Creating movement in electronic music
One of the most misunderstood concepts in electronic music is movement. By movement, I am referring to the way that each sound constantly evolves throughout a song. I was once talking with someone who is very into modular synthesizers and he was saying that he cannot stand recorded sounds such as samples because according to him, those sounds are “dead”. With modular synths a sound can be repeated for minutes and it will never be exactly the same because the hardware components constantly give the sound slight variations. A recorded sound is frozen just like a picture. Since we don’t all have the luxury to own a modular synth, let me explain how we can use software tools to make sounds feel “alive” and develop some movement in our own electronic music.
First, let us agree that movement in electronic music is about having some elements that are in “motion”. There are a variety of different ways to create that feeling:
1. Changes in volume (amplitude)
Volume change in percussion are often associated with groove and swing. Both can alter the volume of the sounds. That said, you can apply a groove template not only to percussion, but also to melodies and basslines. If that’s not enough you can also use the midi effect velocity which can not only alter the velocity of each note, but in Ableton Live it also has a randomizer which can be used to create a humanizing factor. Another way to add dynamics is to use a tremolo effect on a sound and keep it either synchronized, or not. The tremolo effect also affects the volume, and is another way of creating custom made grooves. I also personally like to create very subtle arrangement changes on the volume envelope or gain which keeps the sound always moving.
In general, using LFOs – such as what is offered in Max patches – can be used to modulate anything, and they will automatically create movement. For each LFO, I often use another LFO to modulate its speed so that you can get a true feeling of non-redundancy.
Tip: Combine the use of LFOs and manual edits and then copy sequences until the end of the song. I suggest you try stepping out of 4/4 and regular blocks structure to step out of a “template feel.”
Another great way to create movement is to have the sound always changing its tone. Using a filter in parallel mode is a very efficient way to create colours. The important part is to make sure that both the frequency and resonance are constantly in motion by using either LFOs or envelopes. By being in parallel the sound always appears to be the same but will have some added body to it because of the filter. What many people don’t know is there are different types of filters, so you can try different types of filters into different send channels and then your song will feel like its moving. While filters are great for subtle changes, you can also do the same trick with an equalizer but still in parallel. Adding an envelop on the filter so it detects incoming signal and change the the frequency is also a very nice way to keep things organic sounding.
Tip: Try comparing how a Moog filter can differ from any regular ones.
Background textures or noise is another great way to emulate analog gear. There are many ways to do that, but the one that I recommend is to get a microphone for your iPhone and then record a part of say, your next visit at the coffee shop or restaurant, or even in your house where we don’t realize that there is still a very low level of noise. Adding that recording at low volume to your song automatically adds a layer of every evolving sound. if you want, you can also convert certain noise into a groove pattern which creates a form of randomization on your sounds. Some high quality effects such as saturation used on certain sounds will add a form of texture that prevents your samples from sounding stale.
Tip: FM modulation on a filter or oscillation can create gritty textures.
4. Stereo and Panning
For this point there are different effects that play with the stereo image and – while you should be cautious – it’s good to have at least one or two sounds that have these kinds of effects. Some of these types of effects include of phaser, chorus, flanger, delay, reverb and auto-pan. They can all give the sounds movement if the modulation is unsynchronized and if the wet/dry is constantly being slightly modified.
Tip: Just be careful of what effects you use as overusing can create phasing issues.
A sound’s position in a pattern can change slightly throughout a song to create feelings of movement; a point people often overlook. This effect is easier to create if you convert all of your audio clips to midi. In midi mode you can use humanizer plugins to constantly modify the timing of each note. You can also do that manually if you are a little bit more into detail editing but in the end a humanizer can do the same while also creating some unexpected ideas that could be good. Another trick is to use a stutter effect in parallel mode to throw a few curve balls into the timing of a sound every now and then.
Tip: turn off the the grid locking in the arrangement section to intentionally be imprecise.
SEE ALSO : Dynamic Sound Layering and Design