view was different. In those churches, you
“Mine
could be a lot more harmonically adventurous. You could
Again”
play chord progressions in a hymn that might not make
(song from The
sense in the song, but they worked! But in my church, I
Emancipation of Mimi)
learned how to play things simple with feeling.”
The
Poyser made the jump from drums to keyboards in his
Roots—
teenage years. “I had a voracious appetite for listening to
Things Fall
music,” he says. “When I was younger, I had taken the
Apart
standard, ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ kind of piano lessons
with a little old lady, but I didn’t like them at all. She had
James
Poyser
A Selected
Discography
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39
2/16/17 11:14 AM
Poyser attended Drexel University in Philadelphia. “I started-off as chemical engineering
major, but I transferred to Temple University and
finished-up with a finance degree,” he says. “It’s
funny, but to this day, my parents still ask me,
‘When are you going back for your MBA?’ But I
was gigging all throughout college, playing with
different choirs. At first, the majority of my work
was still church-based, but then I started playing
various jazz clubs, doing gigs with local artists
around town. Then I got called to play with bigger
and more well-known artists like CeCe Pensiton
and later, [DJ] Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. I
was part of Jeff’s production company for many
years, and he’s one of my best friends to this day.”
It was in the early 1990s that Poyser developed
a penchant for keyboards and technology. “Back
then I was playing a lot of the racks
of the day,” Poyser says. “Like the
[Oberheim] Matrix 1000 and the
[E-mu] Planet Phatt. I was also using the [Ensoniq] ASR-10 and the
EPS, sequencing with an [Ensoniq]
SP-1200 and an [Akai] MPC. At
two little Chihuahuas at her house,
that time, I didn’t have a home stuand they were fine when I walked
dio yet. I was working out of Jeff’s
in, but on the way out they would
studio, on a 24-track analog and an
Herbie
Hancock—
bite the back of my legs! So I didn’t
early Cubase system.”
Thrust
like going over to her house. Later
Soon after, Poyser would be
when I was 16, I met a guy in Philamentored
by the legendary PhilaMichael
delphia who played keyboards,
delphia music team of Gamble and
Jackson—
Off the
and I thought, ‘I wanna do what
Huff. “Mr. Gamble was a friend of
Wall
he does!’ I had a cassette tape of
one of my partner’s parents,” Poya song that he played and I spent
ser explains. “We were working
Slum
months learning it, teaching it to
out of my friend’s apartment, and
Village—
myself. Then I learned how to play
Mr. Gamble said, ‘You guys aren’t
Fantastic,
Vol. 2
it in every key, and I decided that I
doing nothing there. Come down!’
wanted to take lessons.”
I ended up getting [Philadelphia
Anything from
Poyser came of age on a mixed
songwriter] Linda Creed’s old
the Gospel group
musical diet. “I was listening to all
room, which was crazy. There was
Commissioned
kinds of things,” he explains. “But
carpet on the walls—it was all very
Claus
growing up in a preacher’s house, I
1970s! It was also right next to Mr.
Ogerman—
had to sneak around to listen to things
Huff’s room, and there were artists
Cityscape
like early hip-hop. But the cool thing
Phyllis Hyman, Billy Paul, and Lou
about that was, a lot of the Gospel reRawls coming through all the time.
cords I was allowed to listen to were real progressive. I got to see the way they worked, and I also got to
I also noticed that many of the players that played on hear their stories.”
gospel records were also playing on the big R&B alPoyser’s longtime association with The Roots
bums of the time – people like Joe Sample and Greg also began around this time. “The band’s late manPhillinganes, who played on everything from Gospel ager Rich Nichols, may he rest in peace, wanted
to Michael Jackson and more. I would also go to re- me to work with a band they had signed called the
cord stores and read the back covers of albums to find- Jazzyfatnastees,” Poyser says. “I was writing with
out who the big players were at the time. Back then, I them for a while, and then Rich called me and said
listened to early hip-hop, cool gospel records by peo- he was working with a girl from Dallas, Texas,
ple like Andre Crouch and the Winans, R&B by people named Erykah Badu, and he wanted to know if I
like Stevie Wonder, as well as Bob Marley. Then I also wanted go into the studio with her. I went, and we
got into Miles, Herbie and Chick. I was way into the clicked instantly. We ended up doing a couple of
fusion stuff by the Elektric Band and Headhunters. songs on her first album, and I’ve worked on evAnd I’m still going through my jazz phase!”
ery one of them since. That began my work dur-
Listening
List James
Poyser’s
Favorite
Albums
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elm0417_Feature_Poyser_dc3_F_prod.indd 40
ing the whole ‘Neo Soul’ era – working with The
Roots, Common, D’Angelo, Jill Scott, and so forth.
I also worked with Bilal, Musiq Soulchild, Mariah
Carey, Adele, and others.”
These days, Poyser splits his time between his
televised work with The Roots on The Tonight Show
and his writing and production work, which centers around his Philadelphia-based home studio. “I
used to have a studio in Philadelphia that wasn’t in
my home,” Poyser explains. “But after my son was
born two months premature, I wanted to be there
when he came home from the hospital. So I wentout and bought doubles of everything I was using
in my studio. We eventually moved to a big enough
house that I was able to close the other space down
and make my home studio my main facility.”
Poyser’s studio centers around the recording
platforms of Apple Logic and Ableton Live. “I finish
everything off in Pro Tools, but for composing I like
Logic,” he says. “For lack of a better term, it’s logical. I can just see it. I also use Ableton Live, but Logic
feels the most natural to me. I use a lot of its built-in
plugins, as well as a lot of third party ones like Spectrasonics, Kontakt and the Arturia stuff. If I’m writing with someone, I may pull up a piano sound or go
sit at the piano and get a basic idea. Then I may put
a beat behind it—I’ll program one using something
from my collection of loops, or I may use something
from Native Instruments Battery or EXS24. For me,
it’s whatever sparks an idea. It could be a cool sound
in Omnisphere or Keyscape, or one on a Roland
Juno-106 on an [Oberheim] OB-X, or my Rhodes.”
Other gear in Poyser’s studio includes an original Yamaha S90, two more Oberheims (an OB-8
and OBX-A), a Hohner Clavinet, and an ARP Odyssey. “I also want an ARP 2600, a Roland Jupiter-8
and I’ve always wanted a Yamaha CS-80,” Poyser
says. “I love old analog keyboards. It’s just a feeling
they give you—the crackle and the noise, and the
wrongness and imperfection. They’re very human.
I also just played the new [Dave Smith Sequential]
Prophet-6, which I thought was cool. Those analog/digital hybrid synths are very clean, but that’s
part of their charm. I’d like to check it out more.”
Poyser’s rig for The Tonight Show is lean and
mean, much like the keyboard parts he is known for.
It features a Yamaha Motif XF8 88-key weighted
workstation, a Nord C2D two-manual combo organ, and a Roland Jupiter-80 synthesizer. “The great
thing about my work on the show is that it’s a steady
gig!” Poyser explains. “There are times, though,
where because it’s steady and it’s the same thing
over and over again, it can feel like Groundhog Day.
That’s just the nature of being a musician. But we get
to play and be creative, and play with different artists
every night. In the space of a month, we might play
with Little Big Town, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon
and Fetty Wap. It’s challenging and rewarding at the
same time. That’s the fun part.” n
E MU S IC IAN . C O M
2/16/17 11:14 AM
elm520620_0417.indd 1
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HOW-TO
M A G A Z I N E
The Art of Synth Soloing
Joe Zawinul
The Austrian Master
I don’t think there is another musician who is so closely tied into the use of
synthesizers for their composing and arranging than the late Joe Zawinul. He
embraced them like no other artist of his time and created a singular voice
with them. As he stated in a March 1984 interview in Keyboard, “I’m inspired by
sounds. When I program my instruments I find a sound that I like and out of that
sound comes a tune.” But it is revealing that he also said (in a September 1977
interview), “I try to stay away from electronic sounds, and go for natural sounds,
instead. They don’t have to be known natural sounds.”
Zawinul first started using an ARP 2600
with Weather Report on the Sweetnighter album in 1973, and he continued using synths
mostly for color and arranging over the next
few recordings. The first true synth solo I
could find was on the tune “Freezing Fire”
from the Tale Spinnin’ album from 1975.
