Alesis D4 Drum Processing Tricks
Paul Ward offers a lateral approach to using the four outputs on a D4 drum module, or similar instrument, to provide an ingenious and flexible effects send system which can also be automated if you're working with a sequencer.
Have you discovered the two programmable effects sends on Alesis' D4 drum module? No? Then read on. In spite of the fact that many of the D4's sounds already include reverb, some of the dry sounds would really benefit from some form of ambience or effects besides reverb. We can accomplish this by using one or both of the D4's auxiliary outputs as effects sends, to feed one or two processors — and however you use the technique, stereo placement is retained. By far the most useful application arises when putting reverb on a sub-mix of sounds, where there is no other way to vary the amount of reverb on the individual sounds. This technique could be adapted to other drum machines/modules or samplers with an extra output or two — I first developed it on my sampler some years ago.
• Copy the voices that you're using in the D4 somewhere other than the notes to which they are currently assigned — I always set them exactly two octaves above their usual assignment. Send these copied voices to one of the auxiliary outputs (by panning) and set their volumes to zero. All the original voices should be set to appear at the main outputs.
• Feed the auxiliary output of the D4 to the input of your effects processor, set the mix on the processor to effect only, and play the sequence.
By adjusting the level of the copied drum voices, you can choose how much of that voice is sent to the effects processor. A good rule of thumb is to set the processor's input level so that a full-velocity snare hit at a volume level of 90 in the D4 is slightly too loud; this should give enough leeway.
• Set the level of each voice feeding the effects and balance the main outputs from the D4 and the effects signal on your mixer to get the right dry/effect balance. Stereo placement remains intact, and you can still mix all the drums separately, though you may have to tweak their copies too.
I mentioned the word programmable at the start of this article: simply by editing the velocities of copy tracks in your sequencer, you can control the amount of effect applied to any voice, or even an individual beat. In this way, you could, for example, add a little reverb to the snare for the chorus, or decrease the amount of ambience on the toms during a drum break. If you're using a voice that utilises 'dynamic articulation' (in other words the sound changes as you hit it harder or softer), then the effected sound may change too drastically if you use velocity values. To avoid this, make more copies of each voice and set a different level to the auxiliary output, firing this copy from the sequencer when necessary. Delete some of the copied notes where you want to keep the original voice dry (this will also save memory and unnecessary MIDI transmissions as well). With a little judicious deleting, you can introduce dub echo on the toms for the middle eight and by adjusting the delay on the copy tracks, it's also possible to create pre-delayed reverb, a feature often lacking on many budget reverbs. These features are all under the control of your sequencer and can be altered at will and even changed dynamically to add emphasis to a track.
Pretty soon you find yourself setting up drum maps with the copies in mind and the process becomes a lot easier. Working in this way may halve the number of simultaneous drum sounds available to you, but who really needs 61 different percussion sounds at once? If you want to share the effects processor with other sources, then connect the D4's auxiliary output to a mixer channel, switch it out of the main mix but send it to the effects processor via one of the mixer's aux sends. I do it this way to avoid tying up a processor with drums alone and to avoid any repatching.
I've had great fun using and abusing this technique in the past — and that's what its all about, isn't it? For an example of the abrupt changes in ambience possible with these techniques, have a listen to 'Last Stand' on my For a Knave album (on the Surreal to Real label). I hope you will be inspired to produce some further developments of your own.
Gear in this article:
Feature by Paul Ward
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!