Madness. The calamity caused through awkwardness – The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann The Great Gatsby 6

For this particular project I used Ableton Live 8 and Reason 5. Normally for all of my projects I use Ableton Live 9, however due to the circumstances of the need to use a particular Piano module I purchased for Reason I had to use Live 8 in order for the ReWire function to work between the two DAW’s.

For those who have read this page and not understood a single term, I will briefly introduce all the basic concepts which these terms mean.

Ableton Live – Is a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), in other words a program which digital emulates hardware and works as both a sequencer and mixing board. This removes the need for a huge analogue/digital mixing desk as

  • I cannot afford one
  • They are absolutely huge and inconvenient if you do not have a proper studio and recording booth(s) set up in your head quarters.

Reason – Is another DAW which is similar to Ableton Live however the main difference being that Reason visually replicates old analogue hardware (you can even see the wires on the back of the units you choose to use when you change views). The other difference is the sounds which come with the software which you can use to create music. e.g. the Piano sample package which I purchased and used in this project is of incredibly high caliber and Ableton Live did not come with such a beautiful in-built digital instrument.

ReWire – Is a term and a common system used within most DAW softwares which allows 2 (or in some cases even more) DAW’s to work in unison. In this case it allowed me to control the Piano sampling from Ableton Live (where the majority of the project was based) without having to run Reason on its own and have to go through 20 additional extra steps to adjust and perfect what sounds I want Reason to play.

This is all in terms of technical Jargon which I have mentioned above, and any other terms in the future paragraphs will be explained briefly whilst presenting my theories behind my work.

This piece was created to work with the overwhelming awkwardness present within the original scene from The Great Gatsby. There is no audio present which gave me the perfect chance to make music to change the mood to confusion and madness, as if the characters are being driven mad by their nevers and awkwardness.

Perhaps in hindsight the piece may even be slightly over the top, however in this regard it acts perfectly to counter act the plain silent awkwardness portrayed in the original scene from the film.

I used a minimalistic approach in terms of layering and overall sounds in this case as I wanted each different sound to have a broader range (in terms of EQ settings) in order to have a much more full and wider sound. The instruments used were:

  1. Piano sampler from Reason 5
  2. Drum Samples consisting of; Kick drum, Closed Hi-Hats and only a few Snare drums.
  3. Bass synthesiser – Patch made through KORG M1
  4. Artificial Choir – Patch made through Reason and made to sound synthetic due to use of 3 very basic base samples for the Oscillators within the sampler. In this case I wished for an almost Vocoded (or Auto-Tuned to speak) sound as an organic choir sound just would not fit in with the rest of the madness.

I will break down the processes used for the design for each of the sounds in more depth later on in this article as I first wish to explain the basic processes required for the creation of this piece.



Instrumentation analysis.


As mentioned before, the Piano sampler used in this project was from a Piano pack I puchased for Reason a few years ago. The base setting for the Piano used was a Steinway Grand Piano, with the virtual microphone locations being positioned predominantly short distanced and one room mic to achieve a slightly wider stereo panned sound.

Here is a screenshot providing a basic overview of the signal flow within the combinator used to achieve the sound (within Reason 5, there are other alterations through Ableton)

Piano Combinator Overview

The Reverb settings used were a moderate one due to the fact that I wanted a long, dreamy and fairly ‘surreal’ sound so to speak. I generally would not use such a heavy setting on most piano’s regardless of whether they are sampled or recorded, however with a long decay going through slight compression I am able to achieve an unnatural and artificial sounding atmosphere from the Piano.

The two grey/brown thin rectangular things are the samplers working as the figurative microphone capturing the ‘close’ and ‘ambient’ sounds. When expanded they look like this.

Piano Sampler

For those who dont understand operation of a synthesiser, what you see in the photo above is a (virtual) machine that will play certain sounds when certain buttons are pressed. In this case, it will match the note of the key you press by playing the sound of the equivalent key struck on the virtual piano. This Piano sampler works alongside another one, and each note on the virtual piano is pre-recorded and played when the signal is given. Although this may seem fairly practical and understandable, most sampler software/hardware does not bother recording individual samples for each key hit. This particular Piano sampler does so, giving a more realistic and natural sound. This is why I am able to achieve a distorted, but still almost natural sounding piano after all of my effects are placed on the Piano channel.

I mentioned earlier that Reason emulates hardware digitally, and here is a screenshot of the ‘rear’ of the instruments cabinet (combinator).

Back of Combinator

As you can see there are patch leads (the colorful wires) spread everywhere showing the signal path of the virtual instrument visually. This is very uncommon in standard DAW’s and gives Reason one of its unique characteristics.

If you are interested in the EQ settings used, here it is.

Piano EQ

The final touches of sound processing were done through Ableton with another compression and the EQ used above here:

Ableton Piano - Audio Effect Rack

The Artificial Choir

This Choir was one of the easier layers within the project I created as the base sound of the choir was actually preset, however with additional tweaking and more goods to enhance the sound.

This sound was created in Reason like the Piano via a Sampler pitch bending generic female “ooh” and “ahh” sounds, aswell as some male “ooh”‘s and “ahh”s. The sampler settings were exactly the same on both Male and Female samplers and here is a screenshot of the settings.

The polyphony is set to 12, meaning up to 12 sounds can be produced from this sampler at once. This was beneficial as there are many harmony lines in the MIDI file and I clearly needed to be able to play more than one ‘voice’ at once.

