Digital Dark Age: Level Design

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted some progress on my third year major project ‘Digital Dark Age’ but I’m happy to say things are well under way. Last week I began work on the level design in Unreal which will house the interactive, playable version of the concept album.

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In terms of level design it’s quite simple as you can see, the player spawns at the end of a long section of platform suspended inside the ‘digital void’ with the title logo overhead, progressing through the levels by traversing along the platform to hear each new piece of music. There will be information points located in the ‘middle’ of each of the songs, although how the player moves will affect the mix and arrangement of each piece of music.

As you can see above I still have lots of work to do, however the level design is relatively quick compared to the scripting and event creation in FMOD, which uses a number of triggers and blueprints to create the dynamic music system for the level.


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The FMOD project in development. This screenshot shows the cue / event for the first song to be heard in the level ‘Digital Dark Age’. Note the logic tracks and parameters for controlling the arrangement and audio mix. 


I’ll post some more videos with sound soon, and will be developing the level itself to include the 5 points of interest for each song on the album. Stay tuned!


Tea Break Discovery

Yesterday’s afternoon tea break resulted in some quite successful sound design, turns out my slate chopping board sounds fantastic.. and I spent about 20 minutes recording a variety of objects being dragged around on top of it. The cup sound was actually used in my recent portfolio project ‘Event Horizon’ as part of the audio that makes up the ship’s ‘Gravity Drive’ (the big rotating sphere thingy!).

‘Rise & Fall’ – A foray into Ableton Live

For one of my more recent modules studying at Point Blank we were asked to compose a song (or a number of songs) in Ableton and then film ourselves performing the composition live. I’ve not had much experience with the software before, although I have friends who love its workflow. One thing I found especially pleasing is the amount of flexibility the software offers, and the possibilities for creative live performance.

After I’d created a few basic clips in session view most of my time was spent mapping MIDI controls to an Alesis V25 keyboard controller, setting up TouchOSC on my iPad and adding additional sounds, loops and effects and such until I thought there was enough to perform. The video below is an edited version of my actual assignment upload, performed live and filmed from a couple of different angles.

Overall I was very pleased with this assignment, and was a little astonished at how much control I could achieve with relatively little external hardware. I managed to play a synth / pad / mallet combo throughout the piece, and bring in clips and scenes using TouchOSC. I also triggered some clips ‘freehand’ using the pads on my Alesis V25, and controlled a number of parameters in the software using its 4 controller knobs – linked to multiple controls at a time.

I’m new to Ableton but already having a lot of fun! The next step will be to create a live set, of a number of songs all in one, with the option for creative and flexible ‘remixing’ on the fly!


More Reaktor experiments have led me to building my first sample based instrument – and whilst small may be the only recreation of a Yamaha PSS-9 drum machine available for Reaktor at this time…

PSS-9 Drum Machine

The original PSS-9 features just 4 drum sounds – none of which are velocity mapped. I sampled each of the sounds through a Soundcraft Ghost LE – using a flat EQ. The Keyboard itself has some ‘noise’ present and this was also captured, adding to the (shall we say) character.. it’s only slight but there none the less.

I also added a filter for a little extra interest which self resonates quite satisfyingly at a certain point. Happily, you can also turn the unit off.
You’re probably saying that it’s a fairly useless creation, but it will be my first step into sample based synthesis in Reaktor and a fun starting point.

DATACompiler 2000 – An FM-noise-making-machine

So if you’ve ready this brief blog before you’ll know that I made a Reaktor synth called ‘Cyberdyne’ as part of my sound design module at Point Blank. Since then I’ve been working on another synth based on a similar concept although I also had an idea for a set of ‘Lab Machine’ type sound generators, the first being the DATACompiler 2000.

Technically it’s an FM synthesizer, however it has virtually no playability… so it’s not all that practical for general day-to-day music making duties. It IS however capable of producing some super fantastic FM textures and is mostly intended to help with sound design work and similar (that’s what I plan on using it for anyway!)

Here’s an early screenshot of DATACompiler 2000

DATACompiler early version

At this point it’s almost possible to tell what some of the controls do, however as you’ll see in the latest version I remedy that so you’re going to have to work out what function they have! I like keeping things interesting.

DATACompiler graphic

Here is the front ‘plate’ of DATACompiler in an early mockup. I created this in Photoshop using a screenshot of the Reaktor ensemble as a guide.

