Wednesday, 24 March 2010

No more Alesis Micron - Patch a Day

This is going to be the last Alesis Micron - Patch a Day post and I'll tell you why...

I created this blog to learn about synthesis and learn how the Micron operates. It's a great synth which has its admirers, particularly regarding the power hidden within its funky silver and red (or blue) shell. But it is also not without its detractors who mainly complain that it is a pain to program. And, having spent the last couple of months trying to generate original patches from scratch I have to agree.

Now there are editors for the Micron, and I personally use Micron AU and find it very useful when I have my synth connected to my computer. But I work in a very limited space and so use a laptop, which I don't always have set up. Sometimes I want to be able to power up and start playing music, or designing sounds straightaway. The Micron is great for playing, there is a great library of user patches, and the mod sliders and 3 rotary knobs are probably just enough to make creative performing a pleasure. But for designing sounds, without the software editor the Micron does not do it for me.

So I intend buying a synth that is easier to program with lots of knobs and sliders to work a sound. I may keep my Micron as I still really like to play on it. Creating a patch a day on it though has proven to be a chore.

Cheerio and thanks for taking the time to read this.


Monday, 15 March 2010

Update to Patch 016

Apologies for not posting the FM guitar patch as promised, I have been trying to sort out why the FM8 xylobell patch sounds nothing like the Micron xylobell patch - they are both digital synths with fairly simple parameters and yet the outputs are not even close to being similar. Below is an mp3 file which shows what I mean:

Sound 1 - FM8 (50% FM)
Sound 2 - Micron with FM amt = 11.2% (linear FM)
Sound 3 - Micron with FM amt = 50% (linear FM)
Sound 4 - Micron with FM amt = 50% (exp FM)
Sound 2 is as high an FM amount as I dare go before the tones become harsh. Note how nice the FM8 patch sounds! Before I proceed with the rest of my FM8 patches I feel I need to resolve this issue first. I might try and compare the sounds without any envelopes at all as maybe subtle differences in the envelope has a big impact. Perhaps one of you can help with this?

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Patch 016 - XyloBell FM8

I have been getting into the theory of frequency modulation (FM) having caught a couple of really good videos online after the topic was raised on the Micron yahoo group recently (a great resource; if anyone does not know about it, they can find the group here). I got Native Instruments' FM8 synth quite some time ago and spurred on by my recent curiosity I loaded up an instance of it in Logic. Before now I have only ever been a preset surfer with FM8 but with my recently acquired knowledge I was keen to try and figure out what this beast is all about.

So far on Alesis Micron - Patch a Day I have followed "instructions" from various sources on how to achieve a particular sound rather than copy patches to the letter. Given all the differences in filter types, approximations of envelope times etc together with the sometimes major difference in synth architecture, copying patches from other synths is generally not a simple process. Given that a number of FM8's patches are simply based on envelope modulated sine waves modulating each other I was keen to investigate if it was possible to replicate some of the FM8 patches exactly on the Micron and if not I was interested to hear how different these synths would sound. The only complication was translating the tunings from FM8 (ratios) to the Micron (octaves, semitones and cents) for which I had to get my calculator out!

So this is the first patch in a series trying to replicate these FM8 patches. FM8 does have some incredibly complex algorithms so where necessary I have simplified the FM8 patches to 3 oscillator versions that can be reproduced on the Micron. Often, like in the following example FM8 uses a duo of 3 operator patches panned hard left and right which the Micron cannot replicate. In this instance I have gone for a mono patch with no panning. The only parameter that I had to use some judgement for was what FM amount to use - in FM8 the level of the modulator represents the FM amount and the difference between a 50% modulator level in FM8 and a 50% FM amount on the Micron was quite startling. I ended up using very little FM amount at all, just enough to give a nice metallic ringing noise.

XyloBell FM8

It's a nice patch. But..... not as nice as FM8 which has a very delicate sound.

Tomorrow I'll attempt to recreate an FM8 guitar.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Patch 015 - Breath

The one issue I have with the Micron not having an "initialise patch" feature (see Patch 013 for more details) is that I always forget to "store as copy" and end up writing over it! So when I fired up my Micron this evening to work on a new patch I did not have a blank canvas to start from and as my laptop is not rigged up to it full time I couldn't upload my Init patch without a fair degree of effort. No problem of course, as I have another 13 patches to use as my starting point. So I picked my "basic organ" patch at random and set about tweaking.

From the outset I wanted to create a pad sound with a bit of movement. To achieve this movement I added two items to the modulation matrix, LFO1 modulating resonance of a high pass filter and envelope 3 modulating the LFO rate. I changed osc 3 to a triangle wave and tweaked the waveshapes on all three oscillators so they had a little harmonic content for the filter to work with.With the LFO rate changing the resonsance over time and by setting long release times on the amp envelope the sounds of single notes interacted nicely and I thought the patch had a nice breathing quality, hence the name.


