Drones

Loveless is riddled with drones, often as little add-ons after some of the tracks; a nice one is Sometimes (from 4:58 onwards):

Starting off with Logic’s Pedalboard, I’ve added the Fuzz effect to it (with the same clean fuzz sound I’ve used in previous examples) and Logic’s EQ to high-pass filter some sub frequencies, boost the signal a little around 74 Hz and 1560 Hz and remove some mud around 148 Hz.

Next I’ve disabled the track’s output to route it exclusively to two Send tracks, each with a Tremolo plugin set at different speeds (0.54 Hz and 0.44 Hz). I’m keeping both sends in mono:

The Akai sampler range was a popular addition to studios in the late eighties and early nineties. I don’t have time to go into the benefits that sampling and accessibility of it to the ordinary musician have had on the wider music industry in this article; but to cut a long story short, the sampler might be the most important invention since MIDI.

…Alan [Moulder] believes that Kevin’s guitar feedback sampling experiments were an attempt to achieve a sound which had the same qualities as those of the flute, having previously used a flute sample on the track ‘Soon’. “Kevin was into the flute,” explains Alan. “There is something organic and pure about it that he liked and the sampled feedback seemed to have a similar tone. The thing about the feedback is that it changes the longer you hold the key down, so you get all these weird changes and a bit of discordance and randomness that he liked as well.

There’s a great Akai sampler emulator by the AKAIZER Project, which you can download here. However we can get close to this with most DAWs’ built-in samplers. I’ve recorded a basic loop in Ableton Live’s Looper and added a PingPong delay (importantly with more than 50% feedback), added a Compressor to bring up the levels of the delay and finally Live’s Reverb.

I’ve hit the Freeze button on the Reverb: this makes the reverb almost endless. I’ve then resampled the result on to another audio track and cropped out a section of a continuous tone:

The drone sounds pretty good on it’s own, but let’s add it to Live’s Simpler instrument. Hit shift + cmd + t to create a new MIDI track and drag the sample on to the Clip/Device Drop Area. On the Simpler instrument, enable the Loop and Snap buttons and adjust the Fade if you’re hearing any clicks or pops on the loop.

I’m also going to adjust the Volume envelope, increasing the Attack and Release, to get a softer transitioning pad (if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of envelopes, have a read of this.)

Finally let’s enable the filter and switch it to LP24 (Low-pass with a 24dB-per-octave slope) and get some slow LFO modulation going. I’ve also added some unison spread and removed any velocity modulation:

But drones don’t have to just come from guitars and samplers. Here I’ve recorded the air conditioning coming from a cheap household fan though the in-built mic on my MacBook. Sounds pretty crappy:

However, let’s add Ableton’s Resonator (I’ve written about the interesting things you can do with Ableton’s Resonator here). I’ve tuned the root to C2 and the intervals +7 (G2), +14 (D3), -5 (G1) and -10 (D1).

Set the Filter to Low-pass (the top button) and sweep out some of the hiss from the top. Finally I’ve adjusted the gain. Now run this into your reverb of choice (Live’s native one will do) and voila!

Synths

Synthesisers, keyboards and DSP processing have become an integral part of modern shoegaze as the sound has evolved. M83 and Ulrich Schnauss are both known for their envious collection of vintage and rare synthesizers.

M83 is a French outfit comprising of Anthony Gonzalez and formally Nicolas Fromageau. Their sound falls somewhere between classic French pop, electronica, ambient music and of course shoegaze. In their earlier material you can hear influences of everything from Moon Safari to Takk… in there.

Anthony Gonzalez, checking his e-mails.

I Guess I’m Floating is taken from M83’s 2005 album Before the Dawn Heals Us. It’s a beatless, atmospheric number that demonstrates well a few of the production and composition techniques synonymous with Gonzales et al:

Without knowing exactly what’s going on, we can still get close to the sound. The composition is quite simple, a straight sixteenth-note-style bassline, two chords and a repeated lead figure. Let’s start off looking at the bass; we’re working at 120 bpm.

