A rhythm gate created with a modular controls long arco playing on the double bass. A tuning fork and some analog delay add some additional texture.

Transforming the sound of arco double bass by only letting quick bits of it through, reshaping it into a rhythmic pattern. This is a studio project, with a few passes of double bass as well as capturing the rhythm from a modular synth. The source sound of this piece is a long bowed open E string, a long bow harmonic up off the fingerboard on the G string, and a tuning fork.

The nature of the production, making use of gates which snap open and shut, prevents the ear from perceiving the bow strokes. The overtones naturally occurring in the arco bass, when the note is chopped like this, sounds more like an overdriven electric guitar.

Technical details

I made this as part of Disquiet Junto. The prompt was to make something with three microphones recording one source. “Ribbon” uses a Coles 4038, AEA N8, and a ribbon mic I made from a kit.

All three are placed just off the bass, but with the bass in the node of their figure 8 pickup pattern. This results in capturing the ambience of the room more than direct signal.  I was interested in this as I often record with M/S (mid/sides) and use these ribbon mics for the “sides” position. Having a big swath of double bass with the mics placed pretty close gives me a sense of how each mic performs.

But of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. Turning to the modular synth, I set up three interlocking rhythmic patterns. Two of the patterns have little variations controlling envelope shapes for additional texture. This rhythm was then used as a side chain for a noise gate in the audio workstation. Each of the three patterns was assigned to one of the three mics.

Originally I had planned something that would let people hear the differences in these three mics, but I liked the rhythm enough that I bailed on that and just went with the beat-centric approach. Though I did add a tuning fork, which features a different mic in left, right, and center channels.

The last step was to use some outboard effects. I processed the tuning fork chops with a little outboard EQ, put it through some transformers, and then delayed it with a Moog bucket brigade delay. This created an additional rhythm.

Towards the end of the piece, I threw the delay scale switch up and down to shift the delay by octaves. Giving an additional texture.

I enjoy things that have several layers of texture and don’t shy away from the signs of their construction: little digital clicks as the gates slice across the wave forms, a little ambient hum and buzz, the gentle crush of a delay working on nothing.