EQ settings for those who are interested:

Choir EQ

This has a fairly vicious cut of the low end from 300hz downwards as I did not want much low end to bleed into the mix with the low end heavy kick and Bass sounds. To be honest, I did not want much of a presence at all with this particular choir sound. As long as it could be heard, identified and not mess with the other elements it satisfied its job description. There is a boost at around the 3khz mark to slightly increase the spoken female range of voice. The high end cut off was because it was honestly useless in this context as I was not recording a real choir.

Unlike any of the other elements, the Choir actually had Side-Chain Compression placed upon it rather than normal compression. This meant that every time the Kick drum was played, the volume of the Choir would rapidly decrease, then increase back to normal when the Kick drum stopped playing. This created the surging and pumping effect in the Choir to enhance the ridiculous unnatural sound.

Synthesised Bass

This Bass module was easy but still an incredible pain to create at the same time. The VST  (Virtual Studio Technology) used is Korg’s M1 module. Here is a screenshot of the interface.

Korg M1 patch

This VST is incredibly useful as it effectively works as multi-sampling-sampler. Although the description sounds strange it essentially lets me use 8 samplers at once in unison (if needed be, in this case only two were used).

The samples I worked with in this patch I created are:

  • The Finger Bass
  • Full Slow (being a very grimy combination of sin+sawtooth+triangular oscilattions.)

Quite simply put, the Bass sound is made from a synthesised ‘finger-plucked’ bass guitar in combination of different wave forms to add the digital ‘grittiness’ to the sound.

When creating this patch all I had in mind was that I needed a very powerful and prominent sounding bass, but not so prominent that it would take all the focus away from other elements, as well as overlapping the frequency range of other instruments/layers used within this project.

Here is a screenshot of the EQ setting used for this Bass:

Bass EQ setting

The Yellow line with the purple, blue, red and green dots represent the way in which I wish for the sound to be presented (in terms of particular frequency areas being played at particular volume ratios in relation to other frequencies). As you can see there is an abundance of low end noise (from 20-200hz) which I had practically chopped by a good 10db. You may also notice there really is not much high end coming through this Bass synthesiser at all, but this is due to the fact that I set the ‘cut-off’ level in this VST; therefore leaving me more room for high end sounds. Overall I believe that the creation and fine-tuning of this particular bass was a success, as the final product well and truly has quite an impact on both the video and audio alone from the very start of the piece.

For those who are interested here is the compression setting for the Bass:

Bass Effects chain

The Drum Rack

Why is it called a Drum Rack not kit? Because I am using an interface on Ableton named “Drum Rack” which gives me hundreds of allocated slots which I load my own sounds into (regardless of the nature of the sounds). This way I am not necessarily sampling a recorded drum kit, I picked and chose particular sounds from different sources and put together this virtual Drum Kit.

The overall aim when creating this Drum Rack was to create a fairly ‘natural’ selection of sounds that:

  • Sounded “big” (in terms of how they are presented, not the size of the instrument)
  • Placed a lot of impact on each strike of the elements (this is due to the fact that I created this entire piece based around a video, not necessarily for normal listening pleasure.)
  • However overall sounding ‘surreal’ like the Piano. The heavy use of reverb with long and sharp decays to emphasise the ‘panick-struck’ and ‘insanity’ of the situation which I aimed to provide.

As mentioned earlier in the introduction of the work behind this project, the aim for the final sound from this Drum Rack was aimed to be minimalistic but large; therefore less instruments but with more frequency range to be used for more ‘full’ sounding elements.

Here is a screenshot of my Drum Rack:

Drum Rack audio effects chain

There is a master compressor on this channel (as seen above) which tightened up the overall sound, however some other elements had their own individual compressors running parallel with the master compressor.

The samples used to create this Drum Rack include:

  • 2 X Snare Drums (sourced from different sample packs)
  • 3 X Closed hi-hats
  • 1 X Kick Drum

Snare EQ + Compression settings:

Snare Effects chain

Snare EQ

Both Snares are panned slightly left and right to create a more stereo environment, as they aren’t necessarily played simultaneously all of the time.  This kind of practise in normal music may drive you mad as the directionality of the sound is constantly switching sides. However in this case due to the fact that it is a short piece and designed for film not for sound alone, it works brilliantly in creating an audible atmosphere.


The Hi-Hats

The Hi-Hats are also set up fairly similarly to the Snares in terms of stereo panning, one panned slightly to the left, one slightly to the right, and another panned minuscule to the right also. However Compression + EQ settings are different as the way in which the sounds are played are quite different, requiring different factors to be taken into place for the fine-tuning process of the sounds. Here is a screenshot of the EQ + compression settings placed on the hi-hats.

Hi-Hat effects rack

I have placed a low -end cut off as the recorded samples of the closed Hi-hats were recorded up close with lots of muddy low end sounds. As these did not prove effective in this case they were diminished and had no high-end alteration as I wanted a broader sound without being too piercing. The compressor has a fairly moderate set up with high attack and release settings. This affects the way that the sound is initially struck and held.


The Kick.

The Kick drum proved to be one of the easier elements to meddle with as unlike most other projects I have undertaken, there is only 1 layer rather than 2-3 samples creating one overall kick. The Kick drum in this case proved to be just fine on its own, as it was already slightly layered with another sample providing me with a pre-adjusted overall sound giving me no room for EQ usage. Only compression was applied. Here is a screenshot of the compression setting used.

Kick effects strip

This compression setting has a heavy attack and release setting proving a ‘crunchy’ and ‘punchy’ tone to the sound. Although the Ratio is only set to 2.06 (which isn’t that high) it proved to be quite useful in the process of moulding the sound. The Kick drum is not low end heavy in itself, however with the compressor it gives the illusion of having a ‘bigger’ and much larger sound that it is. This helps in terms of mixing with other low end sounds (such as the bass).



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