Saturday, May 19

eXode's Dubstep Bass & Synth ReFill Review!

Daniel Olsson isn't a household name, but probably every Reason user knows his eXode alter ego. Famous for the legendary Massive Synthesis ReFill, eXode began a new commercial venture last year with the fantastic 3 volume Club Soundset series. His latest refills include Pads & Soundscapes and Dubstep Bass & Synth, the latter of which we will be concentrating on in this article and interview.
Not many commercial sound designers programming for Reason release refills based on genres, what made you decide to release a soundbank featuring dubstep basses and synths?
"I developed this refill by chance initially. I had a couple of ideas, one was geared towards bass sounds in general, but the production techniques behind dubstep bass has always intrigued me, so it started with a couple of dubstep type patches and then it kept rolling. Before I knew it, this refill had taken shape, and it made the most sense to release it as a dubstep refill. :)"
For starters let's take a look at the set-up of Dubstep Bass & Synth (which for convenience sake will be shortened to DB&S heretofore). The refill is made up of 64 combinator presets, 42 of which are Bass patches and 22 Synth - labelled with "eXode - Synth (or Bass) - Patch Name". The patches are all in the same folder, which is something I usually don't care for, but with the sound type in the title of the patch I would deem that unnecessary. All of the combinators use the same backdrop, which looks like a brushed metal faceplate with "EXODE" in white in the top right corner with smudgy grime on the sides where fingers would have lifted the rack to insert it in your Reason rack - very cool looking and appropriate!

Now let's take a look at the real meat of the refill - the basses! DB&S comes with 42 unique bass patches that run the ranks from the dirty Wobbles you'd immediately think would be in a Dubstep refill to more unique modded basses and classic grime sounds. Some of my favorites of the Wobble bases are Cthulhu, Dark and Dirty, Lifeform, Magnetic and Random Wobbler. Looking at the patching in the refill I noticed the many different ways eXode went about creating a Wobble - from using the Follower in a Pulveriser modulated by another source, Thor's LFO's modulating both the Frequency and Amp Gain to one of my favorites - Bassrotor, which uses Curve 30 from a Malstrom's Mod B to modulate the Frequency input on a Pulveriser for what sounds like a motor turning over. So of course I had to ask eXode about his choices for modulation:

"In the Dubstep refill I was very conscious about the modulation as it is an integral part of the sound. In the first example you mention, the fact is that the Pulveriser's Follower acts like a lag processor (slew/portamento) with individual rise and fall times when fed an external CV signal. So for some patches I fed it a square wave LFO and smoothed it out to get a modulating waveform that is not a square but still not a sine or a triangle. I've tried to get both traditional wobbles and other ones. That is why I've been using the Malström as well, because of it's many modulator waveforms. I guess I make a choice depending on the type of patch I'm making (traditional wobble or other type)."

Speaking of modulation, many of the bass Combis in DB&S have Rotary 3 routed to control the Wobble amount; this is great for not only dialing in modulation, but can be used to turn off the Wobble in itself. Why do I mention this, because many of the bass patches in DB&S sound great with or without the modulation. A great example of this is the patch Deteriorated, made up of a Malstrom synth using both the Sawtooth*16 and SweepingSaw oscillators routed into individual Low Pass Filters and into a Pulveriser where it's squashed! You can tell when exploring these patches that a lot of thought went into the front panel combi controls, which are tailored for each patch individual (although many share similar assignments.) For example in Deteriorated Button 2 turns on a Lo-Fi effect courtesy of the Digital Distortion of a Scream unit, the Modwheel controls the Shift parameter of the Malstrom synth and Button 3 increases the Dirt of the Pulveriser. eXode uses the Pulveriser quite a bit in both the Dubstep Bass & Synth and his new Soundscapes Refill - for everything from BIT Reduction to dirty squashed sounds to filtering! Which was another thing I had to ask him about:

"Yes. The correct naming is actually sample rate reduction (for the BIT Reduction). I got this idea from the modular world where you take a sample and hold unit and feed it with audio and then clock it with an oscillator running at audio rate. When you run the clock at a slower rate than the source you get sample rate reduction! Anyway I am really in love with the Pulveriser, it brings so much character to the rack that I feel simply wasn't there so easily in Reason 5. I slap it on almost everything with subtle settings of squash and dirt (sometimes more dirt). I also really like the quality of the filter as well, even though they are pretty much the same as some of the previous devices they somehow sound better. Maybe a better algorithm or some other secret stuff is going on in there. For the Dubstep refill I used the LP12+Notch filter for some patches. That filter fit perfectly for the sound I was after."

Another queston I asked exode: While Dubstep Basses and Synths has many of the dirty wobbly agro basses that has made dubstep a household genre, this refill also has some of the more classic cool sounds used by early dubstep pioneers - which makes me wonder who some of the dubstep artists are that you took cues from in designing this bad ass refill?

"To be completely honest, I don't have very much experience of dubstep as a genre. I listened to some tracks from Ministry of Sound - The Sound of Dubstep to get a feel for the sounds. There's also a dubstep section in Raise Your Weapon by deadmau5 that I quite like, but other than that, I can't really name a specific artist. I guess it boils down to the method of research. My goal was to get a feel for the sounds and techniques rather than just trying to copy a specific sound from a famous track, and that is probably also why I can't remember any specific artists that inspired the sounds. :)"

While I had the opportunity to interview eXode I had to ask him about the new Rack Extension technology. Recently on the Propellerhead User Forum there was a discussion about what kind of effect it will have on the sound design business - i.e. will people still spend money on refills when they can buy a new rack device instead? So I asked him about his thoughts on RE, how he thinks it will effect his business and if he will be doing anything different marketing and/or production wise as the result of the new technology?

