These case studies show examples of my work, and the process that went into creating them.
It has been a fun experience to look back on some of the projects I've worked on, and reflect on the success, as well as what I might do differently.
Create an instrument capable of creating a wide range of clap sounds for electronic music production.
Desired sounds included “classic drum machines” like 909, 808, and 707, as well as realistic “sampled”
sounds inspired by producers like J Dilla, The Neptunes, and more. Next, explore new sonic territories by
expanding the sound engine with a set of intuitive parameters, allowing them to reach “extremes” to
create sounds not associated with the original intent of the module. Achieve desired sound quality
while providing an interactive interface for maximum playability.
We dissected and reverse engineered the sounds referenced in the creative brief using tools already
accessible in the DAW. We found that the desired drum machine sounds were commonly generated by
running white noise through a filter and VCA. A complex envelope generator is then routed to the VCA
to create the effect of multiple people clapping slightly out of synch with each other. The filter is then
set at a fixed frequency for color. We proved this theory by using a digital modular environment (The
Grid by Bitwig) to recreate the sound.
Next, we analyzed a set of samples from a sample library focused on more realistic sounds. It was
obvious that these sounds were literally recordings of multiple people clapping into a microphone. The
character of these samples has a lot to do with the quality of the recording, whether it was generated
from scratch, or sampled from a previously recorded source, such as a vinyl record. We noticed that lots
of samples had sounds other than claps in them. As sampling is such an important technique in hip hop
and electronic music production, many samples included other instruments, room noise, vinyl
distortion, and similar characters.
After this research and reverse engineering, we used frequency analysis to determine what range of
frequencies our module would need to produce. This aided in deciding what sample rate and bit depth
to use when recording the sounds as well as which one the module would need to run at for peak CPU
efficiency and accurately reproduce the desired sounds in real time.
A sound engine that uses samples instead of noise as the basis, running through a similar signal path as
the analog drum machines.
We prototyped using the daw and rough samples to prove the concept. Once we had sounds we were
happy with, the software engineer started coding the engine and I began designing sounds for the
I rented a studio with an analog console similar to what would have been used in my reference samples,
selected a few different microphones, and collected a range of materials to be recorded. I recorded
upward of one thousand samples of claps, wood strikes, metallic clinks, glass breaks, mouth pops and
more. All samples were recorded at 96k in order to preserve as much quality as possible for future
pitching and stretching of the samples. Special attention was paid to mic technique and isolation while
recording each sample.
After the samples were recorded, I created a pool of the favorites, and edited them to fit the
requirements of the engine. Sample length, frequency range, and loudness were the main points here. I
used compression and eq when needed, sculpting the samples to fit the engine perfectly.
After beta testing and guiding the engine to what I and our team decided was acceptional quality, a
module known as Fracture was born. Fracture is an intuitive instrument with handy parameters over
the surface, amount of people in the room, and how “tight” the clap together. It creates all of the
sounds we desired and more. Drum machines, loose claps, and applause are the tip of the iceberg. With
built in effects, and access to each individual sound, it dives deeper into sound generation for sound
designers for metallic bursts, glass breaks, running water, rain and much more.
Fracture does exactly what we want it to do and more. I am extremely proud of the outcome. If I were
to do the module again with my current experience and knowledge, I wouldn’t do anything different to
the sound engine. However, I do now recognize that there is one issue with the module’s interface that
could have been solved with more intense beta testing. The Accent input responds a bit slow, making
accents a little difficult to sequence. Other than that, this module is a great instrument with a signature
sound that I hear on records all the time now. That is incredibly rewarding.
Create an instrument capable of replacing sample libraries for kick drum, explosive booms and larger than life bass drops.
Desired sounds include “classic drum machines”, as well as realistic synthesized bass sounds used in electronic music production and cinematic sound design
Crater was a mission to solve a problem for live performances and studio production. The problem was that there are lots of ways to make kick and bass sounds without enough real-time control to sculpt and change sounds quickly. The analog drum modules that existed at the time, were focused on cloning existing circuits and did not mix existing designs well. Producers and performers were forced to layer multiple sounds, one for the attack, and one for the sub. Many of these existing products did not have a long enough decay to create bass lines commonly heard in hip hop and other electronic productions, again creating the need for layers, which produces problems in mixing.
We started by analyzing sounds from our favorite drum machines, modules and sample libraries. We used frequency analyzers to isolate the “attack” part of modern kicks and quickly realized that the drum sounds in libraries were created by layering sounds like hihats, snares, rattles, and even punching sound effects. We made our own sounds, prototyping in the DAW, and layering samples from analog synths and drum machines with sounds from the examples above and then modelled our engine after those techniques.
What we came up with was a two-part instrument, consisting of an analog synthesizer and a “click” generator. The parameters for the analog section were inspired by the characteristics found in analog drum machines. A triangle wave running through a VCA with an envelope assigned to pitch to create the attack found in the famous 909. We then extended the range of both envelopes, allowing for huge decays similar to the 808 but even further, and pitch drops for huge impact points and sound design candy.
The Click Generator is a digital engine derived from samples. Our analysis of modern drum packs sent us on a mission to create a pack of our own. I created all the click samples in my home studio, recording a real kick drum and other instruments that might have made their way into the samples we used as reference. I processed those recordings as well as recordings from classic drum machines that I owned at the time, isolating the top-end frequencies, to leave room for the analog section to really shine. We added a noise generator and envelope to synthesize sympathetic vibrations that you might hear in the recording of a kick drum.
Our hardware and software engineers worked together to create an analog synthesizer with a sample playback engine. Our team developed and named each parameter to create an intuiotive user interface that gave real-time control over every aspect of the sound. I then had a revelation inspired by samplers. One thing that analog drum machine and drum modules couldn’t do was sustain. They create one shot sounds, but cannot be stretched out any further than the envelope provides. Samplers have a mode called “gate” where the sound is only active for as long as the trigger (gate) signal is present. To synthesize this, we added direct control to the VCA with a fixed envelope down to a desired sustain level, set by a knob. This opened the module up to new possibilities, allowing it to create perfect kicks, huge impacts, as well as pitched bass line sounds for sub frequency content. Since it’s launch, I have been contacted by many artists, producers, and sound designers referencing Crater as a game changer for their sound.
Crater is my favorite kick drum synthesizer on the market, and I am proud to use it in my live house and techno performances as well as in my ambient sound design work. It is an honor to be able to use an instrument that I helped design from the ground up, and that uses samples that I created in my studio.
If I were to design crater again, I would look into other sound sources than just noise for the sympathetic vibrations. Noise was cost-effective, and quick to implement. A sample engine would allow for much more realistic sounds, but it was not able to be implemented due to the budget and physical space requirements of the circuit board.