Posts Tagged ‘Tempest’

Goodbye Tempest, Hello Freedom.

April 13, 2013

Well the Tempest turned-out to be a damp squib for me. Or rather DSI’s inability to implement features that were hotly discussed over a year ago. Maybe they will eventually pull the rabbit out.

Even so, there seem to be a lot of Tempesters who are perfectly happy with the current OS, and that has to be respected. As with everything else in life, people will have a different approach to, and expectations from, such an instrument. Everyone should come to their own conclusions.

For me, the hardware interface, the sound and the overall concept were incredibly appealing. The forum was abuzz with excited discussions about the untapped potential, and we looked to be in line for a classic that would finally put the Roland box voodoo to bed. A powerhouse on paper, a legend in the making.

Now don’t get me wrong – in some respects it’s nearly there. I had fun designing sounds on this machine and I learned a lot along the way. The glass is definitely more than half-full, and I certainly do not regret the purchase.

But the sequencer is still too rudimentary for my needs. I didn’t see anything in the recent betas that give me confidence in user-requested improvements beyond the necessary bug fixes. DSI’s prolonged silences do not help. To me, most of the requests seem reasonable, and there appears to be broad agreement on the most important. The persistent bugs, though not serious, reveal a lack of attention.

Nobody is asking for a Cirklon-killer – only that the machine is given a sequencer worthy of it’s potential. And it seems so tantalisingly close.

At current pace, by the time the OS is ready, the second-hand market will already be mature, new competing products will have been released, and DSI will have lost sales. Brand damage has already occurred. I am amazed that the can’t see this! I would have said ‘bemused’, but it’s actually quite sad. I really want DSI and their products to succeed – the innovation is wonderful – but there seems to be no ambition to finish the job.

I can only speculate that the feasibility of new features is dependent on internal hardware limitations such as the the 4mb limit (honestly, what were they thinking!!), rather than the coder’s inability. He seems talented, if disorganized and overworked and, it would appear, fighting some serious battles to squeeze better performance out of this box.

Nevertheless, my biggest disappointed has been their habit of raising expectations and not following through. I honestly didn’t expect that, and I fell for it wholeheartedly.

They are also not giving the game away regarding what’s possible or likely to reach implementation. Engaging in further feature discussions seems pointless, as none have materialised. Beta testing has been the simple repetitive process of pointing-out the same few bugs in every release.

Admittedly my passion boiled-over after seeing the latest delay (of several months) was due to focus again shifted to the Prophet 12. OK guys, but at least tell us! It would be ridiculous to expect new product development to stop, but it is also reasonable to expect that existing products should receive the necessary attention.

In short, I am extremely disappointed with DSI’s behaviour. I would not have accepted this from another company, but I was rooting for DSI to succeed, and I trusted them. More fool me.

As a sweetener it was revealed that Tempest and P12 share a common codebase, and DSI have said that features will be rolled-back into Tempest. This sounds great, but makes me wonder, since the Oscillators are completely different, and P12 has no sequencer – the element that needs most attention. Time will tell.

I do earnestly wish DSI success with P12. It looks like it will be a winner and they have clearly worked very hard on it. They must be congratulated for the risks they are taking to innovate exciting new products. In the grand scheme of things, complaining about a few missing features seems churlish.

But when it comes to Tempest, I’ve simply lost faith. It had to go.

With the proceeds I have fostered a beautifully-built MIDIbox Seq4. Now THIS is a sequencer. It completely obliterates DSI’s effort. Open-Source with frequent updates still after 5 years of development. All that user input has been eagerly gathered and distilled into a great interface and a smooth, almost effortless workflow. And zero fuss from the unpaid developer.


There is more than enough cash remaining to start a nice modular and have a big party. I’ve already sourced the PCBs to make my own drum modules, which will be triggered by Seq4’s 8 analog outs. I can simultaneously sequence FM percussion provided by FS1r. What I lose in compactness I more than compensate for in flexibility and power.

Not only that, but there is still change to cover the entire expense of my 4×4 build AND to a fund a new build using a new third-party ladder filter in a 2-octave keyboard enclosure.

My first Eurorack module is ready to be assembled. Little Dieter is due to be born any day now…..


I’m sticking with open-source hardware from now on. No more ‘black boxes’. It’s AD 2013.

There will be no pining for Tempest.

Here are some Kits and sounds – the ones I managed to backup before the new owner ripped the Tempest from my arms. FWIW, he’s absolutely delighted with it.

Have fun!

I dedicate this one to DSI ūüėõ
(One of my favourite basslines and easily possible on Tempest)


Tempest Kits: Starship Stim v1

March 6, 2013

OS 1.3 is coming soon and it’s looking good. So I’ll be pushing out some ‘proper’ kits after it’s release.

This first kit is a taster – it has no drums. Rather, it is the soundtrack from an imagined life aboard a roving interstellar craft. No samples used – this is a nice workout for Tempest’s analogue side.

The top row of pads are drones – various ambiances, the bottom row are computer and ship noises. Bank B is fully stocked – 32 sounds in all.

To activate a drone, press one of the top 8 pads. The sound will continue until it is stopped or it‚Äôs voice is stolen. Several of the drones are designed to ‚Äėchoke‚Äô each other so as to help prevent a cacophonous mess. But that’s largely up to you. It’s easy to go overboard.

