spazmatron

Sound Design With Native Instruments Massive

44 posts in this topic

Sound Design with Native Instruments Massive by Spazmatron

From the original posting here: Original Thread

So i've been using Native Instruments Massive for a few months now and i'm deeply in love with it. Ok it's not the be all end all of synthesis but it is a great sounding VST that manages to cram incredible flexibility into a pretty straightforward interface.So maybe you've been using Massive. If you're anything like me, you fell deeply in love with it at first glance. A polyphonic mini-moog with extras is the best way I can describe it. The basic minimoog set up of 3osc + noise, filter + envelopes is augmented with an extra filter, polyphony, dozens of wave-shapes, fantastic mod routing and inbuilt sequencers.But - it can be pretty daunting at first since it's not entirely obvious how things are meant to work, particularly if you're still learning this whole subtractive synthesis thing. So, i thought i'd come and write a few things I've learned. Hope you get something out of it. This is a work-in-progress, feel free to comment or ask questions

Index1 - Pattern Sequencing2 - ArpeggiatorsPart 1 - Pattern Sequencing

One thing I really love about Massive is the lfo's. As straight LFO's, they're pretty good. There's four, and each consists of two waves with a crossfader and a ramp-in/ramp-out envelope. Nice. But they don't have to be straight lfo's. An LFO can also be a step- or performance sequencer. Step sequencers are generally arranged as a horizontal row of vertical faders, and as such are great for sending note values to an oscillator, but i particularly like the performance sequencer. This allows you to write a 16-step pattern of Envelopes.Massive provides a range of envelopes/curves which you paint in to the sequencer, which can then be sent to control any other part of massive, for instance a filter cutoff, pitch mod, or even an insert effect. So this is great, but how what where and why? We'll start with something really simple you can do with massive's performance sequencers. Cheap hi-hats! So fire up your host, fire up massive.Create a midi track for Massive, and on this track we want to program one sustained note for as long as we want our hihat loop to be. Start with a couple of bars, it won't really make much difference yet. Here's mine:

massive-screen2-miditrack.pngfig. 1 The midi track!Switch off

the first oscillator, which is on by default.Now, in the centre window are 8 buttons, four marked ENV and four marked LFO. click on the first LFO. The LFO should appear in the centre window. Now, at the top right of the LFO controls is a tab simply marked "LFO". click on this and a drop-down list appears. Select "Performer" from this list.

Massive-screen3-lfo-dropdown.pngfig. 2 LFO controls and type menu

You should now see a two 16-part sequences in parallel, one full of spikes and the other more rounded shapes.

massive-screen4-performer.pngfig. 3 Performance Sequencer

For now, find the crossfader to the left of the sequencers, and push it all the way up. This will set the control signal to be only the top row of envelopes. Moving the fader will blend the two rows. On the left side of the sequencers is a button marked "sync". Check this to lock the sequences to the host tempo. (you can have both sync'd and unsync'd sequences in a patch, if you desire)Now, set up a loop in your host that simply repeats the midi note we entered earlier. So if the note is one bar long, make a one bar loop. ensure the note is exactly the bar length- under will cut off early, too far can cause problems as notes overlap. The most common is cutting off unexpectedly.Start the host, and you should see a little yellow box marking the current sequence step start to move. (it's above the sequences!)So this is cool! but we don't hear anything yet - we first have to patch our sequence in to the rest of the synth. Back in Massive's centre window, next to each ENV, LFO, etc. is a little cross symbol. This is our patcher. Our performer will be marked along the top row as "PERF", in case you've lost it. In any case, it's this button:

massive-screen4-performer-patcherhighlited.pngfig. 4 Patch button

Now, in the lower left of massive is the noise oscillator. We are going to use this to make a very simple white noise hihat. The noise oscillator has two controls, colour and amplitude. underneath the amplitude knob are two boxes marked "-" and "sc". These are our modulation inputs. Set the amplitude of the noise oscillator to zero, and ensure it is activated (click the little "light" next to it. if it goes green, it's on.)Click the little cross next to "PERF" and the mouse will change to show we are making assignments. Now click again in the "sc" box underneath amp in the noise oscillator. So far, so good, no noise. The last step is to set the amount of envelope that is recieved from the performer.Click and hold down the mouse button on the "sc" box, and this time drag the mouse upwards. you should see a green bar appear around the amplitude knob. the higher the bar, the greater effect the performer envelopes will have.The noise oscillator should now look something like this:

massive-screen5-patchtoamp.pngfig. 5 Noise Oscillator

If all is working, you should hear a 16th note white-noise patter, similar to hihats! here is my example:

