Subharmonic bass- and kick synth layering techniques

MartinH.

Senior Member
I'm still trying to reverse engineer sounds from Mick Gordons Doom sountracks and I noticed some very punchy transients in the low frequencies that I thought must be impossible to bring out with just EQ and transient shapers etc.. I thought there must be something else going on, but I didn't know what to search for. "Tight bass" or "punchy bass" brings up all kinds of EDM tutorials but not what I was looking for. Then I remembered that "Enforcer" by Boom sounded similar and I watched the trailer again:


Very helpfully they described in a comment that it is a subharmonic kick drum synthesizer that detects transients and layers kick drums under it. And that makes total sense to me. I think I could do something like that with the tools that I have and get pretty close to the result that I want. I'll definitely experiment with this.

I have 2 questions left though:

a) If lets say I want to use those layered kicks to make a metal guitar riff have more punch, do I vary the pitch of the layered kicks with every note in sync with the riff (I could imagine that to sound rather goofy), or do I keep it at the frequency of the lowest open string, or do I pick a frequency that promises to deliver reliable bass punch on most playback systems? Afaik 50hz is the popular frequency for Kick drums, and I could imagine whether or not it makes sense to tune it to the lowest note/key of the riff depends on how far off that fequency is from 50hz.

b) Are there any other names of related techniques that I should be reading up on for this kind of stuff? I feel like I don't even know what to search for half the time.
 

jcrosby

Senior Member
I don't know about guitar. That's not a technique I've ever stumbled across in years of doing this. 50 Hz is also awfully deep in terms of guitars. That's where the bass and/or kick need to sit. You really can't have 3 main elements trying to occupy the sub, you'll just wind up with a congested and muddy low end. Once you get below 100 Hz you really want to think of things as a series of sine waves with limited room fighting for space...

As far as percussion you can do the same thing enforcer does a number of ways... Layering kicks underneath percussion, electronic kicks tend to do well, (A lot of trailer composers do this). You can use something like XLN's Addictive trigger or a similar drum replacer to trigger and add a kick or percussion layer... I tend to prefer a Kontakt patch of short punchy kicks I have, and copying MIDI, but a drum replacer on a duplicate track would do the job.

The trick is to use short kicks. Tight punchy kicks will get you a lot more mileage than long kicks, as the tails of the percussion and a long kick are bound to have a non-harmonic relationship, creating unpleasant frequency clashes... The kicks also tend to be centered higher, 70-100 Hz... This lets the deeper percussion and sub bass rule the stuff down around 40-50.

You can also add a small imperceptible delay to the percussion (5-10 ms) so the kick hits first. It's subtle, but the transients of the short kick will cut through a little better... (Depending on the track, there've been times where I've delayed everything but the percussion by just a few milliseconds so the percussion rides the mix. Totally depends on the track though of course..)
 
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jcrosby

Senior Member
FYI I realized it might not have been super clear why I mentioned percussion.... Basically the purpose of enforcer is specifically to add punchiness to sound fx, percussion and drums...

You could use it to add punch to anything, but for what you had asked about in terms of guitar, a transient shaper or dynamic EQ really are the best tools for the job.
 

Pier

Senior Member
Here's another plugin that does this:




There was another one but I can't seem to remember its name...

Personally, since I mostly use synths, I just add a sine wave or generate a sub low end pulse with any synth.
 
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MartinH.

Senior Member
Awesome replies so far, thanks so much guys! Lots of good food for thought and things to try. I'll post a more detailed response tomorrow.
 
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MartinH.

Senior Member
I don't know about guitar. That's not a technique I've ever stumbled across in years of doing this. 50 Hz is also awfully deep in terms of guitars. That's where the bass and/or kick need to sit. You really can't have 3 main elements trying to occupy the sub, you'll just wind up with a congested and muddy low end. Once you get below 100 Hz you really want to think of things as a series of sine waves with limited room fighting for space...

As far as percussion you can do the same thing enforcer does a number of ways... Layering kicks underneath percussion, electronic kicks tend to do well, (A lot of trailer composers do this). You can use something like XLN's Addictive trigger or a similar drum replacer to trigger and add a kick or percussion layer... I tend to prefer a Kontakt patch of short punchy kicks I have, and copying MIDI, but a drum replacer on a duplicate track would do the job.