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Patch 014 - Sync lead

I am still at the "Oscillator" section of Jim Aikin's great Power Tools for Synthesizer Programming book and in it the osc sync function is described very well. I have never programmed an osc synch patch before and so thought I'd have a go for this blog, tweaking until I found something nice.

This patch uses two sine waves, the first of which is used only to sync oscillator two as the level of oscillator one is set to 0%. I have detuned oscillator two by a couple of octaves and the output is a rather pleasant buzzing sound not dissimilar to a saw wave. I added unison to fatten the sound a little and then added a couple of low pass filters in parallel. So far, so good.

Then I noticed a rather odd thing when I was previewing the patch. If I held a note and then struck another note twice in quick succession the sound lost its higher frequencies. The speed at which I struck the second and third notes was crucial to whether or not the higher frequencies were filtered out or not. Is this a bug in the software or a feature of VA synths when using osc sync? Perhaps one of you clever bunch can elighten me?

And here is a link to an example of the "bug" in action! (aiff format sound file)

Monday, 8 March 2010

Patch 013 - Init

As you may know there is no "initialise patch" function on the Micron which can be frustrating for the sound designer. The workaround is simple and fairly obvious - create your own initialised patch and save to the memory. To save you all the time and energy of doing this yourself I present to you a bit of a cheat for Patch a Day Patch 013, the initialised patch:

This contains a single sine oscillator and no filters. The envelope and LFO settings are set to standard values and the effects are bypassed. I used the rather nifty MicronAU software editor for this to ensure I didn't miss anything when resetting the parameters.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Patch 012 - Uniclav lead

I recenty purchased the Power Tools for Synthesizer Programming book by Jim Aikin and have been working through it when I have had the chance. I bought it thinking it would be a cookbook style guide - giving the reader "recipes" on how to program the standard synth patches but it does very little of that and I must admit it is all the better for it. Jim explains how synths operate in a very succinct manner and it is a very enjoyable read so grab it if you can.

In the book there is a short discussion on how to achieve a Clavinet sound and I've used that as the starting point to this patch. I have left things monophonic and the patch uses a single pulse oscillator. I have added some unison to thicken the sound a little, added a low pass filter and that is about all there is to it!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Patch 011 - Ghostly bell

I must confess that I find FM synthesis a bit daunting. I decided to tweak things a bit to try and got a ringing bell type sound only using sine waves and frequency modulation on the Micron and this is the sound I came up with.

The M1 slider controls the LFO rate which in turn subtly controls the FM amount and vibrato. I think this sounds kind of eerie, so it's got to be a ghostly bell!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Patch 010 - Upright bass

I was going for an upright acoustic bass sound today. I used a little bit of FM to get the tone of the sound but then 'cheated' a bit and used a filter too!  I then used fast attack and decay times together with a low sustain level for the amp envelope to get that initial pluck sound. I love being able to set a sustain time, really helps with acoustic instruments like this.

Finally, I assigned an LFO to slide M1 for vibrato, but reigned in the amount a bit so you get a subtle effect. This sounds pretty good in the bass octaves but could no doubt do with some improvement as usual! Here's the patch:

Upright bass

By the way, from now on I am using the "$" prefix on all my patch names, this just helps me distinguish my patches from ones I get from other Micron users.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Patch 009 - Release bass

Apologies to everyone for the lack of patches over the last few days but as you may have known I was finishing production on my RPM Challenge album entitled "i'm here" (I hate using capitals for my music titles for some reason!). For anyone who is interested in atmospheric electronica / folk music then check it out here.

So today's patch is a bass patch I created for one of the songs on the album  - "winter into spring". I would normally have reached for a preset but it is more satisfying that I didn't!

You can check out the song below but can I just say that I was running out of time and couldn't find a MIDI cable and so did all the synth work in single take overdubs so it is all a bit sloppy. I kind of like that though. The patch has a bit of release to it and a bit of noise to it too and the delay helped it sit with the ambient nature of the song - hope you find it useful!

Release bass

"winter into spring"

Friday, 26 February 2010

Alesis Micron - Patch Every Few Days

Sorry to those expecting new patches to be available but I am frantically trying to complete my RPM Challenge project and produce an album of 10 original songs in the month of February. Once I am done I will get back into the patch a day swing of things - I promise!

I am six songs in - you can check my progress on

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Patch 008 - FEMP

I was very happy with myself after yesterday - the PWM ensemble I programmed turned out to sound very nice indeed, albeit not as nice as the sound I was aiming for. I was aiming for a certain sound and I obtained it though - that is what it should be like! Today I have rather ambitiously tried to repeat this by tackling part 9 of Gordon Reid's Thor Demystified articles and produce a usable FM electric piano sound (you can find the original article here).

