Omnisphere Programming Tutorial from Scott Frankfurt

June 30, 2014
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In the May 2014 issue, sound design maestro Scott Frankfurt shared his general concepts for lead synth sounds. This month we take a look at one of his sounds for Spectrasonics’ powerful soft synth Omnisphere to see and hear how he puts these concepts into action—related below by Scott in the first person. Check out the audio example for insight into each step of the sound design process, and to hear Scott playing the sound. Visit him online at scottfrankfurtstudio.com.

Fig 1 (above): The overview look at the “Grinder Lead” patch in Omnisphere.

Grinder Lead

 

The concept for this patch was to create a contemporary lead that will cut through aggressive music, while being interesting and inspiring. Starting with a simple sine wave, I experimented with the Hardsync slider (see Figure 2 above) until I found an interesting set of midrange harmonics. I think of this spot as “headquarters” for this sound. In Omnisphere there’s a secondary oscillator hidden in the background so you can instantly get sync sounds without having to arrange the modulation relationship. To achieve this with other synths set up sync or cross-mod as needed. [Read the September and October 2012 “Art of Synth Soloing” columns for more info on oscillator sync. –Ed.]

Modulating the Hardsync slider with velocity yielded a great sounding attack and variation for the sustain. I chose the range carefully so that the top velocity would be just as interesting as the lowest one.

 

The filter configuration was designed to further accentuate and focus the midrange harmonics. Bandpass and lowpass filters in parallel each provide a defined spectrum that blends nicely for an overall tone (see Figure 3 above). By setting them up in parallel I can blend in the amount of each filter along with the original tone for total flexibility. Note that I’m using a static set of resonance offsets (I’m not modulating the settings over time using an envelope). I’m going to get harmonic movement elsewhere: this setup is all about tone color.

 

The modulation wheel has a significant effect on the sound, even though the modulation range appears pretty humble (see Figure 4 above). That’s one of the neat tricks afforded by this parallel filter setup; it is sweeping the filter cutoff for both filters, and the bandpass really ‘speaks’ nicely against the lowpass filter. Note that I left LFO-based vibrato out in this sound, since the concept was to really grind the midrange goodness from the mod wheel.

 

For the sustain portion of this patch, I’m gently shifting the harmonics over time using an LFO to modulate the wave-shaper depth. Adding in some randomization of the Sample Rate gives me a different color for every note played (see Figure 5 above). [A wave-shaper is an audio effect that’s is a form of distortion synthesis, modifying a waveform to produce additional sideband harmonics. It can be used subtly for tonal coloration, or more deeply to produce often aggressive and harsh tonalities. —Ed.] If your synth doesn’t offer a wave-shaper you can achieve the same varying harmonic function using parameters like saturation, distortion (in the synth engine, not an effect) or any per-voice tonal-coloring parameter your synth may offer.

 

To increase the overall power of the sound, I’ve got the Unison parameter beefing up the per-note voice count, set down an octave, with a moderate image spread (see Figure 6 above). You can modulate the Unison Detune for even more thickness, but I’ve learned that if you overdo unison tricks, you run the risk of making the sound too diffuse in context, making it less useful. I have to say, by this point I was delighted with the vibe of the Patch!


Effects

I love that the “grind” of this patch is made from the synthesis engine itself and doesn’t rely on a distortion effect. That’s what gives it a unique character. I’ve employed some echo, but it’s super-thin due to significant highpass filtering on the repetitions, a trick borrowed from the mixing world and discussed in last month’s column. I want to hear the aural cue of the echo without cluttering the mid band. You can also achieve this thinning of the repeats via a filter or EQ on an effects return.


The Results

All of these “micro level” decisions add up to a sound that I love to play. It works well for aggressive melodic work, mono rhythmic riffs, has a laser-focused tone that won’t bore you, and offers unique sonic expression capabilities from your modulation wheel. Look back to the May 2014 column and see how it embodies all the tips I offered on creating a good lead sound.

 

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