Last year, I became fond of a populartechno technique for keeping a simple, repetitive riff interesting: using dramatic delays as the part evolves over the course of a track.
This trick is so effective that it can be used in a wide variety of contexts. For example, [renowned producer] Wolfgang Gartner and I used it to enhance the lead in our Toolroom release, “Yin.” A few months later, I revisited the technique in a much more obvious way for my remix of Josh Gabriel and Dave Seaman’s “Heyaah.”
A bunch of people have asked me how it was done, so this month I’m ripping away the curtain and delivering the goods on this handy little maneuver. Click here for an audio example of the progression from steps 1 through 4.
Step 1. Create a stabby lead patch to be the highlighted sound in your track, then create a simple repetitive pattern with a bit of syncopation. The key here is leaving enough space to hear the results of the delay effect. Too many events (e.g., a sixteenth-note pattern), and the delay will be masked by the notes.
Step 2. Create three effects returns. Each will host a different delay.
Step 3. The first delay should be quite short: 40–80ms. The second delay should be a bit longer, in the 100–150ms range, without being too obviously synced. The third delay should be tempo-synced with some syncopation, like dotted eighth-notes.
Step 4. Once you have your delays set up, let the sequence play for a minute or so. If you have a control surface (a Korg NanoKontrol or something similar), you can “play in” the automation moves and record the results. Otherwise, you can use a mouse for the sends, or just draw the automation by hand. Once you have a pass or two that you like, just edit and arrange as needed.