July 30th, 2019
In my inaugural post I made reference to monthly production challenges in woulg's discord server. To elaborate on that, we have a system of randomly drawing production challenges each month in the discord server (this is facilitated by my friendly bot, droenbot). Anyone can suggest challenges and enter them into the pile. Some examples of current challenges include:
make a track in an absurdly slow or fast tempo
make a track where every sample used has to be reversed
make a pop song out of qebrus samples
make a track out of only reverb wet signals
This EP is the product of two different challenges - "make a track with no drums" (the title track) and "make a track entirely with 3osc" ('Phasing'). 3osc, if you're unfamiliar, is the simplest default synth that ships with FL Studio.
Nova Scotia 76:
I've been really obsessed with synth-heavy movie scores for the last few years and have been getting increasingly into ambient music so the prospect of having to make a track without drums wasn't really worrisome, it was appealing. I always try to make ambient stuff, but then I think "oh I think the occasional kick drum would be good to punctuate certain moments" which turns into "maybe I should add some atmospheric percussion elements eventually to kinda keep pace/momentum" which turns into "this song has 50 layers of drums and any notion of it being drumless is gone". So it was nice to have a hard no-drum rule.
In addition to the no drums thing, I also wanted to kinda experiment with something else. I've always really loved the tapey, warbly sound of artists like Boards of Canada and Nathan Fake but I have this weird fear of somehow detuning things incorrectly and making like horrible beating womping sounds that I won't pick up on until I play it over a big sub and it makes everyone throw up. So my second prerogative with this song was make it warbly as heck.
To achieve the warbliness (warblyness? both look wrong) I messed around a lot with the pitch envelopes in each of the synth layers (of which there are only 3 actually - pad, arp, bass) so notes would slightly bend and unbend as they sustain at different rates. I also used the fantastic VHS Degradation Suite Reaktor patch to get some additional warbles and amp simulation to add some of that nice worn-out-beat-up quality.
I bounced all the stems out of FL Studio and imported them to Ableton to use the stock plugins - notably I got some gnarly sounds out of applying corpus to the bass (during the loud bit, those weird metallic detune-y sweeps). I also used a bit of echo, grain delay, and the glue compressor.
The challenge for this one was "use only 3osc". As in, if you want a kick drum, you'd better synthesize it with 3osc. Everything. So my initial thought was to do something with minimal drums and rely on some kind of novel compositional trick, which is where the phasing thing comes into play. The track begins with just a simple 4 note sequence but it's multiple copies overlaid and stretched to be a little too short or a little too long, to make it so that as they continue to loop they fall further out of sync (phase) with each other, until they eventually converge again and the cycle repeats. These phasing layers continue throughout the entire duration of the song.
I kept adding melodic layers and chords and bass and it started to sound kinda nice in terms of the chord progression, but the whole sound was just kinda flat and it felt pretty corny. So then the thought occurred to me to just resample the entire track as it exists and build other elements around it. So I bounced it out as a single audio file, popped into a new FL Studio project, and that's when the thing I mentioned earlier about adding drums started to happen.
I broke the existing resampled track down quite a lot by heavily gating, sidechaining, and filtering it to kinda accentuate the elements of it I liked and obscure the parts that made it feel corny, which also created a ton of space in the mix. I started building out simple percussion elements, mostly constructed from sine waves and/or white noise with lots of tweaking of amplitude and filter envelopes. I made the big snare toward the end of the song by resampling a shit ton of layers of a much simpler and smaller sounding snare sound at varying pitches, slightly splaying them out so they kinda ker-cl-ap-tch out. Finally I added some additional synth layers to kind of round it out and fill in some of the gaps sonically - the sparkly chords in the mid-section of the song and the bass.
The track was starting to feel a lot better and a lot less corny but the sounds were still a bit lacking so I dumped all the stems into Ableton to use the stock plugins and also because I reeeally like chopping and manually editing audio in Ableton - there are so many little things you can edit and adjust without plugins to produce interesting variations and glitches - like messing with the different time stretching algorithms, pitch shifting things, reversing, panning, etc.
Nova Scotia 76 (Reprise):
For this one, I actually took a similar approach to what I did with 'Phasing' - I just resampled the entire original 'Nova Scotia 76'. I took the entire song and chopped it up so each bar repeats 4 times and then picks up from there, looping the next 1 bar section for 4 bars, rinse and repeat. The sound in question is that grainy, distorted, droning thing throughout the track. The graininess itself is the result of running the sample through multiple instances of Image-Line's Transient Processor plugin with the attack at 100% and the release at 0% (which is more like -100% as it actually removes the tails on transient peaks).
I added that fuzzy bass, which is just 3osc - just a sine wave with some white noise (and a hearty amount of compression). The percussive thing going on with the bass is just a waveshaper, slightly distorting the bass, being turned on and off (clicks be damned). Almost all of the percussion samples in this track are actually from the Glitch with Friends Samples Vol. 1 pack, particularly a lot of foley sounds from Hlessi.