I like music with a distinctly electronic edge, but also want a human “feel.” Trying to resolve these seemingly contradictory ideals has led to some fun experimentation, but one of the more recent “happy accidents” was finding out what happens when you apply heavy signal processing to multitracked drums played by a human drummer. I ended up with a sound that slid into electronic tracks as easily as a debit card slides into an ATM machine, yet with a totally human feel.
This came about because Discrete Drums, who make rock-oriented sample libraries of multitracked drums (tracks are kick, snare, stereo toms, stereo room mic tracks, and stereo room ambience), received requests for a more extreme library for hip-hop/dance music. I had already started using their CDs for this purpose, and when I played some examples of loops I had done, they asked whether I’d like to do a remixed sample CD with stereo loops. Thus, the “Turbulent Filth Monsters” project was born, which eventually became a sample library (originally distributed by M-Audio, and now by Sonoma Wire Works).
Although I used the Discrete Drums sample library CDs and computer-based plug-ins, the following techniques also apply to hardware processors used in conjunction with drum machines that have individual outs, or multitracked drums recorded on a multitrack recorder (or sample CD tracks bounced over to a multitrack). Try some of these techniques, and you’ll create drum sounds that are as unique as a fingerprint – even if they came from a sample CD.
Effects Automation and Real Time Control
Editing parameters in real time lets you “play” an effect along with the beat. This is a good thing. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to vary several parameters at once while mixing the track down to a loop, so you’ll want to record these changes as automation.
Hardware signal processors can often accept MIDI controllers for automation. If so, you can sync a sequencer up to whatever is playing the tracks. Then, deploy a MIDI control surface (like the Mackie Control, Novation Nocturn, etc.) to record control data into the sequencer. Once in the sequencer, edit the controller data if needed.
If the processor cannot accept control signals, then you’ll need to make these changes in real time. If you can do this as you mix, fine. Otherwise, bounce the processed signal to another track so it contains the changes you want.
Software plug-ins for DAWs are a whole other matter, as there are several possible automation scenarios:
- Use a MIDI control surface to alter parameters, while recording the data to a MIDI track (hopefully this will drive the effect on playback)
- Twiddle the plug-in’s virtual knobs in real time, and record those changes within the host program
- Use non-real time automation envelopes
- Record data that takes the form of envelopes, which you can then edit
- Use no automation at all. In this case, you can send the output through a mixer and bounce it to another track while varying the parameter. This can require a little after-the-fact trimming to compensate for latency (i.e., delay caused by going through the mixer then returning back into the computer) issues.
For example, with VST Automation (Fig. 1), a plug-in will have Read and Write Automation buttons.
Fig. 1: Click on the Write Automation button with a VST plug-in, and when you play or record, tweaking controls will write automation into your project.
If you click on the Write Automation button, any changes you make to automatable parameters will be written into your project. This happens regardless of whether the DAW is in record or playback mode.
Now let’s take a closer look at some other plug-ins…
So What’s the Payoff?
Drum loops played by a superb human drummer, with all those wonderful little timing nuances that are the reason drum machines have not taken over the world, will give your tracks a “feel” that you just can’t get with drum machines. But if you add on really creative processing, the sounds will be so electronified that they’ll fit in perfectly with more radical instruments synths, highly processed vocals, and technoid guitar effects.
So, get creative – you’ll have a good time doing it, and your recordings won’t sound like million others. What good are all these great new toys if you don’t exploit them?
To read the full detailed article see: Extreme Drum Processing