Ok that's pretty boring, and the decay is too regular, i know. lets go back to the performer.See the row of saw shapes in the top row of our performer? Click and drag up and down on these shapes to adjust the level of each step. this way you can create interesting patterns, not just t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t.... ;) But still not good enough. Above the pattern is a button marked 'Load Curves'. Press this now, and the panel on the left of the sequence will be replaced by a selection of envelope curves. round ones, sharp ones, square ones, even backwards ones! great. There's also a few which are a multiple of envelopes in a single step, 2, 3, 4.. useful for creating flam, rolls & stuttered effects.

massive-screen6-loadcurve.pngfig. 6 Load Curve button with curves showing.

For now select the sharpest curve (least decay) and paint it into the sequence by clicking in the first step and dragging the mouse to the right. if you don't let go of the mouse it should paint over all the existing curves with the new one.Since the new curve is much sharper, there is faster decay and our hihats sound tighter, with a more 'closed' sound. The quick decay helps to emphasise the initial attack.we can add in a more open hat sound by putting a longer curve on certain steps. try putting a more rounded shape on 3, 7, 11 and 15 for ye classic open hat pattern. Now, for the sake of interest, take one of those double or triple envelopes and put it on the 16th step. This will give us a nice little hihat stutter.

massive-screen7-withopen.pngfig. 7 different shapes

Cool! "So, are we done yet?" I hear you ask. Of course not! We're going to build on our hihat pattern and transform it a little with an interesting application of the step-sequencer. With the hihat pattern still going, put a reverb effect in the first master effects slot (massive internal). set the dry/wet to zero. Now, take an unused lfo and this time turn it into a step sequencer, using the same drop-down list from earlier. Set the sequencer to sync, and patch the output to the "sc" box under the wet/dry knob of the reverb. Now, start dragging the step-values up on a few steps. you should find that by messing around with the steps you can get some great gated-type reverb for your hats! Or go full bore for glitchy noises ;) I'm happy either way...This is the basic setup:

massive-screen8-steptoreverb.pngfig. 8 Step sequencer controlling reverb

...and here is what it all sounds like:

Not exactly sweet sweet hats, but a sound of it's own ;) With a bit of filtering you can shape the final sound of the hats - a bandpass or hi-pass filter would help cut out the mid range and give you nice 808-style hats. And it doesn't stop at hats - we could easily do a snare or handclap pattern

Or changing the noise type could result in a more unusual sound that carries the same musical weight as hihats or shakers - for this one I used the "Paper" noise wave, giving a sound not unlike somebody pulling a sheet of paper through an old typewriter:

If you want to sequence the oscillators, i recommend sending the performer output to each individual oscillators AMP sc, rather than the master amplitude sc, as this will give you more control and a better sound. to do this, turn the oscillator amp to zero, patch the performer in to the sc box, and set a range like we did earlier on the noise osc amplitude.To use the step sequencers to program notes, patch the sequencer to the sc box underneath the oscillator tuning section. you will then have to set a range - 12.00 gives one octave. (Programming notes is covered in more detail in the "Arpeggiators" section)Checking "snap to grid" on the step-sequencer will ensure the values will snap to the nearest whole-number, which makes programming in tune that much easier.More complicated tricks include extending the length of a pattern to 32 steps by using a seperate 2-step step sequencer to control the crossfade amount on a performance sequencer. Set up the step sequencer so that for every 16 steps of the performer, the step-sequencer takes one step. Make the first step max value and the second step zero. Assign the output to the crossfade input on the performer, and now you can use the two rows of envelopes as a 32 step sequencer.Or you could write two slightly different patterns, say one a closed hihat patter and the other open, and crossfade between them manually for increase-decay style effects - automate this in your song and you can build intensity just by moving the crossfader.

So now putting it all together. I wrote a few bars to demonstrate the flexibility- everything you hear except the kick drum is generated by several massive instances running internal sequencers.