To stop a drone, select a sound by pressing Shift + pad and press the Mute button twice. By pressing the Solo button twice, all sounds will be cut except the currently selected pad.

It takes a little practice but learning to coordinate it all is good for improvement of live tweaking chops. YMMV.

Use the volume and filter controls to get a nice balance between the drones and twist the bottom eight pads to your preferences. There’s lots of LFO action going on here, and slight tweaks can lead to nice surprises.

All sounds are velocity sensitive. Some are pressure sensitive. It is recommended to use seperate outputs and lots of FX ūüôā

Play around with them (they don’t bite) and have fun!

Here’s a quick demo direct from Tempest’s main output. One take, no sequencer. A fraction sent to reverb.

I bet you can do better, so:

Here is the Kit:

..and the individual sounds:
These will likely import to your ‘User3’ Folder.
Exported from Beta I will update these as new betas are released.

If you make something nice with this, leave a link for da Massive.

I am open to Kit suggestions, but these must be backed by DRY audio examples.

Lemme know ūüėõ

Tempest Recipes: Claps

February 19, 2013

I received a stern e-mail from the ether demanding to know when I’d provide a clap recipe. Rather than disappoint, and to avoid any risk of painful retribution, I’ll channel some ideas.

In the tradition of previous recipes we’ll nail-down the basic concept, leaving you with abundant noodling fodder. Let me preface by saying that Tempest makes fantastic claps!

The essence of the clap is that it is several sounds in one, each offset by a tiny amount, differing in volume, pitch and other nuances. Think of several people clapping at the same time – they will never hit at exactly the same moment. Multiple individual sounds separated by a few milliseconds produce a chorus effect that responds beautifully to reverb. Clap sounds are as varied and important as snares, and can scream individuality. So let’s make a basic clap template that you can twist to your own desires.

Initial explorations looked at using Tempest’s MIDI delay, but the available delay times are not short enough. Then I tried using square and sawtooth LFOs to quickly turn Oscs on and off. There’s a Guiro in there somewhere. Not great for claps though. If only there was something like a ‘crack module’ as found on some software synths….

The good news is that we do have a way to do this in Tempest: we create custom ‘cracks’ by using the envelopes and their (blink and you’ll miss it) delay parameter. Not to be confused with the MIDI delay, this parameter is accessed in the envelopes screen by scrolling 2 pages to the right and ‘delays’ or offsets the triggering of the envelope. With 5 envelopes we have bags of flexibility and control, more than enough to rival the crack of dawn.

The question is how exactly to use the envelopes? We could use one envelope per oscillator and have 4 sounds play in rapid succession, or we use 1 or all 4 oscs mixed and modulate the VCA so that it opens and closes very quickly. Or a mixture of both approaches.

  • To keep everything simple for now, just load the ‘Resonant 4k noise’ sample into Osc3 and pitch it down to -12 semitones.
  • Turn Amount values to zero for all envelopes, including the Amp envelope. We want these under full velocity control.
  • We start with the main Amp envelope. Leave it’s delay at zero because it will sound first. I set it’s velocity amount to 127 so that it is always the loudest portion of the clap. If you don’t already know – to set the velocity amount for an envelope, it’s on the second page of the envelope screen. Alternatively, when on the first page in the envelope screen, press shift to reveal the Velocity Amount (‘VEL AMT’) control. Use a short decay of around 20.

We can set different decays for each envelope. They can overlap without cutting each other. This brought to mind some interesting layering applications that I have noted to explore in a future recipe….
Back to our clap:

  • Keep in mind that our goal is a quick succession of hits that trail-off. To begin our ‘crack’ go to the pitch envelope, scroll 2 screens to the right and set the destination as VCA level. Yes, the pitch envelope is freely-assignable like Aux1 and Aux2 ūüėĮ

The Amp and Filter envelopes are hard-wired, however don’t forget that, if we wish, we can still assign them to VCA level in the ModPaths…

  • For now, give the pitch envelope the same decay (20) and a delay of 30. Scroll back to the first screen and start turning-up the velocity amount. You should gradually hear the first ‘crack’ being introduced. Leave it at around 30. Essentially, it’s the Amp envelope re-triggered with new settings. To make it more ‘clappy’, reduce the delay to a value of 5 and let’s move-on to the Aux-1 envelope.
  • Here we repeat the same procedure but using different decay(25), Velocity Amount (40) and delay (8) amounts.
  • Then onto Aux 2 envelope, rinse and repeat. As this is the last part of the ‘crack’ give it a slightly longer decay (30), lower velocity amount (20) and, of course, a longer delay (11).
  • From here’s it’s mostly about balancing the envelopes. The key parameters being delay, decay and Velocity amount, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Notice how, when switching between envelopes, the screen stays on the delay page. This makes it easy and fast to tweak the crack to your liking across all Oscs. Combined with the tonal power of 4 oscillators, 11 on-board clap samples, not to mention a healthy injection of chorus and reverb, I would be very surprised indeed if you don’t find the basis of your perfect clap in there.

With 8 ModPath slots there’s absolutely no excuse to go wild – using each envelope to modulate various other parameters (pitch, pan, etc) at each stage in the crack module. That is an enormous amount of clappage, snappage and bappage. More than I could hope to continue writing about. But then, you are probably way ahead of me by now…

Note: I did make a crude attempt to measure the range of the Envelope Delay. At an amount setting of 127 there is almost 6 seconds between initial sound and it’s sequel. With amount set to 64 the time interval is approximately 3/4 second, and at zero there is no repeat. An amount of 74 equates to around 1 second. This indicates a log-scaled control. However, for claps we shouldn’t need to become bogged-down in spurious precision when we can just trust our ears. The delay does get short enough and you already know what a clap should sound like, no?

