Filter Sweeps for Funky Turnarounds in EDM

February 19, 2014

As the cyclical nature of dance fashion marches on, the current trends of house music are co-opting classic ’80s funk and ’90s R&B sounds. In the next two columns, I’ll be deconstructing a pair of definitive sounds from that era. This month, we’ll take a closer look at filter swells. One of the classic synth turnarounds in funk is to play a chord (often a major or minor seventh) that swells harmonically then stops abruptly on beat 1 of the next measure. Think of old Cameo or Prince tracks and you get the picture.

This sound is quite easy to do using any analog polysynth—virtual or otherwise—so we’ll use Reason’s Subtractor here.

Step 1


Reset Subtractor to its default settings and turn off velocity modulation to the filter envelope. From there, turn on both oscillators, set them to sawtooth, and detune them five cents in opposite directions.

Step 2


The secret to the swelling sound is a combination of envelope modulation of the filter cutoff, combined with a “gate” amp envelope with full sustain and immediate release. First set the cutoff and resonance to minimum. Then zero out all of the filter envelope parameters and set the envelope amount to maximum. This way, the attack segment of the filter envelope will control the duration of the swell.

Step 3


For the finishing touch, add a tiny bit of slow triangle wave LFO to the pitch of both oscillators. That will give it the classic ’80s funk vibrato wobble. For realness bonus points, assign the LFO depth to your mod wheel and add the vibrato manually, as the chord swells.

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