Transforming Drums Into Synths
By Francis Preve
Fri, 20 Sep 2013
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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 kick drum.

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.


Step 1

 

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.


Step 2

 

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.


Step 3

 

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.

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