Creative cowbell adventures
Here we’ll transform the classic 808 cowbell sound into an extended, pitch-manipulated riff, drenched in effects for a completely new sound
All of the TR-808’s drum sounds are iconic, of course, but aside from the thunderous kick, one stands out: that cowbell! Sounding absolutely nothing like a traditional cowbell, this synthesized hit has a ringing, nasal timbre that you either love or hate.
Its tonal nature makes it a great candidate for all manner of processing – tune it to an appropriate pitch and use it as the basis of a sampled riff; drench it in endless ambience to fill out space behind a dry rhythm track; or wildly automate pitch changes for techno-style trippiness.
In this first example, we’ve programmed a rhythmic 16th-note pattern to emulate sequenced 808 steps. To give this recognisable hit some character, we’ve pitched down certain frequencies by an octave, widened the sound, then assigned filter cutoff to velocity for muffling movement.
To design a tonal FX bed, we take one single cowbell hit and swamp it in an alien space courtesy of Eventide’s weird ’n’ wonderful Blackhole reverb. That plugin is doing the heavy lifting, obviously, but you can still decipher the original cowbell sample’s key and timbre within the effect – a nifty way to put your own spin on a recognisable sound.
Finally, we’ve used an 808 cowbell sample as a tonal note to create a simple one-bar riff. We’ve duplicated our MIDI notes to span two octaves for unison density. Creative distortion, plate reverb and dark delay repeats disguise the original sample, and we can play with amp decay and release parameters to evolve the riff.