I’ve programmed the chord changes and used Ableton Live’s Arpeggiator MIDI effect to trigger new notes. This way we can change the gate length later on. It’s a bit lazy but works out more effective, I think. The sequence is eight bars of D, four bars of B, two bars of G and two bars of A.

After the arpeggiator I’ve added a Velocity plugin for a small amount of random velocity. The instrument itself is mostly the sound of the Arturia Modular V using the preloaded CE_BassClem4 preset without much tweaking at all (I just disabled the chorus effect).

This is layered with Native Instruments’ (free) Kontakt aPlayer Classic Bass preset. I’ve done a bit to this: reducing the Tone, increasing the Noise (fret buzz) and changing the Stop to 1/8th. I also disabled the Reverb and brought the lowest band down in the EQ section. In the Options tabs I’ve enabled a small amount of random velocity to make it sound a bit more human.

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Layering is the key to this sort of sound and the chordal part is similarly layered up. The two chords are simply D and G∆7. I’ve quantized them but not bothered tweaking the velocity too much.

D A D F#, G B D F#.

The body of this sound is the Native Instruments’ Reaktor synth 2-OSC, using the Softpad patch as a springboard. I removed the resonance from both filters, synced LFO 1 and 2 to 1/4 and changed the phase of LFO 2 to 0.5, making it bounce off LFO 1. Finally I disabled the stereo delay.

This is layered with kv331 Synthmaster 2 doing a slightly modulated wavetable sound. It’s important when layering to check the tuning of each layer, ensuring no additional notes are being added unnecessarily. The final part to this is an Ableton Core Library sound, M Tron Strings, reducing the Bright, Filter Reso and Overtone macros and adding a longer Attack and Release.

The lead is a simple three-note ostinato. Again this is a live performance, quantized, but I’ve left the velocity as is.

This is comprised of three sounds: the excellent and free Sound Magic Piano One (be sure to tweak the Rel Vol); Ableton’s Tension instrument for some bright pluck; and Native Instruments’ FM8, using a tweaked version of the Electric Harp.

The final piece in the puzzle is the sound of some primary school kids playing, which I got from Freesound.org (thanks to klankbeeld). Because my clip is quite short and the sample was eleven minutes long, I overlapped various sections and panned them around slightly.

Everything has a little reverb on a send (Live’s Reverb was fine for my application, using close to 6 seconds and run into a compressor) and there’s a touch of the Glue Compressor on the master:

If you’re interested in hearing more M83-style production, Anthony did this video for Arturia showing how he works with the MicroBrute and MiniBrute with a fairly hefty synthesizers.com modular:

In addition he has created a library for Arturia’s excellent CS-80V, which can be downloaded here.

Ulrich Schnauss is a London-based producer originating from Kiel, Germany. His style has been heavily linked to the shoegaze sounds, as well as more overt hat-tips to tangerine Dream (whom he is now a member of), and the early Krautrock music scene. His music references everything from ambient to drum’n’bass.

Ulrich Schnauss, pictured with Yamaha CP-80, Roland System 700, Oberheim Matrix 12, Korg VC-10, Waldorf Blofeld and way too much other stuff to mention. Image © Audio Visual Academy.

Einfeld is taken from Schnauss’s 2007 album Goodbye. It’s typical of his work: slowly evolving motifs, lots of ethereal textures and instrumentals despite having quite a song-y chord structure. The main idea kicks in around 0.32:

Let’s see what we can do to get close to his sound in Logic X. I’ve pulled the audio in and got the tempo to be about 73 bpm. Let’s start off with the most striking element: the bells (wahey!). Logic’s new addition Alchemy has a good starting place with the Chimera Bells patch. Here’s the part, a simple two bar repeated figure in the key of F:

The next sound is a sine wave lead. I’ve gotten close to this in Logic’s ES2 using two slightly detuned sine waves and some Analog detuning: give envelope 3 (hard-wired to amplitude) a tiny bit of attack, around 300ms of decay, just under 50% sustain and a healthy bit of release (around 600ms).

Enabling the Soft Osc Start will ensure the oscillator’s phase starts at 0º each time. Finally I’ve added some of the built-in chorus and some Valhalla Shimmer:

N.B. I’ve edited the empty bars out of audio example for speed.