Tip: Try this with your snares/sticks etc. with even shorter envelope delay times – you may be pleasantly surprised!

Tempest Recipes: Bells and alien idiophones

February 6, 2013

Based on a request from DSI forum I had a new look at making bells. I did try this before but I wasn’t convinced of the results. If I want a bell sound I typically go to FM synthesis. But I had another look and came-up with some nice results, especially on the weirder side (as the title suggests). Below is a basic recipe. Perhaps not the most natural sounding, but a start to your own efforts at least.

  • Triangle in both Osc 1 and Osc 2.
  • For this patch we want an harmonically pleasing sound so that we can play the bells chromatically. Start by pitching Osc 2 down up to C4 and Osc1 an octabve higher at C5.
    If you want more inharmonic, clangorous church bells, start with the pitch Osc 2 at D#1 and work your way up.
  • Detune Osc 2 to approx 30, or more for a more inharmonic sound.
  • Set the Amp envelope – AD mode with zero attack, and a fairly long decay (60). Give Amp envelope amount a good boost at 100. Now go to ModPaths and self-modulate the Amp envelope decay with a positive amount – around 30. This should already have at least some bell-like characteristics – play up-and down the keyboard. Similar to a toybox / glockenspiel maybe? Your ears can guide you on those paths. But a dose of LFO action here serves-up some quality variants.
  • LFO1 mapped to Osc2 frequency, random shape and a tiny amount – 1-2 shoudl be enough to introduce a slight randomness to the tail.
  • Filter 4 pole – Close cutoff just slightly (120) zero resonance and slowly turn-up the Filter FM (Audio Mod) knob. There are tons of cool analogue sounds here – everything from changing the tonality of our bell to weird-ass glitches as the resonance is turned-up. Modulate the filter parameters with both LFO’s and see what I mean.

In fact, at this stage I got totally diverted away from bells into crazy modulation land – with lots of great results. If you’re stuck on bells the above will at least get you going I hope.

Oh, and don’t forget to pile-on both chorus and reverb – both really vital here. You could also try compressing the snot out of the output – the more I use it the more I love Tempest’s compressor.

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).

Tempest Recipes: Congas

January 21, 2013


Using a low 808 conga sample (grabbed from here) as our reference, we see the key frequency is around 150 Hz.


So let’s go straight to…

  • Osc 2, triangle wave with Frequency of D2, Osc mix 0/100. Depending on taste, you can tune-up closer to 170Hz (F2), which gives gives a more familiar sound to my ears.
  • Use the 12db filter, zero resonance. Slowly close it until you arrive at a tone very close to our example. Just shorten the Amp envelope and you’re 95% of the way there.

But the last 5% is often the hardest part. Although inspection of the waveform reveals no visible attack transients, our example, although typically dullish, somehow seems more ‘slappy’ and definitely has more crisp high frequencies. Our version sounds more tom-ish than it should.

So let’s simulate the initial slap of the conga….

  • One possibility is to use FM. I found that putting a sawtooth in Osc 1 with a frequency of 2 octaves above Osc 1 (thus, D4) gives a nice tight snap. We just want a very brief impulse at the start, so use an Aux envelope mapped to FilterFM and set all envelope stages to zero and envelope amount to max – 127. We’ll only use the Peak parameter here (over the screen right-most softknob). Just give it a small amount of peak – anywhere betewn 0 and 5 – whatever brings out the snap but is not overtly heard. We’re really only hearing the envelopes working here – but it’s precisely the effect we want. It’s sounding more like a conga now, eh?
  • Another route might be to use a similar abrupt envelope on the filter envelope (which is free because we haven’t used it up to now). However I prefer the FM route and instead apply a small amount of Filter envelope with a fairly fast decay.
  • Further, using again the same clicky envelope applied to a noise or percussion sample gives similar results but can lead to nice surprises. But I would reserve noise for other duties.
  • Try the various noise sample colours mixed at a low level (<40). This can add a natural, almost reverb-ish quality to the sound. Always worth a tweak. In this case, careful mixing helps to accentuate the snap – helped of course by the Filter and it’s envelope, which must open briefly to hear the impact.
  • It’s also good to experiment here with creating exponential (bendable) envelopes – i.e. self-modulating the Amp and Filter envelope decays (as detailed in the manual). This is the ticket for the perfect snap.
  • At this stage, will all the effort put into snap, our sound is perhaps a little too clicky – there will be artifacts from the short envelopes. Giving the Amp envelope a little attack – around 6, temporarily gets rid of the artifacts, however they can be re-introduced, but with more control, by adjusting the other envelope attacks slightly to compensate.

