Author Topic: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?  (Read 1049 times)

Gemini Ambience

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 65
    • View Profile
Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« on: January 02, 2014, 02:23:57 PM »
Does it all focus on the amplitude attack and decay?

I've only studied subtractive synthesis to date, but I know Zebra 2 has some FM oscillators available. I just don't know how to use FM in conjunction with basic oscillator waveforms.

Detuning seems to be a constant in the tutorials I've found over on YouTube, but what else other than softer attack and decay slopes add depth and richness to a drone? Is it the harmonics within the oscillators' waveforms, or can a drone be multiple synths all playing different waveforms simultaneously?

Thanks in advance for any guidance!

Ekstasis

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 848
    • View Profile
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2014, 05:07:55 PM »
while it is very healthy to know the basic building blocks and how the affect the audio I think you might overthink things, Some years ago, I did also try to approach it more from a scientific perspective, while it was a good learning experience learning the basic building blocks what it comes back to when creating actual music  is more about just following your instinct close your eyes, use these knobs learn how they all form and change the sound.  When you are making music in real time I do not think you are thinking about scientific formulas you just let your inner cosmic hand control you.

But I think it is good still to be able to program your synth etc but morphing the drone in real time is more of an artistic expression  and modulate the various building blockings on the synth.

the oscillators will of course be an important building block in the sound, it is well known analoge  oscillators have more richness and harmonics in the tone,  because replciating such advanced harmonics digitally it require a lot of very complex algorithms and cpu power..there is often a difference.. but with that said there is always exceptions there is plenty of good VAs out there..
Waldorf is of them.  Detuning and pitch shifting can also be an very important element in a drone.  the Detuning you can do on the OSC level but also in effects as pitch shifting, typically pitch shifting that sounds good is very expensive and from my knowledge Eventide is synonymous with the word "pitch shifting". LFOs is important  PWM can be important on som synths too.  playing with the LFOs can have great impact.  When creating Drone music you should set your BPM rate quite slow.. it will make LFOs the whole synth really sound more slow and more "evolving" which fits drone music very well.

An other Drone Master called steve roach he is know of using his mixer board to create his drones , where the EQ is an very important element in general tone shaping, but also the way he merge simultaneously drones in the mixer , from what I understand he have simultaneous drones running in the mixer which he merge in endless combination chaining volume and eq in real time.. it is his "main" instrument"  for many people including myself a lot of his processes are to me little bit of mystery at this point... I would love to see how make his music from scratch..it would be easier to understand if I heard it without the reverb for sure..

A lot of other people use guitar to create drones too..stringed instrument  such as electric guitar is really perfect for creating drones..
cause a vibrating string have a lot of interesting harmonics to work with just like a really good analogue synth have

I might sound radical here, but what creates a "drone" in my world is the use of long time reverb and delays.
For me that is the basic building block in a drone without it there is no drone unless you some very sustaining sound or instrument. Do not overuse the reverb, listen to the music change the wet and dry signal find the sweetspot where all the transients and details are not drown in the reverb. Most ambient artists put the reverb on max, it just create a big reverb "cloud" for me this kills the whole essence of sound, to just hear reverb clouds for me is not that interesting.


With all this said I am welcoming all other people to think different we all approach things differently.  I would in fact also love to hear how other people approach this..
« Last Edit: January 02, 2014, 05:11:33 PM by Immersion »

Seren

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 936
    • View Profile
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2014, 01:54:03 AM »
Hi Gemini,

I think your original question included 'ambient' as well as 'drone'.

My advice is that the best tools you have are your imagination and your ears. The next important one is taking the time to use your imagination and your ears to explore your sounds in any way they take you.

If you've been learning or been taught formally it can take a while to take the recieved understandings and make them into springboards rather than limitations. technique can be a double edged sword - either setting your imagination free or battening it down....

Sometimes I make the music from a sound I can hear in my head, using whatever I can to bring that sound into fruition.

Sometimes I start from a concept, an idea I want to put into musical form.

Sometimes I just 'muck around' with sound sources until something arises that I really like.

Sometimes I am working on one project and a sound appears that grabs me and i need to get it recorded for a whole new project it is calling for.

One of my best 'drones' was made from recording pan pipes, slowing it down and layering it over itself.

One technique passed on to me was to take a sound I like, not too long, copy it into a recorder/DAW so it repeats itself and becomes 1 track (mono or stereo) of, say, 10 minutes (time length is very optional):

............/............/............/............/............/etc
 
then copy this twice and shift them by 1/3 and 2/3 the length of the original sound so you end up with 3 tracks of 10 minutes:

A:  ............/............/............/............/............/etc
B:       ............/............/............/............/............/etc
C:           ............/............/............/............/............/etc

Then bounce these down to a single or stereo track.  If you  do a live bounce you can put different effects on  each track and subtly change the relative mix levels to create shifting textures. You can use pan, especially if the base tracks are mono, to create more of a soundstage where things shift spacially as well as texturally. 

