RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
When it comes to experimental sound design, drum machines aren’t always the first instrument the electronic musician thinks of – they’re essentially cut-down synthesizers or basic sample-playback units. A dedicated synth can create the exact same tones, and is probably filled with way more wave-sculpting features. Then there are samplers, which can do everything synths can do, but use audio files as sources. And we haven’t even mentioned the new generation of synth/sampler hybrids that can quite literally do anything you can think of. So why use a single-purpose machine for such sonic adventures?
Well, like we said on the previous page, electronic musicians have a strong bond with drum computers. No matter what futuristic new sounds emerge, we’ll always love our favourite sampled breakbeats and done-to-death synthetic beats. Which means we can always bring those raw hits into the modern age with cuttingedge processing and inventive programming, and still acknowledge the heritage of dance music.
We now live in a golden age of both affordable analogue hardware and limitless software. Today’s drum machines force you out of your comfort zone, packing in features that go way beyond those of old. Using Elektron’s drum machines as examples, a single unit – although costing a fair amount in comparison to software – will become the hands-on creative hub of your entire studio. Yes, you can sequence beats like the classics, but you can go so much further: they’re synthesizers, futuristic samplemanglers, live performance instruments, MIDI brains for other studio gear, and much more.
Plus, when you’re stuck for studio inspiration, no amount of piano- playing or synth-twiddling may get you out of that rut. Yet programming some proven beats will get you at least part of the way there – the restriction of the usual kick-snare-hat palette gives you limited parameters to work within. Does a rock drummer ever get stuck for ideas? Going beyond the norm then becomes a welcome challenge that you can explore further in the studio. Why not try turning stock drum hits into melodic riffs? Or processing basic grooves into fodder for your own sample packs? These are just oscillators, after all.
All this is genre dependent, of course. If you’re producing avant garde techno, futuristic D&B or minimal house, there’s more scope to turn atonal drums into something else usable; but producers of straight-up melodic pop may reject this in favour of synths or guitars. For this feature, we’re going to lean towards the more creative and unusual, but there’s no reason for any musician to get stuck in a rut with drums.
Throughout our main tutorials, we’ll use a mixture of hardware drum machines and analogue processing to get the job done – but if you mainly work in the box, don’t be put off, as the techniques and approaches transfer to the software equivalents.