[Update – Fixed a broken link to the audio file so I could feature this as #TBT]
The swarm of the Nanobots is approaching. This micrtonal mayhem is an exploration of swarming notes and joyous distortion that was inspired by the Dewanatron Swarmatron instrument. I performed and recorded this in one real-time pass with no edits on an Elektron Octatrack.
Music and cover art by Mark Mosher
Performance and Production Notes
Inspired by the Swarmatron
This piece was inspired by the Dewanatron Swarmatron (http://www.dewanatron.com/instruments.php?page=swarmatron).
“The Swarmatron was created to produce eight tones tuned approximately to one note, each tone slightly different in pitch to produce a complex and natural choral effect.
These eight oscillators can be played with a single ribbon controller (variable resistor) to move the pitch center up or down.
The span control expands the sound of a swarm of eight notes spread just a few cents apart into a wide chord of equidistant pitches spread over the entire spectrum. The player can “taffy pull” the resulting chord by using the span control and pitch ribbon in tandem.
Swarms of sine waves evoke swarms of angels congregating. Swarms of sawtooth waves evoke the swarming of bees. The sound of a host of voices, earthly or unearthly, has a unique character recognized by the ear even when they are folded together in unison.”
There is a nice overview of how a Swarmatron works in this video “Charles Hazlewood plays Thunderbirds, Jarvis Cocker and Barry Gray’s Ondes Martenot” at 8m25s https://youtu.be/BULglfa6EP0?t=8m25s. This video inspired me to explore the Swarmatron deeper and attempt to emulate it with the Octatrack.
The Swarmatron was also used by Trent Rezonor and Atticus Ross on the soundtrack to The Social Network which you can see in this video Trent Reznor – Swarmatron (The Social Network bonus DVD).
Emulating Amazing Instruments
The Barry Gray tribute video got me to thinking about using the Swarmatron and inspired me to try and reproduce it in some way using the instruments I already own. I decided to use the Octatrack becuase like the Swarmatron it has 8 oscillators you can switch on and off. It has a crossfader that could act as a sort of ribbon controller.
Process: Emulating The Swarmatron with an Octatrack
For my fellow electronic music artists here are the details on how I pulled this off with the Octatrack.
- I sampled sawtooth wave from the Nord into track 1 of the Octatrack using a Flex machine.
- I used the on-board audio editor to normalize the audio; set start, end an loop points to zero crossings; and then cropped the sample.
- I used the file menu to save the sample and assign it to the track naming it “Nord01”.
- I duplicated this idea on to tracks 2-7 in pointed Flex machines for those tracks to the same source sample.
- I went through each track and panned and slight detuned each one.
- I configured each track to have slightly different effects. So some had chorus delay. Others had filter and phaser etc… all in the box.
- Track 8 is a master track with filter and reverb in Part 1 and in Part 2, comb filter and reverb – so my Swarmatron is 7 voice :^)
- I made some scene B variations so the crossfader would either detune or change the playback speed emulating the swarm.
- Like a real Swarmatron, I use the track mutes to bring oscillators in and out.
- I performed using mostly chromatic trig mode and manually modulated parameters with the crossfader and manually manipulated parameters. I used a little sequencing of some notes with “slide trigs” to emulate playing notes on a ribbon (in addition to manipulating pitch and swarm with crossfader).
All the distortions are intentional (as in I’m not over-driving the inputs). I’m super happy with the non-linearities in this and I think this shows once again that digital can be unstable and organic when you use feedback in effects circuit models in the proper way.