Know Sound Design: That Synth Is a Dog

Creating your own wavetables
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Though many keyboardists associate wavetable synthesis with expensive hardware and complex softsynths, creating unique digital waveforms via standard sampling tools is actually quite easy once you understand the basics.

This month, we’ll look at a straightforward method for converting almost any type of sample into a rich source of harmonic material, ripe for transforming your own patches, using Ableton Live’s Simpler instrument.

Step 1: Because Simpler’s looping tools are set in percentage increments, you’ll get the most flexibility when using brief, complex sounds. Animal samples are great for this. So are short sound effects such as gunshots and tires screeching. For this tutorial, I began with a single dog bark.

Step 2: First, you’ll want to turn Simpler’s warping tools off, so that the loop works in “classic” sampler mode. From there, create an extremely short loop. If you’ve picked your sample correctly, this will have a lot of harmonic character. Note that if the loop is too short, there won’t be much variation as you scan the sample. Too long, and the loop will sound jittery. For my dog bark sample, I set the percentage to 0.78 percent and turned Snap mode off for more flexibility.

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Step 3: Creating such short loops with this type of material usually results in a sound that’s not tuned properly, so if you plan to use your wavetable with other instruments in a mix, you’ll want to make sure that it aligns with the rest of your synths. For this, just add Live’s Tuner device to the end of the chain and adjust the semitones and cents parameters accordingly.

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Step 4: Scanning the position of the loop is where the real fun begins. With the right combination of sample and loop length, changing the start point of the sample will move the loop through the entire recording, with each position offering a radically different harmonic spectrum. This scanning isn’t as smooth as, say, Xfer’s Serum or a Walfdorf Blofeld, but it’s still a fantastic source of unique waveform data.

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Step 5: As with many digital oscillators, even a complex waveform can sound rather static. To make the end result more polished, add some effects, like the tried-and-true workstation classic Chorus, followed by a hall reverb.