One of the coolest aspects of sound itself is the fact
that any piece of audio can be transformed into waveform data for
further manipulation using your synthesis tools. Swedish House Mafia
used this approach to great effect in their collaboration with Pharrell,
“One (Your Name).”
In the extremely clever intro to the track, they morphed a
kick drum into a buzzy sawtooth lead over the course of a few measures.
The result is a perfect example of the phenomenon we’ll examine in this
column. Conversely, anyone who has ever played a sawtooth wave in the
subsonic (below 20Hz) range has heard that waveform dissolve into a
series of repeating clicks that bear a strong resemblance to—get this—a
This type of sonic morphing can be done with any
sampled data, but it works extremely well with percussive material,
which imparts a bright, buzzy character that can then be filtered and
processed according to your objectives. That said, we’ll be keeping
things straightforward by sticking with a kick drum.
There are two ways to morph your kick drum into a synth.
Both involve using the looping tools in your sampler, but each delivers
slightly different results. The first is the easiest. Simply pick your
kick sound (toms and congas work equally well) and turn on looping.
The second step is simplicity itself. Since the essence of
this process is making the kick drum loop so fast that its repeating
pulses rise into the audio range, just pitch your kick drum up 48
semitones and boom—it’s a buzzy synth patch. From there, you can tune
the sound up or down via semitones and cents until it aligns with A440 or whatever reference tuning you’re using.
A trickier way to do it—and the method used in “One”—is to
shorten your loop length until it starts to cycle in the audio range.
Different loop lengths will yield different timbres, so experiment here.
Once you’ve got a texture you dig, simply apply the tuning techniques
from Step 2 to get it right for your track.