The trick is to use short kicks. Tight punchy kicks will get you a lot more mileage than long kicks, as the tails of the percussion and a long kick are bound to have a non-harmonic relationship, creating unpleasant frequency clashes... The kicks also tend to be centered higher, 70-100 Hz... This lets the deeper percussion and sub bass rule the stuff down around 40-50.

You can also add a small imperceptible delay to the percussion (5-10 ms) so the kick hits first. It's subtle, but the transients of the short kick will cut through a little better... (Depending on the track, there've been times where I've delayed everything but the percussion by just a few milliseconds so the percussion rides the mix. Totally depends on the track though of course..)
Thanks again for your excellent advice, I got a lot out of that post! Thinking about bass below 100hz as "a series of sine waves with limited room fighting for space" is a great way of phrasing it and helps me better understand where the bass problems in my mixes could come from. Check out this track, where at 0:42 it seems to me like another deeper layer of synthetic bass is added.



I think this is the guitar processing where Mick blended the sound together with the chainsaw sound from the original Doom, using Zynaptiq Morph. I can't tell whether that's adding the bass or he layered another synth under it.

I'm experimenting with different ways to process very downtuned guitar riffs, like Drop E and below. I find that at these super low tunings, the guitar chugs sound more and more like a percussive instrument, which gave me the idea of trying processing or layering techniques for percussions in the first place. Also with lowered string tension the transients aren't as tight anymore.

Great idea about shifting around layered samples by a couple ms to make their transients cut through better, I never thought of that. I'm made this thread hoping to learn some general new tricks for my toolbox, these things are exactly what I was looking for.
Maybe it would also make sense to zoom in real close and make sure to phase-align the low frequencies of layered elements to the original sounds, so that there's no phase-cancellation on the sub bass?


FYI I realized it might not have been super clear why I mentioned percussion.... Basically the purpose of enforcer is specifically to add punchiness to sound fx, percussion and drums...

You could use it to add punch to anything, but for what you had asked about in terms of guitar, a transient shaper or dynamic EQ really are the best tools for the job.
I think you're right, I've probably wanted to make the guitar fill too much of the role of the bass-guitar because I'm less familiar with those and have more practice tweaking guitar tones. And I've recently made some changes to strings and pickups of my guitar that I haven't fully tried out yet.


Here's another plugin that does this:




There was another one but I can't seem to remember its name...

Personally, since I mostly use synths, I just add a sine wave or generate a sub low end pulse with any synth.
Thanks! It's great to see a couple of walkthroughs for these plugins to better understand what they do. I hadn't heard of this one before. I think there may be yet another one that hasn't been mentioned yet, by "plug and mix". I got a couple plugins by them from some focusrite bundle promo with my audio interface, but I barely use them.


Nice find, thanks! I tried it on a couple of different things and I think I'll actually use it on kick drums. On bass I had the feeling the frequency it generates is slightly off. For guitar it added some oomph, but I preferred another setup that I tested: I split the signal from one of the double tracked guitar DIs to another track, added a bass overdrive pedal plugin, a low- and highpass filter, and a transient shaper. My goal was to add some sub bass that isn't as rumbly and muddy as the distorted sub bass.
I need to check the result again tomorrow with fresh ears and over speakers at a reasonable volume but on my headphones I liked it.


I'm interested in hearing what kind of results you get!
Me too :D. I hope soon-ish I'll have something that isn't too embarrassing to share. Still getting used to the new 0.090 guitar string (I couldn't tune it higher than drop-E now, even if I wanted to :D ) and the emg 808x pickup that I just installed.




In case anyone cares, I recently stumbled over this bass VI that goes down to double drop C:



I haven't bought it yet, but during sale-season I might get tempted.
 

visiblenoise

Active Member
Thanks again for your excellent advice, I got a lot out of that post! Thinking about bass below 100hz as "a series of sine waves with limited room fighting for space" is a great way of phrasing it and helps me better understand where the bass problems in my mixes could come from. Check out this track, where at 0:42 it seems to me like another deeper layer of synthetic bass is added.



I think this is the guitar processing where Mick blended the sound together with the chainsaw sound from the original Doom, using Zynaptiq Morph. I can't tell whether that's adding the bass or he layered another synth under it.