BY JERRY KOVARSKY
FREEZING FIRE
Ex. 1
A
###4 Œ œ
& 4
œ œ œ#œ ™ œ œ ™ œ #œj ≈ œr œ œ œ ‰ ™ œr œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œj ‰
2
3
q=130
2:25
2
4
r
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#œ œ
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œ
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œ #œ œ œ œ j r œ œ J ‰ Œ Œ
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15
Ex. 1. Joe’s first true synth solo came in the tune “Freezing Fire” from the Tale Spinnin’
album. It’s a great example of how much mileage he could get from a basic one-chord pentatonic jam.
42
APR I L
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As was common for Weather Report, this tune
falls into a one-chord jam that is very organic
and interactive between the players, especially
between Joe and Alphonso Johnson’s bass lines.
Joe uses a pretty basic square-wave sound on his
ARP 2600 (see online for guidance in making the
sound), and partway during the solo he overlaps
a unique resonance-swept element on top of the
plainer sound. In the early days of his synth work,
the sounds were very pure and could be thought of
as pseudo-woodwind/reed emulations.
Example 1 shows the opening of the solo: After
a colorful opening that emphasizes the upper color tones and the sharp-11th (think of it like E major
seventh over A) it stays squarely (pun intended)
on the A major pentatonic mode. It is highly melodic, and Joe phrases nicely, allowing his lines
to breathe. He develops a small motif across bars
11-13, and then breaks away from it in bar 14, superimposing a B major triad arpeggiation to come
back to that sharp-11th tonality, and then resolves
it. The rest of the lengthy solo can be found online,
and it is a great study.
A CLASSIC TUNE
Weather Report found mainstream success with
their Heavy Weather album in 1977, and the megahit tune “Birdland.” The other classic tune from that
album, which has become a jazz standard, is the ballad “A Remark You Made,” and it features a beautiful,
E MU S IC IAN . C O M
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2/14/17 3:09 PM
romantic solo towards the end of the tune.
Example 2 shows the opening of that solo, and
it can be difficult to read, due to his fast playing
over the slow tempo. The solo section alternates
between two chords, and Joe, again, sticks pretty closely to the major pentatonic mode for the
Eb and the F minor pentatonic for the Db chord.
But after the opening two measures, notice how
Ex. 2
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b
r
œ
™
œ
œ≈
‰
b
& b
œ œ œ œ œ™
œœœ
10
11
3
3
3
3
6
3
6
3
Ex. 2. The solo from his classic ballad “A Remark You Made” just spills over with wonderful
fast lines that set an expressive and romantic mood.
Ex. 3
bb3
r
Œ Ó
& b b b4 ‰ ™ r œ œ œ ≈ œ ‰ ‰ ™ r nœ
2
œ œ
4:15
nœ nœ œ#œ 3
D¨
A13
D¨
b
& b bbb œ œ œ Œ Œ
5
œ
j
b
& b bbb œ œ œ œ œ ‰ Œ
D¨
9
E‹11
C7(#9)
A13
10
E/G¨
Œ
œbœœ 4
E¨/F
D¨/A
≈
nœ# œ n œ n œ bœ œ b œ
™ r
j
‰ ™ r nœ
œ
œ œ œ ≈nœbœ œ 8 œ ‰ Œ ‰ œ
n œ nœ œ œ œ n œ œ 7 nœ
bœ
G
6
D¨
D¨
D¨
Œ Œ
‰ nœnœ œnœ œ
nœ
œnœ œ œ 11œbœb œ
A¨/F B¨/G C/A
E/G¨
12
E¨/F
‰ #œ nœ
n œ œb œ œ œ œ n œ œ
b
bœ œ œ ‰ Œ Œ
r
& b bbb œ œœœ œ œ œ œ nœnœ œ nœ ≈Œ ‰ ™ œ œbœ œ œ œ
J
œ 14
n œ 15
13
16
œ
D¨
G
E‹11
C7
D¨
D¨/A
A¨/F B¨/G C/A
17
7
Ex. 3. My personal favorite solo (and synth tone) is found in “D Flat Waltz,” from the Domino
Theory album. Here you get a sense of Joe’s aggressive attitude and wonderful phrasing.
he stays on the Eb major pentatonic across both
chords for a few bars, playing incredibly fleet lines
that harken back to his European roots as an accordion player. Only at bar 6 does he return to outline the Db tonality a bit more. The arpeggiations
he plays throughout bars 6 and 7 are simply wonderful. Large intervallic jumps and pretty color
tones abound, with very little use of the root tone.
In bar 8 he moves from the Eb pentatonic to more
of a G minor pentatonic, so he starts emphasizing
the major seventh (D) and ninth (F). Bar 9 features
a wonderful climbing run based on the F minor
pentatonic over the Db chord, again emphasizing
the major seventh (C) and ninth (Eb) with no root
tones played. The rest of this solo is online; it is a
stunningly beautiful performance.
PLAY IT WITH ATTITUDE!
Skipping ahead a few albums we come to perhaps
my favorite of Joe’s solos with Weather Report.
The tune “D Flat Waltz” is from Domino Theory
(1984), the second recording to feature the postJaco/Erskine rhythm section of Victor Bailey and
Omar Hakim. Joe takes a wonderfully aggressive
solo on the Rhodes Chroma synth, a rare instrument that had become an important part of his
synth arsenal. As Joe told us in 1984, “Early in
’83 I replaced the Rhodes electric piano with the
[Rhodes] Chroma, which I now use for solo playing. I’ve got some really hip solo sounds on it,
which are not guitar sounds but have the strength
or the power of a rock ’n’ roll guitar, only with
more possibility for flexibility in the sound itself.
It’s a fine instrument.”
The synth sound and the solo just ooze attitude
(as did Joe!) and the ongoing dialog between Joe
and Victor Bailey is masterful. Example 3 shows the
start of the solo, and I have to admit that some of the
chords are unclear to me. Every time that sections
such as bar 4, 6, and 8 come around, the bass notes
are as written, but Joe will play different triads over
them. So my notation is just a reference. I love the
polychordal nature of his lines and their angularity.
Be sure to check out the recording of this tune and
the full version of the solo posted online.
In the sections that I marked as rests, Joe comps
on his Prophet-5, and those sections are equally
intriguing. It’s an example of his big-band-fromMars approach to synth orchestration, and if it
were translated to real horns (like on the wonderful
Brown Street CD he did with arranger Vince Mendoza and the WDR big band back in 2006), you can
hear how he took his love for Duke Ellington and
reimagined it for modern times and electronics.
MORE TO COME
Next month I’ll move into the Zawinul Syndicate
years, where his affinity for world music came to
powerful fruition. n
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HOW-TO
M A G A Z I N E
Jazz
Progression
Workout
T his month, we examine the dependable ii-V chord progression within the
extended ii-V-iii-VI that you find in a traditional jazz turnaround. The following
examples represent the progression in the key of G.
JEFF BABKO
Jeff Babko is the keyboardist in the house band
on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Babko’s latest release, Band
of Other Brothers—City of
Cranes, is out now. Find out
more at jeffbabko.com.
1. LINES WITH SURPRISES
With a little training, we can all run up and down
the scales or modes like bebop machines. (Heck,
some players have made a career out of it!) For
me, what makes a player stand out is how they
choose to construct these lines differently. I like
to challenge myself to resolve a standard beboptype scale on an unexpected chord tone. In Ex.
1, I begin by walking up a diatonic C major scale
(appropriate to the ii chord or A min). But rather
than resolve to the B natural, I chose a Bb, which is
the flat 13 of the D. Surprise! Then in bar 4, there’s
another natural-13 phrase answered by a flat-13
phrase. Surprise yourself with unexpected chord
tones of your own.
2. PARALLEL ARPEGGIOS
The layout of the piano and how the hands are
placed on the keyboard makes it easy to arpeggiate
chords as a method of improvisation. In Ex. 2 we
explore this technique using a parallel pair of arpeggios in bar 4. Here, a B min arpeggio is followed
by a Bb min arpeggio (a half step down), substituting for what would traditionally be an E7 chord. I
think any parallel movement gives the listener a
repeated idea to latch onto.
