013 – modulating filters – three of three

Over the last two posts I gave you a run through of filters and equalizers, and their basic uses and best practices. This week I’ll finish up this series by talking about some modulation options to be explored with filters and equalizers. Modulating these processing tools is incredibly valuable in adding dynamics, depth, personality, and interest into your tracks and mixes, and in some cases can make the difference between an ok sound and an awesome sound.

Within most synths, both hardware and digital, there is a filter envelope control which can be set to positive or negative time influence on the sound. When I am creating my own synth patches, I’ll often ignore the amplitude envelope entirely after setting the fastest attack possible, and a decay/sustain to suit the rhythm of the track. The additional motion within my own synth patches is often entirely contained within the filter envelope and sometimes some lfo routed into the filter as well. By adjusting the time parameter from negative to positive on the filter envelope, we can completely change the feeling of the sound from one note trigger to the next. Of course, not all synths include the negative amount parameter, but most do. We can also do this with pre-recorded loops, and live’s built-in auto filter. The envelope there can even be triggered by a sidechain input to create a completely different filter rhythm than you would otherwise get from a standard envelope. These frequency cutoff modulations can be combined with drawn or recorded resonance modulations to add emphasis to the moving cutoff frequency.

As I briefly mentioned above, lfos can also be used to great effect with filters, changing (usually) the cutoff, resonance, or envelope parameter of a filter. Within most soft-synths this is really easy to route together, and if all else fails the lfo plugins available via max4live are incredibly powerful for this sort of modulation. I like using lfos to adjust parameters, but also going into live’s clip modulation window and changing the parameter modulation in some awkward, unlinked loop length. This way I can add a crazy amount of resonance or a weird cutoff jump maybe every eleven bars, or three and third bars; something completely unrelated to the structure of the track and the lfo rate. I usually stick with quantised and synchronised lfo rates as well, so this off-beat modulation can sound particularly powerful, as most of the modulations are locked to the grid.

To finish up the post for this week, let’s also briefly go over parallel equalizing. I’ll hit parallel processing in further depth in a future post, but this is a quick intro in relation to filtering sounds. If you are finding a filter modulation to sound a little too powerful, but it’s still an important element in a sound, you can mix in the modulation as a part of the full sound, and let unprocessed sound through as well. Some filter plugins will give you a dry/wet control, but most will not. Live gives you a quick workaround using effect racks, and I use these a lot when I am processing tracks. Simply create two chains within the rack, one wet and one dry, and adjust volumes to suit the mix you want. The filtered chain can be combined with compression, delay, reverb, or anything else which compliments the sound and the mix of the track overall. Again, I will get to parallel processing in further depth later on, but this is a quick idea as to how to incorporate the technique with filters and equalizers.

Tune back in next Monday for some more production tips, and don’t forget to check out my previous posts for more tips, tricks, and extra knowledge you can annoy your friends with.

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