Future Music - - FEATURE -

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.

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