In this tutorial, we’ll learn how to recreate a classic synthesiser sound with Equator. If you haven’t yet explored our basic tutorial on sound design in Equator you’ll want to do that first.
Recreating a classic sound
We can get inspiration for designing sounds by mimicking a classic synthesiser sound and then varying some parameters. That’s what we’ll do here.
One classic synthesiser sound is the so-called “Reese bass.” The Reese bass gets its name from the bass sound used in the 1988 track “Just Want Another Chance” by Reese (a pseudonym of techno pioneer Kevin Saunderson). Since then the sound and variations on it have been popularised in many genres of electronic dance music.
After ensuring that our Dashboard and Equator MIDI settings are correct (see our first tutorial if you need help doing this), we’ll start building our sound by loading a very basic Equator preset. In Equator’s Preset Browser, search for “init” and then click on “init – NO MODULATION.” (You can also go to the Playlists column, load “INIT Patches,” and then click on “init – NO MODULATION.”) Once you’ve loaded this preset you may click on the preset name to return to Equator’s main view.
Since as its name suggests the Reese bass is a bass sound, let’s begin by clicking on the Global tab and lowering the preset’s default octave by an octave or two by dragging Preset Master downward. (Alternatively, we could change octaves with Seaboard’s octave shift buttons, or we could set our Oscillator’s Coarse tuning to -12 or -24 semitones.)
The Reese bass uses a Pulse oscillator and relies on changing the pulse width of this oscillator, a technique called pulse-width modulation (PWM).
- So, we’ll want to change Oscillator 1’s waveform to a Pulse waveform (waveform 1 in the oscillator’s graphical menu).
- You’ll notice that the Pulse oscillator has an additional parameter called “Width.” Let’s set our Width to around 50%.
Let’s modulate the Pulse Width by using an LFO (low-frequency oscillator).
- Click on LFO 1 to activate it. Next, set the LFO’s waveform to “Triangle,” Level to 100%, Polarity to “bi” (for bipolar), and Freq (frequency) to around 3 Hz.
- Now, to modulate the Pulse Width, with LFO 1 still highlighted mouseover Oscillator 1’s Width text and then when the Width dial is highlighted in orange, drag the dial up until the value is around 65 %.
- Click the LFO 1 label again to end assigning modulation.
The Reese bass sound doesn’t have many upper frequencies, so let’s filter out some of our high frequencies:
- Click on Filter 1 to activate it, and select LP24 (a lowpass filter with a -24dB/octave slope, meaning that it cuts off high frequencies steeply).
- Let’s set the filter’s Cutoff frequency (“Cut”) to around 500 Hz and the resonance (“Res.”) to around 20%.
We can accentuate low frequencies by using the Equaliser (EQ) in the Effects panel:
- Click on the EQ’s power button to activate it, move the left-most dial’s center upward to boost low frequencies, and then drag the dial downward to broaden the range of frequencies boosted.
Responding to the dimensions of touch
We’re getting close to the classic Reese bass sound, but we haven’t made it very expressive yet. Let’s use Slide to modulate our filter’s cutoff frequency and resonance:
- In the Modulation Panel click Slide to activate it and then assign it to Filter 1’s Cut (cutoff frequency) by mousing over Cut and while it’s highlighted dragging the Cut dial upward until the frequency is around 5 kHz.
- Now mouseover Res. and drag its orange dial upward until the resonance is around 85 %.
- Click Slide again to end the modulation assignment.
Let’s add another dimension of touch: Press. By now you should be familiar with assigning modulation, so let’s go ahead and assign Press to modulate Oscillator 1’s Level (around halfway up the dial) and Filter 1’s Cutoff Frequency (about 1.5 kHz).
Glide already allows us to smoothly bend notes, but we can also use Glide to create additional expressivity. Let’s assign it to control Ring Modulation (“Ring Mod”), a classic analog technique that adds frequencies by effectively multiplying two signals.
- In this case Oscillator 1 and Oscillator 2 will be our two signals, so first we’ll need to activate Oscillator 2 and set its waveform to a sine wave.
- When we put Glide into modulation assignment mode we’ll see that it controls the Coarse tuning of our two Oscillators. Let’s remove Glide’s modulation of Oscillator 2’s Coarse tuning by clicking on the “Coarse” label.
- Now let’s assign Glide to modulate Oscillator 2’s Level.
- Next let’s go to the Mixer tab, lower the level that Osc 2 sends to Filter 1, activate Ring Mod., and assign Glide to modulate the level of Ring Mod. to Filter 1.
- Finally, let’s go back to the Synth tab, end our modulation assignment, and change Glide’s shape so that it resembles a “V.”
Now we have an expressive Reese bass sound that responds to the Seaboard’s dimensions of touch!
Making final adjustments and adding effects
We can make some adjustments and add effects to taste.
First, we haven’t yet done anything to our Amp Envelope since the initial settings were pretty good, but we might want to play around with this envelope and note its effects on the sound.
If we want a more articulate attack, we can add another envelope and assign it to modulate the filter cutoff frequency.
- Let’s try doing this by activating Envelope 2 and setting its ADS-R values of 0 ms, 0.20 s, 0 %, and 0 ms respectively.
- While we are at it, let’s change Envelope 2’s Level to 0 % (in a minute we’ll use Strike to modulate the Level).
- Next, let’s assign Envelope 2 to modulate Filter 1’s cutoff frequency (Cut) by around 2 kHz.
- Finally, we want Envelope 2 to respond to Strike, so let’s change Envelope 2’s Level to 0 % and assign Strike to modulate Envelope 2’s Level by 100 % and D (decay time) by around 0.4 s.
We can also add some effects. Chorus complements pulse-width modulation nicely and can add some stereo width, so let’s try activating Chorus and changing its settings to Depth 100%, Speed 18%, Width 50%, and Wet 50%.
Experiment with the other effects if you’d like, and try changing the shapes of the curves in the Modulation Panel until you are happy with the response.
Once you’re satisfied, you’ll want to save your preset. Click on the menu icon and then click “Save As…,” enter a descriptive name like “Reese Bass,” and save it!
In this tutorial we’ve learned how to recreate a classic synthesiser sound in Equator and make it expressive, responding to the Seaboard’s dimensions of touch. Taking the lessons we’ve learned here, try searching for other classic synthesiser sounds and then make them in Equator.