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On The Beat (Part 27)

"Build a better mousetrap", they said, "and the world will beat a path to your door". Nobody warned Nigel Lord that writing a drum programming column for MT has the same effect.


Call it another method of "cheating" if you like, but using a delay unit to create unusual rhythm patterns - it worked for The Police...

As in so many other aspects of musical composition, one of the hardest things about writing rhythm tracks is preventing yourself from wandering down the same well-trodden path and emerging with a reworking of an all too familiar pattern. Though this doesn't seem to bother those who believe 'Funky Drummer' to be the sole path to dancefloor nirvana, anyone with any regard for originality will almost certainly have felt the need to develop some method of breaking away from "standard" patterns.

Short of inspiration from any other quarter, I tend to fall back on a couple of programming tricks which can almost always be relied upon to get the creative juices flowing and provide some germ of an idea on which I can build a potentially interesting rhythm track. The first of these involves taking an existing pattern and making changes to the voice assignments - not minor changes like substituting bass drum or snare voices, but more radical reassignments such as using the hi-hat line to trigger a tom-tom or perhaps a pair of congas. Or maybe using the bass drum notes to trigger a synth patch or sample.

Though this seldom produces instantly usable results, it almost always reveals some path towards inspiration.

The second method I find even more effective; patch the output from your drum machine(s) into a delay unit - preferably stereo - select a favourite pattern and adjust the delay time and feedback (repeat) levels until they are locked into some rhythmic cycle with the pattern. At any given tempo, there will be at least three or four delay times capable of producing rhythmically interesting results. Used with the right pattern (which will usually be fairly sparse in terms of arrangement) these can often provide some fascinating rhythmic effects.

Experimentation is the key: though there's often a direct relationship between pattern tempo and delay times, this cannot be relied upon to provide the most effective results. A straightforward repeat timed to occur on the beat of the pattern usually only produces a peculiar phasing effect as the notes of the delayed pattern duplicate those of the original. It's better to time the delay to provide off-beats and repeating figures within a pattern - particularly where a stereo processor is used and delay and repeat times may be set up independently.

You should also experiment to discover what difference there is between using delay effects and genuine echoes - where the repeats decay in level and eventually die away. Some patterns are more suited to one than the other, particularly where high feedback levels are involved. More importantly, however, you'll need to decide which instruments within a pattern should be subject to the delay treatment and which shouldn't. Often, the quite dramatic effects produced by the processor make it unsuited to more critical instruments such as the snare, bass drum and hi-hat but this certainly isn't always the case and you have no alternative but to adopt a suck it and see approach.

Of course, those of you with access to MIDI effect processors should be able to produce similar results "at source", without committing an external unit to providing delay effects. You should also find it possible to re-record the sequence and incorporate the delay effects into the pattern itself. This is particularly useful if you're interested in seeing exactly what's going on, or if you want to edit some of the repeated notes relative to those already in the pattern.

The five Patterns in this month's Beat all work extremely well with delay effects and I've highlighted some of the transformations possible with a few well-placed repeats or echoes. Obviously, the major problem lies in accurately setting up the same delay and repeat times (relative to pattern tempo) on your machines as existed on mine when the patterns were notated.

To make this easier, I've stuck to a single tempo figure this month which should be adhered to at least until you have the pattern and the delay times locked together. I think it fair to say all the quoted figures were derived from fairly accurate equipment, and I think you should find it possible to achieve the intended rhythmic effects without moving more than about ±10% from the stated figures.

As you can see, I've included two delay and repeat times for each pattern - labelled left and right - and these can be used simultaneously if you have a stereo processor at your disposal. If not, you'll just have to try each delay time individually and see which one you prefer. Incidentally, the figures for "repeats" are just that - the recommended number of repeats for each delay effect. You'll need to set the feedback parameter on your machine to provide the requisite number, though by and large you should find these figures are far from critical and can be varied over a considerable range - especially if the bass and snare drums are not subject to the delays.

The patterns themselves should be pretty straightforward for regular readers of this series; there are no special programming notes which need outlining - with the possible exception of the closely-spaced snare notes in Patterns 2 and 5. Though these aren't true flams, they do need to be programmed pretty close together (about a quarter of a grid division). However, given the effect on timing of the delay unit, you may find you have to experiment a little to get the correct spacing for these.





Series

Read the next part in this series:
On The Beat (Part 28)



Previous Article in this issue

Patchwork

Next article in this issue

Fostex X28


Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

 

Music Technology - Feb 1992

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Feature by Nigel Lord

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