This week I’ll be visiting the classrooms of Antony Flackett at Massachusetts College of Art & Design, and Wayne Marshall at Harvard/Brandeis. Flackett (DJ Flack) is teaching a course called Beat Reseach: Music Art and Culture in the Age of Hip-Hop, while Marshall (Wayne&Wax) is doing one called Electronic Music: History and Aesthetics of Popular Music Since the 1960s. And yes, they’re also both resident rhythm-professors at the weekly Beat Research party which I’ll be spinning some tunes at this Monday.
This week Wayne’s class will be touching on Hardcore/Breakbeat, Ragga/Jungle, Drum’n’Bass, Garage/2step, and Grime/Dubstep and the production project for the students is to “create a track in either Hardcore, Ragga/Jungle, Drum’n’Bass, Garage, Grime or Dubstep style.” If there’s one thing all these styles have in common, it’s BASS; often a kind that I like to call “wub-bass” because of it’s wub-wub-wub-wub sound.
In the early ’90s, rave-music producers began focusing on basslines as a point of timbrel innovation. By the late ’90s drum’n’bass often had bass sounds like nothing anyone had heard before. That innovation could also be found in the development of garage/2step, and is still alive and well in dubstep, electro-house, and even some commercial hip-hop and dancehall.
I thought I would take this opportunity to present the following.
Tutorial: Create A Dubstep-Style Bassline
Here’s a short track I worked up for this demonstration:
Download: Full Track
This track only consists of two parts: the beat and the bassline. I started by making the beat which you can listen to below, but for the purposes of this tutorial I’m not going to go into how I made it:
What we’re really looking at here is the bass; synthesizer-bass in particular. I used the Subtractor synthesizer in Propellerhead Reason for this tutorial because it’s relatively simple and has the same features that you’d find on almost any synth, including old analog ones.
The bassline â€” made up of 3 parts â€” is created by using 3 separate Subtractor synth modules. Here’s the first part:
Here’s how I made it:
The picture above a is simple four measure sequence of four notes that make up the bassline. For those not familiar with Reason’s sequencer, those piano keys on the left side will give you an idea of what’s going on. But the audio file above sounds like more than just four sustained notes, right? That’s due to the magic of low frequency oscillators (LFO). Let me explain.
I begin by setting a sound generating oscilator (“Osc 1”) to a square wave (Click the images below to see them full size):
I also set a second oscillator to a square wave, but on this one I set the semitone off a few cents (-22 “Cent”), and then mix the two oscillator sounds together (see the “Mix” knob). This creates a slightly out of phase, rougher sound:
Up to this point you’d be hearing four sustained notes playing in sequence. Here’s where the LFO comes in. I activate “LFO 1” by turning up the “Amount” knob. I turn on the “Sync” button which synchronizes the rate of the oscillation to the tempo of the sequence (the beat). By turning the “Rate” knob I can change how fast the oscillation goes. I then set the LFO to control “F. Freq” (filter frequency). I’ll explain that further below, but in a nutshell, this is how you achieve the wub-wub-wub-wub sound on a note that would normally be sustained.
I set the LFO to control the “Freq” slider on “Filter 1”. The filter controls what frequencies from the oscillator pass through. I have it set to “LP” (low pass) which only lets the lowest (bassiest) frequencies pass through. Depending on the “Amount” of LFO one sends to control the “Freq” one hears more or less of the frequencies that are being filtered out, creating the rhythmic, wub-wub-wub-type sound.
That was fun, but I want more BASS. This sound contains some bass but it also has a lot of higher frequency information. I want to make sure that this bassline will rattle peoples eyeballs when it’s played in the club so I added a second synth that’s playing the same notes as the first, but the sound is a straight sub-bass tone:
You probably can’t hear that unless you have serious speakers or headphones. It’s very low. This new synth uses a sine wave which is cleaner sounding than a square wave, and no LFO, making for a pure, sustained bass tone.
OK, that part’s easy. Now for the third synth; the one that sounds like this:
This synth is very similar to the first one except that I detuned the pitch of “Osc 2” a bit differently; 29 “Cent” this time:
The other difference is in the way I have the “Filter Envelope” set. On the first synth I had it set so that the longer the note is held, the more the the low pass filter opens. On this synth I have it set so that the longer the note is held, the more the filter closes. The “A D S R” you see below the sliders of the “Filter Envelope” represent Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. On this synth I have the sustain all the way down and the decay most of the way down, so that the envelope brings the filter frequency down over time.
+ this sub-bass synth:
+ this synth:
+ the beat:
= the final track:
Download: Full Track
That’s it for now. Happy bass-making.