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!