Ex. 1
& 44
j
#œ
A min
#œ nœ œ
œ œ œ œ œ
B min
& #œ œ nœ #œ nœ nœ nœ nœ
3
E7
#œ
D7
bœ
bœ bœ œ bœ
œ œ
œ œ nœ bœ bœ œ œ
Ex. 2
A min
D7
B min
nœ
& 44 œ œ œ œ œ œ œ # œ # œ œ n œ b œ œ œ œ # œ œ # œ Œ
œ
œ
44
APR I L
2 01 7
|
˙
E 7 (B bmin7)
bœ
Ó
nœ
bœ nœ bœ
bœ Œ
E MU S IC IAN . C O M
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Ex. 3
& 44
A min
j
bœ
B min
3
D7
nœ œ #œ œ nœ œ bœ nœ
E7
& #œ nœ #œ œ nœ œ #œ #œ
Ex. 4
A min
#œ œ bœ bœ nœ nœ
œ
D7
#œ œ œ œ nœ œ bœ nœ
B min
˙
Ó
E7
œ
Ó
& 44 ‰ j œ b œ b œ # œ # œ n œ œ n œ n œ ‰ J œ # œ # œ # œ n œ b œ n œ œ n œ n œ œ œ
œ
˙
bœ nœ
œ œ #œ œ #œ nœ
#
œ
œ
œ
œ
œ
4
œ
œ
œ
#
œ
& 4 œ #œ œ œ œ œ œ #œ œ œ œ œ œ œ #œ
Ex. 5
A min
RECORDING
I/O
INTERFACE
D7
B min
REAL-TIME
PLUGIN
E7
œ nœ œ
Œ Ó
3. STEPPIN’
Ex. 3 is fun. See if you can construct an
interesting line by not jumping any more
than a whole step. It’s more of a challenge than it seems and can make for
some interesting, slinky lines. (Admittedly, I jump-started this exercise with a
minor third. Oops!)
4. DIMINISHING RETURNS
There are many patterns with movement
in minor thirds, or so-called “diminished
licks.” These are fun to explore, as illustrated in Ex. 4. Try creating your own
diminished patterns and see what you
come up with.
5. BACH TO MOTIFS
Ex. 5 may be reminiscent of a certain
Bach invention you practiced in grade
school. But rather than repeating it in a
very square way, I displaced it over the
bar line. Again, repeating and developing a motif gives the listener a journey
to follow, and adding rhythmic variety
increases tension. n
AoIP
NETWORK
CONNECTED
www.digigrid.net/ios
DiGiGrid Posterise IOS Electronic Musician (Cyan).indd 1
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HOW-TO
M A G A Z I N E
Chaos
Rules
Simulate analog
synth subtleties
with these LFO
modulation tricks
A mong the main characteristics of true analog instruments are the subtle
idiosyncrasies that occur at the circuit level. While many modern softsynths
attempt to re-create waveforms and filter curves accurately, there is a certain
richness that comes with the variations that occur in real-world instruments. Even
Dave Smith Instruments includes a “slop” parameter for the Prophet 08’s DCOs to
re-create these artifacts.
This month, we’ll look at ways to use common
tools, such as noise modulation and high-speed
LFOs, to add low-level indeterminacy to your oscillators and filters.
BY FRANCIS PREVE
With Xfer Records Serum, you can mimic the
subtle inconsistencies of analog circuitry using the
soft-synth’s dual chaos generators, which blur the
line between sample-and-hold and noise. The result is the ability to add complex, pseudo-randomization to almost any parameter.
Available on classic analog instruments such as
the Roland SH-101, as well as contemporary softsynths like Ableton Operator, the noise waveform on
an LFO is a fantastic way to add gritty dirt to filter
modulation, with or without resonance. Operator, in
particular, includes noise as an LFO option and offers
the added flexibility of choosing between low and
high frequencies to create a wider range of textures.
The end result is similar to distortion, but with
a nastier, animated quality. This technique is fantastic for designing industrial and techno leads and
effects. Once you’ve routed the LFO to your filter,
experiment with different frequency rates (if possible) but keep it subtle. A little goes a long way.
Moreover, applying a tiny bit of noise modulation to a single oscillator in an oscillator pair will
add a chaotic, detuned character that’s quite similar to the supersaw waveform. The secret is to experiment with both high- and low-frequency noise
rates, which Operator provides. Lower rates are
ideal for the supersaw effect, while faster rates in-
46
APR I L
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fuse a noise-like character on the oscillator pitch.
Rather than offering noise as an LFO waveform
option, Reason’s Subtractor provides two kinds
of random waveforms, which behave similarly to
noise when their rate is set to maximum. Using the
technique described above, you can also create a
supersaw effect by using a very fast, random LFO
on one oscillator. Alternately, you can re-create
analog drift by using a small amount of the second
random waveform (which is smoother) at a much
slower rate. You’ll achieve more “wobbly” effects
by using a low-to-medium rate.
Another trick is to route Subtractor’s LFO to
the cutoff of Filter 1. Using a high-speed random
LFO, you can approximate the same “noise distortion” trick that’s available in Operator. On the
other hand, adding just a touch of the modulation
results in bit of simulated overdrive.
PRO TIP FOR DAVE SMITH INSTRUMENTS
OB-6 USERS:
The random waveform of the OB-6’s LFO switches to noise mode when its rate is set to maximum.
Consequently, the tricks outlined above can also
be applied to this analog poly powerhouse.
To hear audio examples of each of these techniques, go to emusician.com. n
E MU S IC IAN . C O M
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jblpro.com
© 2017 HARMAN INTERNATIONAL INDUSTRIES, INCORPORATED
ELM518239_0317.indd 1
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REVIEW
Fig. 1. The
Lightpad Block
is a polyphonic
multidimensional
controller that
senses five
performance
gestures.
ROLI
Blocks
THIS FUTURISTIC
INSTRUMENT
IS A BLAST TO
PLAY AND THE
PRICE IS RIGHT
BY GEARY YELTON
Contributing editor and
synthesist Geary Yelton
has written for Electronic
Musician for almost half his
life. He lives in Asheville,
North Carolina, and Venice,
Florida.
STRENGTHS
Easily the most affordable, polyphonic
multidimensional controller. Very portable.
Well-designed sounds.
Allows you to start with
a minimal system and
expand later. Compatible with third-party
software.
LIMITATIONS
Synthesis engine is
iOS only. Can’t customize instrument presets.
Can’t record loops into
songs. Three hours of
charging for four hours
of use.
Lightpad Block $180
Live Block $80
Loop Block $80
roli.com
48
A P R I L
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O ne of the most exciting trends in instrument design
they stick when you place them
close together. DNA Connectors let you arrange the Blocks
however you like, but with Bluetooth enabled, they don’t need to
touch to communicate.
The Lightpad Block is the
core of the system, and it’s the
only essential hardware component. Its firm but flexible touchsurface looks like solid silicone
rubber until you switch it on to
reveal a 15 x 15 grid of illuminated LEDs. It’s cool to power up
an object resembling the black, featureless monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey and have it spring
to life in your hands with flowing, pulsating lights.
The Lightpad Block responds to the same five finger gestures as the Seaboard: Strike (velocity), Press
(aftertouch), Glide (left and right motion), Slide (forward and back motion), and Lift (release velocity).
You perform by tapping, pressing, and stroking the
surface, much as you would with any PMC. You can
do a lot with a single unit, but you may eventually
want additional Lightpad Blocks for greater flexibility.
is the rise of polyphonic multidimensional controllers
(PMCs)—performance hardware that supports
Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression (MPE)
within MIDI. These include the Roli Seaboard, Haken
Continuum, and Roger Linn Design LinnStrument,
among others. PMCs typically give each finger
independent and simultaneous control of expressive
parameters using a variety of gestures, as well as the
ability to reconfigure how pitches are arranged on
their playing surfaces.
Roli Blocks is both a PMC and a mobile musicperformance and production system. It is modular
in that it comprises different components, including
three Blocks and an app that runs on the most iPads
and iPhones. The system is extensible in several ways,
from adding new components and content to controlling software and hardware outside Roli’s ecosystem.
ONCE AROUND THE BLOCK
Currently, Blocks comprises the Lightpad Block,
Live Block, Loop Block, and the free iOS synthesizer app Noise. Each Block contains a lithium
polymer battery. The Lightpad Block has a USB-C
receptacle for MIDI over USB and charging, and it
comes with an adapter cable that ensures compatibility with most computers and chargers (see Figure 1). Using a standard 12W iPad charger, it takes
about three full hours to charge the Lightpad Block
fully, giving you at least four hours of battery life.
