My idea of creating a sample pack out of recordings from the woods
When I think about what music that I like has in common, it usually comes down to rhythm elements. Although I definitely love melody, and nice harmonies play on my emotions, I’d pick rhythm over melody if I’d have to. Let me explain.
Probably the first time I was aware of this was when I was a kid, and I heard my father taping the steering wheel with his fingers while driving. P p rr p tp tp t :) So basic, but it caught my attention - I loved it. I still have this crazy idea that if I ever own a proper studio, I’m mounting a steering wheel somewhere in a live room.
I grew up listening to rap and I was quite picky with songs. Besides some solid rhymes, I was always going for the songs with punchy big booty snares, and kicks full of bass with a nice attack that cuts through. And, hiphop heads will know this, that 90’s east coast swing - kick placements where two kicks are closely together, but the first syncopic one is just the right amount of time off the grid and it perfectly hits in front of another one.
When I discovered Larry Wright, an amazing bucket drummer who plays at subway stations around New York, on Youtube I couldn’t move from the screen.
By all of this, I got an inspiration for producing a sample pack containing organic rhythmic elements that would cover both punchy and romantic aspect of music production I like.
I grabbed a Zoom recorder and Beyerdynamic MCE 86SII shotgun mic, and went to the woods just outside Edinburgh to record percussive sounds which I would later craft into punchy and fat sounding drums and percussion samples. The idea was to use no other sounds that the ones I record in the woods. That’s why I needed to capture sounds that sound as close to drums and percussive instruments as possible. Recreating claves type of sound is quite easy - I needed to record two dowel rods which produce a clicking sound when struck. But what about those big punchy snares that could be used in producing the type of beats I’ve always loved?
When I think about the things I love in a snare sound, three things come to my mind; The mass (bottom end of a snare), colour and body of a snare, and the attack of a snare. That helped me with the idea of what kind of sounds I needed to record in order to be able to design, layer and craft it into a snare sound I like.
For bottom end of a snare I needed to record a strong hit of a thick wooden stick against a massive chunk of wood. I knew this would give me solid transients, rich in 200Hz frequency area. To me, colour of a snare means harmonic overtones in the midrange frequency spectrum that give me the impression that this actually is a snare. In terms of sound design I see it as a midrange frequency distortion that gives a snare sound some kind of a ‘colour’.
I imagine body of a snare as its length, where it rings in its tone. I have always liked snares with offset layers like for example the one in Nas - Doo rags, so I wanted to capture a few slightly offset crackles, rapid sets of short noises that I could layer around the main snare sound to thicken it up. I grabbed few tiny little sticks for that and crushed them in my hand in front of a microphone. Or I just stepped on few bigger wooden sticks and record the sound of my foot cracking them apart. I want my snares to be tuned to sound nicer and more focused, so I looked for sounds with a ‘musical’ tone. I captured some by hitting a stump with a thick wooden stick just on the right spot, where I it rang. To capture material for adding high end to the snares, I recorded some white-noise-sounding sounds like dragging leaves on the floor or messing with branches of bushes.
As for kicks, things were a bit more challenging. I needed to record a source containing lots of low end frequencies. After some thinking I thought I’d record two stumps gently striking against each other at a high input gain and close proximity - and use proximity effect for capturing low frequencies. It worked out quite well and I love the way the kicks sound. It wasn’t so difficult to craft them in postproduction either. I tuned and expose the low end, used distortion and harmonics generator based on a kick’s fundamental frequency to colour the midrange, and compressed it to bring out the attack.
I think going towards something like hi hat and cymbal sound was the most challenging thing here. Obviously, I mean the goal was to produce a metal sound, but all I had was a lot of wood. For this, I recorded sounds of breaking miniature twigs for closed hats, and gently touching bush branches full of leaves with a stick for open hats. A lot needed to be done in sound designing stage to make it sound as close to a hi hat sound as possible. In general I used distortion to bring out the highs, and emphasise the attack with Transient designer. When designing an open hat sound I began with the same principle to get to the first part of the sound and then distorted a gated reverb to extend it and make it sound like an open hat.
I will dissect the process of crafting few of the sounds described above in step by step description of how I got to the final samples in later posts. In order to share the process I also taped my iPhone to a stick (fancy as my shotgun mic stand) and filmed the process.
After I finished crafting the samples it was time to try them out in action. I invited some very talented fellow music producers to give it a go. I am super humbled to have them on board. From Miami and London to Ljubljana and Maribor - the guys showcased the sample pack in style. Kant sleep, Kinambroi, Pier, Nite - much respect, you guys killed it!
Watch the video below to see how the recording in the woods went down and listen to full demos here. Hits from the woods, baby!!