Referring back to our sample now, we should be even closer (or not), however we’re still missing the ‘airyness’ of the tail. It just seems brighter and more open. The solution is to modulate the Lowpass filter with another envelope…

  • Attach another Aux env to filter cutoff with a moderate amount (35) and decay (40). This will sound too strong, so turn-up the attack until the filter opens more smoothly, adding some brightness to the sound as it dies out.
  • At this stage I always close the HighPass filter a little – just enough to cut-out the lowest frequencies whilst retaining the body of the sound. It just makes everything less muddy in the end.
  • Although this sound reacts pretty well to chromatic playing – there are some nice marimba-ish sounds at the higher octaves – for a Hi and Mid tome, I would repeat the process above. Apart from the difference in pitch, filter and envelope setting will also vary. For example, ¬†lower congas tend to have a longer Amp envelope, with hi-congas being short and ‘pop’-y.¬†But done once, you’ll have some nice conga templates to experiment with. Layering-in different perc samples and retuning throws-up some great new percussion sounds.

Reverb definitely adds a lot to congas. Essential even.

Tempest Recipes: Bass Drums part 2

January 18, 2013

It’s perhaps no secret, but to get the maximum power out of Tempest, layering the analogue and digital oscillators is the way to go. There will be no silly discussions re: the relative merits of analogue and digital – this time less theory and straight into the mire.

Kicks are a matter of taste and vary widely between different styles. So let’s try building a flexible template that will allow us to go from boomy headbangers to more natural sounding kicks in a few knob tweaks. This is by no means the only approach, but it is one that has brought me satisfaction.

The three components we’ll use:

  1. A sub-sine to provide the body of the kick,
  2. a kick sample to provide tonal flavour, and
  3. the analogue oscillators to provide punch and click.

OK then…

  • Starting with an initialised patch, and based on the preceding sub-bass recipe, put a 130Hz sine on Osc 4 and for a start turn it’s pitch all the way down to -24. We’ll come back here to tune our kick…
  • In Osc 3 put one of provided Kick samples. To start, try one that has some interesting harmonics (the sample called ‘Nice’ is a good one). But no doubt you will want to try them all at some point, as these provide much of the character of our kick.
  • It’s essential now to play with the relative levels of Osc 3 and Osc4 – try to get a nice balance between the two.

Now, this should already sound pretty good and thumpy, without any filter or other settings. Which is handy because we can bypass the filter for the digital Oscs, leaving it free for other tasks.

  • So yeah – but all means bypass the filter. I usually set the Pre/Post filter setting at 20/80 so that a little of the signal still goes through the filter. As usual, it’s a matter of taste and experimentation. The cool side-effect of this is that in 16 beats mode, tweaking the filter doesn’t affect our nice low-end. Opens lots of creative opportunities.
  • Now let’s look at the Amp envelope. Of course increasing the decay allows more of the sub through. But we can also apply a little ‘Peak’ to give a more upfront sound. Peak is accessed through the rightmost softknob (above the screen) when in envelope mode. Here‚Äôs where we should set our primary velocity sensitivity also – v important!
  • If the tail is going to be long it needs some animation. Therefore map LFO1 to Osc4 frequency – using a triangle wave to get a wobble going. Personally I like to keep it fast and vibrant – but it can also be tempo-synced; try 8ths or quarters to achieve rhythmic pumping effects. Let’s control it so that the LFO rate slows as the sound decays. First set LFO amount to a reasonable figure (say 60) and turn the Rate all the way to zero. Now go into ModPaths and map Amp Envelope to LFO1 Frequency. As we increase the Mod amount we can hear the effect we want (assuming we have the Amp decay set long enough. As the decay is shortened the wobble effect become less obvious but it definitely contributes to the overall character. And for the better in most cases IMO.
  • Staying on the tail, and talking of character, set LFO2 to control All Osc Frequencies and try the Sawtooth (ramp-up) wave. Turn down the rate and set a healthy amount so we can hear our work – say 80. Now slowly turn-up the rate knob. Try various rate/amount settings whilst changing the Amp decay. I find this a great way to make a kick more interesting. Even at extreme settings there are plenty of sweet-sounding variants to surprise and delight. We can even sync this pitch rise to tempo – it can sound pretty cool in a 4/4 pattern when LFO2 sync is set to quarter notes and the Amp decay kept suitably long. Switching to the Reverse Sawtooth (ramp-down) gives us an extra pitch envelope which allows us to add a degree of punch to our digital Oscs. Loads to explore in the LFO’s – you know you want to…
  • Now would be a good time to start switching the Kick sample in Osc 3 and re-tuning our Sub in Osc4. As we increase the pitch of our Sub we may also need to adjust LFO1 and it’s control via the Amp envelope.

Ok, moving on to the Analogue oscillators. I’m tending to use these to create the attack and much of the punch. The general principle is to apply several pretty extreme pitch envelopes to Osc frequency. Resulting artefacts – clicks and squeaks – can be hidden behind the sounds of the digital Oscs and controlled to good effect with the filter.

  • I always start with Osc 2 with Mix at 0/100. This allows me flexibility to use Filter FM later if I wish (because, as we know, Osc1 is the FM modulator). TBH I haven’t found the Tempest FM very useful for kick-drums (yet) – it seems to impart a hollowing effect, but it’s always nice to have the options.
  • However, because we’ve bypassed the filter for the digital oscillators we can, if we wish, use the classic filter kick effect to supplement the samples in Osc 3 and 4. No analogue oscs needed. Therefore, as we have discussed in part 1, use the 4-pole filter, high resonance, low cutoff and use the Filter envelope to simulate the pitch-dropped sine. Lots of variety here. Always a viable option for punchy/squeaky kicks.

For this template I will continue to use Osc2, so open the filter and close the resonance.

