Mush, Damn You … Mush!
Go bigger, better, harder, faster, deeper, darker, longer, stronger!
As you will be aware, I am writing a new track. You may be less so, but aware nevertheless, of the fact that I am not altogether happy with it. The bassline in particular has been giving me gyp. I just can’t seem to keep the low end resonance without there seeming to be a rumble that, when I look for it with a spectral analyser, I cannot, for the life of me, locate … but if I go with my ears and roll the low end off until it’s gone, what gave it that ‘Giant Bass Dildo Fisting Your Mom’ quality goes with it — it’s not quite as monstrous as one of Rinkadink’s basslines, but getting there, so you can see why I’d be keen to keep it ¹.
I’ve spent so long working on it that I’ve thrown everything out and started from scratch three times now — if I can’t get the other sounds to sit properly in the mix with it, they’re the wrong sounds … out they go. Sooner or later, it’ll work out, so I’ve left it as best I can and focused on getting the other sounds right — hence the three rebuilds.
I’m pretty happy now that I’ve got the bed of the track right and for thirty-two bars I don’t get bored of what’s there, even though what’s there isn’t actually that much — bass, kick, clap, snare, five lines of hats (I like my percussion complex), an arp (which I’ll probably turn into three lines by the time I’m done, to give it a bit more movement), two pads and a patch that I’ve done such unspeakable things to that it’s now a bass pad instead of the screaming lead I intended it to be when I started out (seriously, given what it started out as, to get it to what it has become involved applying fx to it that only a monster would dream of, it’s that unnatural).
Sure the bass still needs tweaking, but I’ll figure it out in the end and, in the meantime, everything else is sitting much better with it than anything else I’ve tried — so much so that I’ve started getting finicky about the percussion again and chopping the hats up to create more broken/stuttery rhythms
For a while, I was having serious trouble with the lead-cum-pad.
I’d managed to alter the attack so that it sounded even more like rubberised metal / metalicised rubber than do the spiderants in Borderlands when you hit them with your vehicle head on — you know that weird noise flamethrowers make when the pilot flame is lit just as the tank is pressurised … like that, but more so (lower pitched and more drawn out).
But there was still the screeching tail in the background — quiet compared to the original patch but still there … and I wanted it gone.
The raw patch is produced by a three oscillator subtractive synth with patches that morph from one set of parameters to another. More than simply the waveform or cutoff, absolutely every parameter there is can be morphed. And it can be ‘arpeggiated’, so that, instead of being smoothly continuous, the morph warps from start to end states via up to sixteen steps, with velocity and aftertouch restarting the sequence from how the sound is now rather than at its starting point, with the current step’s envelope being applied to the new sound. So you can get some seriously complex evolution of your sounds, which means that tracking down exactly what to tweak, where and when in order to make it do what I want it to isn’t always a simple matter: modify the release in the wrong way and you can sit there scratching your head, wondering how on Earth you managed to do absolutely nothing to the tail but the attack/decay is now completely different … meaning the sustain takes you places you’ve never dreamt of even in your foulest nightmares — which latter is, in principle, a good thing if you’re an aggressive filth merchant like me, but not always convenient at the precise moment in time that it happens (sometimes, like the drummer, you want to nail the patch’s hands to the floor so it can’t get overexcited and spoil everything for everyone, but you overdid the candy flip and their hands are now moving like wond’rous vipers).
After applying (and giving up on) phenomenal amounts of EQing by way of a ridiculous number of fx plugins, just to get approximate before/after comparison states, I sent the project file to someone for them to take a look at it and see what they thought the solution might be.
Typically, of course, I solved the problem in the meantime, by complete happenstance, flipping a filter on the end state of oscillator one to low-pass — which, as it was oscillator one, should have altered the low frequencies, not the top, but what the hey, I said the synth was complex, right (a lot of it is black magic rather than science and, sooner or later, I’m bound to create a patch that summons something from another dimension to either do my bidding or, more likely, swallow my soul).
Anyhow, in the interim, I got the project file back with some alterations made to it that tweaked the overall mix rather pleasingly (subtle and the bass still isn’t sorted out, but the track as a whole is cleaner without being saccharinely anodyne).
