Pixel Deep Plays

Everything on a computer is pixel deep. There is nothing but our imagination beneath the pixels we see. Some people say that is a reason to consider music made on computers non-music. Even some musicians think that software instruments are not as real as those made of wood and tin (with circuits inside). I don’t think Bach or Ludwig van would have thought that way. It all comes down to what the composer or player does with the tools. Sound is sound. Sound paints pictures and tells stories.

If all the world’s a stage then the software we use to express ourselves are the players.

This section is only for synth spotters. If you don’t care a whit what instruments I used then feel free to bail right now.

Generally, each of these tracks was made with one instrument. The same instrument was used to create all the voices you hear, sometimes including the drums. This started because I was doing a lot of synth demos for developer’s new instruments and for competitions. Some tracks like this have appeared on albums before but it was all I was doing at this time and suddenly seemed the right thing to do for a whole record.

01. A New Cosmos – Combinator

Rack WiringThe Combinator (or Combi as we call him) isn’t an instrument but a container. Combi is one of the great strengths of the Propellerheads Reason environment. Combi allows a whole chain of instruments and effects to be played as a whole. This feature alone makes Reason about the most very powerful sound making tool available today. Here you hear two main instruments and a few effects. Combi allows me to build all the layers up so one note alone is grand. I then play chords – in real time no less!

02. A Parsec Feeling – Propellerheads Parsec 2

parsecParsec 1 was cool. Parsec 2 is even cooler. This was my (non-winning) entry to a song competition. I expected not to win but really liked the track. Parsec’s claim to fame and winning feature is that it is an additive synth controlled via a selection of pre-made formulas. Sounds dull put like that but in reality, it makes Parsec as fun to use as Photoshop filters that goo up the picture. A parsec is a measure of distance. Star Wars converted it into a measure of time so it strikes me as ok for me to make it an emotion.

03. Voices of Kraft – Skrock Music Kraft

kraftSometimes a synth comes along that is just special and covers a lot of territory with ease. This synth does that. This was the demo I made whilst doing sound design for the developer. Patches poured out of my mouse with no sense of limits. As I said to the developer, if Subtractor disappeared from the Reason Rack, this is the instrument I would want to replace it.

04. Friendly Radiation – Skrock Music Thermal

thermalThis instrument started life as Radiator but a conflict saw a name change after it had been released for about a week. I worked on sound design and made this track as part of that project. A funny synth in some ways that initially seems almost fatally limited. However, once you let go of preconceptions, there are a whole lot of sounds and effects that are almost unique to this odd fellow. If Thermal had been released in the mid 80’s it would have graced a few key records and become a classic, kinda like OSCar. Sadly I fear that won’t happen these days as people are not so willing to embrace the unexpected when there are so many other options.

05. One For All – 500+ Reasons ReFill

500-reasons-combiAs the name suggests, this track was written using the same sample for all sounds (even drums). These sounds are the demo bank for my ReFill and I couldn’t help but make a track as I was on a (t)roll.

06. Half a Glass is Enough – 500+ Reasons ReFill

Written before the track above to be a musical demo for the upcoming patch collection. The name refers to a somewhat annoying phrase being bandied about in an online community where people were judging each other as glass half-full or glass-half-empty people. Seems a very horrid way of covering your inability to accept other people for who and what they are under a cliche.

07. Life In Layers – DLD Technology Megasaur

megasaurMegasaur is one of those little character synths that manages to punch above its weight. Started life as a one-trick-pony but with a few additions emerged as a lovely warm instrument with a pretty good sonic spread. I added a little to that by using a Kilohearts’ Resonator on a few sounds to alter the spectra.

08. Top Cat’s Rabbit Hole Universe – Propellerheads Malstrom

malstromMalstrom is not an instrument I reach for. That is the main reason I set out to make a Mal track. Within a short while, I had some sounds that really stood out as different from my usual tone and so full of life. That ended up making this the longest and most Prog track of the album. The title refers to the events of that couple of days as a new leader won office and some tried to make the world implode.

09. Denki O Arigatō (thank you for electricity) – Jiggery Pokery JPS Harmonic Synthesizer

jps-harmonic-synthesizerI won this in a silly comp that really had nothing to do with music. I had wanted the instrument but not committed so it was a happy win and I felt I owed JP something for his generosity. I promised a track featuring the instrument but it took just a while for the muse to hit as I was working on another record. Try as I could this track wouldn’t fit and I didn’t even want to include as bonus material – a good result as it lead to this record where it fits perfectly. JPS Harmonic is a clone of the similarly named RMI synth that appeared on early Jarre records but not many other places. This is the easiest Additive synth you could ever hope to use coupled to one of the strangest filter sections. The final result though is a synth that somehow manages to sound more detailed and even “real” that anything else in the rack. I love it.

10. Bedtime Stories – Zvork Oberon

oberonI made patches for Oberon during my Sea Changes album and wrote a demo track called “Gold Rush Travelers” that made it to the album. Sadly I haven’t reached for Oberon as much as I should since. Every sound you hear is made solely with Oberon as a sort of apology. The main effects used were from Zvork’s LeSpace delay unit. I really should use Oberon more as he is a mighty cool partner in sound exploration with a distinctive character.

11. Swamp Fever – Synapse Antidote

antidoteAntidote was the first big unique synth to hit Reason’s Rack Extension format and I snapped it up. I know he is considered about the best synth by many (probably as they like the unison/spread oscillator thing) but I have failed to really gel with him. I think it is mostly the filters that leave me feeling cold every time. That said, when I do apply myself to using Antidote I do get good results. The piece starts with an electric piano sound processed with AirRaid Audio’s Elements Lo-Fi Ring Mod function. The final brass sound is typically Anidote and I like that CS-80 sort of vibe.

12. Arachnid – Zakuna Prod Lithium

lithiumAnother instrument I did sound design for and made a demo track on release. Since then I really haven’t reached for Lithium because it is just a bit too clunky to use and Skrock’s synths cover similar territory more smoothly. That said there are things that Zakuna designed Lithuim to do and he can deliver well in those things if you can live with the clunky feeling. Here you hear the same note sequence played three times with different sounds – the first two merge a bit too well perhaps. The final arpeggio is where I started, using a really gnarly sound, but it got swapped for something smoother in the end. I do need to remember this unit though as it can do some special sounds.

13. Metaman – Wiz-Audio AdditiveOscillator

additiveoscillatorAdditiveOsc is a bit hard to use as he is really only half an instrument. However, with the joys of the modular environment and CVs this track ended up being fun to make as well as pretty interesting. The feature I like most of all is the ability to alter the start and end points of the harmonic spectrum for scraped metal sounds. Gets me every time.

14. Gamer’s End – Propellerheads Subtractor

subtractorOld Sub is commonly the object of some scorn these days as it was released back in version 1 of Reason and hasn’t changed since. This is a shame as Sub is still a mighty instrument with a lot of possibilities past the obvious. This is really more a scrap than a full piece but I wanted an album closer and to use Sub in ways that aren’t immediately what synth spotters may expect.

Now you may think that while every track uses a different instrument, they all sound relatively the same. I have a record by Firechild where he does the same one-instrument-per-track thing and to me there is little difference track to track. Sound is sound and all these sounds are selected through the composer’s filter (style).

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