VS 24: Programming Breakbeats in Renoise/Redux

Hi. It’s time for a new tutorial. This one is a method of programming and processing breakbeats in Renoise/Redux. This has been on my mind for a long time but I’m actually glad I haven’t done it before as there’s a very cool change that came with Redux (or Renoise 3.1) which makes this whole process really fast, fun & straightforward. I’m talking about the ability to “Render to Phrase” and I’ll get into more detail about this great function below. Make sure you check out the project file if you aren’t sure how any of the following steps work.

Download the .xrns project file here

All right, let’s begin. We obviously need a breakbeat first and here’s what I have:

Time to slice. I always do it manually and sample every single hit.

Now, the “Render to Phrase” function I’ve talked about. Just right click any slice marker to access it. What it does is it creates a new phrase using the timing of the slices you have. This basically makes your loop independent of tempo and pitch. It’s exactly like Rex except it goes way deeper. I’m absolutely in love with this.

We have a few cool options we could set here depending on how we approach our break. First one is the “Lines per Beat” setting for the phrase. I’d probably max this every time as it gives us more resolution which makes things easier for fine editing AND makes chopping the phrase much more convenient later with 0Sxx command. (More on this later.)

Second one is quantize. You can finetune this for your needs. Leaving it off is great as it keeps the exact timing/groove for preserving the funk of the break but quantizing is also good for tightening things for a more controlled result. I have it on here but keeping it loose definitely works better on some breaks so be mindful of that!

So this takes the break to project tempo, which is 170 for me. At this point you could also go into the phrase and do some manual tightening if it’s needed. With 32 LPB moving a hit up or down a line is almost all you need. I didn’t need any in this case.

An optional step is naming and organizing the hits in the sample editor. This could definitely be skipped but it makes things easier if you plan to do processing on individual hits. To do this we need to “Destructively Render Slices” first. Then you can rename and arrange freely.

Another optional step is looping the individual hits (probably with a ping pong loop). This adds sustain to one shots which can be very helpful when you slow down the loop or pitch it up in large amounts which could cause silence between hits and totally kill the groove of the break. So take some time to find decent sustaining points if it’s needed. It doesn’t change the sound on this break but it’s something you will definitely want to use for hiphop BPM’s etc.

One of the most basic yet effective options we have is changing the pitch of the break. This gives a lot of creative possibilites depending on what you want do with your sound. Pitching it up usually works great for DnB so I did that here by 4 semitones.

Next, envelopes. Volume envelopes have a lot of uses: Reducing reverbs/tails and making things tighter, increasing/decreasing snap, drastically changing the impact of your hits when combined with extra layers/effects and so on. It doesn’t do much with this break at this point but it influences the results of the following steps.

And filters. Many options here: Basic HP/LP filtering to remove unwanted frequencies, adding drive for more power, or extra flavour with cutoff/resonance envelopes, going crazy with some of the unusual filters (comb, AM, vowel etc.) so on and so forth. I didn’t do much here but some small processing for the sake of demonstration.

A good idea for these steps is often coming back and refining them as you add more stuff.

Now for the fun part. Layering! If you haven’t rendered your samples yet, you need to do it now. This allows us to add extra sounds to our existing break.

I generally start with kicks, adding a new sample, then going inside the phrase to add a new note column and trigger this new sample whenever a kick plays in the original break, adjusting the volume and pitch of it as necessary. Then repeat the process for snares and hats as needed. You can also obviously use more than 1 layer, like reinforcing snares with claps, adding kick transients, more hats panned for wider stereo image etc. etc. The timing of the layer can also drastically change the result so play around with the note delay column for sure! Perhaps one day we’ll have the convenience to delay samples individually.

So, I spent like 5 minutes trying out random 1-shots and kept the ones that sounded all right and ended up adding 4 samples: A kick, snare, clap and a closed hihat. For hihats I just filled the pattern with 8th notes (meaning 2 per beat) and did some velocity variation. The second kick in the break ended up sounding stronger than the first because of the layering so I just swapped them. You can also use the “better” kicks and snares in place of the weaker ones but it will sound more rigid and programmed that way. (And indeed, that is what you want sometimes.) Just go into the phrase and play around.

The quality of these one shots on their own is irrelevant as even the most boring sample can sound great when layered with another hit. So the possibilites here are just endless and we haven’t even added any effects yet!

So, time for adding effects to kicks, snares and hihats individually. For doing this just send all samples to appropriate fx chains as groups (kicks to one track, snares to other etc.) inside the instrument. I generally compress to glue the added layers with their original counterparts and eq for clearing the unwanted resonances. Also, saturation for extra grit and loudness is crucial. In this case it comes from Analog Filter’s drive.

Finally, processing the break as a whole. Again same approach. Compressor for glue, EQ for taking out the shabby frequencies and saturation for power.

And done. As we used a single instrument here the final goodness comes from chopping and resequencing the break with 0Sxx. Obviously, this part is Renoise only and you’ll have to resample at this point if you are on another DAW using Redux. Having a high resolution is cool here as it feels like you are just chopping a standard sample because of the high phrase length.

My favourite thing about this process is the ability to keep the break live (meaning no resampling) which is very cool as you can change the pitch, tempo, envelopes or fx at any time without losing anything and I think very few DAW/sampler’s offer this kind of flexibility. For this break the result is quite on the nuskool side and different from the original but it’s very much possible to keep it raw/organic while enhancing it, being more subtle and light-handed with the steps above.

And, there it is. I tried to keep it as broad as possible for this tutorial but there’s still a lot variety to cover here so I might return with more breaks later!

Happy chopping.


(Background image by Khuroshvili Ilya.)

  • Bendish

    Render to phrase is awesome. Thanks for that. It would be great if you could render to track as then you can have all note data up front rather than hidden in phrases. What are benefit of phrases for you?

    • Hey Bendish, in this scenario, mainly sequencing as it’s really easy to come up with new rhythms by triggering the phrase at different intervals and manipulating the starting point with 0Sxx command. You can also sometimes reverse the phrase using 0Bxx for cool little fills and variations, but that can sound odd depending on the timing of the hits.

      BTW, perhaps this tool can help for transferring phrase note data to tracks?

      • Bendish

        perfect yea i see thats how it works. i just nabbed that tool…good call

  • misksound

    keep it up man, these tutorials are excellent :)