Layering Sounds - Part 1

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Regular contributor Paul Labarre discusses the fine art of blending instruments and sounds for unique and powerful results.

I would like to have a word with you about a subject you don't hear discussed to often. The layering of sound's to get a distinctive or bettered sound, for your sampler, or an audio loop. It is not always easy to get just the right sound when you need it. Mostly because not everyone has access to dozen's of sampler's and synth's. So to make due sometimes, we must search out and then mix and match different sound's to create what we hope will be the perfect sound, or darn close to it. I know from my experience in sound design and scoring, you need to be able to come up with something that has not been pulled right out of the standard can of nut's and bolt's, although sometimes that is an option, but usually not. I will just touch briefly on some of the do's and don'ts here and in the near future put together a small sampling of some example's of some standard layer's and some not so standard instrument's combined for some unique timbres.

Ok, lets start with the simplest of the simple shall we. I'm sure you are all familiar with General Midi sound's, ie: SoundBlaster and most other generic or standard type sound card's that have a built in Midi Synth source. The GM format is a standard set of sound's that was developed to make it easier for music to be shared or used for differ ant medium's. They are widely used on the portable keyboard's the you see everywhere these day's. I have to admit I once had a couple of them myself. They are nice to use for scratch pad's and just to have around. As I'm sure you are aware, these sound's tend to be pretty generic, if not down right lame on most of these sound card's, although the SoundBlaster card has come along way with their onboard synth sound set.

If you have ever listened to some GM authored sequence's I'm sure you have heard that for the most part the tune's are pretty minimal. But, with a little ingenuity and careful use of the 16 channel's you have available, you can really come up with some pretty good sounding stuff. Now the key here is to realize, you may be limited to 16 midi channel's, but not just 16 sound's. This is were a little patience and a good ear and some creative thinking come into play. To make this work you will need to know thing's like how you're sequencing program control's velocity and timing. The velocity control is your best friend when it comes to layering, especially when you need to add more than one or two sound's to your layered sound. Since you will be layering multiple sound's on one midi channel you cannot use the volume control to turn just one of the sound's down and leave the other, because the volume control will turn down everything on that channel. So to get around this, you simply use the velocity control that is available in you're sequencer. this will allow you to control how loud the layered sound is. You will need to know which is going to be your base sound and set the volume were you think that it will have the best affect. then as you add layer's you can set the velocity higher or lower on the layered sound to get it mixed in just right. The timing setting is used to adjust when the sound play's, which in some case's you might want it to go off just a little before or after the main sound. So you just adjust the timing offset either forward or backward in time according to what is going to sound best. Here is an example of what I mean. Lets say you have a really lame bass sound, it is Ok but just doesn't have the attack in the beginning you are looking for. So you lay your track using that sound anyway. Next you duplicate the track to another track,keeping the same channel and all. Now you need to pick something percussive, but you need it to not only be percussive but play in the same tune as the bass. Well you can go with something like the melodic tom , or the synth drum patch. They are both tuned instrument's, which means they will follow the basses pitch. Or you can have the pitch tuned up or down , whatever fits. Ok so you picked the synth drum patch but it is too loud and over powers the bass sound. You simply lower the velocity till you get it to give you just that little bit of percussive attack you were looking for. You might need to set it back a bit in time, maybe a few ticks, or just one, just so it gives the illusion of say a little pluck on the string.

Another simple layer trick to give an instrument a little fuller sound is to just duplicate the track again like You did in the first example, but lets say this time it is a lame Rhodes piano sound that is just too plain. Dupe the track and set it back or forward in time a couple of tick's, and you will hear just a little fuller sound. Set the time back or forward a little more and you can get it to sound like a Rhodes piano being Phase shifted. Try this one as it is a really cool sound, and you can do that with almost all of the GM instrument's, even the drum's.

You are not limited to just layering one or two instrument's on one another, I have gone as far as combining 13 instrument's with some clever note editing and so-on you can get some really neat effect's. I will be doing another piece on this with some example's of what you can do, so keep you're eye's and ear's peeled for more. Untill then,

Keep rockin loud, and may the Noize B with U

Noize 2 U

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