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.

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