The Jan Hammer Group’s track Don’t You Know is a groovy synth-jazz funk number taken from their 1977 album Melodies. It has seeped into the collective conscious through Erol Alkan’s inclusion of it on Another Bugged Out Mix and through being sampled numerous times.
I was recently teaching a class on Massive by Native Instruments and wanted to demonstrate the Stepper LFO. This is a nifty feature where-by you can send stepped modulation to pitch, amplitude or filter. To demonstrate I showed them this track.
Don’t You Know?
The repeated sixteen step synth motif is the main element of this track, and for 1977 was probably still seen as quite revolutionary. While synthesisers had been creeping in to mainstream music over that decade, having a sequenced synthesisers was probably something still relatively unheard of to most listeners.
Hammer was known for using his trusty Moog Minimoog during much of his pre Miami Vice career, and while it’s likely to be the source for the recognisable filtered bass, it didn’t offer a sample and hold LFO or anything that would create the illusion of a stepped waveform.
Details are sketchy, and while there are many pictures of Jan’s live work with The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck and others, they’re all pretty grainy and lo-fi to clearly see what else he has on stage with him.
Hammer’s Minimoogs can be clearly seen, as well as a Rhodes Mk I Suitcase, something like a Wurlitzer (piano geeks please correct me), and some equipment that’s a little too blurred to see more clearly.
My best guess is that he used an ARP Sequencer, which released just the year before. This would allow a clocked sequence of sixteen steps of control voltage which could be easily used to modulate the filter cutoff position of one of his Moogs or any other synth (I have a feeling he might have used an Oberheim SEM around this period too). However it’s not entirely clear what Jan used, so we’ll just leave it to our imagination.
Image © Logan Rice.
It doesn’t really matter which DAW we load up, as there’s nothing unique about what I’m going to do, but I’ve decided to do this in Ableton. This is going to be by no means a perfect replay, just a neat and quick way of demonstrating Massive’s Stepper LFO, paying homage to this great track.
At first I had some issues transcribing this as I was using different sources, both the original ’77 record and also Erol Alkan’s mix, stupidly not reaslising he’d sped the record up, therefore changing the pitch. Let that be a lesson to anyone transcringing from analog sources!
Once I had the orignal record from iTunes, I warped the track and set my host tempo to 94 bpm create a couple of MIDI instrument tracks (shuft + cmd + t).
The intro is just a long-held F2 note, when the whole band kicks in, the pattern looks a little like this:
Load up Massive and initialise the patch. I’m going to do my best to get close to the original sound but as it’s embedded in a full mix, we’ll just get as close as is possible. I’ve used a sawtooth and pulse wave tuned an octave lower with a small amount of ring modulation for colour.
I’m running that into Massive’s Scream filter, which to my reckoning is modelled on the EDP Wasp (not confirmed though). This has a less traditional resonance circuit that overdrives and breaks up when pushed. Sounds good to my ears.
Side note: This was the first analog synth I had in my possession (thanks Pete) and most of my knowledge of subtractive synthesis comes from using it.
Now let’s go to LFO 8. All of Massive’s 4 LFOs can be used in Stepper mode but 8 defaults to it. Sync the rate and set the ratio to 1/16. Ensure the Pos is enabled but the Restart is disabled (very important). With the restart enabled, every time a new note is played the sequence will jump back to step 1.
I’ve set the sliders to look like this, which sounds good to my ears. I’ve also added some glide modulation on step 13.
Set LFO to modulate the filter cutoff. You’ll need to experiment to get it right as having too narrow a range wont sound as effective but too wide and it’ll sound too jumpy. I also had to fiddle with the scream and resonance parameters to not allow too much bottom end through. I’ve finished the patch off with a tiny amount of EQ to dull the higher and lower frequencies. It’s not perfect but it’s good enough.
You can download the patch here.
For context, I’ll knock up a quick backing track. For the drums I’ll use Native Instruments Kontakt, utilising the AbbeyRoad 60s Drummer (I don’t have the 70s one. Oops!). The beat is mostly just kick, snare and closed hi-hat to my ears.
I’ve nabbed a groove template from the original song. This will help with the slightly swung hi-hats and any snare fills. If you’re unclear how to do this there’s a clear explanation here.
At the end of the eight bar phrase there’s a little tease of the Rhodes and a string swell. Live’s Electric will do nicely, the MkII3 Old Piano patch sounds about right to me. I’ve used Kontakt again for the strings.
I’ve added some plate reverb on a return track (Max4Live Convolution) and some Glue Compressor to the master to squeeze everything a little.
That’s it! I love Massive’s Stepper LFO but this is really just a simple use for it. You can read a more in depth example controlling different oscillator pitches here. Enjoy!