  • Starting with a triangle, key follow off and wave reset on. Set the frequency at c3. If you’ve done the LFO reverse sawtooth to pitch mapping, you should already hear it’s effect on Osc 2. But it’s a bit weedy. Enter the pitch envelope. Set it to control Osc 2 frequency only and give it a healthy dose – say a decay of 30 and amount of 127. Yes, pretty extreme and you will hear the familiar squeak if you open the filter (but turn down the resonance first!).
  • But I’m not stopping there. I also use Aux env 1 to control Osc 2 frequency, again with extreme settings; short decay (20) and full amount (127) for now (but play with this setting). A little trick from the DSI Tempest forums – the envelopes can be delayed – in the aux env1 screen press the right arrow twice and set the delay to 3. This will cause a slight doubling along with a click. This one is a matter of taste but very worthy of exploration (not only for kick drums – it’s also perfect for claps and snares where multiple amp envelopes, slightly delayed, provide a convincing ‘crack’ effect).
  • As this will be all very squeaky, it’s time to close the Low Pass filter – just enough to lose the squeak yet retain a little body of Osc2. Now but using the Filter envelope we can control precisely how much of the squeak and click poke through with a decay of 20 and amount of 127 we are in pretty punchy territory.
  • Whilst the Low Pass filter settings are critical to getting the right ‘thunk’ and solidity, it is the High-Pass filter that holds most surprises. Just start turning it up. Of course this is filtering only Osc2, but it gives more control over the attack and provides definition and clarity . With reasonable HP filter settings and shorter Amp decay it’s possible to achieve quite natural sounding kicks – however this is also dependent on the sample used in Osc3. A little compression and Bob‚Äôs yer uncle.
  • Additionally, using the high-pass filter I find makes it safer to use high levels of Amp feedback. This can add some extreme clickiness or ‘knock’ for the hardest of hard kicks. But be very careful here because high Amp feedback + open filter = ouch for you and your equipment. However, judicious balancing of HP filter and Amp feedback alone provides huge variations. This on top of switching the sample in Osc3 and retuning the sub = who says that Tempest has no punch?
  • Mapping the sliders to Amp envelope decay, pitch envelopes and the filter gives plenty of sequencing fodder.

OK, enough babbling for now. In Bass drums part 3 we’ll finally make that surdo and try a timpani.

As always, I’m happy to accept corrections, suggestions and reasonable critique.

Tempest Recipes: Sub-bass

January 16, 2013

Analogue purists avert your eyes now. It’s time to look at the digital oscillators.

Logic dictates that having 2 digital-sample oscillators provides us with a massive additional palette of sounds. The on-board samples are pretty good, although they are short. To my ears many of the samples sound highly saturated, evident in a noticeable buzzing. Are these the boosted harmonics? Nobody is telling…

Consider a sine wave. A perfect sine wave contains only one harmonic – the fundamental frequency. Apart from self-resonating filters, analogue sines are not easy to achieve and only a few synthesizers have the option – even then these are not perfect sines. Given the choice, I prefer the perfect sine sample.

Today we will use the 130.81Hz sine sample to make a highly usable sub-bass patch:

  • Start with a initialized patch and hunt down this sample to put in Osc 3. Turn it’s pitch down to -24.
  • Use ADSR envelopes and set the Amp with an attack and release both at 40, full sustain. The idea is to get just the sub-tone on key-down without any envelope clicks. On key-up the sound should stop fairly abruptly. Set Amp envelope amount to a generous level (64 or so) and turn-down the velocity sensitivity to around 32.
  • Leave the Filter wide open with zero resonance. Since sines have no additional harmonics, there is nothing to filter.

This should already be a familiar sound – more ‘felt’ than heard. Alone it sounds unspectacular, but it shines when layered under a kick drum or dropped-in at key moments of your beat. It’s the ticket for copious low-end. Moving-on…

  • I like to give a tiny amount of pitch envelope – barely noticeable – to give the attack more interest. Because our amp-attack is set at 40, we need to give our pitch envelope a similar slope, however there are lots of interesting variations to be had with the pitch envelope. For this patch I’ll leave it at Attack of 26, decay 60 and amount 10. These settings are best set while a beat is playing so that the envelopes can follow the groove.
  • If you are finding it still a little plain, we can add harmonics with the Feedback control. But again, use the ‘fixed level’ option on pads to prevent unwanted surprises. Another way to add harmonics would be to use FM, that is using Osc1 with a low frequency at Osc mix 0/100).

Of course, playing this chromatically = deep subby basslines.

Tempest Recipes: Donk Bass

January 15, 2013

That familiar hollow ‘thwank’, mainstay of a gazillion garage records. Nevertheless a great foundation for our own, less cheesy variants.

  • Start with a square wave on Osc2 and set Osc mix to 0/100 so we only hear Osc2.
  • Use a 12dB filter with cutoff at 40 and a modest amount of resonance to start – say 30 also. Set filter keytracking to 15 or thereabouts. (To access this parameter, on the filter screen press the right arrow. The parameter is called LP KEY>FREQ).
  • Now use the Filter envelope to get our ‘twang’. Perhaps a decay of 60 and amount of 20-30. A pinch of velocity control – but not too much as we want to keep the filter fairly subdued. Bend it if you wish.
  • To give more volume, change the amp envelope amount to 32 and reduce it’s velocity sensitivity to 64 also (in general a nice compromise, I find).
  • You could also try adding a little pitch envelope – but short and barely noticeably to give the attack more interest.

