Going Beyond Presets (Bonus Material)

Eric Persing is the founder and creative director of Spectrasonics, one of the leading virtual instrument developers, and producer of popular sample libraries such as Distorted Reality. Persing's experience in programming goes back 10 years before the founding of Spectrasonics
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Eric Persing is the founder and creative director of Spectrasonics, one of the leading virtual instrument developers, and producer of popular sample libraries such as Distorted Reality. Persing's experience in programming goes back 10 years before the founding of Spectrasonics, however, to his 1984 post of chief sound designer for Roland, a position in which he designed sounds for a seemingly endless parade of Roland products, from the analog Jupiter models through the D-50 and V-Synth. In 2008, Spectrasonics began shipping Omnisphere, the first of a series of software instruments using the STEAM synthesis engine, designed in-house by Persing and his team.

Jack Hotop has been more or less Persing's counterpart over at Korg. Currently Korg USA's senior voicing manager, Hotop started programming sounds for the Poly 800 just a year before Persing emerged at Roland. Hotop's list of credits includes nearly every Korg instrument up through the current M50. Previous to his sound design career, Hotop also was a touring musician, which provided a practical foundation for all his programming work.

While selling keyboards at a Seattle music store, John "Skippy" Lehmkuhl created sets of custom Korg M1 presets for his customers. Korg heard Lehmkuhl's sounds and brought him to Los Angeles, where he worked as a sound programmer for the company. While there, Lehmkuhl also programmed sounds for artists ranging from Hans Zimmer to Madonna to the late Freddie Hubbard. Eventually, Lehmkuhl moved to Portland, Ore., where he continues to design sounds for Korg synthesizers, while also beta-testing and voicing sounds for virtual instrument companies like Spectrasonics, Native Instruments and Camel Audio. Lehmkuhl's PlugInGuru.com Website provides free video tutorials for virtual instruments, as well as selling sound libraries.

Martin Jann is as much an instrument designer as a sound designer. His first experience with computers and music was with the legendary Commodore 64 computer, for which he even built a 4-bit sampler with which he made his first recording: a lawn mower. Jann got a job as an assistant engineer in a recording studio in Hamburg, then went through a Swiss Tonmeister-style academic program, during which time he discovered Max/MSP and explored writing his own surround sound panning algorithms. After graduating, Jann joined Native Instruments as a senior sound designer, creating the first library for the company's FM7 virtual instrument and working on development and libraries for NI instruments such as Battery, Kontakt, Reaktor and Absynth. Jann left NI in 2007 to start Pixelsonic, a firm that works in 3-D graphics, as well as sound design and music.

Ian Boddy taught himself the fundamentals of analog synthesis in 1980. Throughout the '80s and into the '90s, Boddy released a number of electronic music albums and performed live concerts. In 1992, he began a long relationship with Zero-G, releasing a series of highly acclaimed sample libraries, and simultaneously set up the ambient electronica label DiN, and produced a succession of library music albums. In recent years, Boddy has done sound design for LinPlug, Rob Papen Soundware, Sample Magic and Camel Audio. Most recently, Boddy released a series of his own sample libraries in downloadable format under the Waveforms banner.


Programming Wisdom From Jack Hotop
Aftertouch: Not Always a Boon

"A lot of sounds have aftertouch programmed to bring in vibrato, increase brightness or filter cut-off, or a combination of one of those and volume. But I've noticed when playing a lot of different synths that sometimes, if you're playing with a medium to hard velocity when recording a track, you go past that aftertouch threshold and the result can actually detract from what you're trying to achieve. If that happens, I'll disable aftertouch globally or in a patch just so I can have a more stable sound."

Vibrato in Orchestral Samples
"LFOs are often used to create vibrato, but sometimes orchestral instruments are sampled with the performer's vibrato. If there's enough samples to spread across the keyboard, that's fine; you get a nice, natural vibrato. But sometimes the vibrato is homogenous, meaning that it's one tempo. To counter that, you can apply keyboard tracking to the LFO to make the speed slightly slower or faster as you play up and down the keyboard. You can also try tiny shakes with controllers like mod wheels or joysticks [to add some variety]."

Orchestra in Space
"When I was making the brass expansion packs for the Korg OASYS and M3, I found that they have all kinds of articulations for woodwinds and brass: trills, glissando, sforzando, staccato hits, et cetera. They're all tuned to pitch. I got an idea: I love that sound of an orchestra warming up. It's like going up the first hill on a roller coaster: Seat belts on. That old friend. I decided it would be cool to take all of those samples and use KARMA to, for lack of a better word, arpeggiate them, playing them at different pitches, then take those little phrase articulations, transpose them and control the time durations so that they're fading in and out. It's one way that I simulated the sound of an orchestra.

"Then I did some tricks where I was using a joystick to make the LFO speed increase as I applied modulation. That way, I was able to turn this sound of an orchestra warming up into something you would hear in a modern sci-fi movie; what an alien orchestra would sound like. So you have this straight-ahead sound like an orchestra warming up—pretty good, pretty realistic—then you move the joystick and it's 'Woop! What's happening here?'" [See Web Clip 1.]


1. "I like the oscillators to have some slight unpredictability, so I often use lots of LFOs running freeform and very, very slowly to ever so slightly wobble the pitch of various oscillators, but not so much you'd really notice at any instant in time. This can nicely fatten things up in a random way. I'll try and set the LFOs to prime-number settings so they don't easily repeat against one another."

2. "I often create soundscapes where the oscillators fade in and out. This works best with a minimum of four oscillators, which I may well tune to a scale or chord. I then use slow-running LFOs to either fade the volume and/or filter cut-offs of the oscillators. In combination with what I'm doing in example 1, with the slight changes in pitch, this can lead to some nice rich tapestries of sound. If I use LFO 1 to control the volume of, say, oscillator 1, I'll use a different LFO to control its filter cut-off or pitch. This leads to even more slightly random fluctuations in the sound."

3. "Sometimes it's nice to use envelopes (if you've got enough of them) to thicken the sound. The principle here is to use an envelope to slightly sharpen or flatten the pitch of some of the oscillators while leaving others untouched by this method. Just tiny bits of modulation can lead to a nice thickening of the sound and this is even nicer if you can make the amount of envelope modulation be velocity-controlled."

4. "I like to create a nice stereo panaorama with the various oscillators, and this is achievable once again with the use of slow-running LFOs and maybe envelope modulation."

5. "If I have access to more than one filter, I like to set up opposing modulation routings so that an LFO or envelope will have a positive effect on one filter while simultaneously having a negative effect on the other, and vice versa." 6

. "For beat-orientated effects, I'll often run several LFOs synched to the master clock of my DAW to control the filter cut-off in extreme ways. Ramp [sawtooth] and square waveforms are good for this, and it can be nice to use a lowpass filter in parallel with a highpass or bandpass filter to create a bottom end and high end to the rhythm."