You are here

Creating Unusual Effects In Reason

Reason Notes & Techniques By Robin Bigwood
Published March 2010

Reason's flexible sound‑design environment opens up the possibility of unusual and exotic effects treatments.

In last month's workshop on ways of creating delay effects in Reason, we didn't have space to cover producing 'selective delay' — a perennially useful echo effect that's only audible on a few notes in a phrase. So, as promised in that workshop, I'm returning to the subject, as well as looking at more unusual treatments.

The key to creating selective delay is to patch the delay to your mixer as a send effect, and then automate the the aux send level of the device to which you want to apply the selective delays. In this example, we'll put delays on individual notes in a Thor riff (see box opposire for Record details):

1. In Reason, select the Remix mixer the Thor is patched into, then right‑click, select Create, and choose DDL1 Digital Delay Line. As long as you hadn't already got four aux‑routed effects, Reason will have patched it in appropriately and you'll see the DDL1's label on one of the aux return scribble‑strips (see screen, right).

2. Next, set up the DDL1 to give you the delay you want: use 'MS' for absolute delay times in milliseconds, and 'Steps' for tempo‑locked effects. Turn up the Thor channel's Aux send 1 knob to send audio to it and audition the effect.

3. Now you can think about recording (ie. automating) the movement of that knob, turning it up just for the notes on which you want the delay effect. But to record automation data, a device needs a track, and by default Remix mixers don't get one. If yours lacks one, select the Remix again, right‑click and choose 'Create Track for [mixer name]'.

4. Now for the creative bit. With the new mixer track selected (and its squiggly Record Enable Parameter Automation button enabled) in the sequencer, hit Record and nudge up the aux send knob on the Thor channel at the appropriate moments.Your mixer track gets a new Parameter Automation lane and clip, which you can edit later with Reason's editing tools, if you wish. It's also really easy to copy and paste that clip elsewhere in your song if needed.Here's my selective delay setup for a Thor riff. Notice the sequence track for the mixer, and its aux 1 send automation lane.

While this sort of dynamic, selective delay can have lots of uses, don't rule out doing something similar with reverb. Very subtle but effective extra emphasis can be given to certain notes (and, in Record, words) by momentarily adding or cutting reverb. You can also try the startling effect of adding occasional dabs of a reverb that has an infinitely long decay time, which you get when you turn up RV7000's Decay knob to a value of 127. The effect is to 'freeze' an otherwise short‑lived musical event, and it's a great little post‑production or remix‑style effect. Be aware, though, that while turning up the aux send to the reverb starts the freeze, you can only end it by briefly lowering the reverb's Decay time, so you need both knobs to hand. For precise control, write the automation data for the mixer aux and reverb decay directly in their track lanes, with the mouse.

Unusual Effects

The reverb 'freeze' I described above can definitely be classed as one of the more 'out there' effects in music production. If 'out there' is your bag, on the face of it Reason and Record can appear lacking, but with a bit of lateral thinking and creative routing they can pull off a range of interesting and potentially very weird‑sounding treatments. Here are some I've been trying recently.

Glitch‑style Stutters

One particular type of glitch treatment revolves around disrupting otherwise sustained, continuous tones with sudden changes in level — preferably random‑sounding ones. You can achieve something like this by utilising a mixer channel's 'Level CV In' socket, which puts its level fader under external control. The Record equivalent is to use the Level 'CV In' socket on the rear of a Mix or Audio Track device. Connect a synth's LFO to it and you have a range of options. For example, Subtractor's LFO 1 has a random (sample and hold) setting (see above), while Malström's Mods have several unusual patterns. You can also connect a Matrix sequencer's Curve CV output, of course, and design your own patterns. Bipolar mode (on the rear panel) works best.Here the level of an NN19 pad sound is being modulated by Subtractor's LFO 1, set to 'sample and hold'Route any audio source you like into Malström's shaper and filters, and hold on tight...

Harmonic Shifting

BV512 isn't just a vocoder: it also has an Equaliser mode, which disables its modulation input and turns it into a straightforward insert‑type effect. You can dial in individual cuts and boosts for each of its frequency bands, and sculpt EQ curves by clicking and dragging over the Frequency Band Level Adjust display. What's cool is that if you give BV512 a sequencer track, individual band adjustments can be recorded as automation, and the musical result is strangely different from a conventional EQ, especially when you adjust the upper bands in 32‑band or FFT (512‑band) mode. If you like the effect, you can take it into rhythmic territory by flipping the rack round and patching in CV modulation sources (such as synth LFOs) to the top few CV In sockets.

As if that weren't enough, there's a Shift control that moves the EQ band frequencies up or down en masse. You can record automation for this, of course, but you can modulate it too, courtesy of the Shift socket on the back. Patching in a simple sine‑sweep LFO generates phaser‑like movement in the effect.Intriguing effects can be created by automating BV512 band adjustments in Equaliser mode.

Malström ShapingRoute any audio source you like into Malström's shaper and filters, and hold on tight...

Malström is a dark horse, and it has some unique capabilities in the form of its Shaper/Filter combo, which can treat external audio, thanks to the rear‑panel audio inputs. For example, try taking a stereo output from a Redrum or Dr Rex and hooking it up to the two Malström inputs. It looks as though the left and right channels will pass through different filters, and that's one possibility, but the precise routing is actually down to the front‑panel controls. For example, if you want the stereo output to pass first through the Shaper, then Filter A (a very useful duo), just disable Filter B on the front panel, but enable the Shaper, Filter A and the 'doorway' from Filter B into the Shaper.The yellow buttons enable different parts of the Shaper and Filter architecture, and the signal flow between them. 'Spread' controls stereo separation of the two filter outputs..

The Shaper can add various kinds of saturation and distortion, but the Filter is where it's really at. As well as familiar band‑pass and low‑pass modes, it also has two varieties of comb filter. Try these with quite high resonance and then sweep the filter frequency: it's a similar (but more controllable) effect to using a very short delay with high feedback. The AM option is a totally different ball game: it's actually a ring modulator. Ring modulators need two inputs, so your audio becomes one of them, and a sine wave generated by the filter (and whose pitch is controlled with the 'Freq' knob) is the other. What come out are two new signals, whose frequencies are the sum of and the difference between the two inputs. The resonance knob now acts as a mix level control, balancing the input (clean) and output (effected) signals. Don't forget, too, that you've got Malström's superb Mod LFOs ready and waiting to apply modulation mayhem!

Selective Delays In Record

The underlying idea in Record is the same as in Reason, but the detail differs. Right‑click in the main Mixer section and choose Create Send FX / DDL1. Then set up and audition the DDL1, as explained in the main text. Don't forget to actually click the 'number button' for the aux send, to enable it.

Now, if you're about to record aux‑send automation for an audio track, select the track in the sequencer, and make sure the Record Enable Parameter Automation button is enabled too. Hit record, and go right ahead. The automation clip will appear in the track lane.

However, if you're recording aux send (or any other mix‑channel parameter) automation for a synth or sampler, you need to take the fairly unintuitive step of selecting its Mix device in the rack, right‑clicking and choosing 'Create track for [device name]'. Then select that new track — you've now essentially got two tracks for one instrument — and make sure the squiggly red button is selected once more, before going ahead and recording your automation.

The need to create a separate Mix device track for an instrument before you can record automation for its mixer channel is one of the clumsiest aspects of Record 1.0. It makes some mixdowns into very fiddly affairs, and we can only hope that Propellerhead find a way of rolling mixer parameter automation data directly into the device's sequencer track lanes.

Buy Related Tutorial Videos