Individual Blocks can interconnect using DNA
Connectors, unique 6-pin connectors on all sides of
each Block. The six pins carry power and data for
the entire system, and because they’re magnetic,
NOISE IN THE ATTIC
Noise is Blocks’ sound engine, and it also works with
the Seaboard Rise. You don’t need Blocks to play
Noise directly on your iPad or iPhone display, though,
assuming you can live without velocity or aftertouch
(see Figure 2). The app has two views you swipe vertically to switch between: Instrument View for recording and playing one loop at a time; and Song View for
organizing and playing multiple loops.
In Instrument View, each preset divides the iOS
display into a grid of colored squares called pads.
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With the Lightpad Block connected, that grid is
duplicated in the LEDs on its surface. Pressing a
pad makes it brighter and triggers a sound. When
you move your fingertip horizontally or vertically,
an illuminated trail follows your movement.
Instrument View displays Solo Instruments
and Multi Instruments. Solo Instruments range
from analog and FM synths to acoustic instrument
sounds. Multi Instruments comprise Drum Kits
containing individual percussion hits and Groove
Kits containing looped, tempo-synced patterns.
Multi Instruments have either 4 or 16 pads.
Although Noise comes with only a small assortment of presets, you can download additional content for free after installation, bringing the total
to more than 100 presets. Regrettably, presets are
immutable and can’t be edited.
Solo Instruments have five rows of five pads
arranged chromatically by default, with the root
pitch on the lower-left pad and higher pitches
from left to right and continuing on the row above.
Colors indicate intervals in relation to the root,
with one color for octaves, another for fifths, and
so on. The Scale button configures the pads to play
one of 19 scales or modes, and the Chord button
configures them to play a chord with each pad,
with 14 chord values to choose from.
The Arp button enables an arpeggiator with
seven patterns and selections for note value, octave, and gate length. Additional buttons let you
record and play parts, sustain notes, change tempo
Fig. 2. The free iOS app Noise serves as
Blocks’ synthesis engine.
and enable a metronome, and transpose over
a six-octave range.
Typically, swiping up or down on a pad
bends pitch or plays drum rolls, but the way
Noise responds to gestures depends on the
preset. When you play Breath Flute, for example, pressing and then swiping up simulates
overblowing, and swiping down simulates flutter tonguing. On other patches, swiping up and
down may open and close a lowpass filter.
Each preset features a recorded phrase that demonstrates how to play it expressively. When you tap
the Learn button, Noise plays the phrase once, and
the pads display illuminated trails you can trace
with your fingertip. I wish it were possible to change
tempo in Learn mode, because some parts play too
quickly to see and hear exactly how to duplicate it.
NOISE ORDINANCE
Song View offers a type of live clip sequencing.
It displays three 4 x 4 grids of empty squares, or
Slots. Each Slot is a container for one loop. Each
grid’s top four squares are for Multi Instruments,
and the remaining squares are for Solo Instruments. Play, Click (metronome), Snap (quantize),
and Volume buttons appear at the top.
To record a loop, you select a Slot, return to Instrument View, choose a preset, tap Record to enable
loop-style recording, and play. The loop you record
will appear in the selected slot in Song View, and
you can play it back by tapping on it. It will continue
looping until you tap it again. Repeat this process until you’ve captured as many loops as you need. Once
complete, performing a song is a matter of launching
loops in whatever order you like. Surprisingly, though,
you can’t capture your performances in Song View.
You can add content to Noise with in-app purchases. Expansion sounds are bundled into Soundpacks,
each with an assortment of presets that fit specific
genres. Five optional Soundpacks are currently available, created by sound designers that include electro
house musician Steve Aoki, Wu-Tang Clan rapper and
producer RZA, and in-house synthesists at Roli.
BONUS BLOCKS
All you need for a basic system is a Lightpad Block
and Noise. Two additional Blocks, the Live Block
and Loop Block, are optional (see Figure 3). Both
are half the size of the Lightpad Block and have
ten buttons. The Mode button turns the Block on
and off and cycles through Noise’s four instrument
slots. You change presets with the plus and minus
buttons. A strip of 15 LEDs helps you keep track of
locations within loops and battery level.
The Live Block lets you easily access functions you’ll use most often for performance and
includes buttons for switching scales, sustaining
notes, playing chords and arpeggios, and transposing by octaves. Another button marks the current
Fig. 3. Loop Block and Live Block attach
magnetically to the Lightpad Block.
preset as a favorite.
The Loop Block furnishes buttons for setting
tempo and recording, looping, quantizing, and layering sounds. Other controls duplicate buttons in Noise
such as Learn, Snap, and Undo. The advantage of both
optional blocks is that you can position them however
you like and keep your hands off your iOS device.
BEYOND NOISE
Connecting to your computer lets you use Blocks
with MPE-compatible software such as Roli
Equator, UVI Falcon, and Logic Pro X’s native soft
synths. In addition, Blocks owners are entitled to
a free 3-month license for Cycling ’74 Max, and
you can download and install Blocks Objects from
Max’s Package Manager.
Just days after this review goes to press, Roli expects to release Blocks Dashboard, an application
that turns the Lightpad Block into an open-source
PMC for Mac and Windows software. You can customize its preprogrammed scripts to control DAWs,
software instruments, and more using Lightpad’s illuminated surface. The initial version will furnish
preprogrammed scripts for Ableton Live, Logic Pro
X, Bitwig Studio, and Cubase, as well as software
instruments such as Native Instruments Kontakt
and Spectrasonics Omnisphere. You’ll be able to
customize your Blocks by editing factory script parameters and writing your own scripts, too.
BE THE FIRST KID ON YOUR BLOCK
Developing Blocks is a stunning achievement, if
only because it so radically brings down the price
of admission to the world of polyphonic multidimensional controllers. When you consider that a
single Lightpad Block is a versatile, 25-note, MPEcompatible controller for less than one-quarter
the cost of a 25-note Seaboard Rise, perhaps you’ll
appreciate just what Roli has achieved.
Like any musical instrument, especially PMCs,
Blocks requires practice to master. Roli’s online
videos make it look easy, but if you’re determined
to learn, you’ll need to do the work. It’s obviously
a work in progress, but Blocks is an instrument for
our times, and I look forward to watching the platform develop further. n
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Bluetooth enabled
Tunable response
Two sets of analog inputs
REVIEW
Fig. 1. At about
the size of a big
external hard
drive, the iLoud
Micro Monitors
defy expectations
for portable
powered speakers.
IK MULTIMEDIA
iLoud
Micro
Monitors
THE POWER OF
SMALL
BY MARKKUS ROVITO
Markkus Rovito drums,
DJs, and contributes
frequently to DJ Tech Tools.
STRENGTHS
Big sound in a tiny
package. Designed for
the quirks of bedroom
studios. Many configuration options. Bluetooth connectivity. Two
sets of analog inputs.
LIMITATIONS
A thick, stiff speaker
connection cable and
a lumped power supply put a small damper
on transporting the
monitors.
$299/pair, street
ikmultimedia.com
50
A P R I L
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A s the old cliché goes, “don’t judge a bookshelf
base that can angle the speaker
up from the desktop, as well as a
mic-stand mount in the base.
When listening to the iLoud
Micro Monitors, it’s clear right
away that their sound surpasses
that of just about any pair of
desktop or bookshelf multimedia speakers you could compare
them to. In fact, multimedia
speakers generally display the exact midrange
mud that the iLoud Micro Monitors were designed to avoid. The latter also has much better
stereo imaging and offers greater clarity and detail
through the full frequency range.
Likely bolstered by the bass reflex ports under
the woofers, iLoud Micros deliver the kind of low,
vibrational rumble that you can feel, despite having
a frequency response starting at 55Hz (compared to
20-45Hz that is typical of larger studio monitors).
Simply put, the iLoud Micros push out a trustworthy, detailed, and well-imaged sound of real studio
close-field monitors at levels that are more than adequate for the small spaces they target. With that, however, comes a normal studio-monitor caveat: low-level,
yet noticeable hum due to the onboard electronics.
While the iLoud Micro Monitors cost more
than most desktop multimedia speakers, they
also blow them away in audio quality and have a
smaller footprint than the majority of them. And
compared to popular compact monitors within
the same price range, the iLoud Micros are drastically smaller and weigh much less.