Now we’ll apply some FM. Fellow fans of FM synthesis will know that the most pleasing sounds pop out when the frequency of the modulator(s) is at integer ratios of the carrier’s frequency. As we detune the frequency of the modulators we hear first a vibrato effect on the carrier. As we detune further we are led into to the familiar clangorous tones that only FM can do. Well, the same principle applies on the Tempest, although less dramtically. Nevertheless useful to know.

Even if you don’t understand FM, you can easily hear this difference. Osc1 is our modulator (which we don’t hear) and Osc2 (or more correctly, the filter input) is our carrier – what we hear. So…

  • ..put another square wave in Osc1 and set it’s pitch to one octave above Osc2 (C5 if you left Osc 2 at at default). Now turn-up the Filter FM (Audio mod) about half way. The sound should become perceptibly more hollow. Play with the filter and it’s envelope until you get the sound you want – in my case a bouncy bass where the harsher frequencies are still filtered out.

Now if you change the frequency of OSC1, one semitone at a time, you will notice the tone becoming less ‘pleasing’ and more metallic at certain ratios, but seems to ‘fit’ at others. Lots of scope for experimentation here. In particular where controlling the pitch and volume of Osc1 with envelopes should open the door to plucks and various weirdness. Next time….

For now, back to our bass. We could apply a little feedback to beef-up the sound. As you have probably already discovered yourself, velocity-sensitive sounds with feedback can give some loud and potentially damaging surprises if a pad is hit too hard. So for setting Amp feedback I first switch-on ‘Fixed’ level’ for the pad. In this way I know I am hearing the maximum feedback level at all times and thus it can be set more precisely. Usually just a small amount is sufficient.

Tempest Recipes: Apito – The Samba whistle

January 14, 2013

So it’s been a while – life and all that – but I’ve somehow found time to rekindle my love for the Tempest. Let’s get back to the business of making sounds on this thing.

To start, a nice ‘n’ easy analogue take on the apito – the brazilian samba whistle – otherwise used world-over by your friendly local match official.

  • Start with 2 Triangles – around F6 and F#6
  • Apply extreme detuning to Osc 2 (fine +/-40)
  • For the Amp envelope, use ADSR with a decent amount of sustain and shorten the default release time to around 30.

Sounds vaguely familiar, but needs some movement…

  • Arm LFO1 with the random waveshape map it to Osc1 frequency – a high rate 126 but only a small amount 5.
  • Map LFO 2 (square) to Osc 2 frequency and give it some welly with a rate of 120, Amount 83. This mimics the little ball inside the whistle.
  • Try both filter slopes with lots of Filter FM and a slight envelope to emphasise the attack. Also, use the high-pass filter with a setting of about 50.

As always, not set in stone – play around with it. You can spice it up, perhaps by adding a little pitch envelope or noise to model referee spit. ūüėõ

Plenty of bonus sounds open-up when played chromatically, especially at low and high octaves where Tempest’s analogue character really shines through.

Try it through a nice delay. Mmmmm.

Tempest Recipes: Tom-Toms

April 2, 2012

Many varieties and sizes of tom-tom, but for our purposes they can be¬†considered¬†as basically snares without the snare.¬†Electronic toms rarely sound close to the real thing, their whackyness often a signature. The¬†function¬†is what’s most important:

Tom-Toms are tonal instruments Рthat is, if they are pitched correctly relative to each other, they can play a tune. If they are tuned to the key of the track, you can play key chords with the Toms, which tends to provide a strong harmonic reinforcement. This is a phenomenon you need to hear yourself, but the recipe below should get you going.

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Tempest Recipes: Snare Drums

March 31, 2012

I’ll be¬†honest¬†– I’ve been fretting over this recipe for quite a while. I did a lot of reading and experimentation with snare synthesis and I had prepared a lot of¬†background¬†text on different snare types and how they might be approximated blah blah blah.

But then I came to a stark¬†realization: ¬†You probably don’t want to hear all this – it’s all on Google anyway – but more than that, although snares¬†can¬†be highly individual, the core snare sound is pretty standard and can be synthesized with ease. There’s no big secret. Once you know how to get the basic patch, there is a rich vein of snare variants to be mined from it.

In many modern music genres the snare tends to hit on the upbeat (beats 2 and 4) and serves to give a fixed focus to the entire rhythm. While other drum elements fly around, it is the snare that reinforces the sense of tempo. Thus the snare is often be the loudest¬†instrument¬†in the kit. It is an important reference for our ears. Changing the pitch of the snare can completely change the feel of a beat. To me, short and snappy snares make a rhythm sound more ‘urgent’, but this also depends on their placement.

Snare ‘ghost’ rolls are those barely-perceptible snare-hits in between that can add a lot of interest and variation to a beat without dominating. On the Tempest, the roll feature is perfect for real-time¬†ghost rolls on velocity-sensitive snares.

Moving-on, for patching¬†references¬†we must define¬†a standard.¬†Our archetypal snare is a complex instrument. The stick hits an enclosed drum head, giving the initial impact transient which is then consumed by the rattling of the snares, producing a rich,¬†noisy¬†tail. But there is also some vibration from the second head which adds more subtle elements. Don’t forget that, these days, post-processing makes all the difference. ¬†A snare without reverb rarely works.


