Don’t underestimate the Subtractor.
Everyone talks about Thor and it is an awesome synth, but if you are just getting started with programming for a wind controller, it can be intimidating, so this tutorial uses the Subtractor to introduce you to some of the techniques you can use to add breath control to your sounds. But don’t underestimate the Subtractor – it’s a great analog modeling synth, and you can make some inspiring sounds with it. We’ll start from scratch with the Subtractor ‘Init’ patch.
Amp and filter envelopes
Ok, so that's not very impressive. The first thing I am going to do is give this sound a softer attack and some sustain, so it sounds more like a wind instrument. Without getting too deep into it, the Amp Envelope just means how the volume of the sound will change over time. ADSR equals Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. When you set the sliders here (or in any ADSR envelope in Reason) you are setting the amount of time for each stage, except Sustain, which is a level.
I'm also going to remove the preset Velocity to Filter Envelope control because I don't want the filter to be controlled by velocity - I eventually want it to be controlled by breath. The filter in this case controls the brightness of the sound. The filter envelope varies the brightness over time (at least in this case since we have our filter set to a lowpass. – More on filters in a later tutorial). If the control is down, this means a quick attack, for example. At the top, a slow attack. I'll soften the filter envelope, though, and leave some in so that the sound will always be a little brighter at the beginning of a note.
You can find out a lot more about envelopes in the Subtractor section of the Reason or Record manual. Here is what the sound is like, now:
That sounds a bit more like a wind instrument and less like a keyboard. Next, We'll turn our attention to the oscillators - you know, the things that actually make the sound. Since we are building a basic, analog sounding patch, we'll keep the default sawtooth waves. You can find out more than you ever wanted to know about all the waveforms in Subtractor here. Feel free to experiment and try out the different waveforms.
Subtractor has a feature called 'phase modulation' which we can use to slightly vary the timbre of each saw wave and beef up the sound. With phase modulation Subtractor generates a second waveform and subtracts or multiplies by the original to create a new waveform. We'll use 'phase subtraction' and transpose each oscillator down from octave 4 to 3. I then activate oscillator 2 and use phase subtraction on that, too. Phase for Osc 1 and 2 are set to 68 and 86. (For a more 'classic' sawtooth sound, don't use phase modulation). Finally, we'll detune each oscillator to add a slight chorus to the sound. I you like more chorus, detune them more. There are no hard and fast rules here. Now, it sounds like this:
Getting, there. Now, the fun part (finally!). We'll add breath control so that the harder we blow, the brighter and louder the sound gets. On the Subtractor this means we'll go to the external mod section, change the Ext Mod to breath, and turn the F Freq knob to the right. This will add the breath amounts to the Filter 1 Filter Frequency like this. (If we turn the knob to the right, it subtracts the breath amount from the filter 1 frequency).
Remember, since it adds to the Filter 1 Frequency, whatever you set in Filter 1 is the lowest it can be and the further you turn the F Freq knob in the Ext Mod section to the right, the more effect you will have on the filter, or the wider the range so to speak. So, to get a more dramatic breath control variation, I set the Ext Mod F Freq to 46 and Filter 1 Frequency to 26 to make this sound:
To round out the breath control, I'll set Amp in the Ext Mod section to 26. That will make the sound get louder as we blow harder. Here it is:
We’ve already taken care of the sustained portion of the sound with breath, now lets look at the attack. Remember the velocity controls? I like to use velocity to control the attack of my sound and breath for the sustained portions of the sound. How about if a harder initial breath, such as tonguing a note, gives me a sharper attack? Easy, I’ll set A. Atck in the velocity section to -20 which has the same effect as pulling down the Amp Envelope A (Attack) control with higher velocity values. To compensate, I'll move the Amp envelope attack up to 50, so a lower velocity value gives me a softer attack.
Next, we'll add some vibrato with LFO 2. Again, without getting too deep into it, LFO stands for 'Low Frequency Oscillator' and it just means we can vary the selected parameter according to some time based cycle. LFO2 is a Triangle wave cycle, which just means it will make the selected parameter go up then down over and over. How much up and down is determined by 'Amount' and how fast is determined by 'Rate'. 'Kbd' means the rate will go faster the higher the note, and 'Delay' is the amount of time from the start of the note to when the LFO starts cycling. For vibrato I selected Osc1,2, which directs the LFO to affect the pitch of the oscillators. For diaphragm vibrato, like you would use on a flute, you might make the destination 'Amp' to vary the volume. Here are the settings for the vibrato I want to use:
That's not a bad little patch. To seal the deal, we'll add some unison, delay and reverb. We’ll wrap the whole thing up in a Combinator by selecting all of our devices, shift-clicking on each one, then right clicking and choosing ‘Combine’ from the pop up menu.
The Final Patch
Here is the final Combinator patch. There is not a lot to it, but that goes to show, you don't need a whole lot to make decent sounding patch.
Here is the final patch being used in an actual tune. I think it shows that with just a little effort using the most basic of Reason modules, we can make a pretty good sound.