Whether you buy the dedicated travel bag
($39.99, sold separately) or stash them in a normal-size backpack, these professional speakers
will make good little travel buddies. n
speaker by its profile” (or something like that). But
I confess: When I first saw the IK Multimedia iLoud
Micro Monitors, I didn’t have high expectations. How
can you fit a high-quality, bi-amped reference speaker
into a 7.1" x 5.3" x 3.5" design that weighs less than 4
lbs. for the pair? Suffice to say, these monitors proved
my initial pre-judgment to be hasty.
With a combined system power of 50W coming
from a pair of 3" woofers and 0.75" silk-dome tweeters, the iLoud Micro Monitors do, in fact, get loud—
up to 107dB SPL—but you’ll likely get clipping before
reaching maximum volume, as indicated by a red
LED on the left speaker. Either way, they won’t blow
you away with their power, but that’s not the point.
Made specifically for small studios of an average
size of 10' x 13', the iLoud Micro Monitors use internal 56-bit DSP to create a time-aligned crossover point
between the tweeter and woofer while preserving
midrange accuracy. An EQ switch on the back toggles
the bass and treble response from “flat” to a desktop
setting made for small-studio operators who put their
monitors on a surface that is close to a wall (which is
normally not ideal). Two additional EQ switches attenuate the high and low frequencies from “flat” to -3dB.
The speakers must be connected together using
the included cable and powered from the left cabinet. The monitors accept unbalanced analog inputs
behind the left speaker using a pair of RCA jacks
and a stereo 1/8" input. Combined with its Bluetooth
connectivity, you can monitor one wireless digital
source and two analog inputs simultaneously. The
Bluetooth button initiates pairing; the front-panel
LED flashes blue at first, then stays solid blue while
connected. Each speaker has a two-position isolation
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1
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PM
Onboard
effects
Each Line
has three
envelopes
Configure the
core sound
structure
REVIEW
The CZ for iPad
combines classic Phase
Distortion timbres from
Casio’s ’80s-era CZ
Series keyboards with
modern features you’d
expect in an iOS app.
CASIO
CZ for iPad
PHASE DISTORTION
TIMBRES NEVER
SOUNDED SO GOOD
BY FRANCIS PRÈVE
Producer Francis Prève has
been designing synthesizer
presets professionally
since 2000. Check out his
soundware company at
symplesound.com.
STRENGTHS
Perfect re-creation of
Casio’s Phase Distortion synths. Four-way
multi-timbral. Clean
and intuitive interface.
Integrated effects.
LIMITATIONS
Slim selection of factory presets.
$19.99
itunes.apple.com
52
A P R I L
2 01 7
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B ased on several conversations at this year’s NAMM
offers four waveshapes; sawtooth,
ramp, square and triangle. (In my
tests with version 1.1.1, I noticed
an interface issue, with several
of these waves not aligning with
their label, but my ears figured
things out quickly enough.) Additionally, there are resources for
ring modulation, noise, and chorus/reverb effects,
which add greatly to the synth’s tonal range.
Once you have a handle on the essentials, programming the CZ is a breeze. And learning to program this synth is crucial, as the app ships with a
mere 33 presets that are decidedly vintage and, for
some, nostalgic. Despite the synth’s digital pedigree, many of the patches veer into analog-ish territory, with brass sounds, woodwinds and classic
leads dominating the collection (although there are
some lovely bell-like textures mixed in for variety).
In addition to Audiobus and Inter-App audio
compatibility—as well as an audio playback tool for
soloing over your MP3 collection—the CZ for iPad
app responds multimbrally over MIDI, with up to
four patches available simultaneously. These can
be mixed using a separate window, with chorus, reverb and a third selectable effect available via sends
for each channel. In an interesting twist, CZ for
iPad also allows you to set up multiple keyboards
for playing each sound simultaneously, including a
clever Mirrored mode that puts a keyboard on opposite sides of your iPad screen. Duets anyone?
All in all, Casio’s CZ for iPad is a fun trip down
memory lane for anyone who was putting together
their first synth rig in the mid-’80s. It’s easy to program,
has a retro-digital sound all its own, and plays nicely
with your other iOS apps. If you’re a fan of CZ-style
Phase Distortion, it’s definitely worth the 20 bucks. n
show, Casio’s CZ for iPad has flown under the radar
for quite a few iOS-based musicians. That’s a shame
because it’s arguably an essential app for vintagekeyboard connoisseurs looking to have their favorite
’80s synths on hand.
The app beautifully re-creates the sound of
the original CZ Series hardware synths, such as
the CZ-101, which relied on Casio’s innovative approach to digital synthesis called Phase Distortion
(which some modern soft-synth developers refer
to as “phase modulation”). Here’s a quick a recap
of how the approach works.
Phase Distortion synthesis operates by distorting the phase angles of the sine and cosine waves
that serve as the basis for the tone. Each oscillator starts as a sine wave, which can then gradually
morph into one of 33 waveforms, determined by the
configuration of its DCOs. For example, by selecting
sawtooth as the target waveform, you can smoothly
shift between sine and saw. What’s more, you can
also select a second waveform to further shift the
harmonic structure, with several options emulating
the effects of resonant lowpass filters. It’s remarkable how intuitive this approach is, even after three
decades, thanks to the iPad’s ability to display nearly all of these parameters in a single window.
The structure of a sound is straightforward,
utilizing dual signal paths—called Lines—that
consist of an oscillator and amp. There are three
dedicated eight-stage envelopes per Line—one
each for pitch, waveshaping, and amp—and the
Lines can be arranged in one of three ways; single
(Line 1 or 2), dual (1+2) or detuned (1+1).
There is also a single LFO dedicated to pitch that
E MU S IC IAN . C O M
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elm522092_0417.indd 1
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Load four Soundcores or Soundsources
x/y pad for morphing between sounds
REVIEW
To get the most
variety from
this instrument,
dive into it at the
Soundcore level.
Step Animator for sequencing and arpeggios
SAMPLE LOGIC
Cinematic
Guitars:
Organic
Atmospheres
Watch for Marty
Cutler’s latest book,
The New Electronic
Guitarist, in early June.
A P R I L
2 01 7
animated, pad-like sounds that can be used to establish the mood of a
scene for film or games. The library can be used standalone or as a plugin with Native Instruments Kontakt Player 5 or the full version of Kontakt
(version 5.5 or later). The Native Kontrol Standard (NKS) is also supported.
Based on recordings of plucked-string
instruments from around the world, Organic Atmospheres provides over 850
patches. The entire library loads into Kontakt’s rack area, and you can scroll through
patches or click on the panel to open a
built-in browser where sounds are categorized and filtered by their evocative characteristics (Dark–Mysterious, Electronic–Effectual, Mixed Emotions, and so on).
There are no Multis, which makes
sense once you examine the eight-oscillator structure of the instrument. The top
level is the Preset, which divides into four
Soundcores, each built from two oscillaBY MARTY CUTLER
tors, or Soundsources, each with its own
signal path. Each Soundsource is a patch unto itself,
STRENGTHS
guided through a powerful synthesis engine and
A rich menu of evocabrilliant scripting, thanks to Sample Logic and Kontive sounds for undertakt’s deep architecture. You can swap out Soundscoring.
sources, changing the Soundcore’s timbre radically.
LIMITATIONS The library also offers an “intelligent” randomizaFull presets can be
tion feature to help you create new patches.
sonic overkill for many
Step sequencers and arpeggiators come together
scoring tasks.
in the Step Animator, culled from Sample Logic’s Arpology, providing motion to effects and creating intri$249
samplelogic.com
cate rhythms. The center of every Preset features an
x/y vector that shunts between the four Soundcores,
and you can choose from a long list of presets, move
the virtual joystick manually, or record your moves for
self-propelled playback. Each Soundcore feeds inde-
VIRTUAL
INSTRUMENT
FOR NI
KONTAKT
54
C inematic Guitars: Organic Atmospheres is a collection of massive,
|
pendent ADSR filter and amplitude envelope generators, and its own convolution reverb with a choice of
14 impulse responses, among other effects.
At the Preset level, Organic Atmospheres is not
an instrument in the conventional sense of the word.
There are no lead- or keyboard-type sounds. The Presets are best played as single-note drones and effects.
