WHEN WE LAST GOT TOGETHER, WE WERE EXPLORING FILTER SWEEPS using
single and mixed/dual filter configurations. We’d been just holding low notes to get
used to the sound of each filter type, and how they sound when different types are
combined. Holding a low note and sweeping a filter makes a powerful statement,
since the note provides plenty of harmonics to be heard as you sweep the cutoff.
But there are other playing techniques to use when you want to draw attention to
your filter sweeps. Let’s dig in.
by JERRY KOVARKSY
Repeat After Me
One of my favorite dramatic moves is to play
a repeated phrase and then make other sonic
gestures. The ear can easily “hear past” the notes
when they’re repeated and can focus on the timbral
change. Th is also causes tension in your solo (when
will he stop?), and your bandmates can join you in
the rhythm or in the actual notes of the phrase you
play, or complement it. Then you all can release the
tension at a new bar or downbeat and continue on.
It’s a classic technique that can be heard across all
genres of music and generations of players.
To feature your filter sweeps using this technique,
you don’t want your phrase to be too difficult,
as you also need to be able to concentrate on
sweeping the cutoff frequency via the controller
of your choice. So doing this while pitch-bending,
for example, is more difficult and best done when
you can use a pedal to sweep the cutoff .
Examples 1a through 1c are a few simple
riff s to get you started. Notice that they don’t
line up regularly to each bar: It takes three bars
to complete what sounds like a “full cycle.” Th is
keeps things interesting and not so basic as to be
boring. Observant players will notice that this is
based on an Em pentatonic scale and all I’m doing is moving the figure up to the next scale tones,
repeating the same riff shape.
Start off just playing the notes slowly and
work up the tempo as you get comfortable. Then
start incorporating some filter cutoff sweeps,
trying slow sweeps at first, then make more
rhythmic and even jagged moves. Get comfortable
with the independence needed to move the
filter cutoff controller freely without losing your
Swept arpeggios are another cool approach,
and I like to create smaller groups from an arpeggio
to create my repeated phrase. In Ex. 2a you
see a straight Em7 arpeggio, followed in Ex. 2b
by a fragment I’ve isolated from the note choices
to simplify the range while not sounding so obvious.
It’s a bit of a stretch for small hands, but
practice slowly and think of it as a good warm-up
exercise. Two tips for the price of one!
Ex. 3 on page 42 is a golden oldie: the rapidly
repeated single note. Played slowly it’s not too
hard, but getting it up to fast tempos and sixteenth-notes
(or beyond) is harder than it might seem.
The first fingering is for “us mere mortals” and is
a common technique for repeated notes. Work on
this first so you can get a good feel for it and then
add in your filter sweeps. The fingerings that follow reflect the classic jazz organ “machine-gun” or “stuttering”
method. Look for videos of Brian Auger
doing this if you ever want a humbling experience.
Filter sweeps don’t have to be only special effects,
they can be integrated into your phrases as a more
natural and expressive way of shaping a melodic
line. If you imagine that you’re playing a wind instrument
and are increasing the amount of breath
you push through your horn, that’s akin to opening
the filter. As you relax your breath, you close the
filter. Be sure to play legato (connected) notes and
let go at the end of your phrase so you can take a
breath before starting the next phrase. Listening to a musician who’s talented on the Akai EWI wind
controller will give you a good sense of how to
shape lines like this. I recommend Bob Mintzer,
Tom Scott, Steve Tavaglione, and of course, the late,
great Michael Brecker. Keyboardists have also used
breath controllers to great effect here—search out
videos and watch David Sancious among others.
Filters Plus Effects
| Fig. 1.
Last column I left off promising to explore other
effects that could be used alongside filter sweeps.
Setting a fl anger to a very slow speed and then
modulating the depth parameter with the same
controller you’re using for filter cutoff is a cool
one. Set the fl anger so it’s dry when that controller
is in its normal position, and then as you open
up the filter more, you introduce the flanging.
Th is also sounds cool with a phaser effect.
This next idea can be done with a pitch-shift
effect, or another oscillator in your synth itself.
Set your pitch-shifter to an interval of your choice,
and set the controller that’s also sweeping the filter
cutoff to increasing the pitch-shifter’s depth from
dry to a positive value. When you sweep your filter,
you’ll also introduce another note or harmony to
your line. Th is can be fourths (below works nicely:
–5 semitones), fifths (again, below sounds great: –7
semitones), or an
| Fig. 2.
octave up (+12 semitones), or an
octave plus a fifth up (+19 semitones).
Also in the realm of pitch, vocal effects like
Logic’s Vocal Transformer (Figure 1) or the Talking
Modulator from Korg’s MDE-X suite (Figure 2) do
formant shifting. Set up an effect so it is not being
modulated by any LFO, and then sweep the formant
parameter with the filter cutoff controller. It
adds some really unique character to your sound.
Listen online for demos of all these ideas.
Happy tweaking. See you next month!