One thing I wanted to do with this synth (which wasn’t present on Cyberdyne) was to create custom buttons and faders as controls – to help keep the aesthetic consistent. Don’t get me wrong – the default controls from Reaktor are pretty nice but they’re just a little bit too clean for my liking. The latest screenshot is shown below – with custom buttons / sliders and a wealth of gizmos including dual scopes to monitor the audio output and provide some eye candy! I adjusted the main logo to use an LCD style display – although I’m not 100% happy with this yet. I am pleased however with all the sliders and two ‘programming’ knobs.

nearly complete

I’ll be posting a demo of the ensemble soon with a download link for anyone who is interested in making some FM noise!

Lets do the digital boogie… ‘Call Waiting’

As part of my ongoing quest to learn as much about sound and making sounds as possible (and as part of one of my sound design / showreel compositions) I’ve been working on a piece of what can only be described as ‘digital boogie’… I thought it might be useful to point out a few things I’ve done on this track that I think give it quite an authentic character and that I’m pleased with. Listen below!

As you can probably hear there are a fair few ‘retro’ sounds making their mark in this song. Firstly the drums are a sampled Yamaha RX21 drum machine, not as cool as its friends the RX 5 and 10 but still it suits this task well. It makes a pretty easy set up for this song in Logic’s EXS 24.

the sampled RX21 Kit
the sampled RX21 Kit

This is by all accounts a very simple set up, each sample being mapped to an individual key. The only exception is the kick drum which I layered with another to give it a little more ooooomph! One thing to mention here is that you’ll notice some of the drums are going to different outputs.. so I can manage them separately in Logic’s mixer.

Digital Boogie Bass

The bass for this song was created using the ES P which is not the most pleasant of synths to look at but certainly does the job..! No fancy modern VSTs for this song – download the ES P patch here.

The arrangement of the track is also quite simple, as I wanted to limit myself to under 10 instruments and run the entire song as a MIDI sequence, something I’m looking at more in my forthcoming multitimbral adventures…! I use a colour coding system for all my compositions, something I’d recommend if you’re working on multiple projects simultaneously.

Digital Boogie Arrange

One thing to remember when creating ‘authentic’ sounding pieces of music is that you have to think about the availability of equipment / instruments / hardware etc there was in the period of your choosing. For this song it was quite suitable to use just 2 send effects, for which I chose a nice tape delay and plate reverb (both Logic plugins) and applied them to a variety of the instruments. Most notably on the stabby chords and lead synth parts.

Speaking of which.. those stabby chords were also made in the ES P! What a fantastically useful (if not slightly ugly) synth!

Digital Boogie Stabs

Digital Boogie Stabs - Plugins

I also used a couple of ‘old timers’ on the master for this tune, just to help in terms of gluing the mix together. The Puigchild 670 is a favourite of mine, and I don’t do much else except give it a little bit of help in the threshold department. The Kramer tape is a bit of a trial and error kind of affair, but can yield some nice results.

Ok ok… so this song isn’t going to break into the charts anytime soon, and I doubt you’ll catch kids listening to this on their iPods on the back of a bus, but there’s something to be said about going back to (almost) basics. If you’d like more info on the sounds in this song or any of the techniques I used then let me know!

Cyberdyne v1.3 – Download

So the first (working) version of Cyberdyne is ready for anyone who feels like giving it a go! Please feel free to send me any feedback or suggestions or bug related issues. You’ll need access to Native Instruments Reaktor to load Cyberdyne. Check out the wonderfully cool audio demo by Gustav Eriksson (Pengus) and take a look at some of its features below.



– 2x Pulse OSC + additional additive section
– OSC 1 pulse fine tune modulation
– OSC 2 pulse width adjust
– Global amplitude env
– FM modulation + shaping
– Variable filter + filter env
– Diffuse delay
– ‘WARM’ 8x sine detune option
– 20 demo snapshots


‘Cyberdyne’ – adventures into FM synthesis…

My first post related to some recent experimentation in the world of Native Instruments Reaktor. I’ve been working on a synth as part of my university module in Sound Design and one of many instruments to come out of this was ‘Cyberdyne’ – a rather quirky FM synth with a bit of additive synthesis as a warming bonus. I’ll be posting a link to download this soon as well as some audio demos once I’ve ironed out a few programming niggles but a screenshot will do for now!

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As you can see I’ve gone for a rather ramshackle aesthetic – what started as a main OSC section with amp envelopes and filter quickly expanded with lots of literal ‘bolt on’ sections including the FM modulation and oscillators 3 – 6 (the additive section of the synth). A delay module was tucked in on the bottom right to give some of the sounds a little more character. Its capable of some interesting tones and some recognisable DX style patches. It was a lot of fun to make and certainly won’t be my last Reaktor ensemble. I would urge anyone with Reaktor to give it a go and make some noise!