It is at the Soundcore level that I found the library to be most valuable for my purposes. At that
level, Organic Atmospheres reveals its nuance and
evocative nature: It is imbued with traces of guitars,
kotos, and vocal-sounding motifs that pass across the
soundscape. You will find a vast palette of fascinating tones, appropriate for all ranges of underscoring.
Be sure to audition the individual Soundcores, and
even the single-oscillator sources. Each one is a fully
developed patch, and they provide the library with a
greater dynamic range and dramatic versatility.
The full Presets, on the other hand, may be better suited to video games and action films. While the
eight-oscillator bombast will catch the ear, it tends
to obscure the details of the constituent oscillators.
And because so much timbral and harmonic motion is baked into the Soundsources, sounds played
at the full preset level preclude chordal playing.
It’s always worthwhile to evaluate a sound library for its potential by looking beyond the presets. Approached in this way, as a sumptuous à la
carte menu, Cinematic Guitars: Organic Atmospheres brings a wealth of powerful and compelling tools for setting dramatic landscapes. n
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MASTER
CLASS
Propellerhead Thor
Get the most out of Reason’s powerful, and ubiquitous, soft-synth
BY FRANCIS PRÈVE
F ew soft-synths have stood the test of time like Propellerhead Thor.
Introduced 10 years ago, Thor remains the centerpiece of Reason’s synthesizer
suite and is also available as an iOS app. As a result, the synth has achieved
a serious following, thanks to its collection of vintage-inspired oscillators and
filters, modulation matrix, and ability to route signals in ways we associate
with modular gear. This month we’ll explore ways to make greater use of the
powerful engine lurking under its hood.
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MODULATION
each voice, LFO 2 is paraphonic—like the global en- a bit confusing for newcomers, especially with exStarting with tips on modulation tools may seem velope—and affects all voices simultaneously. This treme modulation amounts, which may cause the
a bit unorthodox, but in the case of Thor it makes is great for ’80s funk chord stabs (a la Prince) when oscillator to unexpectedly cut out.
sense because the synth’s distinctive envelopes, used in triangle or sine mode and applied to pitch.
Pro Tip: Apply one of the step sequencer curves
LFOs, and step-sequencers are the keys to unlock- Of special note to Deadmau5 fans: Setting LFO 2’s to the pulse width for unusual rhythmic timbres,
ing its design resources. With a modulation matrix waveform to the downward saw-like shape, with especially where the modulation can reach the exthat accesses nearly every synthesis parameter, a synced eighth-note rate, and applying it to filter tremes of 0% or 100%, creating a gated effect.
understanding the possibilities is essential.
cutoff, results in his trademark “pulsed chord” efPro Tip 2: In sine wave mode, you can use the
Envelopes. While the amplifier and filter enve- fect.
oscillator to reinforce the fundamental and add
lopes are straightforward ADSR affairs, the Mod EnStep Sequencer. Thor’s integrated step se- body to a patch, or add low-end boost when tuned
velope offers unique features that make it useful for quencer is deep enough to warrant its own tuto- an octave lower.
a variety of alternate applications (see Figure 1). For rial, but in the interest of our emphasis on sound
Wavetable. Fans of the groundbreaking PPG
example, its delay, attack, decay, and release param- design features, we’ll focus on setting it up exclu- Wave 2.x synth from the early ’80s may have noeters can all be quantized to note values and synced sively as a parameter modulation tool. For that, ticed that Thor includes 11 of its original wavetato tempo–fantastic for dance music. If you want to just toggle off all of the red switches under its 16 bles, which are great for re-creating vintage sounds
create a filter decay that’s exactly one measure, just steps. This deactivates the note triggers, leaving from Depeche Mode and The Fixx (“PPG 2 Bell”
turn on tempo sync, set the decay to 4/4 (four quarter its dual curves available for sequencing the val- is a standout here). Propellerhead’s original wavenotes) and you’re in business.
ues of destination parameters assigned to it. With tables are equally useful for metallic textures that
Another handy feature is the ability to loop forward, backward, two types of “pendulum” evoke that retrowave sound. Whereas the LFO and
the delay, attack, and decay parameters, creating (back-and-forth), and random modes, Thor’s step step-sequencer are modern approaches for animata customizable LFO. Want a classic sawtooth? sequencer is a powerful modulation feature for ing the wavetables, purists should opt for the mod
Set the attack to zero and the decay to a longer complex rhythmic/tonal patterns.
envelope with a long decay and release.
amount. Ramp up? Invert those values. Triangle?
Another interesting trick is to place a wavetable
Set them both to equal amounts.
OSCILLATORS
oscillator in the second or third oscillator slot and
There’s also a fourth global envelope that works Now that we have a handle on Thor’s modulation then sync it to oscillator 1. This vastly increases its
in a paraphonic manner (see Figure 2). That is, it amenities, it’s time to explore their applications. timbral range, since changing the tuning—espeaffects whatever it’s assigned to in monophonic Thor’s audio path includes six oscillator types that cially by large amounts, such as octaves—delivers
fashion with “single-trigger” operation, much like can be configured in countless ways, offering a dramatic harmonic shifts.
an old-school string synth such as the Moog Opus vast range of synthesis techniques.
Pro Tip: The hard-sync option also works on the
3. This means that the envelope doesn’t retrigger
Each of the oscillator modes is based on a dif- FM and Phase Modulation types, which is an exuntil all keys are lifted, at which point it resets. ferent synthesis type, including analog, FM, wave- tremely unusual feature for any synth (see Figure 4).
This envelope also includes an additional hold table, phase modulation, multi-oscillator, and noise. Additionally, when re-tuning the synced oscillator
segment between the attack and decay—great for Connoisseurs may immediately recognize the orig- to higher octaves, low frequencies are generally atcreating the punchy sound of vintage Moogs.
inal sources for all of these models, but the bottom tenuated. Consequently, blending in the analog oscilLFOs. Thor’s dual LFOs offer a lot of exotic func- line is that each option is sonically distinctive.
lator’s sine waveform (described above) helps retain
tionality despite their deceptively simple layouts. For
Analog. While this oscillator is the most famil- the fundamental, keeping the result full-sounding.
starters, there’s a much wider range of waveshapes iar, it’s worth noting that the pulse width is conPhase Modulation. This form of synthesis was
than you’ll find on most synths: Eighteen in total. For- tinuously variable, so classic pulse-width modu- originally called “Phase Distortion” when Casio intunately, every waveform is displayed graphically. It’s lation—via LFO or envelope—is available. Square troduced its CZ digital synths in the mid-’80s. In use,
also worth noting that the last
waves are produced at the 50% Thor’s PM oscillator morphs a sine (or sine-like)
nine shapes are stepped and can
setting and the extremes are wave into a complex shape that resembles common
be used for faux arpeggiation efeither 0% or 100%, which re- analog waveforms (see Figure 5). To get the hang
fects when applied to the oscilsult in no sound. This may be of this oscillator type, start by leaving the second
lators, or pseudo step-sequencer
modulation wave off, set the PM
patterns when applied to filters
amount knob to maximum, then
or other timbral destinations.
scroll through the eight waveAlthough the LFO’s rate
form options on the first moduparameters can be synced to
lator to hear their timbres. Next,
tempo, in standard mode they
turn the PM knob back to zero
extend into the lower audio
to hear the transition between
range, which is fantastic for
sine and the selected shape. As
nasty FM effects. Additionally,
with the CZ, selecting one of the
LFO 1 includes a key-follow
five waveforms for the second
parameter that lets the rate
modulator shifts the timbre furtrack the keyboard, with highther, by alternating it with the
er notes increasing in speed
first selection.
accordingly (see Figure 3).
It may sound complicated,
Fig. 2. Global Envelope, in conjunction with its
Whereas LFO 1 is polyphon- Fig. 1. Thor’s Mod Envelope stagbut in practice, configuring the
es can sync to tempo and loop,
global filter, lets you re-create ’70s-era paraic, with a discrete instance for enabling it to double as an LFO.
PM oscillator is straightforward.
phonic synths with ease.
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The PM knob behaves similarly to the cutoff of a low- countered. The white and colored noise offer the
pass filter, but with a different nuance when modu- most familiar results, while the “static”, “S/H” and
lated via Thor’s tools.
