Subliminal Automation Concord NH
New London, NH
As one of Brian Eno’s ObliqueStrategies cards states, “Repetition is a formof change.” For dance music, this isn’t merely astrategy, but a mantra. However, the fact of thematter is — unless your audience’s intoxicantsare extremely good — too much repetitiongets old fast. Too little, and you risk breaking the spell you’re casting on the dance floor.
The most common technique for keeping a riff interesting is to dramatically morph the synths and effects, creating crescendos andpeaks to enhance the listener’s journey. Thisis well-suited to progressive dance, sometypes of house, and of course, trance. Butdrastic or sweeping changes don’t always mesh with the tech and minimal genres.
By applying what I call “subliminalautomation,” you can hold listeners’ attention without resorting to abrupt shifts. The idea isto use very small brush strokes to keep a part changing continuously but subtly. To illustratethis, we’ll automate an analog-style square wave riff over a beat from Loopmasters’ JoeyYoungman library. The end result is a cyclingriff that keeps tickling the ear, while leaving sonic space for embellishments in the drumsand other synth bits.
Step 1. Create a simple riff with a sound that’s not too complex and has a bitof room to morph subtly. Here’s the isolated square wave riff, created withFXpansion’s Strobe synth from DCAM Synth Squad (reviewed Nov. ’09).
Step 2. Let’s start with a touch of filter automation. Inthis example (using Ableton Live), we’ve lowered thecutoff ever so slightly, then put a slight peak at themiddle of the eight-bar loop.
Step 3. To change the wave shape slightly, we’llblend in a bit of sawtooth twice, with peaks atbar 3 and bar 7.
Step 4. Another useful parameter to automate is theenvelope sustain level. Large shifts are great forbuilding peaks and crescendos. A tiny amount addsjust a dash of flavor.
Step 5. As a final touch, we’ll blend in a bit of noise. Aswith sustain and filter, a little goes a long way. For thepeaks, you can get a lot crazier, as we’ve discussed inprevious columns.