What is the looooong high-pitched tone in old techno songs called?
June 24, 2010 7:10 PM   Subscribe

In older techno tunes, it was common have a single high-pitched note held for a really long time in songs (sometimes through the entire song). Electronica has a ton of terms, from "amen breaks" to "acid", but is there a word (or are there multiple commonly used words) for that note?
posted by Bugbread to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Drone, perhaps?
posted by quickasfoxes at 7:18 PM on June 24, 2010

I hadn't thought of it before, but it definitely is a drone (although the music it's used in isn't drone music), but I have a feeling that it doesn't go by that name within the techno/electronica community. Is that feeling off-base?
posted by Bugbread at 7:27 PM on June 24, 2010

What's a track with an example of this? At least tell us what "older techno" means to you - detroit? acid? eurodance?
posted by aubilenon at 7:28 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

do you have songs in particular that use this? maybe putting some examples in the thread will get better answers?
posted by nadawi at 7:29 PM on June 24, 2010

"Impact" (actually thinking of the "Impact USA" remix) by Orbital immediately came to mind. Nope, can't say I know of a term for it, though.
posted by kuperman at 7:37 PM on June 24, 2010

Sorry, I was having a hard time finding an example because I don't know what word to search for in finding the music. I found an example, though:


That link should skip straight to the drone part (it's pretty short in this song), but in case it doesn't, it's the part from 1:51 to 2:04.
posted by Bugbread at 7:42 PM on June 24, 2010

Thanks, Kuperman. That's another good example. Of course, being Orbital, they play with it a bit, turning it into a melody at the very end, but the section from 0:15 to 1:00 or so is exactly what I'm thinking of.
posted by Bugbread at 7:48 PM on June 24, 2010

Now, I used to have a button on my Casio Keyboard that would do this.

That button was labeled: "Obligato"

I'm certain that's not what the techno kids call it, but hopefully it can help in your search :)
posted by puddpunk at 7:53 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by paradroid at 8:00 PM on June 24, 2010

It's called a pad, specifically a string pad in those examples.
posted by rhizome at 8:06 PM on June 24, 2010

Paradroid, rhizome: Thanks. I realized it was a pad, but didn't realize it was a string pad (I guess I'm more used to the more actually string-like sounding pads of today's synths).

I gather, then, that there's no word/phrase for that specific long-tone holding of it, though? Like dropping out the drums entirely and playing the pad melody is called a "breakdown", or the sound of fiddling around with the modulation wheel on a melody is (was?) called "acid". There's no specific word/phrase for this particular old genre mainstay?
posted by Bugbread at 9:04 PM on June 24, 2010

Just to help you with your terms.

The 'Amen break' is a really specific breakbeat used everywhere. 'Acid' is sort of squelchy noises. Google Ishkur's Guide for more info.

And yeah, you're talking about pads. A producer friend refers to them as 'spheres', since they both sound kind of 'round' and are more part of the background atmosphere than front-and-centre (though this is of course not without its exceptions).
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:39 PM on June 24, 2010

That is a pad, but I've never heard any specific name for that way of using them. Also, a breakdown doesn't always have a pad, and acid has nothing to do with modulation wheels. 303s don't have them.
posted by AlsoMike at 10:38 PM on June 24, 2010

True about the breakdown, that was a slip on my part. As for the acid sound, I always thought it was the mod wheel (that's how I've always made that sound in Reason, but I've never used a 303, so I didn't know they didn't have them). What is fiddled with to get that sound on a 303?
posted by Bugbread at 11:05 PM on June 24, 2010

resonance, largely. when I've played with the 303 in rebirth and other 303 clones anyway.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:10 PM on June 24, 2010

What is fiddled with to get that sound on a 303?

There are three components to a good 303-style (bigger) bassline:

1. You need a somewhat random pattern of sixteen sixteenth notes. One or two notes should tie to the following notes, and there should be at least one large jump in pitch. This pattern is repeated for the duration of the acid phrase.

2. Set the filter resonance value to somewhere between 50% and 75% of its range. Too high and you will just get a squeal. Too low and you lose the rubbery acid squeak.

3. Move the filter cutoff frequency up and down as the pattern runs. You can also adjust the resonance, but the acid sound is mostly about modulating the cutoff frequency.

One 303, many.

You can get a good acid sound out of any softsynth that offers square and triangle waves as well as a nicely resonant filter.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:02 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

In music theory, that would be called a pedal tone or a pedal point.
posted by NemesisVex at 7:50 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know exactly what you mean, but I don't think there's a proper name for it unfortunately. I wouldn't necessarily call it a pad, because I tend to think of pad sounds as the sustained background synths that generally fill up the mid-range (think those slow washes in ambient tracks), and I wouldn't necessarily call it strings anything because they're more often than not they're a melody part. "String pad" is the closest description, but that doesn't really capture the fact that it's a single high pitch sustained note.
posted by iivix at 1:53 PM on June 25, 2010

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