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Deconstructed - Five Classic Bass Music Tunes And Discover Some Key Ideas (Part 1)

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What better way to put together your own custom set of tracking-building blocks than to analyze and learn from what’s worked in the past? Here we deconstruct five classic bass music tunes and discover some key ideas we can borrow

Flux Pavilion - Bass Cannon

While the likes of Skrillex were just starting to gain worldwide attention with a much edgier sound, the brostep subgenre was already leading the way here in the UK. Indeed, it was indicative of just how far bass music and come when Flux Pavilion’s Bass Cannon made it onto Radio 1’s playlists.

A musician with an eclectic background, Flux Pavilion is known for bringing a fresh perspective to his tracks, and this is particularly evident here. While the tempo (140bpm) and structure are pretty much typical of any dubstep track, it’s the sound selection that takes Bass Cannon to a different place.

Structurally, Bass Cannon is relatively simple. The main dubstep sections are both 64 bars long, arranged in four 16-bar sections

Structurally, Bass Cannon is relatively simple. The main dubstep sections are both 64 bars long, arranged in four 16-bar sections

This is most obvious in the main intro section. It starts on a Latin tip with a marimba loop, and the theme is followed when a cowbell and piano come in, with a crowd noise adding to the vibe. Of course, the warped “bass cannon” vocal then appears, and the whole track gives way to the full-on dubstep sections, shifting things in a much harder direction. Then the Latin section returns for the middle drop and at the end, making it integral to the track and setting it apart from the crowd.

Structurally, Bass Cannon is relatively simple. The main dubstep sections are both 64 bars long, arranged in four 16-bar sections. Sections 3 and 4 essentially repeat sections 1 and 2, although section 4 doesn’t include a lead sound. The whole 64-bar section is repeated after the main drop, although there are a few subtle differences this time around.

Sonically, the track includes a typical brostep mid-range lead line, and this dominates sections 1 and 3. Section 2 has a less dominant lead sound which is musically up a third from the bass, and section 4 has no main lead sound. All the dubstep sections include solid sub-bass, doubling up the lead either in unison or offset (as mentioned) for section 2.

In our step-by-step tutorial over the next couple of pages, we’re going to focus on the high-pitched ‘bubble’ sound that’s used to retain high-frequency content in some sections of the track and to create transition effects. Let’s get started…

High-frequency interest

Bass Cannon makes use of a number of non-pitched effects and transition sounds – including sweeps, bends and more – to add a variety of different frequencies to the mix. There are a couple of really clever sounds in particular that keep the high-frequency interest going (though with a twist, as we’ll see).

High frequency content can be created from all sorts of sources, including noise generators

High frequency content can be created from all sorts of sources, including noise generators

The first example of these comes in section 2, when the main lead synth drops out and a new lead line with much less high-frequency content comes in. To keep the high-frequency interest in the track, a very high-pitched ‘bubble’ sound enters the mix. This has two interesting characteristics. Firstly, it’s modulated rhythmically in sync with the track, with a triplet feel; you can hear the sound also being replayed like a synth part to keep the rhythmic content in sync with the track.

Secondly, if you listen closely, you’ll hear the sound itself is being modulated very quickly, to create a really harsh but strangely analogue sound. As mentioned, this sound is non-pitched, so here we’ll set about creating something similar using a noise generator. For modulation we’ll need two source modulators: one for the super-fast filter modulation and one for the synced modulation. Although most synths can handle this, our weapon of choice is SynthMaster 2.5. This offers a simple matrix for modulation, various LFO choices including the option to sync one LFO and run another in free time, and also the option to modulate the tone of the noise generator.

In our second walkthrough we’ll look at ways of modifying this sound to create some further effects, first by tweaking the super-fast LFO, then by adding a second low-pass filter in series. Then we simply throw in a bit of automation for some great non-pitched effects!

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the sound itself is being modulated very quickly, to create a really harsh but strangely analogue sound

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the sound itself is being modulated very quickly, to create a really harsh but strangely analogue sound

Step by step: Generating high-frequency noise

  1. Start with a new patch and head to the Oscillator section to choose the noise waveform for Oscillator 1. The default sound already includes an ADSR, so the next step is to load up a band-pass filter. Here we’re using the ‘digital’ option as it’s quite sharp and tight. (HFN1.mp3)

  1. Now let’s add a modulation to the filter cutoff. Load up a sine wave LFO and connect it using the modulation matrix. We want the LFO to run really fast and not sync to tempo. We set it to almost its maximum speed – around 80Hz – to create a fast, modulated noise. (HFN2.mp3)

  1. Next we need to fine-tune the filter settings. This will be a process of trial and error, as all filters sound slightly different. We’ve gone for 24dB/octave, ramped up the Resonance, added some Drive and tweaked the Cutoff. The result is thin, bright and nasty, but also slightly analogue-sounding. (HFN3.mp3)

  1. Our final step is to add a tempo-related modulation, this time to an oscillator parameter – this will enable us to modulate the Tone. Via the matrix, set up LFO 2 modulate the Tone, using a synced setting, and offset the Tone so it changes as required – we’re using swung eighths. Finally, readjust the filter and play a note to taste. (HFN4.mp3)

Step by step: High-frequency sweeps

  1. Working with our basis sound, we can create loads of other effects. Let’s start with the slowing-down bubble. We want to begin with our settings as they were in Step 2 of the previous tutorial, so reduce the second LFO modulation to zero and readjust the oscillator Tone setting (don’t forget to offset it!). (HFS1.mp3)

  1. Now turn your attention to LFO 1. This is still running in free time, so we can adjust its speed smoothly to create a very cool transition effect. Try doing this in real time and recording the move as automation in your DAW. (HFS2.mp3)

  1. As a further twist, take the main filter cutoff and move that manually as well (HFS 3a.mp3). This works great as a cutoff down-sweep in tandem with the slowing-down LFO, but it can also be effective when sweeping up, or up and down. You can tailor a wide range of effects using these parameters. (HFS 3b.mp3)

  1. Now let’s add a second filter into the equation, and reintroduce the synced second LFO. At the moment our starting sound is roughly as it was in Step 4 of the previous walkthrough. Set up a second filter in series and set it to low-pass.

  1. Try sweeping this up across one bar – once again, the easiest route is to program in some automation (HFS 5a.mp3). Things are getting pretty harsh-sounding, so be careful with the Resonance settings. Also, try shifting the synced LFO to something faster – we’ve gone for 32nds. (HFS 5b.mp3)

  1. Finally let’s go back to the idea we introduced in Step 3, which is to modify the LFO speed of LFO 1. This adds some further interest to the sound – again, programming in some automation is a good plan. (HFS 6.mp3)

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