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Dubstep style synth patches really rely on a few things to make them interesting - modulation and heavy effects processing. In most applications we need to build channel strips to make this happen. In Reason 6 we have the luxury of using the Combinator.
In this tutorial I’ll show you how using a Combinator full of devices in conjunction with some clever routing in Thor can give you access to a really useable Dubstep style custom synth patch.
Step 1 - Setting Up and Preparation
First before we get going here we need to think about what you’ll need to follow this tutorial. Obviously I’m assuming you have a basic music production set up in place, with adequate monitoring and computer power!
What I’m really talking about here is software. Essentially you’ll need the latest version of Reason to reproduce what I do here exactly. I am using Reason 6.02, which is the latest version as I write this.
The reason (excuse the pun) you’ll need this latest version is that I use some features of the console and rack that don’t actually appear in earlier versions. You may be able to create something similar but it won’t be exactly the same.
With Reason 6 installed we can start by opening a blank rack. If you find your default rack is not completely empty then delete everything so it looks like the picture below. I’m starting like this to ensure that there are no other processors or instruments that will interfere with the finished result.
We are now ready to start building our monster synth patch. The first step is creating a Combinator and this is done by right clicking and selecting it directly from the drop down / contextual menu.
Combinators are effectively containers for instruments and effects that make it easy to combine different devices to produce sounds and effects that are slightly more complex than your average set up. These can then be saved and loaded at any time.
We are now ready to move on to the next stage and start to create devices within the Combinator itself.
Step 2 - The Initialised Thor
The first device we’ll insert into the Combinator is our sound source. I’ll be using a Thor synthesiser here and gain, loading it into the Combinator is as easy as right clicking and selecting it from the drop down menu.
It’s likely the Thor will load up with a default patch but we can quickly change that by right clicking and selecting initialise device. This will give us a great starting point for our patch and load only a single sawtooth oscillator.
The raw synth patch plays back
It’s a always a good move to start with an initialised patch when programming any sound but especially when working on something specific like this. This way you are not influenced by any previous routings or adjustments you may of made.
Step 3 - Basic Oscillator, Voicing and Filter Tweaks
Usually the first step in programming any sound is setting up the oscillators. In this case I went for two detuned saw waves and a white noise generator to make things a little edgier. I used Thor’s oscillator mixer to get the right balance between the three.
At this point I also did some light work on the filter. I made sure it was set to low pass mode, added some drive from Thor’s impressive built in circuit and also upped the resonance amount to add some extra harmonics.
Other changes here included moving from polyphonic to monophonic mode. This was simply to emulate monophonic analog synth patches. I also added a small amount of portamento (or glide) here as well to inject a little extra flavour.
As you can hear the patch now has a bit more character and is certainly more playable. Things remain a little static though and we certainly have a lot more work to do before the sound in finished.
Character is added even with a few tweaks
Let’s take a look at what we can do with some effects processing and modulation to make things a little more interesting.
Step 4 - Adding Processors to Our Combinator
To really add some dimension and edge to this sound I felt some pretty heavy processing was needed. So, I wanted space, edginess and volume. This is how I achieved all three with relative ease.
First in the list here is the Scream 4 destruction unit. This was used to add some tube style saturation to proceedings and in doing so we also reduced the dynamic range, added new harmonics and made the whole thing generally hotter in nature.
Following the Scream 4 I used an RV7000 advanced reverb unit to add a decent dose of dimension expanding gated room ambience. This made things wider and a little brighter. As this is an insert I was careful to only mix a small amount of the effect in with the wet/dry control.
Finally I used some maximisation (or limiting) to reduce the dynamic range to the point where there was no risk of overload. I also increased the gain at the limiter’s input stage to decrease dynamic range further and induce a pretty large amount of perceived volume.
The effects processing produces a more aggressive, brighter tone
This combination of effects adds up to a pretty intense mix. The patch is suddenly brought to life and ready for its final treatment. For contemporary applications this is just too static in it’s current state. I decided that it needed some movement to bring it up to date.
Step 5 - Modulation and Automation
The first thing I did to make the patch more dynamic was to patch an LFO directly to the cut off of our low pass filter. You can see the routing I used in Thor’s mod matrix in the shot below. This sounded great but I really needed to be able to adjust the amount of LFO and it’s rate with ease.
This extra layer of control was achieved by further routing in the Mod Matrix. Both the LFO speed and amount were patched to the rotary controls on Thor’s upper panel. This just gave me immediate access to these critical parameters.
Notice that the LFO is synced to Reason’s BPM. This means that no matter where the LFO speed knob ends up the LFO is still perfectly in sync. You can tweak a control like this to your hearts content and the whole thing will stay bang on.
I then recorded some automation of these parameters along with some pitch bend (set at a full octave) and fine tuned the data that was laid down. The result was a much livelier and more engaging sequence.
The automation is added
This sort of modulation could essentially be added to any parameter in you patch. You could add a second LFO to your noise level or even the pitch of the first two LFOs. These could then in turn be automated at key points in your sequence.
If you can think of a parameter to automate it’s very likely that it’s possible using Thor in Reason. It’s an extremely flexible synth with a very impressive Mod Matrix. In fact I’d go as far as to say this is an ideal system for making this style of heavily modulated patch.
Step 6 - Adding Some Extra Effects
The final step here was to make a few extra tweaks and add some further effects processing. I actually put together a new sequence at a more appropriate BPM with some Dubstep style drums for you to heat the sound in action below.
To get to this final stag I made some subtle tweaks to key parameters, such as the filter, LFO speed and modulation amounts. I didn’t add any new settings but it’s important to be ready to fine tune your patch in this way as you progress.
I also felt that the patch could do with a bit of extra space and dimension in certain parts of the pattern. I used a second RV7000 advanced reverb to add this effect but actually used it in a send / return configuration as opposed to an insert. I did this so I could send the bass sound to it in short burst and still hear any tail that was produced, even with the send level at zero.
I then went ahead and automated the send and tweaked the results. This actually enhances parts of the sequence and makes them stand out a little. This just wouldn’t be possible using an insert.
An example of the patch in action
Try this sort of spot effects treatment using delay and even modulation effects to give specific notes and sections even more character. I find this also works very well with filtering.
As you can see although there are a few steps here, getting to this moderately complex sound was pretty easy using Thor and the Combinator. Once you have made your own patch you can save it and load it up in any of your projects in the future.
Good luck making your own Combinator based patches and hopefully this has helped you get on your way!