Monday, November 7
FatBank ReFill Review!
If you've been reading Resonant Filter for long, you've probably realized that Tom Pritchard, aka Stompp, is one of my favorite sound designers on the Reason platform. His patches have an "organic" instrument quality to them that make them both playable and listenable. When I first started doing commercial sound design work myself, Tom was nice enough to critique many of my early patches and his insight into creating great combinator patches has been priceless to me... so needless to say when I found out about his new solo venture, Tom Pritchard Sound Design, I was psyched! With this article we're going to specifically look at Tom's latest creation - FatBank; but for starters I asked Tom about his choice to go out on his own at this time after creating so many amazing free refills, and of course his work on many classic soundbanks for Nucleus SoundLab, this is his answer:
"Contributing to Nucleus SoundLab has been fantastic, and Jeremy is an absolutely lovely man to work with - very encouraging and supportive and really passionate about what he does. The main reason I'm going solo is just to try and make this a full-time gig; I've been through five pretty miserable day jobs in the last few years and I want out. I'd have loved to have tried doing this sooner but it's only with the support of my partner over the last year that I've had the confidence to really consider it. With digital distribution commonplace it's possible to enter the sound-design market with extremely low overheads, and with more people than ever before making their own music there's plenty of space to carve out your own niche. It's not like there's cuthroat competition as a lot of these things complement each other. You'd be surprised at some of the software companies that have excellent working relationships when you'd expect them to be pretty fierce competitors."
Let's start by taking a closer look at FatBank: this refill consists of 50 combinator patches broken down into three folders - Basses, Leads and Sequences. The Basses folder holds 12 Bass combinator patches that run the gamut from thick analog sounding tones to sizzling deep Techno triads. The 8 combis in the Leads folder are terrific as well and flavored with just the right touch of effects to make them sit well in a mix. The final folder, Sequences is the largest, with a whopping 30 patches. This folder has everything from leads to basses to lush chordal progressions, that all use Thor's Step Sequencer. However, if you don't care for pre-made sequences don't fret, Button 4 is assigned to turn off the sequences, so you can use the patches from this folder in any way you see fit! Every combinator in FatBank has the four rotaries and buttons on the front combi panel assigned to the most useful parameters for that particular patch. Generally the rotaries are assigned to control the Amp envelope properties, with the occasional tone, effect or filter envelope allocation. Also in the Sequences folder some combinators have Rotary 1 assigned to the rate to enable easy customization of the sequence for the user's song. The four button controls are a little more varied, generally being assigned to turn on effects, determine legato/retrigger, add harmonization and of course enable the sequence in the latter folder.
With a name like FatBank you'd expect the Basses folder to contain many patches using Thor's Analog Oscillator (which it does), but many of my favorite Bass combis in this refill use some unexpected Oscillator choices on the low end. Like the "Sexy Bass Chord" combi with it's four unique oscillators (FM Pair Osc, Phase Mod Osc, Multi Osc and Analog Osc.) Of course sometimes you just want that classic analog sound and "Squarepants" has that in spades! This patch is made up of two Thor synths, the first of which uses two Square shaped Analog Oscillators routed thru two Low Pass Filters that sculpt out just enough of the high end to give the patch that classic synth sound. The authenticity of the sound is furthered by LFO's modulating the pitch of the second oscillator (the first by 15, the second by 22 when the mod wheel is open - for a sci-fi type sound.) The second Thor in "Squarepants" houses the other oscillator, a Saw shaped Osc which is sent thru a LPF followed by a HPF, giving the patch just a touch of sheen. One thing I noticed about many of the Bass combis was the use of a PEQ-2 Parametric EQ cutting the bass just around 125hz or so. I asked Tom about this:
"On those EQs, try inverting the gain (so instead of being -64 or whatever it is it'll be +63). You should hear some really unpleasant muddy resonance. Even when it's not emphasised it really stands out to me. I don't like that in my basses so I get rid of it - I think it's around 150hz or so. I tend to use notch filters to get rid of it, I can't remember why I didn't here - it might have been to do with EQs colouring the sound less."
