Dance - Smack My Pitch Up

Calvin Harris is doing it. So are Afrojack, Fedde Le Grand, and Wolfgang Gartner.
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By Francis Preve

Calvin Harris is doing it. So are Afrojack, Fedde Le Grand, and Wolfgang Gartner. Heck, I’m even doing it on my current single, “Colossus.” What’s that? Crazy pitch-swept leads, of course. Make no mistake, the latest fashion in techno and electro is wild sweeps and pitchy envelopes, so it’s time to add this technique to your bag of tricks. This month, we’ll look at two different approaches to whipping up swoopy leads. One relies on envelopes and the other relies on direct automation of oscillator pitch via extreme settings for your pitch wheel range. Since Reason’s Subtractor does both tricks with ease, we’ll use that for demo purposes. Here we go!

PITCH ENVELOPE METHOD

Step 1.

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Initialize your patch and starting from the default settings, change oscillator 1 to a square wave, lower the filter cutoff a bit, and leave everything else basically untouched. Next, assign the Mod Envelope (shown at right) to oscillator 1’s pitch and increase its amount to about 40%, making sure to set all of the envelope sliders to zero.

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Create a simple rhythmic pattern in Reason (above, left ), then create a new automation lane for the Mod Envelope Decay. For experimentation purposes, add a few breakpoints and move them around as the sequence plays (right). You’ll be greeted with a sound similar to the main lead in Calvin Harris’ “Awooga” and my track, “Colossus.”

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WHEEL METHOD

Step 1.

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Again, start with the Reason Subtractor initialized patch. Again, we’ll use a single oscillator, only based on a sawtooth wave this time. Open the filter cutoff all the way so you hear all the harmonics. Then, set the pitch bend range parameter to two octaves (24 semitones).

Step 2.

Create another simple repeating pattern (above, left ), then create an automation lane for pitch bend. Again, experimentation is key, so add a few breakpoints and move them around as the sequence plays (right). Some positions are just plain wrong, so use your ears. The secret here is to use really extreme shift s that have an almost siren-like quality.

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If you caught August’s column on sidechained gates, there’s a third approach for massive swoops. Using the same sawtooth patch described above, add extreme amounts of glide while playing overlapping notes that are several measures long. Next, apply a sidechained gate to the synth and trigger your gate pattern using a synth—as described in that tutorial.

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