At the end of each block of four bars is an ascending pattern caked in delay. Using the Summing Stack (shift + cmd + D) in Logic we can send a MIDI part to two or more instruments.

Starting off with the Factory Default in Logic’s physical modelling synth, Sculpture, we’re close already (I’ve disabled the Delay). I’ve added Arturia’s CS-80V underneath (strangely enough also with the patch it defaults to, J.M_ThinDepth), shortening the attack times of both oscillators.

These are both run into TAL’s Dub III and Softube’s Saturation (both of which are free) followed by the basic Logic Compressor and some low-pass filtering coming from the Auto Filter:

The chordal part is probably the trickiest as it’s such an enveloping sound; there’s really no knowing what might have gone into the makeup of this sound. The two chords are D- and Bb∆7:

D F A C, Bb D F A.

I’ve used a fair few sounds layered in a summing stack to try and replicate what’s going on. There’s Reaktor’s Titan, another CS-80V, some GarageBand synth called Hybrid Morph and Lennar Digital’s Sylenth, each with their own channel strip. It was close but not close enough.

The next step I took was to add a sampler in the background. I’ve taken a pad that has gone through many generations of resampling playing a low A through the chords. This adds just enough character that synths can’t replicate:

…and here it is in the mix with the other sounds and an Arturia Mini V playing the bass part:

In the above example I added Eventide’s UltraChannel on the stack (utilising its excellent H3000-esque Micro Pitch Shift as well as the Parametric EQ, Compressor and Stereo Delay). In addition there’s an instance of Valhalla Shimmer, some compression and EQ.

The loop was finished off with some wavetable synthesis courtesy of Native Instruments’ Massive, using two out of phase LFOs doing amplitude modulation and some ring modulation of OSC 3.

I’ve also added in a very quiet kick drum (sine wave from ES2 with envelope pitch modulation) and an pitch bent sine wave with some delayed vibrato, again from ES2 at the end of the loop. Some healthy compression and limiting on the master helps glue everything together:

Ulrich and his Korg MS-20. 

Speaking to to Barcode back in 2008, we can get an insight into some of the synths used to create his unique sound:

Well instrument wise what I’m really relying most heavily on is probably the Oberheim OB-8 synthesiser, which basically over the last 10 years has probably been my main instrument. My favourite synth is probably the Octave Plateau Voyetra 8, which is a great instrument, and in the digital world, probably the Prophet VS – I’m using that a lot as well. Effects wise, a couple of late eighties/early nineties Roland reverbs, the R-880 Digital Reverb is really nice and the whole SRV/STX series that Roland did in the early nineties is a nice reverb as well. Then I’m recording the stuff into the computer using Logic and plug-in-wise I’m using Pluggo mostly and Reaktor.

A lot of these can be procured digitally. The Oberheim OB-8 is nicely modelled by the OBXD, and it’s free! He claims it’s one of his most used synth – a great starting point as it’s both warm and rich.

The Waldorf Wave is something else synonymous with his sound. While many manufactures offer wavetable possibilities (Synthmaster and Massive have already been mentioned) Waldorf’s own Waldorf Edition is probably the best starting place.

Other synths notoriously used by the man are the Yamaha DX7 (neatly reimagined by Native Instruments’ FM8), The Rhodes Chroma and MemoryMoog (both of which appear in Kontakt’s Retro Machines Mk2 library), the Prophet VS, which Arturia offer an emulation of and the Elka Synthex, which XLIS Lab has modelled.

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One of his synths not available in the VST market is the awesome, lush-sounding Octave Plateau Voyetra 8, which from the sounds of this demo is an absolutely fantastic piece of hardware:

If you want to learn more about Ulrich’s synths, effects, studio and composition techniques I’ve made a YouTube playlist of his various video interviews:

Equipboard also has a dedicated community of users detailing his equipment and Sounds for Synth has created a TAL U-NO library somewhat in the vein of Schnauss and Boards of Canada, which costs a mere £13.

juno

Last words on the synth topic, I found this video tutorial really useful: using a sampler to get a warbly-VHS type effect, similar to Boards of Canada:

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