VS 9: Layering

Hi. Layering is a quite important concept in sound design and it’s not something I’ve covered much yet. There are two reasons for that. First I’m not very good at it :-) Second, it’s something I usually do in context.

I think the second point is interesting as I prefer any kind of sample to be quite stripped down and basic, so that I can layer, process and tweak as necessary inside a track’s context. But general trend seems to be on the opposite side: People seem to want really “produced” and “full” sounding stuff.

Nevertheless, I still plan to stay on the building block approach most of the times. But this week we’ve got some layering to do. Not to get a super produced sound, but to make it a bit more interesting.

All right, that’s too much talk already. This week’s journey through sound begins with a clip that I’ve sampled from an old record.

I’m starting things off with a simple transposition in CDP. As I’ve said a couple of times before, transposing things “offline” using CDP yields different results than simply changing the pitch in Renoise, as CDP naturally won’t take your Renoise instrument pitch settings into account when processing the file. So if you would like to process transposed audio, you’ll have to either render it in Renoise or use CDP to pitchshift.

The pitched down sound is slower and more mellow. But I want to screw the tonal character of the sample a bit. And this time for that purpose, I’m going for the most elementary (and useful) effect, ring modulation. Ring modulation is basically multiplication for audio. In this scenario the multiplier is a 329 hz sine wave. The resulting sound is an inharmonic version of the input. Quite bell-ish.

I like the atonality but don’t want the bell dynamics (yet), so at this point I’m using blur to soften it up and give it more pad style qualities. The “filter” (not used here) and “overlap” settings are often useful to finetune the movement of the sound. As usual, gotta experiment on those two.

That should pretty much do it for the basis of our sound. Now for the second layer. I want to get the bell characteristics back on top of the first layer so I’m moving one step back and using “extend-freeze” on the second file. It’s just for adding some random variations and length to the sample.

Almost there. Now it’s time to inharmonize the sound further so a “strange-shift” is in order. This version of shift only affects a certain frequency range. Here I’m shifting it 105 cycles down inside 480 & 1040 hz.

That’s it for the second layer. Now it’s time to merge our sounds, although some finetuning is necessary.

For the pad-like sample (es9-3) that means transposing it down 13 semitones, automating a distortion on it and doing a little bit of pitchdown automation (using 0Dxx in Renoise) around the 2nd part. The sound needed more body, so I also added a sinewave under it, tuned by ear, and automated its volume & pitch in accordance with the sample.

For the bell layer (es9-5), transposing it up 7 semitones, and reversing the playback somewhere near the end (using 0Bxx) does the trick.

Both sounds eq’ed, reverbed & delayed as necessary. Here’s the resulting sample:

That’s just a basic application of layering but on their own neither sample works well so I’d say it turned out to be an OK example.

And that’s all for this week, I hope you find it helpful. All sounds are free to download. Comments, feedback & questions welcome.