But the two principle pads are pretty complex — I spent a looooooong time working on them. There’s a lot of movement in each of them to begin with and on top of that I applied automated panning to make them swirl around each other … with the end result that, not only will it mess with your head if you focus on them but, when you do so, the percussion suddenly jumps out at you in ways it doesn’t if you focus on the percussion itself — seriously, when it’s finished, you are advised not to take any psychoactive substances and then go out in public whilst listening to this track (you will end up walking under a vehicle that wasn’t there when you started crossing the road next week ²).
And they’d been frozen.
That’s no good.
The movement is, as I said, complex and carefully configured so that although it’s in time, it it isn’t in sync … doesn’t wrap around at the same points in Time as the rest of the track … the tail feeding back into the attack and the transition from the end of the thirty-two bar pattern back into the start seamless … so that there’s a sort of delay that isn’t there, warping the pads in and out of time with the track — I can’t describe it better than that, I know what I want to achieve and everything (except the bass) is doing exactly that, but I can’t really put it into words (at the end of the day, it’s music, not words, which speaks for itself in its own way without the need for them and they are, therefore, not adequate for the purpose).
Frozen, the sound doesn’t keep going beyond the end of the thirty-second bar, so there’s an obvious reloop effect — which is, as I said, no good at all … it needs to be seamless (otherwise it won’t be properly out-of-sync-but-in-time through the rest of the track).
Unfreezing the two pads, it all went to Hell pretty quickly. The CPU couldn’t keep up, the track stuttered, juddered, shuddered and pretty much ground to a halt by the time I could persuade the mouse to respond and hit the [STOP] button before my laptop froze entirely.
It turns out that, in order to achieve the EQ on the track, the person I sent it to hasn’t simply applied a 32 band EQ across the master, but to the pads, to the screaming-lead-that-is-now-a-bass-pad-after-I-interfered-with-it-in-ways-that-even-a-necrophiliac-paedophile-bestialist-would-think-unnatural and to the bassline … so, they’d had to freeze the two pads because their CPU couldn’t keep up, let alone mine.
I’m not complaining … that’s how I work myself — shaping every individual sound with inline fx, not sending them all to a submix and applying the same transformation to all of them.
But it’s just too demanding for my poor, little laptop to cope with in real time.
I’ve solved the problem for now by copying the 32 bars to create a 9 minute track and then freezing the pads again — which gives me plenty of time in which to add/subtract leads, incidentals and break down/rebuild the bed whilst I complete the track.
But it’s not an ideal solution: it makes rebalancing elements more difficult because I’ll need to unfreeze/refreeze at various points — and who knows what effect that’ll have after a couple of goes around a looped segment somewhere in the middle … and lots more material in it that I’m adding/subtracting/effecting live whilst I do so?
I need a new computer.
If my computer is a steamship, then the CPU is the fuel that powers it.
And I need more dogs …
Yes, you’re right, this has been a bit of a long-winded <ahem> shaggy dog story told purely for the purpose of delivering a punchline in dubious taste and, had that episode of The Simpsons never been made, who knows, maybe I’d never have told you any of this. But, hey, I didn’t make it, did I? Matt Groening & co. made it, so it’s not my fault — I’m just easily led.
¹ His stuff’s far too Morning Full-On for my Twilight tastes, but his basslines, wow … they are what the word ‘monstrous’ was invented to describe — we’re talking Orbital-esque trousers flapping in the bass a hundred body-rammed rows back monstrous.
² If you’ve ever found yourself walking a parabola across the speakers/stacks only for Time to slow down, stop, start, speed up again and the Universe around you to obey the same pattern … seen the juggled glowsticks slow down, stop, hang in mid-air, everything and everyone around you freeze … and then, when you move on again, slowly start to complete their arcs until Reality catches up and everything’s back to normal on the other side … you’ll appreciate how important it is that I get this bassline right and that all the other sounds sit properly in the mix ³. Now add the two pads to that effect, so that each one of them is at ninety degrees to the bassline and each other — if you need to do anything requiring even a modicum of focus/attention, you won’t want to be unaccompanied when listening to this track, if you’re not 100% clear-headed.
³ It requires the bassline to be ever so slightly out of phase, so that it travels backwards in Time on one speaker/stack when you’re across the sound-well at the right angle … and for the other sounds not to, thus enhancing the effect so that it’s noticeable no matter where you are relative to the speakers … but without the bass being panned away from centre at all (it has to be the bassline itself that achieves it, not any fancy fx/automation) ⁴.
⁴ Which, in this instance, it does — there’s just that low end to clean up a bit, without making it gutless, is all.