In this week’s Journal entry, we sat down with the prolific producer behind Raw Minimal and discussed all things related to his production and unique found sound techniques.
- Zoom H5 audio recorder with tripod and ‘dead cat.’
- Korg Volca Beats
- Roland TR-606
- Korg Microkorg
- Novation Bass Station 2
- Korg Monotron Delay
- Maschine & Maschine Jam
Sourcing and Recording Sounds
I spent a lot of time amassing various sound sources initially, both in Bristol and in Dublin. I know Bristol well, therefore I had lots of ideas for where would be right to record, but as it was my first visit to Dublin I just wandered around recording everything I could find!
With my previous experience of field recordings, I decided to avoid being too precious about the recordings, and get as much as possible and not worry about noise overlaps. The Zoom H5 is perfect for getting ambient recordings due to the X/Y setup of the microphones. Even out in the country there is always unwanted noise, and in the city the background noise from people and traffic is impossible to avoid.
To combat noise caused by the wind, I placed the ‘dead cat’ (the fluffy thing in the image above!) over the capsule of the mic. Although the H5 is a great field recorder, it is also prone to picking up mechanical noise when handled. To avoid this, I set it up the recorder on my tripod and left it to record for around ten minutes in most situations.
I spent days walking around Bristol to get as much noise as possible; deserted shopping centres, busy roads, Bedminster Station, the central station at Temple Meads, skateparks and other places I thought would have interesting sounds and ambience. In Dublin I spent a couple of days finding interesting noises – the traffic lights sound like techno over there, even bleeping at the right tempo.
It takes time to get the best out of your recordings – if something is worth capturing it’s worth capturing properly, so record a lot more than you think you will need. If you are dealing in 24-bit uncompressed audio, it’s safer to record at low volumes; you can always boost it later without a huge compromise on quality. It is also worth stating what the recording is of when you take it – so you have some record of what the sample is of, just in case you forget or have dozens of recordings. Just record yourself at the start of the file saying what it is you are recording.
It’s always really fun to get back to the studio and listen back to the recordings through monitors rather than headphones – there are usually a lot of happy accidents – clipping or impact noises can be processed and useful as percussive sounds, especially in more left-field genres such as techno.
The first thing is to get the recordings onto your computer, put them somewhere safe, and then to edit copies of them, so the source files are kept intact. This is important so that you don’t overwrite your source files.
I went through all of the recordings and worked out what I wanted to do with them – if they were going to be an ambient loop the processing was simple – EQ to remove any rogue subs and tops, and chop the files down to an appropriate size. Some sounds were chopped finely to form percussion (I discovered rain drops, fire crackle and skateboarding sounds made great percussive sounds!) and more tonal sounds were chopped and faded to make one-shots.
I used Maschine extensively for the processing, as it’s quick to load sounds onto a pad, trigger it while tweaking, automate effects if necessary and then bounce it out. I found it useful to make drum loops in Maschine and save them as groups, so I could quickly recall them, and use them to test other elements – like blind baking – so I could hear how other parts would work when layered with a drum track. This helps remove a lot of the guess work, having a solid rhythmic foundation so I could hear the sounds in context.
I was careful not to over process sounds – especially the ambient loops – it would be too easy to crush the life out them using too much EQ or compression and remove some of the chaos that was initially captured .
The effects were heavily processed though – It’s always interesting to pitch sounds down to get a bigger more deep effect. This works especially on vocals and sound sources where there is a lot going on – it can turn a mundane sound into something quite mysterious. I used quite a bit of reverb on the effects, mainly so they could be used without processing – to avoid them sounding too jarring and distinct. The ValhallaDSP ‘Room’ reverb works really nicely for this. I tend to try and use as little reverb as possible, just enough to smooth the edges off so the sound will blend into a track.
I decided it would be a good idea to blend analog drums and percussion with the found sound elements – avoiding digital sounds as much as possible.
For the percussive sounds I recorded lots of TR-606 and Volca Beats sounds, sometimes clean and sometimes through the Korg Monotron Delay, which gives everything a great lo-fi retro sci-fi sort of sound. If you manipulate the delay time and amount you can get some very odd sounds which approach audio rate self-oscillation at points. Some of the other sounds were made on the Bass Station 2, which is actually ideal for making kick drums.
For the bass sounds I used a mix of Bass Station 2, Microkorg and pitched some of the sounds from the drum machines to get tom or kick sounding percussion. This was all layered up with bits of ambience, or mildly percussive sounds to bring some texture into the bass.
The percussive loops and drum loops were again made using Maschine, with a heavy focus on step programming with the Maschine Jam. I chopped up the recorded sounds to get rhythmic loops, textures or one shots, and used them extensively in making the drum loops. I found that the contrasting elements of tight and mechanical drum sounds, paired together with chaotic, real-world noise worked really well together.
Integrating Sounds Into Your Productions
There’s always the temptation to drop new elements into the project far too loud, as you are excited about the new sound. This is something to consider when making tracks. It can be worth dropping the volume to silence, then slowly bringing it back up – you are less likely to over-cook it this way.
Too much noise/ambience/chatter will quickly make your tracks very hard to mix. Really it’s about getting the background sounds deeply embedded into the track, so they are just about audible, but not clamoring for the listeners attention. If atmospheric sounds are too loud they cease to be atmospheric and can quickly become intrusive, eating up lots of headroom in the process!
EQ is incredibly useful for making different elements fit together – even with a simple low pass and high pass to sculpt sounds into their appropriate frequency band. I love low-passing elements when working with found sounds. Something that would have sounded brittle, bright and crisp can quickly be made to sound submerged and mysterious with some simple filtering.
Chopping and looping sounds can quickly get things rhythmic very naturally. A four-bar loop of voices talking will sound exactly like that, but if you reduce the length and loop it to a quarter of a bar, a half bar or a bar you can quickly pick up on strange rhythmic feels and sounds start to take on a different shape.
Side-chaining can help to fit sounds around any rhythmic elements, but you can manually do this very easily by chopping sounds on the beat and applying fades to make the sounds duck out when the kicks hit.