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Quick Tip: Synthesising Sci-Fi Vehicle SFX - Sound Modulation Control

This post is part of a series called Synthesising Sci-Fi Vehicle SFX.
Synthesising Sci-Fi Vehicle SFX - Creating Tones
Synthesising Sci-Fi Vehicle SFX - Enhancing the Character
This post is part of a series called Top Sound Design Tuts.
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Sound Design: Digital Voice

Continuing on from my last tutorial on creating synthesised tones for sci-fi vehicles with Reason, the following example will demonstrate further sound modulation control using the Combinator. In the previous tutorial, we created the fundamental tone, shape and character of our vehicle sound through sound synthesis, layering and processing. If you have not already read this tutorial, you can find it at the following link:

Part 1 - Creating Tones

Step 1: Using the Combinator

In the last tutorial we used the Combinator device to layer two synths, allowing both to be triggered via the same note track in the Arrangement section and also to process both signals together dynamically. Using the same rack setup, we"ll now use the programmer section of the Combinator along with its rotary controls to modulate various parameters on both synths.

On the Combinator interface, rename the first three rotary controllers to "Filter", "Volume" and "LFO Rate" respectively. If you have a MIDI controller, select "Remote Override Edit Mode" from the Options menu and assign your controllers by double-clicking a rotary, followed by moving a selected pot or fader on your hardware controller.

The Combinator interface

Step 2: Programming the Combinator

Show the Programmer section to allow the rotary controllers to be mapped to various parameters on the synths within the Combinator. By selecting a device in the Key Mapping section of the Programmer, you can then specify a source and target in the Modulation Routing section. In this example, we"ll select the first Malstrom synth and modulate its filter frequency (target) using the Combinators first rotary controller (source).

Repeat the process for the second Malstrom synth in the Combinator to control both synths frequency position with the same rotary controller. If you would like to retain a higher frequency position of the top layers Low Pass Filter, use a higher amount setting in the Minimum field of the modulation routing. The following audio sample demonstrates using the Filter controller to sweep the frequency position on both synths:

The Modulation Routing section

Step 3: Additional Programming

To complete the programming of the three controllers, select the first Malstrom again and assign the Combinators second rotary, labeled Volume, to the synths master level. Because this level is already set to 90, we"ll use that amount in the Maximum field of the modulation routing. Repeat the process for the second Malstrom synth.

To adjust the rate of the LFO using the Combinator, assign the third rotary controller to all the Modulators on both synths. Then set the Minimum and Maximum fields of the routings identically so that the LFO rate will be in unison for all oscillators. The following audio sample demonstrates using the Filter, Volume and LFO rate controllers on both synths:

The various modulation settings


With the Combinator programmed in this state, we can now control different aspects of both synths using the same controller. In this example of designing sound for a sci-fi vehicles engine, we"ll use the Filter and Volume controls to resemble both the perspective and distance between the listener and sound source, while the LFO Rate control will be used to resemble the speed of the vehicle.

When the rotaries are used simultaneously after recording automation passes, the sound modulation of the synths over time creates realistic sci-fi sound effects that are perfectly suitable for use in audio post production. More detail in recording and mixing these synthesised sounds for post production will be discussed later in this series on sound design.

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