Tempest Recipes: Tuned woods, sticks and clicks

February 1, 2013

The classic way of synthesizing woody sounds is to use square wave oscillators. In extension to our cowbell recipe, the relative tuning of two Square waves throws-up many useful, if not entirely natural, woody sounds.

Quick and dirty, first we’ll play around with a single square wave so as to get a flavour of what’s possible and, critically, to set the envelopes correctly.

  • Osc 2 Square around D#2 to start. Initially set osc mix to 0/100
  • Amp Env amount around 60, decay from about 50 but play with it. This is a good place to add a little peak. For clicky stick sounds, reduce the decay to zero and slowly turn-up the peak. But keep in mind that real-world sounds do not end so abruptly, and are usually accompanied by some decay and/or reverberation.
  • 24db LowPass around 60 (just enough to lose the harmonic ‘fizz’), No resonance, No Filter FM. Filter Env decay 40, Env amount 40.
  • Go to Modpaths and modulate Amp Envelope Decay with the Amp envelope for a nice curve. There’s a lot of tweaking here – negative values gives more hollow tones, positive values shorten to a click – a sound in itself that has some applications.
  • To tighten-up the sound, set the HighPass filter to about 40 or so.
    Now bring-in the Amp Feedback to gives a pretty convincing ‘knock’ to the sound. Usual warning here – used the fixed velocity to set the Amp feedback to provide the heft, but just before ”squeaky’.

Now is the time to start changing Osc2 pitch and to introduce Osc1 as another square wave, playing with their relative pitches and rejoicing at the beauty of our world. Take your time. When you have a good balance between the two levels/pitches, use this nice undocumented feature to tune all oscillators whilst preserving their relative pitches: press and hold the oscillator select button until all four Osc light appear. The Osc Pitch knob will now tune all Oscs simultaneously. Very handy. By this method we open-up even more tonal options. It’s also good to detune the Oscs – even quite extreme detuning has it’s uses here, especially at higher pitches.

  • To add some spice, we can Set LFO1 to modulate PWM of either or both oscillators. Plenty of tonal variations here – you should try the full range of LFO frequencies and amount.
  • Another LFO trick is to modulate the frequency of one oscillator with a high LFO rate. This also gives a huge variety of interesting tones. For a dullish hit, similar to hitting wet cardboard, try using the Random LFO shape set to Osc2 frequency rate 150, amount 100.
  • Filter FM without the resonance makes the sound more flabbly, and effect you might like.

During the process above you have undoubtedly discovered that effective sidestick tones are achievable at higher pitches, whilst at lower pitches we enter usable bass patch territory (remember our Donk?).

The logical extension of this is that our woods can be played chromatically, but these tuned sounds will require extra attention to envelopes and keyboard tracking parameters to maintain a consistent progression up-and-down the keyboard. If you are willing to spend the time here you can make very convincing Marimaba / xylophone type sounds, not to mention everything in-between (which I personally find more interesting).

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