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Tempest Recipes: Hi-Hats, Shakers, Zaps

March 4, 2012

So, I was diverted away from drum syntheses and a fun time was had. But now it’s time to get back to kit basics, with at look at creating Hihats, shakers, maracas, cabasa and their ilk –¬†important¬†drivers of any rhythm.

It’s no big secret that noise is the major component of interest. There are no definable harmonics here – all frequencies are represented. We don’t create a tone, but rather we sculpt this block of frequencies with the filters to just those we want at any particular time.

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Tempest Recipes: 1-voice chords

February 26, 2012

On the Tempest, as with any decent synthesizer, we can create 1-note Рand thus 1-voice Рchords by tuning our oscillators to the correct intervals. We can mix-and-match between these chord types as you play, and record them on-the-fly. In 16 tunings mode, notes pressed will play the relevant root chord.

This time I’m providing a template patch. (Download via right-click). The sysex is a Beat because at the moment the Slider FX configuration is not saved for individual sounds.¬†The Beat has a Kick on Pad1 and the Chord stab patch is on Pad 16. Pad 16 is already set-up to output the following chords using the FX sliders:

minor (0,3,7) – Default – slider 1@0, Slider 2 centered.
minor 7th (0, 3, 7, 10) – Slider 1 affecting Osc1/2 mix, miniumum=100/0.
minor 6th (0,3,7,9) – Slider 1@100, Slider 2 affecting Osc2 pitch @ minimum (all the way down).
min/maj 7th (0,3,7,11) – Slider1@100, Slider 2 @ maximum.

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Tempest Recipes: SID sounds

February 23, 2012

Hands up who had a c64 back in the day. Remember this Rob Hubbard classic?

Epic stuff- and all from only 3 Voices!

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Tempest Recipes: Cowbells

February 21, 2012

I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell… ūüėČ

The 808 cowbell is highly distinctive and surprisingly easy to recreate. Synthesizing it’s basic form provides a launchpad into the realm of Agog√īs, Glockenspiels and other idiophones.

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Tempest Recipes: Bass Drums Part I

February 20, 2012

There are three basic types of Bass drum.

  1. Kick drums, as seen on typical drumkits and the classic drum machines. Generally more punchy than…
  2. Large orchestral drums such as the Timpani (kettle drum), and…
  3. Pitched bass drums, played in pairs or more that are tuned to different pitches. The Brazilian Surdo is my favourite drum, so I’ll particularly interested in synthesizing that.

Let’s look at a few ways to¬†approximate the more ubiquitous¬†kicks. I will use the famous Roland bassdrums as guides.¬†The aim of these exercises is not perfect emulation, but understanding. I do not own, nor have I ever owned, one of these instruments.

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Tempest Recipes: First things first

February 19, 2012

This is not intended as a course on drum synthesis, but rather some basic principles (from my own personal perspective) that can be applied to the DSI Tempest, or any other decent subtractive synthesizer.

I’ll start with some key concepts which will be expanded later as we step-through the synthesis of different drum types.¬†Understanding these concepts is simple enough, but putting them into practice can take time and careful tweaking, with plentiful moments of initial frustration. ¬†Tempest is not a preset machine – it needs to be programmed. Impatient types should stick to samplers.

I do not provide the presets. There are couple of reasons for this. The first is that it’s cheating. The best way to learn is to dive-in, roll your own. I will give some¬†pointers, but you have to fill the gaps.

The second is that I don’t want to disappoint people when I don’t ‘nail’ the sound they’re after. That’s not my job – I have my own exploring to do.

A tip to begin with: Visualization tools help you see the waveform and spectrum of sounds you may want to emulate, or as a guide to home-in on those critical frequencies. For this purpose I highly recommend this free VST signal analyzer. Run the Tempest through it when sound-designing. After a while your ear will improve and you may not need it. But it is really useful at the start.

OK, daylight is burning.


Envelopes are perhaps most important modulation source in any synthesizer, yet their importance and capabilities are often overlooked.

Envelopes give shape to various sound parameters over time, most importantly volume (amplitude) and pitch. Tempest gives you 5 envelopes per sound – Amp and Cutoff are hardwired, but the other¬†three¬†(Pitch/Aux1/Aux2) can be mapped to specific parameters. It’s a good start for a drum synth!

A drum is invariably hit with something. The energy from a swung stick will provide an short energy impulse on impact before bouncing back from the drum head. There is thus an instant Attack and a short Decay (the lenght of the impulse as it dies away) before the Release which consists of the residual vibrations left over from the strike only milliseconds ago. There is no Sustain in percussion (hence the default envelope mode on Tempest is Attack-Decay).

The stages highlighted above are broadly modeled using the ADSR envelopes that are standard on all reasonably-specced synthesizers.


Note that on Tempest, there is an additional parameter called ‘Peak’. This holds the sound at maximum for a defined period after attack, but before decay, allowing more control over the transient. In other words, it provides beef. Heft, if you will.
The Peak parameter is accessed with the rightmost softknob – over the screen – when on the envelopes page.

A critical step in becoming familiar with a synthesizer is to attach an envelope to a the pitch of a sine wave and tweak the envelope while tapping notes on the midi keyboard. This way you can clearly hear the shape of the envelopes.

For drums, you want nice snappy envelopes with exponential segments. These ‘Bendable’ envelopes allow for more nuanced and natural-sounding drum sounds.

