Using automation to create movement
I know, I know, I just said that it’s good to avoid automation whenever possible.
But nothing’s absolute! The point there was that there are good times not to use automation. But there are also great times to use automation!
Shannon and I are working on a new 80s kids song at the moment. It’s an epic — a classic 80s synthpop ballad — and the first solid 60 seconds are just warm Jupiter-8 synth pads supporting the vocal.
But if I just played static warm Jupiter-8 pads for 60 seconds, it would be boring as shit. Gorgeous, but boring. So, what are the tools at our disposal for adding life and movement and emotional inflection points?
First of course is the programming interface of the synthesizer itself — i.e., the way the controls are set to make the sound the way it is.
You can use the filter envelope to add some motion, and that’s a great idea! In this case, I set the attack of the filter envelope to a fairly slow ramp up, and then a medium-slow decay back down to a resting sustained point of like 75% or so. So, a gentle little “woooaaaooowww” motion for each note played. (I set the “filter envelope > filter” slider at like 30%, so this motion is subtle, not exaggerated.)
What else? Ooh, there’s also an LFO! After some experimentation, I realized that routing the LFO to the filter wasn’t great for this situation — its cyclical nature felt too overt given the slow pacing of the chords. Like, I could identify what it was doing, which is not what I wanted.
But perhaps I could route it elsewhere? I ended up routing it subtly to the pulse-width modulation on OSC 1. This causes the character of the waveform to morph gently back and forth in a way that doesn’t feel overt; another small win.
But overall it still just felt a little bit static — too samey-samey over time. Enter automation!
What I ended up doing was simply automating the filter cutoff. I used my DAW’s pencil tool and I just drew in some nice lazy curves, and then refined them to move with certain chord changes and transitional moments (and indeed to create some of those moments). Like this:
And now the part is spellbinding! Automation for the win.
The right tool at the right time — jamie