Another 'starting' technique is to find what sounds you like, that give you the sort of buzz you enjoy. Drone, ambient and experimental music can be very varied - from very 'simple' to very 'complex', from very 'hypnotic' to very 'demanding'. Chances are you'll most enjoy making, at least to begin with, what you most enjoy listening to - then you can start exploring other areas as your imagination grabs hold of you.

PS - Enjoy

petekelly

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 567
    • View Profile
    • LuminaSounds
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2014, 03:19:45 AM »
Seren has given some very good advice here.
Time is an important factor too, sometimes I stumble across something in a few minutes that may have taken a long time previously to get to that point.
Gear is less of an issue, in my view, imagination is much more relevant. Experiment - it's great fun !

Julio Di Benedetto

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 580
  • Life is a privilege, not a right!
    • View Profile
    • Digtalvoices
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2014, 06:48:02 AM »

A:  ............/............/............/............/............/etc
B:       ............/............/............/............/............/etc
C:           ............/............/............/............/............/etc


Serens graphic representation is the core to building ambient/drone music.....it also represents the fundamental idea of layering tracks where the depth in music is not just in a time line but has space and dimension at any moment along that timeline.

Drones for me are created in real time.....that is I will create a patch in a synth and start to work with modulation in a way that brings motion within the sound, then add a sequencer or arpeggiator to further shape the sound, then open up an envelope generator......long attack and release......then reverb or not.  Often a sound can become very complex and beautiful that reverb takes the interest away, sort of dulls it and yet that also could be just what is needed.  Say I record what Ive just described as track B in Serens illustration.....how does it interact with track A which has already be recorded with another sound.  This is where it can get really exciting. The very interaction or conflict between tracks can be the creation of drones that did not exist before.  As already said its down to imagination and how the sounds inspire you.

I have a synth that has a second VCA  when opened acts like an endless sustain on each voice which turns my playing into drones and as the voices are used up they drop away and are replaced by the next note which can create unusual texture.

The source of a sound such as an oscillator or real instrument is not as important as what is done to the oscillator or where that real instrument is played......i.e flute recorded in the grand canyon.  You could alter the flute in some way to make it less flute like and perhaps more interesting but ultimately I prefer to keep the source clean.

How do you turn something by itself that is rather boring into a thing, a sound that is full of dynamics and wonder that inspires you and most like the listener.....figure that out and you are ready to create music.  ;)  I am still trying. 

Seren

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 936
    • View Profile
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2014, 07:51:55 AM »
A good place to start the imagination working is 'Foley' - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foley_(filmmaking)
in which artists create normal sounds with other everyday objects - it is only a small jump to creating unusual sounds with everyday objects.

the same wiki article leads onto soundscapes - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soundscape

and field recording - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_recording

each of which fractal out into other subjects of interest.

Ekstasis

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 848
    • View Profile
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2014, 07:55:30 AM »
I think though the thread creator is more into creating OSC based drones though...
but yeah..every sound can be turned into a drone..

Gemini Ambience

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 65
    • View Profile
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2014, 11:24:18 AM »
Thank you to everyone who's contributed to the thread so far.

First some response to comments made:

From Seren:  "One technique passed on to me was to take a sound I like, not too long, copy it into a recorder/DAW so it repeats itself and becomes 1 track (mono or stereo) of, say, 10 minutes (time length is very optional):

............/............/............/............/............/etc
 
then copy this twice and shift them by 1/3 and 2/3 the length of the original sound so you end up with 3 tracks of 10 minutes:

A:  ............/............/............/............/............/etc
B:       ............/............/............/............/............/etc
C:           ............/............/............/............/............/etc"

Thank you! I wasn't sure how to approach composition since most of the trance I used to compose was always in 4/4 and would always develop every 32-bars. But a lot of the ambient and chill music I enjoy seems to not worry so much about rigid parameters locking to a time signature. I'm attracted to the idea of recording long passes per track and tweaking knobs in real-time in overdubs with MIDI and automation tweaks. I will definitely check out the links you posted above. Thank you again!

Julio:  "Drones for me are created in real time.....that is I will create a patch in a synth and start to work with modulation in a way that brings motion within the sound, then add a sequencer or arpeggiator to further shape the sound, then open up an envelope generator......long attack and release......then reverb or not.  Often a sound can become very complex and beautiful that reverb takes the interest away, sort of dulls it and yet that also could be just what is needed.  Say I record what Ive just described as track B in Serens illustration.....how does it interact with track A which has already be recorded with another sound.  This is where it can get really exciting. The very interaction or conflict between tracks can be the creation of drones that did not exist before.  As already said its down to imagination and how the sounds inspire you."