On the Tempest, the envelopes are linear, but the can be ‘bended’ by modulating it’s own shape. ¬†See the manual for an nice demonstration. This is an important ability because it’s gives us much better control over the shape of sound components than a fixed ¬†linear ‘up-down’ envelope. Real sounds are not like that.

A side note here: The envelopes on the Tempest are fast Рvery fast. You can hear this by loading a bare 130Hz sine into OSC3. At deafault settings (Amp attack = 0) there is a noticeable click. This is a useful additional element to drum patching, but it can be smoothed out by slightly increasing  the Attack of the Amp and other envelopes.

Velocity Mapping:

The most important expression tool on a drumsynth. It’s unlikely that any human will hit the same drum with exactly the same¬†strength¬†each time. There are always small variations in pitch, volume, Amp decay, etc due to this ‘humanisation’. Older drum machines lack these micro-variations between hits and this added to their ‘robotic’ feel.

Luckily for us, on most modern synthesizers, including Tempest, we can vary the sound characteristics by velocity i.e. the strength at which the pads are struck, therefore modelling the human situation.

On the Tempest, use the ModPaths menu to map Velocity to Amplitude, Filter, Pitch for example. The key is to use only a small amount Рthat is if you wish to have small subtle changes between hits. Or go wild if you want all out chaos. With 8 modulation slots per sound, there is no shortage of options.

There are plenty of other interesting targets for velocity control – it’s up to you but do try mappings to¬†Filter¬†FM and feedback, or use velocity to bring in another oscillator on string hits. Experiment as always.

A note here about Tempests envelopes. In an initialised patch, the AMP envelope is, by default, slightly open already. This means that even the slightest touch of the pad will sound the note. By closing this down to zero, and setting the Envelope velocity amount to 127  (=default, press shift + use the same knob to change), the sound will be under full velocity control. MIDI velocity is scaled to 127 values.

Similarly for the other envelopes Рinitialized, these have both Envelope amount and Envelope velocity amounts set to zero. You need to set them up separately for each new sound. It  makes all the difference.


The Tempest gives us a hybrid of 2 analogue and 2 digital oscillators per sound/voice. They behave differently. Whilst the digital Oscs are precise by default Рthey sound the same each hit Рthe analogue Oscillators are by default free-running. This means that each hit will vary slightly because the analogue waveforms are not starting at zero each time. This is nice for synth patches, but for drums it can make some hits sound weaker than others.

Therefore to get a consistent sound from the analogue oscs, you need to set ‘Wave reset’ to On for each one. If you don’t intend to play the drum at various pitches you can ‘Key¬†follow’ to Off. You’ll notice that choosing this option automatically lowers the pitch.

I have also found that assigning each hit to a¬†separate¬†voice increases the¬†consistency¬†of¬†hits. ¬†I’m not sure why this is – something to do with voice allocation perhaps, but each voice¬†should, in principle, sound equally consistent, even when dynamically assigned.

On the other hand, it could be argued that it is little idiosyncrasies¬†like¬†this that give¬†analogue¬†synths much of their ‘character’.

Don’t forget to experiment with the suboscillator and Oscillatior sync!


For making bog-standard drums, the filters (Lowpass and Hipass) ¬†mostly function to control too-high and too-low frequencies. There are notable exceptions that we”ll look at later ūüėČ

A combination of Lowpass and Highpass filters = Bandpass filter.  This gives you decent control over the frequencies taken-up by each sound. Apart from shaving-off  the extreme highs with the lowpass, a tiny amount of High pass filter can give a surprising boost to the low end. Try it on a kick-drum.

Unless you are aiming for dubby sounds, it’s good practice to apply enough high-pass to be¬†unnoticeable. Inaudible low frequencies will be removed, reducing ‘muddiness’. ¬†Think abut this when designing a kit – you want each sound to ring clear and unhindered, so ideally it should¬†occupy¬†it’s own frequency space.

Remember that the lowpass can switch between 4-pole and 2-pole slopes for a smoother effect.

But filters can be used in more creative ways too. Again, the envelopes are critical here Рmodulating a closed filter to quickly open and shut again gives a good snap, especially with higher resonance. Filter FM (Audio Mod) is a tasty modulation target particularly for snares and cymbals. Envelope settings are of vital importance.

Keep in mind:

In general, percussive sounds don’t have a defined pitch. But longer bass drums, Toms, and chromatic percussion often do, and are¬†perceived¬†as notes. Therefore you should experiment with tuning your kits. This is much easier to do on the Tempest than a real drumkit – so don’t waste the flexibility. The same kit can take on a drastically different sound and feel when drums are tuned differently against each other. Tempest also¬†allows¬†any drum sound to be played chromatically in 16 Tunings mode, though careful patching is needed for¬†usable¬†results. Later I will look a tuning bass drums and toms so that they fit with the key of your song ¬†– your kits will ‘fit’ better in most cases.

Experiment, experiment, experiment. Then experiment some more. Tempest gives you the power of a full analogue synthesizer for each sound you make. No hardware drum machine has ever come close to this flexibility and power.

What next?

A firm grip of the principles above will provide a solid grounding for your patching efforts. Other elements like the LFO and the analogue FX will be explored in more detail when looking at different drum types.

Most important of all – know your tools!

First up:  Bass Drums Part I.

February 4, 2012

Raw and unpolished. Straight from the stereo outputs, using a small amount of onboard compressor.

Decent basis for a track I think, and it took <5 minutes from switch-on to finish.