Finally, if you want to look at the patches you can download a zip of them from this link Here.

Part 2 - Where's the arpeggiator!???

I had conversation a little while ago where a friend of a friend was asking about Massive, and said that he had heard people were using it to make superfat wicked arpeggiated basslines (or something like that ;) ). He'd played with Massive a few times and couldn't find the arpeggiator at all. There's a reason why - Massive doesn't have one. But that's not to say you can't make one yourself...It's true to say that Massive doesn't have an inbuilt auto-arpeggiator in the traditional sense, ie. a function to play back a held chord note by note, rather than at once. I'm sure you're all familiar with the way an arpeggiator works - you hold down some notes, and the synthesizer plays back each note in order, bottom to top, vice versa, or random. Most also have the ability to transpose up and down octaves while doing so - resulting in the classic electro bassline which is a single held note arpeggiated up and down an octave.If you want to use Massive with traditional arpeggiator features, it's pretty easy as most sequencing packages these days will allow you to insert an arpeggiator on the MIDI track. This modifies the midi data similar to an audio insert plugin, allowing you to play a chord, whereupon the midi plugin intercepts the data, arpeggiates it, and then sends it off to the VST.But there is another way that you can created arpeggiator-style sounds all within Massive, and with a great degree of control.Monophonic bass arpeggios (think "blue monday") are easily created using the "stepper" sequencer, and in fact this often turns out to be what people mean when they say arpeggiated and bassline in the same sentence. We're going to do that now, and see how flexible Massive can be for creating these kinds of sounds.Begin by creating a new Massive instrument and accompaning midi track. Open up the Massive interface, you should have a new patch clean and ready to go. If not, make one.The first thing we will do is change one of the LFO's into a Step sequencer. Do this by selecting "Stepper" in the LFO-type drop down box (see first post for help).Now for our sequence, we are going to mimic the sound of an arpeggiator by having the pitch of the played note jump an octave up and down again. Rather than programming all 16 steps in the sequencer, we are only going to need two. Set the length of the sequencer by clicking on the top right of the numbered bar above the steps. Click and drag left, and this should reduce the length of the sequence. Set it to 2 steps.Ensure that Sync to Tempo is checked, and set the division to 1 over 8. Now one step of the sequencer will equal one 8th note at the project tempo. Check "Snap to Grid" above the sequencer - this will ensure that the value of each step is snapped to the nearest whole number, perfect for entering note values. Leave the first step at 0, and set the second step to maximum, which is 12.If all has been done correctly, your sequence should look like this:

massive-arpeg-stepbasic.pngfig 1 - basic step sequence

Now we must assign the step sequencer to the pitch modulation inputs of the oscillators. Underneath each oscillators master pitch are a couple of modulation inputs. We are concerned with the first input. Click in the cross symbol next the name of the Stepper you're using, and then click in the first mod input of oscillator one. (alternatively, right click on the mod input and select the stepper from the context menu)just on the right of the input is the range control. This sets the amount of modulation and is shown as semitones + percent of a semitone (eg. 5.50 = 5 and one half semitones). Simply set the range to 12 – now we will hear the maximum value in the Stepper as one octave above the played note.Done correctly, it should look like this:

massive-mod-osc.pngfig 2. oscillator pitch mod

You can try it out now – start the host sequencer playing, and then try playing a note on Massives midi track – hold a note for a while before moving around the keyboard, playing only single notes. it should sound something like this:

Notice when you play though, that if you hold two notes at the same time, or have overlap, you will hear both notes moving simultaneously – not how a real arpeggiator behaves, and not what you want for a bassline.To solve this, open massive and select the Voicing tab in the main edit region. Once you have the voicing page up, on the left will be a series of buttons marked “polyphon†“monophon†“monorotateâ€. These are the voice options. Select “Monophon†to put massive into monophonic mode.Start playing again, and now only one note will sound at any time. If you have portamento enabled, you will hear the bassline sliding between notes as you play.An interesting feature of the monophonic mode is Unison mode. This means you can use the extra voices of Massive not for playing other notes, as normally, but all playing the same note in a stack. Unison defaults to 1, meaning only 1 voice will be sounding. Set this higher – to 4 for example, and try playing again. The sound will have become thicker, with possible phasing as voices overlap. Massive offers controls for define the variation between voices in a unison stack, allowing stereo spreads and other lovely things. Here is the voicing tab, with the settings the rest of my examples use. Be sure to play around though!