Excellent, excellent advice. This is very helpful!

Immersion:  I'm no stranger to Roach's works; he's one of the main artists I heard when first exposed to space music. :) And you are correct, my initial question is related to synthesis. I enjoy working solely in the synthesis realm at the moment. I have several found sound and field recording collections I've gathered from the past to use in trance tracks, so I'm not too worried about that aspect of creativity. I'm still enjoying learning about the different types of synthesis beyond subtractive. I was hoping there were some tips on how to avoid common mistakes/errors newbies like me will make.  :)

Thanks again so far for the advice, I love it!

Take care,
Jim
« Last Edit: January 03, 2014, 11:39:51 AM by Gemini Ambience »

Seren

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 936
    • View Profile
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #8 on: January 06, 2014, 02:02:36 AM »
Hi Jim,

I have not tended to use synths for drones for some time - though I have been intending to get back to exploring synths as source for a little while - just need to find the time.

The 'loss' of time signatures is important (unless you are intending to have any rhythmic component to your ambient music).

I don't know if you have listened to my track Silver Wheel? this is purely synth based and was 'saved' from the background of another track.

My tendency is to try and create sonic textures, so I suppose any use of effects, detuning etc that creates a texture i like is what I search for. Sometimes I search for something that is very 'static' (ie makes paint drying interesting) and sometimes I search for dynamics - something that shifts and changes over time (either short or long periods), drawing the listener through a sort of landscape or story.

Sometimes I consider how many layers of sound I want a track to have - when is more more and when is less more?

Let us know how you get on......

but something you mentioned intrigued me - What do people think are 'common mistakes' in ambient music?

SunDummy

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 492
  • "Calm seas do not create good mariners."
    • View Profile
    • SunDummy.com
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2014, 01:38:51 PM »
Quote
then copy this twice and shift them by 1/3 and 2/3 the length of the original sound so you end up with 3 tracks of 10 minutes:

A:  ............/............/............/............/............/etc
B:       ............/............/............/............/............/etc
C:           ............/............/............/............/............/etc

Another trick is to time-stretch the B and C tracks:

A:  .........../.........../.........../.........../.........../etc
B:       ............./............./............./............./............./etc
C:           ................/................/................/................/................/etc

They then gradually get out of sync the longer they play, eliminating any sense of a steady rhythm, and ensuring that the whole soundfield is constantly evolving.
I wish I was a Glowworm; a Glowworm's never glum. 'Cause how can you be grumpy, when the sun shines out your bum?

www.sundummy.com

Seren

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 936
    • View Profile
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2014, 01:52:40 PM »
Great point - simple and very effective 8)

Castleview

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 225
    • View Profile
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2014, 02:27:13 PM »
Speaking of stretching, my project actually started with a bunch of sound stretch experiments. They weren't too good but I did keep one of them on my Bandcamp, which is called Planetarium. It's not mixed well at all though but I think it has some merit. 

Anyways, one of my recent tracks, Desert On Mercury, was originally a sound stretch experiment. On that one, I used no reverb on my original sound source and after stretching it, I used equalizer on it. It can be effective if done properly. I think that track came out well

Overall, I've grown sour on sound stretching. It was fun for a while but I didn't feel like I was getting the drones I wanted from it. I've found that slowing down tracks by a little bit can be a lot more effective.

jkn

  • Global Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2682
  • cake or death? cake please.
    • View Profile
    • Relaxed Machinery
Re: Any advice on approaching drone sound design?
« Reply #12 on: January 10, 2014, 09:04:52 AM »
Exploring and pushing what you've done before are always key elements...  the layering, time shifting, stretching...  all great things I've done also.   

Try experimenting with different effects on the different layers.  Try moving them slightly in the stereo field.   Try pitch shifting.   Try playing each drone live - so they truly aren't the same.   Try different instruments.   Try using anything in your house as an instrument - a microphone is all you need.   Mixed in low - or processed to oblivion - the strange and miraculous can pop out of nowhere.  Try reversing a track.   Try having areas in your track that are super dense - many layers - and then peel them away - and the pile them back on...  don't be afraid of dynamics.   Try eq'ing a layer - just a simple eq change can dramatically change the sound.   

The key is to play around.  Try it - and don't dwell on them too long.  Learn as you go!
John Koch-Northrup .: jkn [AT] johei.com .: owner / artist .: http://relaxedmachinery.com .: http://twitter.com/jkn .: http://flickr.com/johei