Contrast, Intensity, Ether

In my first post, “Preset Creation 101,” I elaborated on some of the guidelines that our in-house sound designers use when configuring the X-, Y-, and Z-axes. For consistency’s sake, I tend to set the axes to control similar parameters in similar ways across my presets.

As musicians and sound designers, we have very few words at our disposal to metrically describe what we mean by “contrast” or a sound’s “ambience.” In this post, I’d like to give some practical examples of how I go about configuring the axes of a given preset and the ways in which intensity, contrast, and FX can be interpreted.

Y – Intensity, Amplitude

The Y-axis is almost always configured to be the primary volume control for a preset. Accordingly, in MNDALA’s visualizer, the intensity is adjusted by moving the triangle shape up and down. The easiest way to configure the volume controls is by adjusting the RTPC gain tables to create smooth (or not!) volume curves.

*Tip: You can create curves between two points in the RTPC gain tables by using the mouse wheel.

If you have multiple dynamics of a given sample map at your disposal, you can set up the gain table to crossfade between two different dynamics. In the example below, I am crossfading between a mezzo forte and forte articulation of a hang drum. As the Y-axis increases, you start to hear the hang drum being played louder, giving the illusion of “loudness.”

I often use the Y-axis to control the intensity of a sound. Intensity, a purely psychometric attribute, can be created through the manipulation of saturation, overdrive, and distortion parameters.

Much like the MF and F dynamic example above, the table in the following example will be used as a saturation blend. To make the blend more believable, I’ve divided the RTPC gain tables into three blendable stages of intensity (in this case, saturation).

To make the blend more dynamic, I’ve made samplers 1-3 consecutively more saturated, with sampler 1 being almost clean and sampler 3 being the dirtiest. I’ve also adjusted the EQ of each sampler to include more high-end as the Y-axis increases. I’ve cut the high frequencies around 1.75-2kHz for sampler 1, 1kHz for sampler 2, and opened up the entire spectrum for sampler 3 to give the effect of a rise in intensity.

​​X – Contrast, Texture

The X-axis usually serves as a blend between two states for a given preset. In MNDALA’s visualizer, the contrast is adjusted by moving the two rectangles from left to right. Intuitively, you can set up the X-axis to blend between two sample maps, but sometimes it’s worth expanding on some familiar lower-level parameters, such as spatialization and timbre.

At MNTRA, we take great care in the recording process to offer high-fidelity stereo recordings, so let’s play with stereo in this next example!

In the table below, I’ve set up the X-axis to widen the stereo field, offering a contrast in space and width. I have three samplers set up, each using the same sample map. As the X-axis increases, sampler 1, panned to the center, gets quieter while samplers 2 and 3, panned to the far left and right, rise in amplitude.

To reduce the proximity effect and give the impression of space and distance, I’ve also applied EQ to attenuate the low-end below 500 Hz in samplers 2 and 3, creating the impression of distance and space. I’ve tuned the master pan parameter for both samplers to be 50% L and R. Lastly, I’ve left the algorithmic reverb permanently on to fuse everything together.

Another way to contrast a sound is by changing its harmonic composition. You can do this by having the X-axis blend between different intervals of the same sound. This can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be. In the following example, I’ve set up the first sampler to be the root, samplers 2 and 3 to play a major chord, and samplers 4 and 5 to play a minor chord with the X-axis providing the blend / contrast between the two.

To make the transition a little smoother, I’ve adjusted the X-axis RTPC gain tables to blend in different intervals at different points in the X-axis’ trajectory.

Z – FX, Mojo

While the Z-axis is strictly reserved for the FX section, it is still extremely expansive in its capabilities. The Z-axis is typically the last axis that I configure (but not always!). This is where you can add any FX that complements the Y- and X- axes. The Z-axis is sometimes called the “Mojo.” While it’s easy to slap a reverb onto the Z-axis, you can get creative in how you use these FX.

If you set the tremolo’s frequency rate to its maximum speed, the sound starts to enter rapid amplitude-modulation territory. This effect can sometimes be too much, but, with the proper sample maps, it can be a great aid in creating otherworldly sounds. In the example below, I’ve set the Z-axis tremolo to a maximum LFO rate of 40 Hz. As I raise the Z-axis, I transform the sound into an alien, insect-like swarming of sound! It’s important to remember when using FX that you will need to be careful about what sounds you pick to affect. If you find the effect overwhelming, you can dial in some subtle reverb to smooth things out.

Lastly, I’d like to show you some ways you can mix the two reverb types, convolution and algorithmic, to create some experimental reverbs. In this example, I’ve created a hybrid effect that starts with a small and fully dampened algorithmic reverb that eventually combines itself with a much larger “Dream” IR found in the convolution reverb. As this change is happening, a low-pass filter cuts off some of the higher frequencies to give the reverb a darker tone.

You can find all the preset examples below:

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