Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Techno Baroque – A technical rhythm digression

In order to explain the techno world a little better, let’s review some of the sample sounds available from manufacturers such as Roland and other sources (such as freesound.org) and get a sense of the sound. While there are so many different type of digital percussion instruments, the most popular one is called the Roland SPD 20 Multipad. This multipad is commonly referred as ‘synthpad’ or ‘rhythm pad’. This can create sounds of about 700 instruments and a max of 14 voices. Available at $600 (in 2009), this instrument has been driving many rock bands, Indian musicians alike for the past decade or so. Like a standard drum kit, one can use just the multi-pad or add a number of accessories such as damper pedals, foot switches, trigger pads, Cymbal pads, etc. to set up a full fledged electronic equivalent of a traditional drum kit. If you observed the ‘Andrum Indrum Endrum’ show of Raja in 2005, Sivamani, the drummer, uses not only two multipads, but a ton of accessories for the concert.

There is another popular Roland drum machine used by most film musicians called TR-808. This machine has been a mainstay rhythm generator for most film musicians given the dependability of this machine. If you look up some of the Amrita TV programs available on youtube – Hrudaya Ragangalude Raja – you will observe clearly the use of TR-808 by Raja. This is very useful for doing a number of things such as bass, snare, low to high tom, claves, low to high conga, handclaps (now you know how so many film songs have perfectly timed claps), moroccos, open, closed hi hats, cymbals make it like a mini professional drummer. With additional effects like flangers, reverbs, you can create several patterns and choose the right time signature for the song very easily. Again, the Amrita TV program illustrates these techniques though not in great detail. Puru, who works for Raja has been a drumming and drum machine expert who has been of great help for Raja.
Reviewing some the standard sounds of this instrument would give us a good introduction to the world of Techno Baroque. I will try and show some Raja examples with each of the sample sound. These are my guesswork and by no means authoritative.

In order to relate some of the sample sounds to music created by Raja and other Indian composers, you can use software to adjust its pitch or tempo of a sample sound that is close to what you hear in Raja's music. Wherever, I have changed a sample, I will also ensure that the original sample is also available for review. The point is, Raja does not use any of these samples as such, but does substantial work (on one or more samples) before using it in his music. This applies to all music composers today, though some composers blatantly use samples in their work. The sounds from the drum machines and rhythm pads are sometimes very unique, with no equivalent from the manual instrument world. For example, when you hear songs such as ‘Siru Siru Siragugalil’ from Konji Pesalam (2003), you hear the sound of a mirudhangam and a western drum in perfect sync. There is no one playing these two instruments. This is a sample sound (it’s called a patch) that is called the Indian patch on the Roland multipad SPD-20.

The best way to get a hang of these electronic rhythm instruments is to see them visually. They have all the power of drumming from all parts of the world. They allow you to do things that were very hard in the manual percussion world. See the sample of two such instruments by Roland – the SPD 20 Multipad and Handsonic 15
Here is the first video featuring the SPD20 and Handsonic 15..

And video 2..

And video 3...

And the last one...

Notice, how the same instrument is used to generate different genres of sound. You saw even the tabla being reproduced in this instrument. Some of the patches that come with the equipment is too enticing not to use! When you start wondering about strange ghatam like sounds along with synth drums, you realize that even the ghatam sound is coming out of these electronic percussion instruments.

 Time to get a little under the covers...We will use the sound samples from freesound.org to illustrate how these samples are used by composers and what they could do with the sample sounds. These are simple illustrations and I am no expert in this area. This is only to demonstrate how easy it is to manipulate sample sounds with some open source software such as Audacity.

Let’s hear the first sample set to a very fast bpm – about 120 – this is called the Electro sample. The original sample is hard to use as is. When you reduce the pitch of this sample, you get close to one of Raja’s tracks – Akki Thokki from Vinodha Yatra (2007 Malayalam). When you hear the sample, focus on the rhythm pattern and not on the synth that plays along.

Let's listen to the original electro sample....

Now, let's hear the same sample at a slower tempo... 

Let’s hear a synthesized flute sample – Raja uses it very often in his recent compositions. The flute not only is synthesized but also comes out with a hiss. Let’s hear the Flute_tweaked sample first. I have a slower version of this sample Flute_tweaked_slow. This is close to what we hear with the track Oda thandil from Pazhassi Raja (2009).

Let's next hear the same flute sample made slower....

Let's take a slightly different tack to another sample. Instead of slowing it, we will speed it up. We will take an ethnic drum sample from freesound and demonstrate how it will sound when its tempo is speeded up. My impression with such samples is that it needs to be pitch and tempo adjusted to make it compatible with Indian film music use.

Let's next look athe sample speeded up...

These are basic illustrations to give you an idea of how you can manipulate sample sounds. Most composers use several of these samples in their compositions and also use several techniques on their AWS to integrate them with their other inputs.

1 comment:

Cool Bob said...

I really lover these high quality videos, my Dad just got the hand sonic and it is really amazing.