Big Mono - FM Synthesis Design

July 30, 2017


So after living with the 80s FM bell sound, we had used in our scratch track for a week, we realised that it changed the whole vibe of the song from Nine Inch Nails to New Order. That it made the whole thing sound kinda dated. We played the scratch track to the class for feedback and everyone had really positive things to say about the song except, it seemed unanimous that the sound of the main synth hook was just a little cheesy. Our lecturer advised us to step away from the presets and take this opportunity to create an FM synth patch from scratch.


On our way into the midi studio, we crossed paths with Doctor Duck, who's always willing to lend a hand he dropped in and gave us a quick overview of the control panel for the FM8. After he left we watched an hour long video on you tube. This gave us a really good understanding of how additive synthesis works.

 

 

Then we set about creating a sound. 
I have to say that this was a light bulb moment for me. We had been taught Subtractive synth and while I got it, I still kinda didn't get it. But additive synth while more complicated made a lot more sense to me. We set about choosing different waves, detuning and running them through each other in so many different ways just to experiment and see how far we could push it. After we'd got that out of our systems we started fresh on a new sound. We stopped to talk about what sort of sound we wanted and I played one of the tracks I did a case study on. Skinny Puppy - Solvent because I really liked the lead synth sound. We also watched some old Theremin videos as a reference for the type of tremolo/vibrato we wanted. Basics of Sound Synthesis

 

We decided the sound was definitely created using saw waves with some detuning to widen the tone. So we set a different saw to each oscillator and turned them on one by one slowly tweaking them, setting them at different octaves and also slightly detuning them until we liked the tone. We also adjusted the attack, decay, sustain and release to make the sound blend and move. Once we'd achieved a tone and blend we liked we started running the oscillators into each other so they would modulate each other, further messing with the sound. This added a bit of grit and we basically turned them up too far and then brought them back down to just the right level. I believe the key to this sort of thing is knowing where to stop. 


Here are some screen caps of our settings:

 

 

 

 

 


At this point, Doctor Duck dropped back in to see how we were going and he really liked the sound we had achieved. we played our song back and played along to it and all agreed our new sound fitted the tone of the song. Pat suggested panning the oscillators differently to make the sound have a nice textured stereo image so we experimented with that a bit which really opened the sound up. Even though we were happy with the sound We still wanted a tad more grit, we used Avid Reel Tape Saturation to add warmth and grit to the tone and also added a Sans Amp PSA1 to overdrive the pre amp a bit and give it a bit more grit. We were all very happy with the result and we set about recording a few synth melodies.


The addition of this new sound and the added melodies have taken this song in the direction we originally intended. I really appreciate the feedback and input from Doctor Duck who is more tapped into the vein of current synth trends than Adam Higginson and myself and I really appreciate the way he let us figure things out on our own. Just giving us a nudge in the right direction at the start and end.


We really learnt how valuable understanding software can be when trying to design sound. I aim to know my way around these plug ins so it becomes second nature and I can use them like a painter uses brushes to paint the noises in my head.

 

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