pedalsteeldrummer: Horror drone sounds in Absynth

pedalsteeldrummer: Horror drone sounds in Absynth.

Music, synths & sound design
24 October 2010

Horror drone sounds in Absynth
Drone sounds are indelibly associated with the genre of horror movie that emerged in the 1970s. Classic scores such as Suspiria (1977) by Goblin, and John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980) make use of eerie wordless choirs and brooding analogue synth basses.

As well as these classic synth elements, contemporary horror scores make use of drone sounds that could be described as “organic”, bringing with them associations of metal, glass or liquid.

I want to demonstrate a simple technique for turning any percussive audio sample into an organic drone sound.

Percussion sounds make great source material for these sorts of drones, because they tend to contain a rich mix of noisy partials. Also, the way in which these partials decay can be used to give a drone a very organic shifting timbre.

I’m going to use the granular sample module feature of Absynth to manipulate my source material. I think that granular sampling is overlooked for one of the simpler tasks it can achieve – it is extremely useful for slowing down audio without introducing pitch-shift artefacts.

Here I have taken a sample of an orchestral bass drum and by modulating the sample start envelope with a gentle slope I can make the sample play at a slow speed. Continuously looping the sound produces a pleasingly organic sound, but the attack envelope of the sample still makes it recognisable as a bass drum.

BassDrumLoopOrig by pedalsteeldrummer

By manipulating the oscillator amp envelope, I can remove the percussive click of the attack portion of the sound.

Then, by increasing the channel gain as I move the sample start point through the source file, I can turn the percussive decay portion of the sound into a continous sustain.

Send the sound through a suitably cavernous reverb effect, and the result is a beautifully mysterious, rumbling drone sound. I particularly like how the subtle fall in pitch of the bass drum as it decays is transformed into an eerie moaning sound.

BassDrumDrone by pedalsteeldrummer

The beauty of this patch is that I can produce a whole variety of organic drone sounds by simply replacing the source sample with other percussion material. Below is a selection of alternative drone-like sounds. Enjoy!

AbsynthOrganicDrones by pedalsteeldrummer