Let's look at the Leads folder, partcularly "Do It!". This lead patch is made up of two Saw shaped Analog Oscillators (the second sync'd) with an additional White Noise Oscillator sent thru a Low Pass Filter (6 Ladder Slope) then routed thru Thor's shaper set to maximum drive on the Peak setting and finally thru a High Pass Filter which cuts everything below 260hz. The Shaper really softens the sound of the patch from a more nasally searing lead to a classic analog hazy sound. This patch also uses velocity to control the envelope amount on the Low Pass Filter (but not the volume of the amp) which makes the patch incredibly playable! This patch has a lovely reverb (RV-7000) that's introduced with Button 1, as well as a dark ping pong delay (RV-7000 as well) enabled with Button 2. These effects patches reminded me of the lovely effects patches included in Stompp's Ambient Textures ReFill from 2006, which made me wonder if there were any plans for a TPSD all effects refill in the future:
"It's unlikely there will ever be a release devoted solely to FX but it's quite probable that at some point I'll program a whole load of FX patches as part of a larger release - much like I did with the Ambient Textures ReFill. Especially now that we have the new FX devices in Reason 6, The Echo is awesome!"
The largest section of Fatbank is the Sequences folder. As mentioned in the lead paragraph these patches use Thor's step sequencer for some awesome sequences, but can be turned off easily with Button 4, for those interested in creating their own sequences. As a mediocre keyboard player at best I love these combinators! They're great for coming up with song ideas and it's very easy to open up the combinator and transform the sequences into your own creations. One of my favorite Sequences combinators is the "Move Ya Feet" patch. This combi utilizes the Mod Bus section to route the audio from Filter 1 and 2 to the inputs on Filter 3 bypassing Thor's Amp Envelope section. I asked Tom about this:
"If you look at Osc 2 you'll notice the semi is +7 above Osc 1. Basically, as long as Osc 1 & 2 are different (and it doesn't have to be by much, nudging one of the Tuning values a few cents out will do it) routing the two filters to Filter 3's L & R input is a quick way to get stereo - if you flip the rack you'll notice the instructions for it as the third section under 'Some Routing Examples' - 'True Stereo Synthesis'."
Another thing I noticed about the Sequence patches is that many of the combis use Key Note in the mod bus section to modulate the Amp Gain by a negative amount. I found this quiet interesting and asked Tom about this technique as well:
"It means that when you play a note in a higher octave the gain is reduced. Try setting it to 0 - play a note between C3 and C4, now play a note between C6 and C7. It just sounds really loud and harsh. I use the key note functions to help give the sound its own frequency space, if you have a sequence that spans different octaves then you don't want one end to be unbearably loud, it'll clash with other elements in the mix and sound painful. Sometimes presets dominate the entire frequency range and it's really irritating when you want sounds you can just drop into a track - sure a patch might sound great on its own, but patches that cover the entire frequency spectrum will cause havok in a mix."
FatBank has quickly become one of my new favorite refills! It's Tom's attention to detail and contemplation of how a sound will fit in a song that really sets these patches apart. And with the low price of £5 there's no reason not to pick up FatBank today! After checking out these patches I had to ask Tom what's next for TPSD:
"The first two releases were pretty small attempts to test the water, see if this would work - so far it seems to. The next release is pretty huge in size by comparison - I'm 200 patches in and it's not even half way done. It's my firm belief that the most important aspects of any patch are sound quality and playability and I'll never compromise on either. It's taken me quite some time to get this far and it'll take me considerable time to get this finished, but I'd like to see a release before the end of the year. I won't say too much about what it is just yet but I want to show people just how much potential there is in Reason's synths. Computer Music Magazine reviewed Arps Volume One this month (issue 171) and notably said "You'd never guess that the moody metallic percussion of patches like 'Bali' are the product of pure synthesis, and this sort of thing is the highlight of the pack" - I want to build on that and make wonderful, inspirational sounds."
You can pick up FatBank as well as TPSD's Arps Volume One @ tompritchardsounddesign.com. Thanks Tom!