Ex­plor­ing FM syn­the­sis with Oper­a­tor

Able­ton Live’s in­tu­itive dig­i­tal synth is ideal for ex­plo­ration. Let’s build a typ­i­cal FM bass…

Future Music - - FM SYNTHS -

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Let’s ex­plore fre­quency mod­u­la­tion syn­the­sis us­ing one of the most in­tu­itive FM soft­synths around: Able­ton Live’s Oper­a­tor. Don’t worry if you’re not a Live user, as th­ese skills trans­fer to any FM synth. Us­ing the de­fault patch, we’ll stick with Osc 1’s Sine wave.

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As we saw ear­lier, click the bot­tom-left sec­tion to ex­pose the 11 pre­set al­go­rithms at the top. Our first se­lected al­go­rithm tells us that Osc D will mod­u­late Osc C, C will mod­u­late B, and B will mod­u­late A. That means Osc A is the only au­di­ble os­cil­la­tor.

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Raise Osc B’s Level to-10dB: we now hear this sec­ond sine wave adding har­mon­ics to Osc A’s pure sine. Next, in Osc B’s En­ve­lope sec­tion, set its Sus­tain to -inf dB. Our shorter mod­u­la­tor sig­nal is now only al­ter­ing the front end of Osc A, giv­ing us a nice, plucky FM bass.

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Now select Osc C, give it an even tighter En­ve­lope shape (see screen­shot), then raise its Level. Osc C is now FMing Osc B, which is FMing Osc A – but this third, snappy mod­u­la­tor is only adding a tight tran­sient click to the start of the note.

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Make Osc C longer by ex­tend­ing its En­ve­lope De­cay. Our FM-like tim­bre is now re­ally ob­vi­ous. Try rais­ing Osc C’s Coarse Fre­quency, and ob­serve how the har­monic re­la­tion­ship changes. Now turn up Osc D’s Level and dial in the tight tran­sient shape for a front-end ‘click’.


Fi­nally, play with Osc B, C and D’s Lev­els, Coarse Fre­quency val­ues and En­ve­lope shapes to work out how th­ese har­monic in­ter-relationships af­fect each other. Then, try switch­ing os­cil­la­tor wave­forms to hear the ef­fect on the fi­nal sound.

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