I'm experimenting with different ways to process very downtuned guitar riffs, like Drop E and below. I find that at these super low tunings, the guitar chugs sound more and more like a percussive instrument, which gave me the idea of trying processing or layering techniques for percussions in the first place. Also with lowered string tension the transients aren't as tight anymore.

Great idea about shifting around layered samples by a couple ms to make their transients cut through better, I never thought of that. I'm made this thread hoping to learn some general new tricks for my toolbox, these things are exactly what I was looking for.
Maybe it would also make sense to zoom in real close and make sure to phase-align the low frequencies of layered elements to the original sounds, so that there's no phase-cancellation on the sub bass?




I think you're right, I've probably wanted to make the guitar fill too much of the role of the bass-guitar because I'm less familiar with those and have more practice tweaking guitar tones. And I've recently made some changes to strings and pickups of my guitar that I haven't fully tried out yet.




Thanks! It's great to see a couple of walkthroughs for these plugins to better understand what they do. I hadn't heard of this one before. I think there may be yet another one that hasn't been mentioned yet, by "plug and mix". I got a couple plugins by them from some focusrite bundle promo with my audio interface, but I barely use them.




Nice find, thanks! I tried it on a couple of different things and I think I'll actually use it on kick drums. On bass I had the feeling the frequency it generates is slightly off. For guitar it added some oomph, but I preferred another setup that I tested: I split the signal from one of the double tracked guitar DIs to another track, added a bass overdrive pedal plugin, a low- and highpass filter, and a transient shaper. My goal was to add some sub bass that isn't as rumbly and muddy as the distorted sub bass.
I need to check the result again tomorrow with fresh ears and over speakers at a reasonable volume but on my headphones I liked it.




Me too :D. I hope soon-ish I'll have something that isn't too embarrassing to share. Still getting used to the new 0.090 guitar string (I couldn't tune it higher than drop-E now, even if I wanted to :D ) and the emg 808x pickup that I just installed.




In case anyone cares, I recently stumbled over this bass VI that goes down to double drop C:



I haven't bought it yet, but during sale-season I might get tempted.
Just for interest - I'm fairly certain that this track is the poster child for the chainsaw/guitar trick:

Doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't also used on At Doom's Gate, but it doesn't really sound similar there, to me it just sounds like the bitey djenty tone. I think there's a synth that's probably doing bass duty below the guitars (based on how the pitch bends down there feel). Just my guess.

Man the guitar tone is great, the treble part almost sounds formant-like. I was gonna say maybe it was layered with some additional synth formant white noise or something, but maybe it's just the guitar tone.
 

jcrosby

Senior Member
Thanks again for your excellent advice, I got a lot out of that post! Thinking about bass below 100hz as "a series of sine waves with limited room fighting for space" is a great way of phrasing it and helps me better understand where the bass problems in my mixes could come from. Check out this track, where at 0:42 it seems to me like another deeper layer of synthetic bass is added.



I think this is the guitar processing where Mick blended the sound together with the chainsaw sound from the original Doom, using Zynaptiq Morph. I can't tell whether that's adding the bass or he layered another synth under it.

I'm experimenting with different ways to process very downtuned guitar riffs, like Drop E and below. I find that at these super low tunings, the guitar chugs sound more and more like a percussive instrument, which gave me the idea of trying processing or layering techniques for percussions in the first place. Also with lowered string tension the transients aren't as tight anymore.

Great idea about shifting around layered samples by a couple ms to make their transients cut through better, I never thought of that. I'm made this thread hoping to learn some general new tricks for my toolbox, these things are exactly what I was looking for.
Maybe it would also make sense to zoom in real close and make sure to phase-align the low frequencies of layered elements to the original sounds, so that there's no phase-cancellation on the sub bass?
You bet man! I definitely hear either a bass, possibly a synth layered in there... Could very well be that he's using something like morph to mix the sub frequencies of a bass synth or processed bass guitar. Could be any number of things since he tends to get pretty creative and experimental on the production side...

Yeah, the delay trick is something I picked up over the years. I've seen a few hip hop and EDM producers I know use it. Basically what you do is bus all your non drums to their respective buses.... You can delay each bus except the drums by a few milliseconds. Use your ears as when it comes to the lower frequency stuff you might lose a hair of low end if you don't listen for improved low end... When you bypass all the delays at once you should hear the drums sink back in the mix a bit... You should also notice the low end sounds slightly more difficult to decipher... It's a subtle technique. Some people may not even notice an audible difference... But the physics/psychoacoustics behind it are simple...

