Our regular column devoted to readers’ hints and tips about their recording equipment, instruments, software and playing techniques.
If you have discovered any special techniques or tricks on your instruments or recording equipment that might help other readers, send them to us. The sender of the best tip each month will win a prize. This month we are awarding 2 FREE Rendar mains interference filters.
For anyone still struggling with a Korg Poly 800 synthesizer as part of their MIDI set-up (like me!), here's a quick way to switch it out of Omni On mode if you've been too lazy to get a new ROM fitted. I use a Yamaha CX5 for sequencing and at the beginning of every song type: SM = 176 SM = 124 SM = 0. Hey presto - the MIDI channel you choose is the channel you use!
Ian Taylor, Keighley, W.Yorks.
Here's something useful you can do with the Ensoniq ESQ-1's onboard sequencer which is not mentioned in the manual.
If you want to create a stunning lead synth line complete with 'tricky bits', the usual approach might be to record it in segments as one track using different quantisation values and step-time entry for the really difficult/fast bits, then combine the segments into one complete sequence. The problem with this method is that the lead line part can often end up lacking expression.
However, if you select the lead track on the ESQ-1 when you play back the finished sequence, the good news is that you can play the ESQ's pitch bend and modulation wheels 'live' whilst the track is running to inject some life into the lead line. The other tracks in the sequence will not be affected by the wheel movements, which means you can copy the part to another track and modulate only part of the combined voice in real time for more subtle effects.
When you are ready to commit your music to tape, you can just replay the sequence and have the spontaneity of a live take without worrying about bungling the part.
Since the Ensoniq ESQ-1 allows you to use the mod wheel to control oscillator pitch and volume, filter cut-off frequency for brightness, LFO depth and stereo pan, the described feature seems to go some way towards the 'layered performance' idea Peter Gabriel spoke of in Sound On Sound January '87.
Glyn Wilcox, Walthamstow.
In this age of hi-tech gadgetry let's not forget that there are still plenty of useful 'tricks' you can do with a tape recorder.
One very useful 'tool' for the analogue musician is the tape speed control or pitch control found on most portastudios and tape machines. These generally allow you to vary the playback speed of the tape by 10-15% or so. I believe they were originally designed to allow you to match slightly out-of-tune instruments with those already recorded on tape. Very few musicians I know bother to use them - probably because digital synths and the like are always in-tune - but they can be put to more creative uses.
Even though it is dead easy to copy a part on a sequencer, say, and have two synth voices playing the same program to give extra body to the sound, I still prefer to double up voices the old-fashioned way. MIDI is too precise for this I find. The end result sounds much more human and real if you record the sequencer part (guitar part or whatever) onto one track of your recorder, then rewind the tape. You now need to record the same part on a different track but this time, as the track is recording, you should try varying the tape speed/pitch control to create phasing, chorus and ADT type effects. If you monitor both tracks whilst you do this you will be able to hear the effects as you record. The degree of pitch/speed variation governs the type of effect you obtain, so you'll need to experiment to find the best speed change for a particular application. If you just want to doubletrack a part, you can detune the tape by a small fixed amount and leave it whilst you record the second part.
The principle is very similar to that of detuning oscillators on analogue synths to create big, fat sounds. It works beautifully on electric pianos, guitar solos and vocals, even on reverb, and to my ears produces a far more satisfying sound than any digital delay or chorus unit. It is especially effective on DX orchestral voices.
H.C. Atkins, Rotherham.
Multitimbrality, stacking and doubling of voices is very much a feature of many of the latest synthesizers and expanders. However, it has the unfortunate side effect of reducing the number of notes you can have sounding at any one time. An 8-note polyphonic expander will only give 4-note polyphony if you choose to double-up the voices and detune them for a thicker sound. It is possible to improve on this situation and gain more polyphony without any expense, merely by altering the way that you assign the polyphony and by exploiting an interesting characteristic of the human ear.
I will describe the procedure for an 8-note polyphonic synth, but the principle applies equally to any polyphony (except for monophonic and duophonic synths, of course!). All you need to do is asymmetrically assign the number of voices - so try 6 and 2 instead of 4 and 4. That is, when you choose the maximum number of notes to be assigned to a section, instead of splitting it equally between the two detuned sections, split it unequally. Since the ear tends to be distracted by the last notes it hears played, and because the last two notes to be played will be detuned, then the overall effect is very difficult to differentiate from having all the notes detuned.
So, for the price of a 4-note doubled sound, you can now play 6 notes! This really does work and can improve the usability of an 8-note expander considerably, since 6 notes really do impose fewer restrictions due to note stealing, as well as facilitating much richer chord structuring than 4 notes. So, when buying your next multitimbral synth, make sure you choose one which gives you the freedom to assign the number of notes you want to have played by a particular section.
M. Russ, Ipswich.
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