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  • Track-Cloning and Timed Delays

    By hcadmin |

    Use Your DAW to Create Arpeggios, Tremolo, and Other Delay-Based Effects More Effectively Than Your DDL


    By Jon Chappell


    5318ee73534e0.jpg.4ac2fe1d4c36602bd254cfdd876e4ad6.jpgThere are tons of ways guitarists and keyboardists can use timed delays to enhance their recorded parts. From arpeggios to rapid-fire drones to tremolo, timed delays can add a new rhythmic dimension to a percussive or staccato figure. But setting up an outboard delay (or using the plug-in variety) is often clunky, and it won’t move with the music if the tempo changes (between sections, with intentional accelerandos and ritards, or just naturally shifting over time). Tap tempo addresses some of those problems, but that’s yet another thing to do with your body. And for the repeated sounds, an outboard DDL’s feedback parameter offers very poor control. So instead of trying to sync up your delay to create rhythmic subdivisions, you can use your DAW and copy tracks to perform the same function.


    Any timed-delay operation works best on staccato or steady-stream rhythms, such as a continuous line of eighth notes. Record your part on Track 1, and then simply “clone it” by copying and pasting it to an adjacent track. (A better way is to use the shortcut keystroke by holding down a modifier key and dragging the part; on Pro Tools, it’s the shift key.) Make sure you’ve done all your trimming first, so that you can more easily align and offset clips by having the event start point line up with the note’s initial attack.


    Repeat this cloning process as often as you need discrete repetitions of your part. More track copies means more repeats, which is analogous to a higher feedback setting on your DDL. The longer you space the tracks apart in time (or the greater the horizontal distance on the timeline between start points), the higher the delay-time setting.


    Then you have to snap your cloned tracks to predetermined time intervals. Obviously, you should know the rhythmic scheme of your part before setting out. Know your tempo, have a calculator handy, and set up the grid to show minutes and seconds rather than bars and beats. The red circles in Fig. 1 shows Pro Tools set up to show the grid and counter in minutes/seconds, the tempo, and the start time of the clone track (at 200ms).



    For easy math, let’s say I’m doing a slow tune at q = 60. That equates to one beat per second or one quarter note every 1,000ms. To do subdivisions of the quarter note from there, I simply take a fraction of 1,000ms. For example, eighth notes will come at 500ms intervals, 16th notes at 250ms intervals, and eighth-note triplets every 333ms.


    Once you figure out what your subdivisions are, the next step is to drop markers at the appointed intervals. Use the snap-to-grid function to get your cursor to quickly go to the right grid point. Then when you drag-copy the part from the original to the new track, the audio segment should snap right to the pre-set markers.



    Fig. 2: Click for full image and description.

    In Fig. 2, I have set up a five-note subdivision for my quarter note, which will yield what I call “poor man’s tremolo.” This means that I am either too lazy or too unskilled (or both) to play a proper picked tremolo for any length of time. If you’ve ever had to play Italian-style mandolin or plectrum banjo (as I have, as a pit guitarist), you can feel my pain. And have you ever tried to create a tremolo with a delay unit? It’s exceedingly difficult, even with a multitap delay.

     But on a DAW, you can create rock-solid tremolos by simply copying your principal track and spacing it evenly, according to the time-converted subdivision of the tempo. So in our example of q = 60, you can create a five-note-per-beat tremolo by simply copying the original track every 200ms (principal note = 1:000 ; 2nd note = 1:200; 3rd note = 1:400; 4th note = 1:600; 5th note = 1:800; new downbeat = 2:000).


    Too bad I can’t transport this technique into the orchestra pit, but it did get me thinking about “manufactured tremolo.” Five notes seems to work well here, as four notes per beat are 16th notes (which is not quite fast enough for a tremolo) and six notes is 16th-note triplets, which sounds a little “virtuosic”—especially when repeated with the machine precision of a DAW and not a human picking hand.


    Speaking of humanization, one trick I’ve learned is to vary the volume of the subsequent, delayed tracks. The highest track (Track 1) should be the loudest, and you can simply lower the volume of the other tracks to make the principal note speak better. I often soften the very last track (or trem note) before the downbeat to set up the new principal note.


    And you say you miss the modulation function of your DDL? No problem. Just introduce chorus, flanger, or reverb into the repeated tracks with a plug-in. The possibilities are endless here, because you can apply a different effect (or different amount of the same effect) to each repetition. This is a lot of processing power to be gobbled up by a single part, so watch your CPU load. Or bounce to disk and re-import when you think you’ve got it.


    Using track copy this way—to add a post-production delay—makes a lot of sense. You shouldn’t record a time-based effect in line, anyway, the way you would, say, distortion, and wah. Using a separate track in a DAW for the time-delay effect works just like a parallel effects loop: it leaves the straight signal un-modulated and blends in only the effected sound. Plus, you get really good at converting musical time (tempo) to real time (seconds), and you understand better how subdivisions and small-unit rhythms work. And if you’re really, really good, you can re-create these live, on the fly. But I’m still working on that!


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