Mar 282013
 

Kendandra here!

Let’s talk a bit about percussion.

Percussion is the lifeblood of any musical piece.  One of the ways I want to make each of these character themes unique is to make sure they have vastly different percussion sections.  For Lucas’s theme, that’s as simple as making it a waltz.  The ¾ time signature gives it a much different feel than the rest of the themes regardless of what instruments I use.  For Richard’s theme I’m using a snare-heavy marching beat.  This fits his military nature and, again, keeps his theme unique in feel.  I’m a bit antsy to do Bob’s theme; it doesn’t use drums at all and instead relies of the percussive nature of a rhythm guitar, which I think will be quite a challenge and a reward.  As is the purpose of these blogs, I will explain why I’ve chosen each style for each character in turn.

 

But today we’re going to talk specifically about Erika’s theme.

 

Erika Stark is the engineer of the group.  A position that could arguably be called the most steampunk of the whole quad.  When she’s at her best, she’s right in the thick of all that hissing, clanking, and metal squealing.  So it should only be fitting that the underlying percussive track of her theme should be the sounds of a steam-powered machine whirling and sputtering away.  I know Yami will hate me mentioning this (and that’s half the reason I am [remember, Sarcastic Jackass]) but it’s very much the same idea as the Flimflam Brothers’ cider machine huffing and puffing in the background of their song.  (Check it out if you are curious.  WARNING:  CONTAINS PONY.)

I now imagine either I have lost all my readers or gained an unfathomable amount by uttering that four letter word.  Let’s not dwell on it.

Anyway.  I started exploring Fruityloops’s options for percussion.  And let me tell you.  Illidan was right.  I WAS NOT PREPARED.

 

Button, button, who's got the button?

Anyone ever watch Dexter’s Lab in the 90’s? I felt a bit like DeeDee “Ohhh what does this button do?”

The sad part is, this is like just one of the many drum mixers that are built in to this thing.  And get this, there are more complex ones with even more options.  I mean, damn.  I actually used one of the simpler ones; one that’s actually just that orange section in the middle.  Still though when I was messing around with the presets a found a list of “Industrial mixes” that contained sounds of anvils clashing and clocks ticking.  And that meant one thing.  Jackpot.  What I was envisioning for Erika’s theme was not only possible but probably ready to implement without downloading additional soundfonts or configurations.  Something I’m very happy about.

So now down to hard part.  I had an idea of what I wanted the percussion section to sound like, now it was time to actually create it.

First I wanted to find the sound of steam hissing.  That’s going to be a cymbal crash of some kind, but the question is, how to make it?  Fortunately there were several presets in the Drumpad.  I listened to dozens of sounds trying to find Erika’s steam piston.  Including one called “Epic Crash 01” which sadly was not as epic as I had hoped.  I finally settled on “Trash Crash 01” out of the sample sounds.  It had a long decay on it, giving it a very piston-y feel, but sadly not quite what I wanted.  I upped the Mallet Decay and Mallet Amplitude to give it a nice hiss before I was satisfied.  This hiss plays every measure on the down beat.  Next I added a muted popping sound that when put together with the Steam Hiss gives a beat that sounds a lot like an old steam train.  Exactly what I wanted.

Now that I had an actual beat, I decided to layer some more engine-like parts on there.  To, you know, really dive the point home that I wanted a machine sound.  I ended up with something like this:

Bum-tsh! Bum-tsh!

Look at all the drums I give!  Ignore the Cello and Guitar Pluck, those are part of the proto-melody in a different sequence part.

Simplistic, but I think it works well.

Finally I messed with the panning of a few of the channels.  (You can see it on the picture if you squint hard enough).  Now steam hisses in each ear in an alternating pattern.  It was at this point I made an amazing discovery.  Scientists will write papers about it for centuries I’m sure:  my head phones were on backwards.  I think the panning changes really add an extra dimension to the beat.

You can hear the final machine beat here: ErikaEngineBeat

Now I’m certain I won’t use the same beat for the entire song… unless I get lazy.  Yeah.  I’m probably going to use the same beat for the entire song.  But still, it’s surprisingly catchy when you listen to it eight million times on loop.

That’s all for now, kiddos.  Next time I’m going to cover the melody for Richard’s theme and delve a bit into each theme’s core sound.  Right now, I need to figure out what this hissing noise is in my ear….

–Kendandra, we’re done here.