Posted on 2011/12/07

Dango Fields (nm16138493)(SoundCloud)
Wow, I guess I finally had a chance to write up a post about the 11/11/11 song I made on the iPad and released on Nico Nico Douga. In the anime (and visual novel) CLANNAD, the lead heroine Nagisa had a penchant for dango, little rice flour balls. In the show (and game), dango were also drawn with cute little eyes and in Japan, people had started using ⑪ to represent them. Hence, I decided to treat 11/11/11 as “dango day” and made a Nagisa-themed arrangement of the background music from CLANNAD. I’d also like to take the chance to explain about my new iPad workflow a bit more and what I learned along the way.

So when I had set out to make this song, I had already somewhat of an idea of a possible workflow, or at least the apps I’d use. I really dug the kick drum sound that I could make on the KORG iMS-20, especially when post-processed through Multitrack DAW. I also wanted to put in supersaw and acid riffs, so Sunrizer and ReBirth for iPad were naturally on the plate. However, due to some issues with virtual MIDI on the iPad, I ended up using iSyn Poly instead of Sunrizer.

Basically, the main rhythm was done in iMS-20. The kick drum was an overdriven sine wave with frequency modulation applied to it using one of the envelope generators. Through some creative wiring and experimentation, I was able to get a very sharp “click”-type attack on it. Of course, the resulting sound was still a bit dry and harsh, so in the end, I decided to EQ it in Multitrack DAW by boosting the bass and inserting a notch filter around 200-300 Hz or so to give it a cleaner and juicier, less “cardboard box” sound. The hihats and bassline were more straightforward.

Now, the iMS-20 only has the capability of sequencing 16 unique measures. This would be a problem if I wanted to have different basslines as well. There was also an issue with song export in iMS-20 wherein the software would add some lead-in time that made it hard to sync up automatically with the other parts in the song. What I ended up doing was to create single measure loops of the various components in iMS-20 and then stitch them together in Multitrack DAW, since the latter was very good at copy-and-paste along measure boundaries once you set the correct BPM. This way, I can get the sounds I want and not be hindered by the 16-measure limit as long as all the components could fit into 16 different measures. I used about 8 for kick patterns and hihat patterns (keeping them separate so I could EQ the kick different) and the rest for different root-note basslines. I felt I was using Sonic Foundry Acid again, haha.

The iMS-20 wasn’t very good at generating the snare and cymbal sounds I wanted, so I ended up creating some short patterns in ReBirth for iPad and importing those into Multitrack DAW to stitch together. I also used ReBirth for creating acid riffs as well. In this case, I made a bunch of patterns for the two 303 modules, each pattern corresponding to a single note. By stitching these together, I got the root-note progressions I wanted. I ended up with a giant song with everything in it, but I would bounce out a segment at a time, e.g. the verse for the 1st 303, the prechorus for the 2nd 303. These segments would then also be stitched into the song in Multitrack DAW.

Lastly, I wanted to create some virtual-analog sounds, especially that of the supersaw, for the song. However, I realized eventually that there’s some weird timing issue with virtual MIDI control in Sunrizer. That is, if I set Sunrizer to run in the background and go to another app to control the notes, the timing would jitter. That is, sometimes a note would arrive a little too early and sometimes a note would arrive a little too late. It was very evident if I turned on the arpeggiator, as the late notes would simply disappear. This made the song sound very sloppy, which doesn’t really work when I want very tight trance-like sounds. It wasn’t an issue with just genome (the sequencer I was using before), as I reproduced the same type of issues using another sequencer app.

I ended up giving up on Sunrizer and went looking for alternatives instead. VirSyn’s iSyn Poly seemed to fit my workflow the best. It had three oscillators, which together could do a poor-man’s rendition of a supersaw if combined with some noise oscillators. The sequencer was very powerful and supported automation. Thus, this is what I settled on. Like with ReBirth, I would create segments at a time and bounce into Multitrack DAW to stitch. Now, iSyn Poly comes with two monophonic synthesizers and a polyphonic one. In order to get nice stereo sounds, I would shift the two mono synths to the left and the poly synth to the right so that at least both ears would hear some sort of chords. Though, for some other parts of the song, I used the poly synth in the middle as a pad and used mono synths on opposite stereo channels for (manual) arpeggiation. The lead and backing segments were done in separate bounces.

Finally, the song was constructed in Multitrack DAW and I barely managed to squeeze everything onto 8 tracks. I could’ve bought support for more tracks, but it was so close that I felt the constraint would help me create a more interesting track. I found the bus reverb to be very useful in making the song less dry, but tying the delay to the same bus made the delay effect utterly useless for me. I would’ve preferred separate buses, like one or two reverb buses and one or two delay buses. The built-in EQ was very good at drastic shaping of the sound, but was less useful at mixdown, although it was adequate. The final mix was then sent to my Mac where I did some final EQ adjustments on the whole track and sent it through some compressors and limiters.

One other thing that bugged me about Multitrack DAW was that it was very hard to move audio blocks around when you were zoomed out and had only selected one block for editing. This is because it would interpret any drag as an edit on either the length of the clip or the fade in/fade out. My personal preference would be to disable the fade in/fade out controls if the block is too narrow, since you’d have almost no precision with those anyway when zoomed out.

All in all, this was a great learning experience and I got a very nice kick (in both meanings of the word ;) ) out of it.

Filed under: Arrangements
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