“band” modes can be used for clever sonic tricks
Pro Tip: While envelope and LFO modulation in conjunction with the Noise Mod parameter (see
options are the obvious choice for animating os- Fig. 7). Here’s a cheat sheet for those effects:
cillator textures, for real-time performance, try
Static: Noise is generated via an increasing
using velocity on the PM amount (or wavetable, number of random static clicks. Turning the knob
pulse width, etc.). This can be a dramatic way to from low to high increases the click rate until the
add dynamics to your patches.
sound transforms into white noise. If you want to add
Frequency Modulation. If you’re a DX7 fan, “vinyl noise” to a lo-fi sound, try this mode.
this oscillator is a great way to add a slice of its
S/H: In the early days of arcade video games, exsound to your patches. Although Thor’s FM tun- plosion sound effects were created with an audioing options are integer-only (no clangorous bell rate sample-and-hold. Here, the knob functions in a
tones here, sadly), its palette is broad enough to similar manner. To create chip-tune effects, apply an
generate many familiar DX tonalities quickly. envelope to this parameter and adjust the modulation
The secret is to use one of Thor’s envelopes as the amount and envelope decay until you hit the target.
modulator envelope—a central component of FM
Band: I’m a fan of “sonar pings,” which are norsynthesis. Once that’s set up, it’s just a matter of mally created by passing white noise through a
selecting a carrier/modulator ratio that captures resonant low-pass filter. Here, one knob handles the
the sound you’re after (see Figure 6).
heavy lifting for dialing in that tone, offering a wide
Here’s a handy cheat sheet for the ratios of clas- range of pitched noise textures.
sic FM sounds (with carrier in the first position):
Pro Tip: This is huge, so pay attention. Nearly ev1:1 Great for electric bass or plucky synths in
ery audio source in Thor can also be used as a moduthe mid-upper range.
lation source. That means you can take the output of
1:2 The essential “future house” bass sound.
an oscillator and use it to modulate another param1:3 Basis for the DX7 “Jazz Guitar” patch.
eter. To experiment with this feature, begin with a
1:4 Square-wave-like, often used for simulating noise oscillator and route it to the pitch of a sawtooth
woodwinds.
oscillator, listening to the results as you tinker. For ex1:5 – 1:10 Bells, mallet percussion, chimes. ample, with the noise oscillator’s knob set to its low1:10 and greater: Glistening tones, with some of est values, the static mode adds tiny glitches to the
the same qualities as the classic DX electric piano. sound, the S/H mode delivers random effects quite
Multi Oscillator. Roland introduced the “su- unlike the LFO options, and the band mode adds a
persaw” in the JP-8000 synth back in 1996, and it rapid, chaotic drift to the pitch, like a swarm of bees.
quickly dominated both trance and EDM for two
decades. Thor’s Multi Oscillator re-creates that
FILTERS
supersaw, while offering additional waveforms and Thor’s filtering options are equally extensive,
detuning algorithms. For those looking to avoid the though the types may be a tad more familiar. Even
obvious EDM applications, this oscillator is won- so, there’s one detail worth
derful for thickening the sound of other oscilla- mentioning before you begin
tor types. Set it to either the muted saw or square experimenting: The default setwaveform, increase the detuning, then mix it
behind your timbral oscillators. It adds a richness that’s subtler than simple chorusing.
This oscillator can also create massive
THX-style rises for dance music and film
soundtracks. While most of the detuning algorithms are dissonant at their extreme settings, “Oct UpDn” and “Fifth Up” transform
in a very musical manner.
For a dramatic build, try this approach:
Assign the modulation wheel to control the
detuning amount via one of the previously
mentioned algorithms; or better still, use each
mode on a separate oscillator. This way, you
can precisely control the duration of the rise
in real time or with automation.
Noise Oscillator. While noise is a standard Fig. 3. In addition to tempo-sync,
tool in any synth’s arsenal, Thor’s array of noise the primary LFO can also deliver
audio-range modulation with
generators are the most versatile I’ve ever en- scalable keyboard tracking.
58
APR I L
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tings for all filters include envelope modulation
with depth controlled by velocity. This is a great
starting point for beginners because it is dynamic and the dedicated knobs are a huge plus. That
said, seasoned programmers often find themselves
turning it off every time they start a patch. Try creating an “init” preset that’s identical to the default,
but with those envelope parameters set to zero.
Pro Tip: All filters include a drive fader, which
adds warmth, volume, and distortion when maxed
out. Because this can also be modulated, you can create dynamic overdrive by routing a touch of velocity
to control this parameter. A little goes a long way, because volume is also affected. Experiment until you
find a value that matches your playing style.
The filter types are Ladder (an emulation of the
Moog lowpass), State Variable (multimode with
an Oberheim flair), Comb and Formant. While the
first two modes should be familiar to EM readers
by now, the second two are worthy of a closer look.
Comb Filter. For many synthesists, comb filtering can be a bit confusing. At first listen, it
sounds like an intense flanger, which makes sense,
since both are based on a network of one or more
delays with extremely short times. Sweeping the
frequency knob is a great way to generate flange
effects, to be sure (see Figure 8). However, because
of its delay-based structure, comb filtering is also a
fantastic way to get into Karplus-Strong synthesis,
which is how many physical modeling synths create plucked string effects.
Here’s how to get started with this type of synthesis: Reset Thor to its defaults and turn off envelope
modulation to the filter. Select the noise oscillator
and reduce its mixer volume (the 1+2 fader) to zero.
Then, modulate the volume of 1+2 with a very fast
mod envelope with instant attack and short decay.
The result should be a short click, also known as an
“impulse.” From there, change the filter type to comb
and increase the keyboard tracking and resonance to
Fig. 4. Tucked away
on the left side of the
interface are Thor’s
hard sync buttons,
which allow for sync
effects, even on FM
and Wavetable oscillators.
Fig. 5. Based on
the Casio CZ Series, the phase
modulation oscillator can be extremely dynamic
when modulated
via velocity.
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maximum. If you’ve set it up correctly, you’ll immediately hear a pitched string tone like a clavinet. Welcome to Karplus-Strong!
Formant Filter. This type of filter is optimized
for vocal sounds, with an unusual X-Y layout that
STUDIO FURNITURE
MIZA LINE
Fig. 6. Even though it’s limited to a single
carrier/modulator pair, the FM oscillator
is capable of evoking many of the DX7’s
signature sounds. Shown here is the configuration for the “future house” bass
sound that’s currently in fashion.
Fig. 7. Thor’s Noise Oscillator offers a surprising range of textures and is a fantastic
resource for audio-range modulation when
applied to the other oscillators’ pitches.
Fig. 8. While many designers use comb
filters for flanging effects, here it’s set up
for re-creating Karplus-Strong synthesis.
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Fig. 9. If vocal effects are your thing,
Thor’s Formant filter is just the ticket for
voice-like textures.
lets users dial in exact vowels (see Figure 9). If you
want to hear this filter in action, check out the factory preset “I Am Thor,” which is stunning in its
complexity. To make the most of the formant filter, here are a few tips.
1. Like vocoding, the formant shaping is
most dramatic when applied to bright waveforms. Sawtooth and pulse are ideal, as are
bright PM and FM tones.
2. Noise is another great timbral resource.
When the X-Y parameters are modulated, you
can create “whispering” effects.
3. For a classic ’70s choir sound, use the
multi-oscillator sawtooth with the detune knob
at around 20% to 30%. Then, give the envelope
a soft-pad shape with a longer attack and release and sustain set to maximum.
FILTER ROUTING
With four types of filtering and three modular “slots” to accommodate any combination of
modes, the possibilities seem staggering when you
explore the routing options.
Default: In the standard default (“reset device”) preset, a single Moog-like Lowpass Ladder
Filter is present, with the tacit assumption that all
three oscillators will be routed through it. There’s
also a waveshaping tool between the output of
Filter 1 and the Amp section. For newcomers, this
allows for immediate experimentation.
Series: By toggling a few buttons in the center
of the interface, Filter 1 can be routed to the input of Filter 2 for further processing. An obvious
use would be to combine a highpass or bandpass
filter with a lowpass filter for EQ functions. For
something more nuanced, try placing a Comb or
Formant filter in the Filter 1 position and use it
for complex tone shaping, then route the results
to the Ladder type for lowpass processing.
Another option that may appeal to fans of
“West Coast” synthesis: Bypass Filter 1 and run a
sine wave into the Shaper circuit—selecting one of
its nine distortion options—and then modulate the
Shaper drive and process the result with Filter 2.