Now I could not quite this one to sit right. It sounds more like an organ with tremolo rather than a smooth electric piano sound. I have not quite got the time to persevere with this one right now so will leave for now - perhaps someone can make a suggestion as to how I can improve my patch? I will certainly return to this one once I have learnt some more!


That is it for my short series (of two!) on copying some patches from the Thor Demystified tutorials. I will be moving on to something else tomorrow!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Patch 007 - PWM Ensemble

As you may have picked up from the FAQ section to this Blog, I use the software Reason a lot. One of the great things about software like this is that there is often a plethora of online resources associated with them and not only can the beginner learn quite quickly, but you feel other people are helping you along the way. The Reason Patch a Day blog that influenced my blog is one such resource, another is the Reason developers, Propellerhead, whose website offers forums and tutorials to assist the discerning synth enthusiast.

On the Propellerhead site is an online series of tutorials for the Thor synth within Reason, penned by the great Gordon Reid (author of many a Sound on Sound article on synthesis) and I have found them to be incredibly useful. A few of the sounds from the series cannot be reproduced on the Micron (at least not easily!) given the different modes of synthesis on offer within the Thor synth. However, the third in the Thor Demystified series produced a gorgeous PWM string ensemble patch sound that I thought I would try and emulate on my Micron. You can find the original article here.

If you want to try and reproduce it yourself I would suggest following Gordon's instructions as that is what I have done. Or of course you could download the .sysex file and circumvent the hard work, although as you will discover I have not quite managed to obtain such a lush sound as Gordon created - file under must try harder!

PWM Ensemble

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Patch 006 - Steel squeak

Today's patch is an example of "let's see where this takes us" school of synth programming. The finished sound is like a cross between a steel drum and a squeaking door, hence the title.

I started off playing about with the tracks feature of the Micron, something I have yet to get my head around properly. The finished patch has a short decay time and no sustain so you can't really hear the full extent of how the tracking modulator is working and probably just as well - it doesn't sound too inspiring. However, with the short decay time it just cuts off the sound as it starts to move resulting in an almost breathing character which I thought was very pleasant. Add a delay sound and you have a really cool steely, squeaky, breathing bell like sound which I think sounds great, especially in the lower registers.

Steel squeak

I am off to try and work it into a track now.

"rather you than me"

Apologies to those of you hoping to download a new patch today but I thought I'd take the opportunity to post a song I have been working on today for the RPM Challenge called "Rather you than me". The song features two patches I uploaded earlier in the week - Blade Walker and Brassed Off. I may get round to adding more bells and whistles if I have time before the end of the month. Let me know what you all think!

Normal service should resume tomorrow!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Patch 005 - Simple organ

When I think of the hammond organ I think of swirling 60s psychadelic music. I think of the Charlatans, a band that brought the hammond B3 kicking and screaming into British indie music in the 1990s. The mystery of the rotating Leslie speaker. Oh to emulate such a sound!

Of course, that classic hammond sound is beyond me at the minute. It's better to run before you walk and all that so today I created a simple organ patch from scratch. Three sine waves, the first two slightly detuned and an octave apart and the third tuned seven semitones up. I added phaser to provide a little movement and a touch of reverb and that was about it. Even the envelope settings of my init patch were spot on.

I will attempt the hammond another time! A simple organ:

Simple organ

Patch 004 - Blade walker

Apologies for the attempt at humour in today's patch name, you'll have to get used to it I am afraid.

You may have guessed it, I am tryin to recreate that Vangelis sound, the beautiful CS-80 synth string sound from Blade Runner, one of my favourite films. I did my research first on this one and checked out some youtube videos such as the one below to get some ideas of where to start. So thanks to all the synthmeisters who posted on there.


The starting point for this patch is two detuned saw waves combined with a little vibrato. I added a bit of analog drift too, but had to cut it down to 1% or you get an unpleasant (for this patch anyway) phaser effect. The key to this patch is in the filter and amp envelopes and I tried my best to get these right, you need a slow attack but not so slow as to make it unplayable. I think Vangelis used a pedal for the filters but I had to rely on the envelopes. Plenty of reverb was added to make this sound as lush as in the film.


Blade Walker

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Patch 003 - Oscillatorless

Today I read the Micron manual on my commute into work and I read about the self oscillating 4 pole moog filter emulated on the Micron and I thought I'd see what I could make of that. So I turned off all the oscillators, turned up the resonance and played about with the filter frequency until I was left with a quite lovely organ like sound. Didn't see that coming! I tweaked the amp envelope a little and I couldn't stop playing church organ sequences, very atmospheric. Definitely sounds best if you avoid the higher registers.

One thing I found was that I needed to add 1% of noise otherwise I got no sound, there is possibly a good reason for this, if anyone knows then feel free to drop a comment!

