Of software synthesizers, Logic Pro X and massive reverb

I’ve been trying to create sound that you could call music as of late. With Logic Pro X on my Mac and whole bunch of free and paid plug-in synths and effects, I decided to start experimenting a year or so ago. My first experiments resulted in what we call “ambient music” these days. To my demanding self, music equals what composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, and more recently people like Pärt, are capable of, not some long-stretched sound that gets interwoven by dark bass lines and oscillating high-pitched screams. And yet, although I don’t consider myself to be a musician, last week I actually managed to create something that even I want to listen to more than once.

Some six months ago, during an episode of profound despair due to loneliness eight months after my 90-year old mother, the last member of my family, passed away, I asked the synths subreddit if one could be making music even if one doesn’t play any instrument and can barely read notes from a music sheet. The answer was that it doesn’t matter; if you’re creating something that people like to listen to, it’s music and the maker of those sounds is a musician. So, here we are, I am a musician by the grace of Apple’s Logic Pro X and its functionality that allows me to draw notes on a track without ever touching a keyboard.

To be honest, I do have a basic playing capability and I can read notes — if you give me a week or so, I’ll probably be able to reproduce “Frère Jacob” in a quarter of the normal tempo — and until that point I had created a few “projects” that are classified as ambient but that I wouldn’t listen to for more than once. And apparently, I’m not the only one, if the statistics on SoundCloud are anything to go by. True, immediately after posting my first attempts at some grand musical piece, I got a request from a record label to sign a contract, but as with most things Internet in the 21st century, it was a hoax.

Things changed when I got the Berlin Orchestra review plugin from Orchestral Tools. Now I could experiment with the instruments that my ears are used to and actually find out how difficult it is to make a violin sound good when it plays together with other instruments. More importantly, it showed me how limited you are when playing any analogue instrument. For example, you can’t indefinitely hold a note and let it oscillate, vibrate, resonate or whatever else you want to do to it. You are bound by the laws of physics and espicially the physics of the human body.

Synths, on the other hand, only require you to turn a few knobs and hold down a key, and you can keep on doing that and end up with an endless variation in sounds. Fast forward and we’re now three months ago and I’ve started experimenting with my third attempt at creating something that I myself like to listen to. At that stage, I’ve given up on trying to use only the vast array of analogue instruments and articulations Orchestral Tools offers. Instead, I’m now mixing synth plug-ins with Orchestral Tools instruments and effects.

For the piece of music I have only now finished creating, I used the Vital synth (free version), Sturge XT, Expressivee’s Imagine and Noisy, Moog’s Model 15 and Animoog Z, and a range of reverb and delay effects. I started out with Fiedler Audio’s Spacelab Interstellar and then discovered Valhalla’s free Supermassive and Space Modulator effect plug-ins. And a whole new world opened up to me.

For starters, Supermassive allows you to create reverbs that are physically — room bound — non-existent. I mean, you can create a reverb that you imagine it would sound like if you were drifting through space, but as there’s no air in space, there’s no air waves to propel reverbs, and so you would hear absolute silence. But many of the reverb presets in Supermassive instantly recall images of the Universe at large with you helplessly drifting about.

Space Modulator in many ways has those same characteristics. It allows flanging on a huge scale — or small and precise — that is probably never going to happen to any natural sound on planet earth, but it sounds so luscious it almost makes you cry.

By trying out those two, strange things started to happen. In a nutshell, I learned that Logic Pro X at large, is in fact, one huge synthesizer if you allow it to be. Some of my track regions started to oscillate, modulate or resonate because of the Supermassive/Space Modulator effects, and I found out that, by moving some regions in relation to others, I could actually create new notes out of the blue.

And after two months of experimenting with this observation, yesterday I ended up with a piece I like. It’s ambient, although I’m never sure whether it’s perhaps better described as cinematic. Anyway, it’s slow moving, it takes 14 minutes in all and it has low frequencies that best come to life with a subwoofer.

I’ve posted a provisional version on SoundCloud, but on YouTube I published the finished work with some animations for good measure. (all of these, made with FxFactory’s Yanobox plug-ins).

If you’re interested in listening yourself, here’s the YouTube movie. Do let me know what you think of it.