Sound Design Workshop: To the REXcue

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FIG. 1: These are the Reason devices used in the Ringing Echoes Combinator.

Sometimes a sampled beat sounds perfect just the way it is. But a little creative patching can transform it into something wildly new.

You can adapt the techniques that are described here to work in almost any DAW. If you have Propellerhead Reason 4, you can download the song file and tinker with these patches (see Web Clip 1). If not, you'll have to listen to the MP3s and experiment (see Web Clips 2 and 3).

To reproduce the patches, create a Dr.REX loop player inside a Combinator. From the RnB HipHop folder in the Dr.REX Drum Loops folder, load Rnb01_SupaDupa_060_eLAB.rx2. This loop has some built-in rhythm variations; it isn't just a straight 16th-note pattern. After loading the loop, use the Dr.REX To Track button to install the MIDI data in the Combinator sequencer track, and then turn the tempo down to about 62.

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Filter Squash with Mod Wheel

Set the Dr.REX filter to bandpass and turn up the resonance. Set the filter frequency near the middle (about 70) to produce a narrow band that lacks lows and highs. Set the amp envelope sustain to zero. The decay time should be very short, producing a clipped sound. Turn the oscillator pitch Octave knob down to zero so that the drum hits turn into noise bursts. The beat will sound vaguely like the imitation of horses' hooves produced by banging coconut shells together.

To even out the peaks, add an MClass Compressor to the output of the Dr.REX. Turn the compressor's input gain up, turn its threshold down, and increase the ratio to 16:1.

Using a modulation wheel, you can make this beat “speak.” Add a line mixer and a DDL-1 delay line to the Combinator. Then patch the DDL-1 to the aux send/return of the mixer, route the Compressor's output into channel 1 of the mixer, and send the mixer's output to the Combinator's From Devices jacks.

In the Combinator's Programmer panel, assign the mod wheel to control the Dr.REX Amp Env Decay (range 19 to 127) and filter resonance (range 82 to 34), and the line mixer's channel 1 aux send (range 0 to 90). On the Dr.REX panel, set the mod wheel to adjust the filter frequency with a value of about 12.

Pushing the mod wheel up will transform the dry coconut beat into a sustained wash of noise by increasing the decay time. Short jabs with the wheel work better musically than long, sustained movements. The filter will be swept upward by the wheel, and its resonance will drop so that the sweep doesn't become overwhelming. The sweep sound will be routed through the delay line, so it will echo.

Ringing Echoes

Begin again with a Dr.REX in a Combinator. Run the output of the Dr.REX through a PEQ-2 that is set to produce a sharp midrange peak. Create a Subtractor synth, but don't attach its audio to anything. Instead, use its LFO 1 CV output to modulate the frequency of the PEQ-2. Set the LFO to a slow rate.

Attach the output of the PEQ-2 to a Spider Audio splitter section. Create a line mixer, and then attach one of the Spider's output pairs to a mixer channel. This is the almost-dry drum channel; it has been processed only by the PEQ-2.

Create a couple of DDL-1s, and then give them inputs from the Spider. Leave both of them set to 100 percent wet, but increase the delay time of one DDL-1 to five 16th notes. Next, route the output of each DDL-1 to its own CF-101 chorus/flanger, patch the outputs of the CF-101s into the line mixer, and pan them slightly left and right. Add lots of feedback to the CF-101s and sweep each of them with its own internal LFO. Make sure that the three LFOs are set to slightly different rates (see Fig. 1).

The CF-101 modules add a metallic ringing to the echoes coming from the delay lines. Keep them at a low level compared with the almost-dry drum channel: a little bit of ringing echo goes a long way.

Jim Aikin ( is the author of Power Tools for Synthesizer Programming (Hal Leonard, 2004).

[Online links]
Propellerhead software, manufacturer of Reason 4