Big Bend

Ugh. Middle of week three and I’m simultaneously feeling like I’m struggling to find ideas and not having enough time to do the ideas that pop into my head. Neither of those things is true, and I know that, which makes it worse. So am I just being lazy? What’s the hang-up? I don’t know.

The last several pieces I’ve done are ambient, dark ambient, melodic electronic, what have you. Part of my own mental state during Song-A-Day, inappropriate as it might be, is that I’m still trying to impress the other participants, or at least not bore them with some half-baked thing that feels more like a contractual obligation track than something I wanted to write. Amazingly, I don’t feel that way about anything I’ve posted (from the half-baked sense), but I am worried that this year has turned into a “click through Ray’s track to see if it ever gets interesting” for people.

  1. Big Bend Ray Toler 2:19

Another issue is that I end up listening to my output from the various Song-A-Days a lot. And I enjoy them, especially with some time between when I wrote it and when I later listen. So in the back of my mind, I’m also trying not to bore myself to death in the future.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I decided to shake things up a little bit today and head into Big Beat territory. I love Stylus RMX, but I’ve found that Phobos is where my really big drums seem to be, especially dance drums. Not surprising, I suppose, since the library is a collaboration between Spitfire and BT (the musician, not the telecom company). So Phobos was my first stop and I found some great beats to lay the foundation.

I don’t really remember how the rest of it went together. I was definitely in that mode where I was moving relatively quickly to get the parts laid out – Big Beat can definitely be complicated, especially sonically, but more often than not, that comes from the samples used, not from a specific composition or musical performance approach. I rarely use samples, though (too much legal hassle), so I had to craft my own fake “samples” to use.

The hook is that huge bass and it was probably the thing I did right after putting the beats down. With the groove set, now it’s time to spice everything up. Guitars, builds, drops, and on and on. I also remember that my approach was a bit more hybrid today. Typically, I get everything set in MIDI, then record the parts out and do whatever final adjustments were needed. In this case, though, I was recording some parts as I went, either to free up CPU or because I was using a simple sound that I knew I was going to massively change via effects.

I did have to do one bit of reverse engineering. In the last section building to the end, there’s an overdriven saw wave sound that I really liked. But it’s a synth patch that has some other things going on, and the interval is baked into the patch itself, so you can’t change the voicing of the chord. When I had added that, I got the idea for the center breakdownsection, but that patch just wouldn’t work. I went to Omnisphere, found a nice sawtooth pad, then created an effects chain to “cook” it to a distortion level that was pretty close to the other patch. I’m not an expert synth programmer by any stretch, so when I’m able to dial these sounds in relatively quickly, it’s very satifying!

The last bit to get added was that guitar line that shows up after the intro. It’s not quite right, but that’s the blessing and curse of Song-A-Day: the deadline approacheth.

With everything printed, I brought out the box of effects toys. There wasn’t a ton needed, just some spice and motion. I need to get some more practice on Big Beat stuff – I haven’t quite got all of the techniques down, and I suspect some of that will require me to make my own “retro samples” to really get the character of it. There’s probably also a lot more to be done with EQ – the mix is a bit cluttered, but it probably wouldn’t take much shaping to really tighten everything up.

Not my best, not my worst, but it’s a fun little jam, and it’s done.


  • Drums: Phobos
  • Big Bend Bass: Omnisphere
  • Sub Bass: Trilian
  • Additional Synths: impOSCar 2, Hive2, Omnisphere
  • Effects: iZotope Neutron 3 and Trash 2, Valhalla Room, Output Movement and Thermal, FabFilter Pro-Q 3 and Pro-C 2, Soundtoys PanMan

Image Credit: Kiran Pipe Fitting (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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