Here’s a quick guide to some of the techniques and sound design software used in the making of ‘Corpus Christi Mysterium in Seville’:
Stuart Fowkes provided the original field recording – Echoing through the streets of old Seville…A grand procession led by a powerful brass band:
All of the audio in my re-imagined version was taken from the original field recording; nothing was added. Various short sections of the original recording were extracted and became the basis for the five strands of my remix:
- Woodwind and brass phrases = opening mysterious chords.
- Everyday background sounds = wind effect.
- The bell ringer = the fragmented church bell like chimes.
- Flute and drum = regular melodic pulse.
- Drums = distorted, percussive loop.
Granular synthesis and sampling techniques played a central role in the task, mainly within Native Instrument’s Reaktor 5 – modules such as Grainstates, Travelizer and Random Step Shifter.
Reaktor has quite a steep learning curve but it’s well worth persevering – a wide variety of excellent instruments and ensembles available, (many for free via the Native Instruments community). One approach I found very useful in the early stages was to load up interesting presets and work out how various parameters were being used within them.
This was the module responsible for the opening mysterious chords…
It’s a granular texture maker that excels at creating intense, morphing atmospheres.
You can create soundscapes in real-time.
You can easily import your own samples, even ‘freezing’ live audio feeds and weaving other parts around it.
In the screenshot, you can see that there are up to 8 ‘scenes’ available – each provides parameters regarding grain size, density, pitch, pitch spread and much more.
Each scene can be recalled in sequence; perfectly synced to your master tempo.
Behind the scenes, a very flexible dual- frequency delay adds depth and movement to the sound – letting you use different settings for high and low frequencies.
Really important for me was the level of MIDI control, (it took me a while to fully understand how comprehensive it actually was)…
In addition to the fully automated sequencer parameters, GrainStates also lets you perform with a MIDI keyboard – you have total control over MIDI functionality.
- If “m TP” is activated, then MIDI notes will pitch the sound, like in a conventional sampler. In GrainStates, however, all notes are the same length, regardless of pitch.
- When “mSel” is active, each scene is mapped onto a different note on the keyboard; by pressing one of the notes the respective scene is selected. I actually linked each scene into the 8 pads on my Akai LPD8 controller:
This Reaktor module was used to create the fragmented church bell like chimes.
Travelizer is another classic granular texture maker. It lets your ‘scrub’ through any imported sample and can be played over MIDI if needed – allowing it to be used for mysterious pads and ethereal leads. Importantly, it approaches the granular process in a significantly different way to Grainstates…
Travelizer instantly granulates any sample loaded into it and gives you a variety of controls over the quality of the granulation.
- The sample grains pass through a 3-voice Resonator with independent controls for tuning and the capability to track midi notes.
- The Resonator is followed by a stereo delay which is linked to a high-pass filter.
- An attack-release envelope allows you to contour the loudness of the sound.
Travelizer helps you break an audio sample down into tiny grains, specifying certain qualities of the sound – grain size and smoothness for example..
Regularly used on this project were the various black control pads that you can see on the screenshot – they are fully automatable and are easy to link into any MIDI controller…I used the rotary knobs on my Akai LPD 8.
Random Step Shifter
This intuitive Reaktor module was used to create both the regular melodic pulse and the distorted percussive loop. On the surface, more instantly accessible than GrainStates and Travelizer, this instrument still has plenty of depth.
Random step Shifter contains a simple 3 part sequencer (see screenshot):
Each of the above parts has two tracks (see screenshot):
- Trigger track at the bottom of the sequencer.
- Modulation track above.
(Note: the trigger tracks can be used independently from the modulation tracks but you can’t modulate without a trigger message)!
Random Step Shifter’s algorithms cut-up and rearrange sample loops, on-beat, in real-time. The intuitive sequencer triggers sample playback and modulates individual sample selection, positional offset, and playback pitch. If you dig deeper, these modulations can also be mangled via various pseudo-random sequences.
RSS will create new sample loops for you very easily! You can load in any audio loop; just keep in mind that you may need to cut the loops accurately so that they play correctly when they are looped over their entire length.
Details of more sound design techniques and software can be found here: