Know Sound Design: Harnessing Thor's Thunder, Part 2

February 9, 2017

Last month, we explored methods for using the mod wheel to create dramatic shifts in timbre. This time, we will use velocity to control different parameters than filter cutoff and amp modulation. The goal, here, is to develop expressive patches that can be tailored to your playing style and allow you to add a greater amount of nuance to your playing.

To demonstrate these techniques, I will use one of the world’s most ubiquitous software instruments—Propellerhead Thor. Thanks to its availability within Reason and as an affordable, standalone iPad app, Thor is an ideal softsynth for trying out performance options.

Drive, She Said

Controlling the overall volume of a patch can be accomplished by applying velocity to the amplifier in Thor’s gain module. But for those looking for a more aggressive sound, try routing velocity to the drive parameter on one of its four filter options. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1. In each filter, there is a drive slider that controls the input gain. High values add a bit of overdrive, which can sound fantastic on percussive sounds. Start by experimenting with the drive setting to get a feel for its effect, then set it to the lowest value you want when playing softly.

Step 2. In the modulation matrix, select Velocity as your modulation source. You will find it located in the MIDI Key options of the matrix Source menu.

Step 3. Next, select the Drive option (on the appropriate filter) from the matrix’s Destination menu. Set its value to maximum (100) and test it on a few different kinds of riffs. From there, lower the value until you’ve got a good match for your playing style.

Dynamic Shimmer

A more subtle effect is created by using velocity to add sparkle and shimmer to emphasized notes. This can be accomplished using oscillator 3, as it has its own volume control in Thor’s oscillator mixer, making it easy to apply in the matrix. For this technique, start with a basic one-or two-oscillator patch, either with a touch of detuning or with the second oscillator an octave lower than the first.

Step 1. Once you have your basic patch, add oscillator 3 to the mix, routing it into Filter 2 (with no filter selected, so the signal is unprocessed) and making sure Filter 2 is routed directly to the Amp section. Then tune Osc 3 to a very high octave, like 7 or 8.

Step 2. Set the Mixer level for Osc 3 to zero to make it silent.

Step 3. In the mod matrix, select velocity as the source, then route it to Osc 3’s Mixer level. Set the amount to maximum (100) to hear it in action, then tailor the amount to your playing style in the context of your patch.

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