Basically what's happening is the drums hit before anything else... unlike just relying on EQ only, by not having a transient there at the same point in time you're making space in a way that you can't with any other kind of processing... There's literally no competing transient there at that exact same time...

Mid to high elements can have a really short delay, lower stuff will probably sound better with a slightly longer delay... Try and keep it under 10 ms as we simply can't perceive two elements playing this close together as separate. You're brain hears them as in time...

This is the same principle that Waves in Phase, Melda MAuto-Align, and Sound Radix Auto-Align work on... Delaying signals you tell it to, in order to find the optimum phase response... By shifting elements back in time your manipulating the phase relationship to the attacked of drums, (or anything else you want to give transient priority)

You could of course go deeper into it! One other cool thing about this trick is it naturally loosens everything up in imperceptible amounts... It works a bit like humanize in that the music ever so slightly looser behind the beat.. Depending on the track it might give you the impression that it has just a hair more groove...

Obviously this is a specific technique for specific use cases... Not ideal for orchestra, but can be really useful in music where the transient or drums have to dominate the mix like metal, drum and bass, hip hop, etc...
 
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MartinH.

Senior Member
I'm having a really hard time composing anything this year, call it writer's block if you want. This is part of the reason why I'm so focused at the moment on sounddesign- and tech stuff - it allows me to spend relaxing hours in front of my DAW while tweaking knobs and sliders during my slow descend into madness. And afterwards I can't get the riff out of my head that has been playing for an hour on repeat...

But I often find it disappointing when people get like 3 pages worth of replies to a question and then don't post any of their resulting music to listen to. So here's... something. I could keep tweaking this forever and I'm sure I'll hate it tomorrow, but my ears are tired and it's too late to keep burdening my neighbors with playing this on repeat over my speakers, so I'll just post it now.

Yeah, the delay trick is something I picked up over the years. I've seen a few hip hop and EDM producers I know use it. Basically what you do is bus all your non drums to their respective buses.... You can delay each bus except the drums by a few milliseconds. Use your ears as when it comes to the lower frequency stuff you might lose a hair of low end if you don't listen for improved low end... When you bypass all the delays at once you should hear the drums sink back in the mix a bit... You should also notice the low end sounds slightly more difficult to decipher... It's a subtle technique. Some people may not even notice an audible difference... But the physics/psychoacoustics behind it are simple...
Thanks a lot for the explanation and especially describing what effect to expect when toggling the delay on and off. I think I can actually hear the difference! I used a negative track delay of -10 ms on the layering kicks, because that's about the "wavelength" that I could measure on the guitar recordings, so I hoped the phase aligns better that way, but I didn't bounce it to wave to check yet. I find it easier to use negative delays on the kicks instead of delaying everything else.


Man the guitar tone is great, the treble part almost sounds formant-like. I was gonna say maybe it was layered with some additional synth formant white noise or something, but maybe it's just the guitar tone.
They really are great, but I haven't gotten anywhere close to any of his guitar tones yet. Your comment gave me an idea to try a new way of processing the guitar signal though. Another rabbithole to dive into.

You bet man! I definitely hear either a bass, possibly a synth layered in there... Could very well be that he's using something like morph to mix the sub frequencies of a bass synth or processed bass guitar. Could be any number of things since he tends to get pretty creative and experimental on the production side...
It can be really fun to try out new setups and see what happens. So I tried this on the guitars:
a) process as usual at first
b) send copy of that processed signal to new track and put some optional filter or tubescreamer on it
c) send that signal to two new tracks, put an exciter on one and invert the phase on the other
d) route the result of these two together with a) into another track and do the final EQ and processing there before it goes to the master

The idea is to use the phase cancellation to isolate just the signal changes that the multiband exciter creates, so that you get just the fizzy harmonics in isolation and can filter/process/boost them separate from the main signal and then merge them back together. I narrowed their stereo width a bit too.
I think this offers a lot of creative options when you consider that the signal you send to b) doesn't need to be the normal processed signal at all, you can use different amps or distortion pedals to generate the harmonics from and can add them back to the signal. I find the results still somewhat hard to predict though, I need to experiment more with this.



