How to make musical electronic blips
August 3, 2014 10:19 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to replicate the electronic beat heard in this song so that I can cover the song on guitar and record the drums as a separate track. What's the best way to get sounds like these ones live or as a computer generated track? And by extension what are the general principles and tools for those who wish to create electronic beats?
posted by |n$eCur3 to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You mean the sonar-y beeps? Any synthesizer in any Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) can make sounds like those with ease.

I'd download a copy of FL Studio, personally, then use pretty much any synthesizer that has a sine wave generator. You'll need to shape the ADSR (attack,decay,sustain,release) envelope with zero, or a very very short attack, a short decay, and very little to no sustain and release.

You'll probably want to use a Low Pass Filter, which will either be built into the synth, or add it as an effect, and remove the higher frequencies. Then add a little bit of delay, which will again be built in, or you can add it as an effect.

It also sounds like there's some reverb on there, and maybe some light compression after that.

From there, it's a case of just fiddling with the settings until you're happy enough with the reproduction.

FL Studio started off a drum machine, and even though it's a full fledged DAW these days it's still good for drum programming.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:41 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Alternatively if you have a mobile device you can do much the same with one of the available digital music apps. I like Caustic, which is available for iOS and Android, and offers easy sequencing of rhythmic patterns and has a small range of synthesizers and effects built-in. (Programming a pattern to play specific sounds at specific note values at a specific tempo is sequencing, since you are asking about general principles. Apologies if I am oversimplifying. You can also automate stuff like tweaking frequencies and filters over the time of a recording - to do something like gradually add reverb or sweep through a frequency filter over the course of several seconds etc.) Caustic's more of a serious toy than a proper DAW, but it's plenty capable of making all the beep boop sounds anyone could desire. It has a limited amount of expandability though, so there's that. You'll face an additional hurdle getting your sound out from a mobile device to a PA, mixer, etc, but it can be done. Also, if you want to play in real time (rather than just have the backing track that you play along with) you'd want to avoid Android, which has a lot of latency problems (i.e. it's like a 1/4 second from pressing a key to hearing an actual sound). If you are just playing-back from Android though, it's fine.

With a proper DAW as mentioned above (like FL studio or Reaper or their cousins, you have a huge range of free and commercial plugins that can turn your computer into any number of effects or synths. Note you don't need to buy a physical synthesizer (ie a keyboard-lookin'-thing that generates sounds) with a DAW - you install a virtual synth that mimics the controls of a synth (often with realistic looking knobs to twiddle) and works alongside midi controls to trigger sounds. Most DAWS come with some sort of virtual onscreen keyboard you can trigger with a mouse (or you can just build a pattern of MIDI notes or beats into your sequencing grid).

If you want to do anything approaching playing along or even live, though, you'll want some sort of midi controller. These can look like just bare-bones keyboards (they don't have any electronics inside that generate sounds, really they are just a lot of switches for turning MIDI notes on and off), or you can get drum pads and the like.
posted by aesop at 12:58 AM on August 4, 2014

Also note that the drummer was using a MIDI-controller drum pad. That pad has pressure sensitivity, so those descending notes you hear at the end of a measure have lowered velocity in whatever DAW they were using for that session.
posted by kuanes at 4:13 AM on August 4, 2014

While I'm going to totally nth the idea of getting a low-cost-but-reputable DAW like FL, if you want to seriously explore electronic composition, I'm also going to suggest an alternate route.

Reading between your lines, I'm guessing that you are fairly comfortable with analog recording and composition tools? If so, you might want to consider trying out some drum (or "groove") machines. Many of these have some sort of internal multi-tracking (for practice grooves or simple demos), and a set of basic synths.

One advantage of this approach is that the learning curve is lower than a DAW. So is the price for entry, since you can grab a relatively cheap used one off of eBay or craigslist (although as DAWs go, FL is a steal). And they have a pleasantly tactile interface.

I'm particularly thinking of the Roland/Boss family of products here. I got years of use out of a DR. Rhythm DR-660, which comes with all kinds of sampled drums and synths built in; I can't recall if it specifically has a pure sine wave sound, but it does allow filtering that could get you close. Another promising tool would be the DR. Groove DR-202, which has more of a classic electro sound (and more real-time control over parameters and effects). Both have surprisingly strong compositional tools (e.g. writing and joining loops to form a song) and I know that the 660 was specifically marketed towards the guitarist/bassist/whatever who wanted something to jam with. I'm not as familiar with them, but the Korg Electribe line of boxes might be of use, too; I know that several friends got a lot of mileage out of them.

As for general principles? I guess that depends. If you just want to add the sort of decorative flourishes that a band like Coldplay does, I'd posit that there's not that much to learn; just swap an electronic sound in where something "normal" used to be. If you actually want to explore electronic beats/music as a thing, my personal feeling is that you should just get your hands (and ears) dirty; get some gear and start messing around, and check out some of the bazzilions of producers active on platforms like soundcloud. For philosophy/theory, you could do worse than watching some of the videos available through the Red Bull Music Academy (Whaaa? No, really!), or just perusing tutorials on youtube.
posted by credible hulk at 7:58 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nanostudio on iOS is also excellent for this sort of thing, and you can do it on your ipod/iphone.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:42 PM on August 4, 2014

then use pretty much any synthesizer that has a sine wave generator...
You'll probably want to use a Low Pass Filter

You're on the right track with a sine wave oscillator, but a low-pass filter is a red herring as as it doesn't do anything useful to a sine wave : sine is the one waveform which has no extra harmonics to filter.

The Korg Ms-20 for the iPad could make that sound really easily, as could Animoog on the iPhone.
Just play a sine wave and slap some reverb on it.
posted by w0mbat at 12:19 AM on August 5, 2014

MS-20 doesn't have a sine wave, does it? Use a triangle with a touch of lowpass if you're going down that route.
posted by Ted Maul at 2:56 AM on August 5, 2014

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