Assignment 1: Absynth Patch Programming
What we’re trying to do
- Learn the basics of Absynth patch architecture.
- Explore multi-stage envelopes and LFOs.
- Build some simple sounds and combine them into a narrative scene in
What to turn in
- One Digital Performer project, with the assignment number
and your name as part of the project folder name. Zip the folder
(right-click on folder and choose Compress).
- Follow the assignment submission instructions
to submit your zipped project folder.
The basic process
- Do the first two Absynth Tutorials,
using the standalone Absynth app.
- Design three patches — siren, helicopter, and footsteps —
using standalone Absynth. More about these patches below.
- Incorporate these three patches into a Digital Performer sequence that
is a portrayal of a police chase scene, creating an ominous mood using
only your own Absynth patches, supplemented by any other Absynth
patches as background elements. No audio tracks, please.
Make a patch that depicts a police chase scene witnessed by us, as we stand
at a street corner. While the sequence plays, we hear
- a sustained helicopter that approaches and hovers over us, then flies
out of sight;
- a police siren (of any nationality) that behaves similarly, but with
- a series of foot steps, again with different timing; and
- any additional sounds that help establish the mood (your choice).
Your three patches will not use samples. You can use the oscillators in any of
the primary wavetable modes (Single, Double, FM). The components of the scene
(helicopter, siren, footsteps) do not have to sound totally realistic: you can
make stylized, possibly sci-fi, versions of the sounds. But you must put
across the basic familiar characteristics of each sound — for example,
the back-and-forth oscillation of pitch in a siren; the slight rising and
falling pitch of the Doppler effect, when the helicopter draws near and flies
- Develop your patches using the standalone Absynth app, rather
than the plugin version that you use in DP. The reason is that the
standalone app lets you open separate windows for the various views
(Patch, Envelope, LFO, etc.), and it makes it easy to drag the envelope
window to a much larger size, so that you can see the timeline better.
To open separate windows, command-click the view buttons at the top of
the Absynth window (i.e., Perform, Patch, Effect, Wave, Envelope, LFO).
Expand the Envelope view using a grow box in the lower right corner of
the window (after you’ve popped it out of the main window).
- Start with just one of the three oscillator channels (A, B, or C —
shown in the Patch view, for example). Once you develop a working patch,
you can think about adding one or two channels to enrich the sound,
though this is not really necessary.
- Trigger your siren and helicopter sounds with a single long note. Use
the envelopes to control time-varying volume, pitch, brightness, etc.
- A siren has an oscillator using a square or triangle waveform with pitch
modulated by a sine wave LFO (Gotham City), or a square wave LFO (London),
or an upward sawtooth LFO (Starship Enterprise). Adjust the LFO modulation
depth to create the right interval between the lowest and highest pitches
sounded by the main, audio-rate oscillator. The rising and falling pitch
mentioned above (simulating the Doppler shift), and corresponding
amplitude changes, can come from envelopes changing slowly over the
long duration of a single note.
For the purposes of this assignment, try to make your volume changes by
using Absynth envelopes, though it quickly will become clear that doing
this using volume automation in the DP virtual instrument track is easier.
- You can make a helicopter sound with a low-pitched sawtooth waveform
feeding into a low-pass filter, whose cutoff frequency is modulated by an
LFO. Crank up the filter resonance a bit. Make the same sort of Doppler
effect and volume changes that you make for the siren.
- Footsteps are the hardest and will have to be quite stylized. Start with
a noise waveform running through a low-pass filter. Pitch this very low
using the trans field of the oscillator. Then create an
envelope for the filter cutoff frequency. Use an “AR pulse”
(attack-release) envelope. (Make this by using the Transform >
Generate AR Pulse command in the envelope editor.) You should try to
make a clear distinction between the left and right feet, which
should alternate (unless the perp is skipping). You could do this by
setting the right-foot sounds to a lower cutoff frequency.
This sound tends to be much softer than the siren and helicopter. You
can adjust this using the volume slider at the bottom of each Absynth
channel in the Patch view, or you can do it in the DP Mixing Board.
- If you want to control panning within the patch, you first need to set
an obscure button in the Patch view. Look at the bottom left of the
window, just under the “Master” text. The button has either a
single circle or two interlocking circles. Click it so that it has the
interlocking circles. Then you can pan, using an envelope or MIDI
controller 10 (via the DP Mixing Board pan knob for a MIDI track).
The latter method is dependent on the Absynth patch being set up for it in
Perform view, which is true of any patch built from scratch after choosing
File > New Sound.
- After designing these three sounds, you can, at your discretion, add
other background elements to your DP sequence. Make your own Absynth
patches, or use existing, possibly tweaked, patches. But please do not
use sound files in audio tracks.
- Save your patches to files using File > Save Sound, and read
these into Absynth plugin instances in DP using File > Open
Sound (from the popup menu within the Absynth plugin window). DP will
remember tweaks to your patches that you make in your sequence, without
you having to save them in this way. Obviously, saving your carefully
designed patches to files is a good way to avoid losing them.
- REMINDER: To get Absynth working in DP, choose Project > Add Track
> Instruments with Options. Where the popup menu reads
“Unassigned,” click and choose “Absynth 5
(stereo)” from the submenu. This creates the Instrument track and
the MIDI track that drives it, and configures them appropriately, all in
- BONUS: One fun sound to try simulating is howling wind, usually done by
running a white noise generator through a bandpass filter. There is no
obvious white noise generator in Absynth. (The noise waveforms available
in the waveform picker are periodic, since they are a single cycle of
noise repeated rapidly.) You can simulate a white-ish noise generator
with an oscillator in Sync Granular mode, with these changes from default
values: balance=1, dens=3, scat=100, main trans=64, mod trans=50 —
tweak to taste. This could work for footsteps, too. We’ll talk about
why this works in a few weeks.