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On The Beat (Part 29)

Soaking your drum voices in reverb effects gives great sounds but it makes programming drum patterns much harder. Nigel Lord explains how to fit larger-than-life drums into a song.


Writing drum patterns to accommodate sounds as well as a tune is an art in its own right - this selection of patterns concentrates on turning ambient drum sounds into music.

With so much of the music we write and perform dictated by the instruments we play - and, therefore, by the manufacturers who design them - it is always rewarding to see users wresting back the initiative and placing demands on those whose job it is to decide what it is we should be listening to. If you see what I mean. It might suit them to install swirling 20-second synth patches called '#]Growth. . *!' in a synthesiser but this isn't likely to cut much ice with anyone actively involved in contemporary songwriting and recording.

At the other end of the scale, the mid-'80s saw a whole slew of drum machines released onto the market which, though consistently impressive in terms of the quality of the sounds they delivered, were, by the late-'80s beginning to fall well below peoples' expectation of what was required to construct a contemporary drum track. With the previously mundane task of handling drums in the studio having become something of an art by the end of the decade, someone, clearly, had shifted the goal posts when it came to what was demanded of the humble beatbox.

Before the gauntlet was picked up by the manufacturers, programmers - tired of the sterility of the current machines - turned their attention to samplers as a source of new sounds, and to older machines like the TR808 and TR909. Though no match for later models in terms of the accuracy of their voices, these old classics did, at least, have a character of their own. And with the latest processing technology, it was possible to produce rhythm tracks which could match the frenetic activity of that eight-step bassline courtesy of the SH101 or TB303.

That the manufacturers had realised that drum machines needed to sound exciting as well as offer the latest programming refinements became clear with the release of the Alesis HR16B. A monster of a machine, it demonstrated not only that weighty, studio-processed sounds could reside quite happily alongside more conventional voices (provided by its sister machine the HR16), but that even sounds which revealed something of the manufacturer's sense of humour could be included in a mass-market machine.

Since then, all the major manufacturers have made a point of including a range of highly distinctive onboard voices. This, of course, has come as something of a God-send for those unable or unwilling to spend their time programming elaborate rhythm tracks. Relatively simple patterns sound far more effective when assigned to huge, ambient voices - particularly snare and bass drums - and make it much easier for you to make your mark as a programmer. As far as it goes, this is fine. Those looking to create something more rhythmically interesting, however, often find these voices difficult to work with, particularly at faster tempos where multiple triggering can cause overlapping of sounds and a consequent exaggeration of the "machine gun effect'.

This month's article is dedicated to patterns suitable for use with heavier ambient sounds, and hopefully will act as a guide as to the best method of coping with these larger-than-life voices.

I make no claims for any of the patterns being daringly original in structure - most of them are orientated towards the dancefloor and will rely on the assignment of your machine's more "extreme" voices to create rhythmic interest. That said, there are some rather unusual programming lines with which I hope to jolt your imagination, and being of similar tempo you should find it possible to switch these between patterns.

To accommodate the length of individual voices, I've kept the tempo slightly lower than the "preferred" 120bpm mark, but this doesn't detract from the essential groove of any pattern.

With the exception of Pattern 3, there's nothing more than the occasional flam (indicated by a letter F) to tax your programming skills; all your time will, I'm sure, be spent combing through your library of sounds for the most appropriate voices for each instrument line.

Pattern 3 is complicated slightly by a descending snare drum line for which the instrument's dynamic range has to be divided into seven levels - each of which is indicated by a number in the grid diamond. Don't make the mistake, however, of setting level one to zero, as it needs to be just audible over the level of the other instruments.

Incidentally, those of you using samplers to create rhythm tracks - I'm sure there must be many - should also find yourselves with plenty of scope for experimentation. All this months' patterns were written using sampler-based voices triggered via an ST. As I've said on a number of occasions in this series, these patterns sound pretty good at my end; whether they do at yours is largely a matter of how much time you spend after the notes have been entered into your machine.





Series

Read the next part in this series:
On The Beat (Part 30)



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Sqyrrel And ST-Effi for the Atari ST

Next article in this issue

Genetic Engineering


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

 

Music Technology - Apr 1992

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Feature by Nigel Lord

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