Overall I think I completely failed taking control of the lowend of this track, it's all too muddy still. Listening to another example from Mick Gordon for comparison made that very clear to me:




When you listen to this from 1:55 to about 2:25 you can hear plenty of very tight bass sounds. To me that sounds like more than just layered kicks or one of those regular subharmonic synthesizers. Any idea how this is made? Is this something that might be achievable with triggering very (!) tight and short kick samples from a drum trigger that is fed a lowpassed detection signal?
 

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Pier

Senior Member
When you listen to this from 1:55 to about 2:25 you can hear plenty of very tight bass sounds. To me that sounds like more than just layered kicks or one of those regular subharmonic synthesizers.
I think I can make something like this. Do you have Zebra?

Edit:

Nice track! You totally nailed the DOOM vibe.

In terms of sound it starts great but when the guitar-like sound enters at 0:30 it gets so loud that it eclipses everything else. Also, the drums in the back seem kinda mid rangey? Maybe you could try adding a low end electronic drum to reinforce that. Another option could be using a multiband compressor or dynamic EQ to tighten the low end and bring it forward.
 
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MartinH.

Senior Member
I think I can make something like this. Do you have Zebra?
Sadly not, none of the u-he Synths. I have the synths from Komplete and a couple really old ones like my favorite: the discontinued Albino 3. How would you go about making something like this in broad stroke terms?

Nice track! You totally nailed the DOOM vibe.
Thanks man, happy to hear that!

In terms of sound it starts great but when the guitar-like sound enters at 0:30 it gets so loud that it eclipses everything else. Also, the drums in the back seem kinda mid rangey? Maybe you could try adding a low end electronic drum to reinforce that. Another option could be using a multiband compressor or dynamic EQ to tighten the low end and bring it forward.
It definitely can be improved and tomorrow with fresh ears it will probably be more obvious to me how to do that. However I think many of the problems are in composition and "orchestration", so better mixing alone won't get me all the way where I'd want it to be.

Thanks a lot for listening and your feedback!


Edit: I think the FM8 preset "hard low distortion kick" might be in the right ballpark, I'll try that tomorrow.
 
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method1

Active Member
@MartinH. Assuming we're talking about the same sound (the almost staccato synth bass) You could do something like this in massive using a couple of stacked sines and some distortion. Put that through a sub enhancer and you should get fairly close, attached a massive patch I quickly put together.
 

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Pier

Senior Member
How would you go about making something like this in broad stroke terms?
There are two sounds. A bass like sound with longer notes, and some low end percussive sounds with a lot of low end.

For the bass sound I would start with a very "busy" signal. Either some sine waves with distortion, or a couple of oscillators with saw waves at different octaves. Then either use a low pass or band pass filter to only get the low end. Finally add a softer distortion to that. Maybe add a high pass filter with resonance almost fully open to enhance the low end or another sine wave as a sub oscillator.

For the percussive sound it sounds like the typical kick drum. The base is a very deep sine or triangle wave with a very short envelope modulating the pitch. You can combine layers (one for the click, one for the body, one of the very low end, etc). See how plugins like Kick 2 do it. Then add more distortion to taste.

If you have FabFilter's Pro Q 3 try playing around with the dynamic EQ on the frequencies below 80Hz. You could also try with TDR Nova which is excellent and free.

However I think many of the problems are in composition and "orchestration", so better mixing alone won't get me all the way where I'd want it to be.
It's not only about mixing, but about the sonic intention. You're looking for that tight low end, right? That's just as important IMO as finding the right chords and writing the proper arrangement to evoke... something. Ah, I don't know, I'm digressing.
 
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MartinH.

Senior Member
I'm sure I'll hate it tomorrow, but my ears are tired and it's too late to keep burdening my neighbors with playing this on repeat over my speakers, so I'll just post it now.
And sure enough the guitars sound like total crap to me today ^_^. But on the bright side I already have a much better understanding of what I did wrong than yesterday!