Parallel: You can also create layered effects by
running both filters in parallel, with different oscillator configurations for each. For example, you
could have a fat supersaw sound happening on
Filter 1 and a Karplus-Strong Clavinet via Filter 2.
Paraphonic: With recent products like the
Roland VP-03 and Dave Smith Instruments Pro-2,
there’s a renewed interest in paraphonic approaches, with multiple voices processed by a single filter
with its own monophonic envelope. This is an easy
trick in Thor, thanks to its “global” section.
Just set up your oscillators with both filter
sections bypassed, then use a lowpass or statevariable filter for Filter 3 and rely on the global envelope for its modulation. Boom, it’s 1978 again. n
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HOW-TO
Fig. 1: The Track
Column is the
list of song titles
on the left, the
Track Lane is below with the WAV
files representing the songs.
An Easy and Powerful
Mastering Environment
PreSonus Studio One 3’s Project page simplifies DIY mastering
BY MIKE LEVINE
P reSonus Studio One 3 is not only a top-flight DAW for recording and mixing, but it
also contains a powerful mastering section called the Project page. Once you load
your songs into it, you can change their order; add effects and fades; adjust volume,
both on individual tracks and globally; and bounce and publish your finished project
in a variety of formats. Here’s how to use it.
LIFE IN THE TRACK LANE
To get started, choose “Create New Project” from the
Start page or “New Project” from the File menu and
name your project. Next, you need to import song
files. Go to “Project/Import File” to browse for your
mixes to import, or simply drag and drop them into
the Track Lane area near the bottom of the screen.
Each song will show up as an independent WAV file
in the Track Lane. In addition, the song names and
other metadata will show up in matching order in the
editable Track Column area on the left (see Figure 1).
You’ll also notice two fields near the top left for
Disc (album name) and Artist. I recommend filling
those out at the beginning of the project; otherwise,
it’s easy to forget. If that happens, the artist and album name won’t appear in the metadata of the final
files, whichever format they’re in, and you’ll have to
go back, fix it, and re-export the master. If you click
the disclosure arrow at the bottom of each track in the
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Track Column, it opens up additional metadata fields.
The song files in the Track Lane can be edited
in several ways. Rearranging their order is accomplished by dragging the songs up or down in the
Track Column. When you do, the audio files in the
Track Lane move correspondingly.
If you zoom in close on an individual song, you
can trim the space at the beginning and end by
clicking and dragging the edges of the file. Small
fade triangles at the corners of the files can be
used to create fade-ins and fade-outs.
Click and drag the songs in the Track Lane to
adjust the song-to-song spacing. When you do, all
the songs to the right of the one you’re dragging
will move along with it, and all those to the left will
remain where they were. Be careful that the start
and end points of the files don’t overlap. Otherwise,
when someone plays, say, track 4 on their music
player, they’ll hear a bit of track 3’s ending, first.
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MATCHY MATCHY
One of the keys to mastering an album is to get the
levels even between songs, so that listeners don’t
have to reach for their own volume control to turn
a track up or down as the album plays. The Project page gives you easy-to-use controls for making volume adjustments. When a track is selected
(either the audio file in the Track Lane or in the
Track Column), you’ll see its name appear over the
Track Device Rack, an area just to the right of the
Track Column where you have a volume fader and
a field for adding insert effects (see Figure 2).
Use Studio One’s effects or third-party plug-ins
to EQ, compress, limit, and otherwise tweak the
audio for each song individually. You can save the
settings in a Device Rack, making it easy to recall a
specific effects treatment to use on a different song.
WHAT’S IN PLAY?
Whenever you start playback, you’ll see the Project page’s impressive metering features spring to
life. These include a very large Spectrum meter
that shows the frequencies of your audio in several selectable formats. There’s also a Level meter,
which can be set for Peak/RMS functionality, with
a number of display options, or one of three K-System scales (the K-System was created by mastering engineer Bob Katz).
Play through your songs, listening for volume
issues between them, and use the volume slider in
the Track Device Rack to make adjustments. Clicking in the timeline that’s just above the Track Lane
during playback will make the cursor jump to the
spot you clicked, and play from that point. This is
a great feature to use for moving back and forth
between songs to check relative volumes. It’s also
handy for checking the transitions between songs.
Below the Track Device rack is the Master
Channel Device Rack, which offers a master fader
for the entire project and fields for adding master insert effects and post effects. (Post effects are
used mainly for adding dithering plug-ins, in case
you don’t want to use the built-in dither features.)
In addition to any global EQ and compression/
limiting you need, adding a master effect with a
little character can help
to add sonic consistency
from song to song.
a number of export options. Several concern the
creation of physical CDs: You can burn Red Book
CDs directly from your computer and make a CD
image or DDP image to send to a CD manufacturer
for duplication or replication. You can also create
a digital release in a wide variety of formats, including WAV AIFF, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, or
CAF. The digital release creates individual files for
each song, including all metadata, and puts them
in a single folder. You can even publish directly to
a SoundCloud account, if you want.
All in all, the Project page provides you with
a powerful and user-friendly mastering environment. If you’re interested in doing your own mastering, you should check it out. n
THE FINISH LINE
Once you’re satisfied
with your mastering job,
the Project page offers
Fig. 2. Here, an effect
is being selected from
the Track Device Rack.
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FIVE
QUESTIONS
Lars Murray
The senior vice president of Pandora’s Music Industry
Group shares essential information for artists who
may benefit from the streaming service’s latest
marketing tools
BY SARAH JONES AND BARBARA SCHULTZ
B efore joining Pandora in July 2014, Lars Murray served as Vice President
of Digital Media at Columbia Records, where he spearheaded massively
successful digital marketing campaigns for the likes of Pharrell Williams and
for Daft Punk, surrounding the release of the duo’s Number One, multiple
Grammy-winning album Random Access Memories. Further artists who have
benefited from Murray’s industry expertise include Gorillaz, Jack White, the
Avett Brothers, Pearl Jam, Korn, and many others.
Now, as the senior vice president of Pandora’s Music Industry Group, Murray is helping to develop new marketing tools and analytics to help artists improve their marketing
strategies. For example, Pandora is collaborating with Next Big Sound, a service that has
been described as “Moneyball for Music”; it
analyzes metrics such as social media traffic,
streaming statistics, and listener demographics to evaluate artists’ influence and popularity. Here, Murray answers our questions about
using Next Big Sound, and about Pandora’s
next big thing, Pandora Premium.
What are the main marketing tools that
Pandora has made available to artists?
To date, since we have been primarily radiobased, we have focused on two particular
strengths of the platform—the station add and
the use of audio messaging—as the pillars of
promotion for artists on Pandora. How does the typical behavior of Pandora listeners, vs. that of listeners on other
streaming services, shape those tools?
When a listener adds a station for a particular artist and artists’s track, that is a powerful
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statement of interest from the fan in the artist.
It’s akin to friending the artist on Facebook or
following them on Twitter or Instagram. We
have made this audience addressable for all of
our artists, free of charge.
With artist audio messages, we allow the
artist to address this audience directly with information like new release info or tour dates,
right in the station itself and when their music is heard on other stations, which results in
click-through rates that are two- to ten- times
what the other platforms deliver. When you
factor in our scale—roughly 80 million listeners monthly—and the fact that people spend
more than 22 hours per month on the platform, it makes us pretty much the most powerful promotional tool an artist can access. Please explain a little about the applications for the analytics offered through Next
Big Sound.
Having used Next Big Sound from its inception when I was at Columbia Records, I used
it in all kinds of ways: for advertising, coordinating media opportunities with revenue opportunities, measuring them, and optimizing
targeting and scheduling.
Can you describe the best practices for
translating that data to new revenue streams
for artists?
There’s not enough space here for that! But I
think geographic data is the easiest to translate
into action—finding out where your best markets
are and concentrating your resources accordingly.
How will we see Artist Marketing Platform
tools evolve with the launch of Pandora
Premium?
A lot of those answers lie in the future, but the
key differentiator for Premium vs. our standard service will be the ability for artists to
directly target specific music on the Premium
tier and to use the radio tier to move people
up the value curve into on-demand streaming.
Premium will provide new and higher-value
experiences for the listener, and we want to
help artists drive more revenue this way. n
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