Dirty Dubstep Tutorial Day 4: Making a Metallic Arp, Phasey Lead + Painful Siren Synth

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Hi, I’m Dave from boyinaband.com and welcome to day 4 of the 7 day song on Dirty Dubstep.   Yesterday in day 3, we made the last of our dirty basses.   Today, we’re progressing into some high end sounds to make the prettier sections of the track that will be absolutely destroyed by a massive dirty bass when the drop hits.

We’ll start with a nice bell-like arpeggio synth.   Making metallic sounds is a useful technique for making dirtier sounds too, so even if you want to make a purely brutal dubstep track with no melodic reprise whatsoever, you’ll probably find something useful here.

So begin with a combinator, a big mixer – we’ll need a 14:2 one for the extra auxilliary inputs it offers, then Start off with an instance of Thor.

I’ll add in some notes to start us off.

Make an Analog osc for a nice, high pitched top to the sound with the default saw wave, then for the body, we’ll have a wavetable osc on the “raising sine” wavetable – this will give a sitar-like tone to the sound after a bit of modulation!

So run them through, bring the freq to ?, then adjust the filter envelop so decay and sustain are down low, around 350ms and -48dB – we’ll then link this to the position of the wavetable.   Remember, position controls where in the wavetable the sound starts from, so it can really change the sound, and if you modulate that, you can get some even more interesting, moving synth tones.

So in the MBR, route filter envelope to Osc 2 pos by -75; this will make the position go down rather than up.   The start is bassier than the end of the raising sine wavetable, so it gives a sound not unlike a quick high pass filter sweep, but with a more interesting tonality, as I previously mentioned, it reminds me of a sitar.   Just like Radiohead’s song creep after watching Bill Bailey’s Tinsleworm DVD.

So that’s the center of the sound almost done – just bring the amp release up a notch to make it ring out nicely, then hit the delay on with tempo sync, 6/8 time and make it ? dry as well.

Next up, we’ll make another Thor instance – to make up for all the malstrom-useage earlier in the 7 day song, we’ll Whore out Thor twice as much as normal.

This thor instance will be for the metallic part of the tone that we’ll pan hard left and right to really widen the sound.   If you widen a sound with a completely different synth, you make it feel bigger than doing it with a chorus effect or something similar, since there is a defined central sound as well as a widened sound in the spectrum.

We’ll start with the amp envelope for a change here – decay and sustain at 420ms and -33dB, with release at 120ms.   Bring the filter env to the same values as the other thor synth, and on the filter, bring freq to 1.7khz and res to ?.   This makes for a short, sharp sound with a high pitched attack – which is what happens if you strike metal.

Now for the oscillators, an analog osc on sine wave, then a Multi Osc on saw wave with detune mode oct updn, which I’ve just found that if you turn amount to full gives you a nice, instant 3 octave spread.   These will give a slightly metallic sound, but the really metallic tone comes from the FM Pair oscillator we’ll add next.

Turn it to 4 carrier and 8 mod with ¾ FM.   Listen to it on its own – completely random pitches, all very metallic, but when combined with the other two synths, it just sounds like you’re striking a collection of slightly synthetic bells.

Now to take these sounds and widen them into something massive.   Take the left output of this thor instance to a separate channel of the mixer than the right, then pan one hard left and one hard right.

Now for the first effect, add an RV7000 reverb unit.   Turn the decay to 115 and dial it in on everythin about ? aux.   Listen to how that really ties the sound together.

Next up, make a delay and run it through a filter on band pass mode.   This means all the delayed sounds will be restricted to a small frequency range, therefore not muddying the mix up as much as a conventional delay, so we can have nice long delay tails without being an absolute mess, just a gorgeous noise.

Bring the filter freq up and have 3 steps on the delay, then make another one exactly the same – delay into filter, with 5 steps.   Change the frequency slightly too.   Pan one left and one right.

Now, if we apply these with varying amounts to the 3 mixer channels (3/8 to the main central thor, and ? and ? to each of the other Thor’s channels, switch it round for each one) let’s take a listen – sounds like a bell-like arpeggio with loads of tonality.   Takes a while, but it’s frickin’ awesome.