"I'm a bit split about Rack Extensions at the moment because I see it potentially complicating the refill market. For pure instruments and effects there isn't so much of a debate, you can just do refills focusing on those devices, advanced combinators etc. the difficulties arise when speaking of CV or processing devies. If someone makes an awesome CV device that pays homage to modular synthesis, it would be extremely interesting from a sound designers perspective, but would people actually pay for those kind of Rack Extensions that enable them to use that cool refill you just made? I'm a bit unsure. And then there's also the potential risk of people not paying attention and buying refills that require an extension that they don't own.
In the big scheme I don't see refills dying though, we might however see a surge in "RE" specific refills were we might see i.e. Combinator patches mixing Reason's factory devices with Rack Extension X. Also I'm curious to see if props will somehow integrate the refill shop with this upcoming extension shop so that if you visit Rack Extension X's product page you can also find commercial Refills made for it.
At the end of the day though, there's a healthy soundbank market for VST's so I really don't see why there shouldn't be one for Rack Extensions. :)"

The other major part of DB&S are the synth patches - 22 in all. These patches include interesting modulating sounds (Bouncy Code) as well as smooth leads (Siren Saw), ambient plucks (Cosmic Pluck) and strange percussion (Wooden Bongos). Probably my favorite patch in the synth section is Timbre Wolves. This patch uses LFO1 in a Thor synth as the audio source, for a lovely lead sound that will cut thru any mix. In this patch Button 2 chooses between two different curves for LFO1, greatly changing the character of the sound. This patch uses Thor's Shaper set to Sine to create a unique quality to the sound which is modulated by the second LFO and the filter envelope. The depth of the shaper is controlled with Rotary 3, labelled "Wave Folder", and with the Modwheel - making the shaper very playable. What's particularly interesting about this patch is what isn't used in it - a filter. The filter's on both the Thor and Pulveriser are disabled, while the Bandpass FIlter in The Echo is set to 1.44khz with a generous Resonance for an echo sound that really stands out from the original sound. Very cool!
Another favorite synth patch of mine from DB&S is Slippery Sine. This combi uses a trio of sine waves, courtesy of Thor for a classic analog sound! What I particularly enjoy about this patch is the amount of customization available from the front panel. With Button 1 a couple of D-11 Foldback Distortions are enabled (remember those), the amount of which is controlled with Rotary 1, which is also controlling the Dirt amount in the following Pulveriser. The Pulveriser's Tremor is being used to modulate the Foldback Distortion amount, with a rate determined by Rotary 2. Further effects are added with Button 2 - 4 (Reducer, Chorus, Delay) and Rotary 4 (Reverb.) The patches in DB&S all have interesting mapping dedicated to the Modwheel and Slippery Sine is no exception with a lovely vibrato effect, perfect for adding interest to ending notes in lead lines!

Every good Dubstep track, in my opinion, needs some atmosphere. Coincidentally eXode recently released a fantastic refill called Pads & Soundscapes that compliments the Dubstep & Bass ReFill, which made me wonder if these refills were designed with that in mind or if it was a happy accident:

"Thanks! The Pads & Soundscapes refill was primarily intended for just pads and soundscapes. However, I actually developed the two side by side (at a slow pace, at least six months). I alternated a lot between the two. When loosing inspiration for one, I'd go and work on the other. Perhaps a happy accident, perhaps my subconsciousness had a say... ;)"

Checking out Dubstep Bass & Synth made me wonder what eXode may be working on for the future:

"I currently have a couple of ideas that are still taking shape so perhaps it is too early to tell what or how exactly they will turn out. The ideas as such include some sort of sequel to the pads, a synth oriented refill, and finally I'm playing around with ideas for an refill that will be centered around FM synthesis."

In conclusion Dubstep Bass & Synth is an awesome refill for anyone interested in creating tracks inspired by the South London born genre that seems to have invaded the airwaves on every channel here in the States and around the world. With patches ranging from the dirty Wobbles to lovely understated synths that would be right at home on a Hotflush recording, DB&S would make a great addition to everyone's arsenal. Of course every dubstep enriched anthem needs some soundscapes to fill out the track and eXode's own Pads & Soundscapes is a perfect pairing - the Cabernet Sauvignon to the meat of a Filet Mignon if you will. Now this talk of food has made me hungry and you have a club hit to write, so what are we waiting for?

Pick up Dubstep Bass & Synth today for $15 from eXode Sound!

1 comment:

Lewis.72 said...

Received an e-mail from eXode about a couple of interesting points in the article that he said I could reprint here:

"The patch Timbre Wolves and also some others in the synth section that you noticed don't use a filter are inspired in concept by a type of modular synthesis refferred to as west coast, It carries the philosophy of Buchla and Serge to name but two.

The reason I used the Sine shaper algorithm or the d-11 distortion unit in particular is that they are quite close to a wave folder. The way the sine shaper or d-11 dist 'transforms' a sine wave is very similar to a wave folder, often found as part of buchla and serge systems. The simplest way to describe a wave folder is that it folds the wave, i.e. adds harmonics, thus running a sine or a triangle through such device, tweaking the folding amout, gives the effect of opening the cutoff freq of a filter, though in essence it works opposite to a filter as you are actually adding harmonics instead of removing them. :)"

Very cool!