Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Effects and Processing

Attention - The file hosting service I used for the mp3s below has removed the files for some reason, so until I find them and re-upload them the players won't work. Sorry folks =(

Half the fun of playing the keyboards for me is tweaking and developing new sounds. There are several areas to this, from subtractive synthesis to the creative use of sampling. There is one area that can be applied to any area of music, not just keyboards and synthesisers, and this area was probably the first to interest me; signal processing.

There are any number of ways to process a signal these days; there are traditional effects pedals, generally used by (although not exclusive to) guitarists, rack-mounted DSP hardware, software plug-ins and electro-mechanical devices (such as a plate reverb, or a Leslie rotating speaker) to name a few.

There are three in particular that I have found useful lately. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives you some idea of what kind of things you can do.

Delay is commonly used in many areas of music, from automatic double tracking of vocals to The Edge's famous guitar sound. Using my Juno-G's on-board MFX system I've been able to produce various different types of delays, but my favourite is this.

What I've done there is used a multi-tap delay to create that "bouncing" sound, using an electric piano sound as the starting point. I've found it especially effective when used in the background of a mix.

Phasing is useful for creating very spacey sounds, adding movement to a sound. It can be applied to almost anything, from vocals through to drums. Jean Michel Jarre used an Electro Harmonix Small Stone phaser in conjunction with his Eminent 310 to create a sound not unlike the one below.

I've used samples from an Eminent 310 and phased them with a software plug-in. The principle is the same, although purists will tell you that it's not as good as the real thing. When it comes down to it though, there are some damn good free plug-ins on the internet, and if used correctly they can produce some stunning sounds.

Wah-wah is an effect that increases or decreases the filter cutoff frequency, either by means of a pedal, or by following an LFO or envelope (in the case of auto-wah). The effect is so called because it is designed to mimic the human voice. It is used a lot by guitarists, but has also been used with electric pianos and synthesisers.

It's particularly effective when used in Funk music, especially when iused with an electric piano or a clavinet.
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