Anyway, here is the patch, Oscillatorless:


Patch 002 - Brass monkeys

After yesterdays failed attempt at a classic synth brass, perhaps one of the most basic patches you can program for a VA synth I decided to put in a bit of reading up on my synthesis theory, courtesy of Sound on Sound's excellent Synth Secrets series which is available online. It turns out I was using square waves instead of saw waves as my starting point and therefore I am not surprised my patch fell short! Duh!

So, with my notes on emulating brass instruments in one hand, I was determined to get it right this time so here is another stab at a brass patch. I liked the width I got from panning each oscillator left and right so I am sticking with that approach here. My research has suggested that the Oberheim was the daddy when it comes to synth brass patches and therefore I used the OB2pole lowpass filter with a little filter attack and a little amp attack too. Finally, the only effect I used is a bit of reverb, I opted for the plate algorithm. I did struggle again with the envelopes, the sustain time confuses me.

Anyway, this one is called Brass monkeys and you can download it here:

Brass Monkeys

It has been suggested I upload the patches in mp3 format so you can get an idea of how it sounds without having to upload the .sysex file to your synth, I think that is a great idea although I do not have a huge amount of time at my disposal at the minute. I will put up a catch up post with a bunch of mp3s soon!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Patch 001 - Brassed off

My first creation was to be a fairly simple patch trying to emulate a classic analog synth brass sound. I started with a couple of square waves, slightly detuned against each other and fed through 2 filters in parallel and panned left and right to give a bit of width. I messed about with the filter and amp envelopes and must admit I couldn't quite get the movement I was after.

And then, as is typical with a lot of my patches, like a kid having a tantrum I just started throwing random elements into the mix. I added a third square wave, tuned an octave lower and then modulated the pulse width with an LFO. I also increased the attack time so the sound sneaked up on you and snarled in your face (especially when played in lower octaves). An LFO adds a bit of vibrato and I tried to delay this using an envelope although I'm not too sure how successful this was. Some ring modulation and FM give the sound a creepy detuned character. I sprinkled on a bit of chorus and reverb to add to the spookiness and finally I set the m1 slider to control filter cutoff and the m2 slider to control LFO rate.

So I completely failed in what I set out to produce but I am pretty happy with the end result and think it would sit quite happily in the right ambient context. Anyway, enough waffling, here is the patch, Brassed Off, for download:

Tomorrow I will have another attempt at a classic synth brass patch!

Monday, 15 February 2010


Why post a Patch a Day blog for the Alesis Micron?
I make music in a number of different ways - I play the guitar, I play a bit of keyboards and I enjoy programming sequences on the computer. I also enjoy reading about the process of making sound and so in my spare time, at work or at home, I hunt down tutorials for each of the tools that I use to make music. One day I stumbled upon a blog called Reason: Patch a Day and in it I could trace the sound design travels of the blogger Robbneu. As well as being a great read I learned quite a bit from reading this blog and it occurred to me to create my own such blog.
The software instrument rack Propellerhead Reason is ideally suited to such an endeavour - it is a closed system so all users have the same tools to hand, there are a number of different synthesis types (subtractive, graintable, FM to name but three) and the patches can be easily saved and loaded to and from the program. I wanted to do something similar firstly as a creative tool - to improve my sound design skills, but secondly because I thought it would be a fun thing to do.
The principle software instruments I use are Reason and Logic and I was tempted to maybe do a "Channel Strip a Day" type blog for Logic but to be honest I think that I would end up playing with effects and the numerous different synths to such an extent that I would be losing sight of the whole point of this exercise. And then I remembered my much loved Alesis Micron and in a eureka style moment this blog was born.
So, in the 14th February 2010 I erased the patch memory on my favourite silver and red synth and started creating patches from scratch.
How do I get these patches onto my synth?
The patches are in .sysex format and need to be sent to your Micron via MIDI assuming your computer is hooked up to your synth via a MIDI interface. I use SySex Librarian on my mac via my Novation Nio interface to do this but there are many MIDI editors / sequencers / interfaces that are up to the task.
Who are you?
I am an amateur musician living in Scotland. I make no money from the music business and do all this just for fun. Have toyed with the idea of trying to make a living doing a hobby I love but I am not prepared to sell my soul to achieve this. 
I make all sorts of music from whimsical guitar folk to electronica, and a mish mash of everything in between. I will be of course venturing towards the elctronica side of my passion when creating patches, although look out for the odd attempt at more traditional instruments. From time to time I will post examples of each of the patches in a song context.
Can I contribute?
In a word, YES! I would love to hear your comments and welcome any feedback, positive or negative, on my patches and I will happily return to some of my posted sounds and make improvements where I can. I am a relative beginner when it comes to sound design and given this blog was born with improving my knowledge of synthesis in mind I would be surprised if any of you didn't have something valuable to say!