massive-voicing.pngfig 3. Voicing tab

Another thing you can do is add more oscillators to the mix – remember to assign the Step Sequencer to the pitch mod of each oscillator and then turn them on and have a play.In this example here, the bassline sounds first the single oscillator unison line, then after 4 bars a second oscillator is introduced. This second oscillator is tuned so that the octave above is a little sharp – to do this I set the pitch mod level to 12.20. This gives it a nice edgy sound.Finally, in comes a third oscillator that is pitched an octave higher than the other two, and has it's mod level set to a little under an octave – 11.99. This smearing I've done just to give a little character and variation to the sound. The oscillators are bought in and out using automation in cubase (you can automate each oscillator's volume independantly)Here's the clip:

The last thing we'll do now is extend the octave range of sequence. We're going to make it a 2 octave arpeggio, so go back to your step sequence in massive and set the length (by grabbing in the number bar and dragging) to three steps.With Snap-to-Grid checked, move the second step down until is at “6â€. Set the third step at 12. Now, for the oscillators, we want to double the mod level from the stepper. So were we have set the mod level to 12.0, double this to 24. Now step 1 will give us the played octave, step 2 an octave up, and step 3 two octaves up. Do this for all oscillators and then try playing.Here is my line from before, the two octave version this time:

As a last step to give it some character, we'll assign another sequence to control the filter cutoff. In this example I've created another step sequence of four steps, which control the cutoff. Here is a screenshot showing the assignments, and you can see the setup of the 2 octave pattern.

mass-3osc-cutseq.pngfig 4. completed patch

Click here to view full And it sounds like this ;)

So that's it for today! Don't take what I say as gospel and have a play for yourself. With these techniques you should be able to do anything from 80's flashbacks to ultimate hoove. Interesting sounds can be gotten from stacking different waveforms, from detuning oscillators as well as laying different sequencers, whether on the oscillators pitch or waveform or effects.One thing you might like to try is having different step sequences for two of the oscillators – this way you could make a pattern so one oscillator is always an octave behind another, or descending when the first is ascending.I put together a little piece using these techniques, it's made using five instances of Massive, and a 909 doing the kick and snare.

Give it a shot, have some fun... and i'll see you next time ;)

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Wow! Top stuff! It's gonna be a work of art with the screenshots. Any chance you could whip out a few audio snippets to accompany it too? Nice one! ;)

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And do I hear a hint of Joey Beltram's "

" in your final tune? Sweet! ;)

Great to hear how it all comes together. Looking forward to the next installment. ;)

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wow! thats awesome. ive started using Massive but i am struggling to get a good grasp of it.

whered u learn all that stuff haha, is there an online tutorial or something i could look at?

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thanks everybody :P

adamwah -> a combination of flicking through the manual a few times and messing around with it a lot. at heart one subtractive synth is much like an other, just learning the interface can be tricky.

i don't really know about other online tutes but i've already got a few ideas for further installments of this one :P the NI forum is also supposedly very good but i've not really checked it out. i'm on enough forums as it is :|

do you think you are having difficulties getting your head around the software interface or the synthesis?

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Wow .. how did I only just stumble onto this ??    Excellent work Spazmatron ;)    I really appreciate people taking the time to create articles like this, as im sure the rest of the guys around here do ..  Top work ! ;)

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*** MODIFIED BY CHEYNE ***

Iv included this into your original post to create 1 large article ..

Thank you for this amazing contribution spaz !

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Beautiful addition, Spazmeister! :clap:

And isn't it great the way the sequence progresses just by stacking on oscillator layers. Nice. :)

Just a note: The last clip ("And it sounds like this") isn't working.

Great work. I think a lot of people will get much out of this thread. :D

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fantastic article! 

and yes , this thread has been getting particular attention from the NI forums .. iv been monitoring traffic ..

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just a word, i'm in the process of updating this thread so if there are any requests for specific info/sounds/etc  drop them here and i'll make sure to cover them ;)

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Nice one spaz ,

This is in the top 5 most viewed and most requested threads on the entire site ...  I noticed this the other day in some reports im running.

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