I've listened to three Doom OST tracks with a 165 hz and 100 hz brickwall lowpass once each and compared to how my track sounds through that filter. On Mick's tracks you can really hear the energy and rythm in those frequencies, everything is tight, organized and controlled. Elements don't fight with each other and if you know the track you can totally imagine how the rest of the frequency spectrum would sound. Perhaps most importantly, the dynamics are high, there are gaps and pauses all the time. And the difference between a low bass intensity part and high bass intensity part is big, it his you like a hammer, often accentuated by dropping the bass almost entirely before a new high-bass riff hits. I think the first thing I need to do is remove lowend from 90% of my instruments and then more strategically go about adding it back in, think more about contrast and sections and orchestrate better which elements gets to play in the bass range and which don't at any given time. The way I structured my riff was also detrimental because there aren't enough pauses to create that contrast. "If all is bassy/loud, nothing is". Right at the intro I already have too much bass, so when listening through the lowpass filter it's barely a difference when the riff hits, but it should be a very noticable shift.

I haven't tried it yet, but as another experiment to add to my todo list, I want to try out routing a track in a way that there's a gate on the lowend that is controlled via midi on a second channel (or possibly a very fast moving filter contrilled by midi?), so that I can be more deliberate on when exactly an instrument gets to put its foot down in the lowend and when it should stay outside that frequency range.



@MartinH. Assuming we're talking about the same sound (the almost staccato synth bass) You could do something like this in massive using a couple of stacked sines and some distortion. Put that through a sub enhancer and you should get fairly close, attached a massive patch I quickly put together.
Thanks a lot! That definitely sounds like it belongs in there, but I think I mean another element/aspect. It's hard to describe. What note range is your patch supposed to be triggered on? At E0 it sounds tight and round with lots of lowend, but at E -2 it is rather clicky with a bump at 1.2 khz. I can see uses for both.

I checked another track with a highpass and lowpass filter and the aspect of the sound that I meant is mostly audible in the high end. I think it could be something like a distorted/resonant kick, like the FM8 preset that I mentioned, but it's not just layered on top of kicks, it's triggered by some low frequent, slow attack synth sounds once on every "peak" of their waveform. Like if you think of a sinewave as hills and valleys, trigger a very short kickdrum sample on every hilltop and valley.

I played around a bit with the drumtrigger plugin in Reaper and holy crap, it's totally possible to trigger a kickdrum synth or sample that way! I haven't found the right sample/sound yet and I still need to figure out a better way to sidechain gate this new signal with the volume of the source signal, but I can totally see this being used to create some hellish synths and guitar riffs!



There are two sounds. A bass like sound with longer notes, and some low end percussive sounds with a lot of low end.

For the bass sound I would start with a very "busy" signal. Either some sine waves with distortion, or a couple of oscillators with saw waves at different octaves. Then either use a low pass or band pass filter to only get the low end. Finally add a softer distortion to that. Maybe add a high pass filter with resonance almost fully open to enhance the low end or another sine wave as a sub oscillator.

For the percussive sound it sounds like the typical kick drum. The base is a very deep sine or triangle wave with a very short envelope modulating the pitch. You can combine layers (one for the click, one for the body, one of the very low end, etc). See how plugins like Kick 2 do it. Then add more distortion to taste.
Thanks again! I'm attaching my latest synth experiment. It has 3 sections, A, B, and A+B.
A is a sinewave blended with about 25% sawtooth wave, run through a boss metalzone pedal emulation, limiter and tubescreamer (TSB-1).
B is a copy of the synth from A, but 100% sinewave, and it triggers the FM8 distorted kickdrum via Reaper's "Audio to Midi Drum Trigger", and I'm using -5 ms track delay to line up the transient in a way that I think sounds better.
C is just A and B combined. Not quite there yet, but I think I'm on the right track for some interesting results, especially considering it doesn't have to be a kick that's triggered :).
I wonder what happens if I cut out just tiny snippets from a recording of a chainsaw and use those...



If you have FabFilter's Pro Q 3 try playing around with the dynamic EQ on the frequencies below 80Hz. You could also try with TDR Nova which is excellent and free.
Thanks, will do! I use Nova quite often for its LP and HP filters because I like those better than those in ReaEQ, but I need to use the dynamic part of it more.
 

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method1

Active Member
@MartinH. - The patch works best in the C0-C1 range, but it was thrown together rather quickly ;)

Xfer LFO tool is useful for shaping low end via sidechain, you can get really precise and tight results with it.