Let’s move on to part 2 for a simpler lead synth that’s got a healthy dose of comb filtering!

Part 2

Okay, let’s get straight to business like a human resources manager who thinks homosexuality has no place in the office.

Combinator, Thor, init, open.

Let’s add some notes…

And get started.   Analog osc on square wave, PW has to be central for a real square wave, and a Multi osc on square, interval detune mode and ½ amount.   Bring both down an octave (that way we can layer it with the previous synth using the same notes without the frequencies overlapping too much) and run them through.

First filter on half is fine, with the filter decay in the envelope down to 350ms.

Filter 3 is where the fun begins – turn it to comb filter and with ¼ env, ½ freq and ¾ resonance on comb- mode.   Comb filters are tiny delays with adjustable feedback that result in a phasing kind of sound – the resonance knob controls feedback and the frequency controls the length of the delay.   Comb- makes it less bassy than comb+, which is ideal for a lead synth.

Turn on Delay and Chorus, bringing tempo sync on and both to about ? d/w

Now, we can hear a massive volume difference in the lowest note hit and the higher notes, so let’s reduce the muddiness and even that out with an EQ – 4.2khz bring up by 12dB and 1.7Q and the default 883hz down by  full with 2.4 Q.   Hear how much clearer that makes the sound?

Lastly, feel free to add a maximizer in there with a limiter 4ms lookahead on so it’s not distorted by any soft clipping, which we’ve become quite attached to by this time in the 7 day song – you have to learn how not to love something too much.   You can get really emotionally hurt when someone tells you soft clipping may not be right for you all the time…

bring the input gain up stupidly high and it makes the delay act as a nice, weird tail end to the sound, since there’s so much phasy goodness going on from the comb filter!

And there we go, two synths down for today – one to go, this time a siren-like pitch bend synth that we can throw in the drop for some extra painful goodness.   So join me for that in part 3.

Part 3

Alrighty, this is another one of those rare instances where Malstrom has an advantage over Thor, so let’s combinatorify, mixerify, then Malstromify.

I’ll just put in a single note to work with.

Okay, in Malstrom, make two sawtooth waves  each down an octave, pull the Attack right down on the amp envelopes so they punch in really hard, then on the second oscillator, move the index all the way across.   This means both waves start at slightly different points, so it thickens up the sound with slightly different tones.

No filters necessary – just turn the spread to full to widen the sound a bit, then we have the basis for the tone.   Now for that pitch bending – this is where Malstrom comes in handy.   Up in Mod A, turn on 1-shot, which is the option Thor hasn’t got.   This means it applies this modulation once at the start of the sound, then never again.

Also turn on sync, turn rate to 2/4, or however long you want the pitch bend to last, then turn the Modulator to pitch knob to 41 – this defines how high the pitch will go, so feel free to be more painful with a higher value.

Now take a listen – nice and siren-like!   Siren in the sense of an horrific accident has occurred, not in the sense that an enchanting bird-woman was luring a sailor to his death.   To be honest, if I was a sailor and a smokin’ hot bird-woman started screeching like this it might be offputting.   Either that or I’d be really inclined to sample her… you know, this is just about the weirdest tangent I’ve ever gone on in one of these tutorials.

Back to the track, we’ve still got some thickening up to do – create a UN-16 unison unit and fully detune it with half dry/wet.    There, lovely and thick, like an innocent smoothie.   I don’t feel bad about advertising them, they’re delicious and I get the feeling they would condone being metaphorically related to dirty dubstep.

okay, do the same widening trick again, with one channel left and one right from the UN-16, then add an RV-7 reverb to the mixer and bring the decay and damp to a quarter so it’s a shorter reverb with slightly less high frequencies and the size down a bit too so it’s not such a massive reverb.   Then dial it in by about ? on the aux knob.

Et voila!   We’ve made 3 sweet synth sounds – an arp more metallic than James Hetfield in a “YEEEYEEAH!” saying competition, a lead synth more phasey than A dot Cos 2pi f t plus Theta, and a pitch-bend synth more awesomely painful than breaking your leg whilst snowboarding down a volcano.


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Hi! I'm Dave from boyinaband.com and welcome to the site!

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