Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Unison The Hard Way

I'm working on a remix now where I am trying to mainly use some of my old analog gear, namely my modified Roland SH-101. The 101 is handling the main bass duties, but I wanted to fatten things up a bit on the choruses for some added punch. These days unison type sounds are very popular. UNISON, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a voicing mode on some synthesizers where several detuned versions of the sound play at once, producing a much fatter, thicker sound. Now don't get me wrong, the 101 sounds amazingly fat for a single oscillator synth, but I wanted to get things really detuned and contemporary sounding, which the 101 isn't really equipped for. But, if you're using any synth old enough to have a tuning knob or slider on it, the unison effect is easy to achieve.

1. Record the part in question once through in mono.
2. Now tweak the tuning knob/slider to detune the sound from its original setting.
3. Record the newly detuned part on a separate mono track.
4. Now pan one of the tracks hard left, and one hard right. Your sound should now sound much wider and thicker, as if you had used the UNISON mode on a more modern synth.
5. If you want to take this one step further, do some subtle, real-time tweaking of the sound as you record each part. The tweaking won't match up between layers, and your sound will be much more alive for it.
6. Don't feel you have to stop with just two tracks either. Try layering multiple tracks, each tuned a bit differently from the others, for absurdly thick sounds.

This sounds best on things like leads and string/pad types sounds, but you can use it on bass sounds as well. Just keep in mind that it is generally a good idea to keep bass sounds in mono for them to sound their strongest. In this instance, you might not want to do the hard left/hard right thing and should have both tracks panned to the center. Just be sure to filter out some of the low frequencies from one of the tracks, or your bass end is likely to be a bit muddy. Then again, stereo bass can sound great if done correctly. Just experiment until you find something you like the sound of. The only rule is that if it sounds good, it is good.

Here is a brief excerpt from the remix illustrating this technique. It starts out with just the SH-101 bass by itself, but after the kick comes in, the second, detuned layer comes in with the low end EQed out, a highpass filter being modulated and some stereo spread. This helps it blend smoothly with the original bass instead of causing audio mud.


kent said...

I like how you used this technique. The problem i've run into is that if you re-record a bass sound to make it 'fatter' you run into problems with phase cancellation. This can be a nice effect, but if your goal is to make the bass big, it's counterproductive.

I always wondered what people were thinking when they talked about layering kicks. If there's phase cancellation, it just hollows out the low end and makes it wimpy. If the layered kicks are in phase, it doesn't sound substantially different than just cranking up a single kick sound.

I think what I need to do figure out a construction kit of various attack, body and decay samples for bass so they can be dialed up individually and stitched together.

Tom said...

If you detune the sound by a significant amount, phase cancellation shouldn't really be an issue, but I think tweaking the sound slightly in the filter and envelope settings between takes should really be a part of the technique anyway, as it makes for more complex sounds. But yeah, choose one track to represent the low frequencies and EQ the lows out of the other and the clashing should be kept to a minimum.

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