Noise Engineering

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Noise Engineering is a Eurorack and 5U modular synthesizer manufacturer based in Los Angeles, California. 

Guest Post: TL3SS <3's Distortion

This is part of a series of guest-post tutorials from Noise Engineering users showing off various tips for NE modules, modular use in general, or how they integrate modular into their workflow.

Have someone you think would be great to write a guest post? Have a modular tip you want to submit for us to create a video around? Let us know!

This time around, Kris chatted with our Instagram pal TL3SS. We noticed him a while back when he started posting these dark, deep, NE-based songs that Kris was instantly obsessed with. We also just dug his aesthetic.

TL3SS got ahold of the new Terci Ruina and we were really excited to see what he would do with it. We talked with him about the TR, distortion in general, and how he likes to use it with a variety of other effects.

Kris: Tell us who you are.

TL3SS: I release music under TL3SS. I have another project, IDIOT HAND that hasn't had any releases yet, but plan to release some material under that name later this year.

KK: ooooh. Looking forward to that! Is it modular-based, too?

T: TL3SS is more about experimentation and "anything goes". Idiot Hand is more focused and consistent. While there are a lot of similarities in tone and sonic profiles, I'd say Idiot Hand is the darker project, with more structure and will have more vocals. It's a much more personal project to me.

KK: How did you get into modular synthesis?

T: I've been working on electronic music for a decade or two, and have played/produced music under a few different names. I’ve spent a lot of time with various hardware and software synthesizers. While I don’t make music for a living, it’s definitely something I’m passionate about and I enjoy learning as much as I can.

I recently started getting back into music production after a long hiatus, and that's around the same time my journey into the Eurorack realm started. In this modern world, so much of our time is spent staring at a screen and either using a mouse or some kind of touchscreen interface. This is one of many reasons I quit making music. During my hiatus, hardware/modular blew up, I think partly as a reaction to this trend. When I started getting an urge to create music again I started researching some hands-on, hardware options and it became clear pretty quickly that modular was the direction for me.

KK: It’s definitely a direction you’ve done well with. I really enjoy the things you’ve been posting. Tell me about what you’ve put together here.

T: I’ll preface with this.

I love distortion. By my count I currently have about 20 different modules/pedals that provide distortion in some form or another. I thought I would focus my blog post on some techniques I use to bring multiple distortion types into a single track.

One of the reasons I find distortion so compelling is that I love the variety of tones and sounds you can create - it’s always fun to experiment. While you can have a general idea of what something will sound like after you send it through some distortion, there are always unexpected things that happen. I highly recommend experimenting with signal flow and where you put the distortion. For example, putting distortion pre-filter gives an entirely different result than putting it post-filter. Same with VCA’s and LPG’s. There are a huge variety of distortions available, with different types of distortion circuits, vacuum tubes and feature sets. Picking the ones you want is an extremely personal and there is no “correct” choice. I typically pick based on how it sounds first, and then based on the feature set.

KK: Definitely. We agree — we tend to go with how they sound first when we design them, and try to choose a feature set that complements the sound, as well as the lineup we’re working on. Let’s see what you’ve put together!

T: In this first example, I'm using all three distortion circuits in the Terci Ruina to distort a kick/bassline from the Basimilus Iteritas Alter. I'm still digging into the Terci Ruina, but the first thing I thought of when it was announced was taking each of the three circuits and using panning to create a varied, warm bed of distortion.

I start off with a clean kick drum from the Basimilus Iteritas Alter. I used a multiple to make copies of the original BIA signal. I put a copy of the BIA signal into each circuit of the Terci Ruina, with the drive amounts a minimum - first the FB circuit, then the FF circuit and finally the FZ circuit. Note that the levels of these circuits was pre-mixed so this example isn’t indicative of their absolute volume. Each output of the TR (as well as the clean signal) are going into individual channels on a Happy Nerding PanMix mixer. Once all of the outputs are patched in, using the PanMix I pan the FF circuit hard left, the FZ circuit hard right, and leave the clean signal and the FB circuit panned center.

Once the panning is complete, I raise the drive amounts to 100%. Later on in the example I change the pattern on the Malekko Heavy Industry Varigate 8+ and Voltage Block. I’m using one channel of the Voltage Block to “preset” the algorithm type on the BIA. When I switch patterns it changes from “Liquid” (for a more kick oriented sound) to “Skin” (for a bass line). This is one of my favorite techniques to use with the Voltage Block and just about any Noise Engineering oscillator/voice.

After this, I activate the Mimetic Digitalis for some synced parameter modulation on the BIA just to demo how it behaves with the distortion.

Audio Signal flow:

Basimilus Iteritas Alter out -> Multiple in

Mult 1 out -> PanMix CHannel 1

Mult 2 out- > Terci Ruina FB in -> Terci Ruina FB out -> PanMix Channel 2

Mult 3 out -> Terci Ruina FF in -> Terci Ruina FF out -> PanMix Channel 3

Mult 4 out -> Terci Ruina FZ in -> Terci Ruina FZ out -> Panmix Channel 4

In this example I wanted to try and recreate a sound similar to a distorted palm muted guitar. I'm using the Manis Iteritas through the Steady State Fate Stereo Dipole, through the Rabid Elephant Natural Gate with a few Erica Synths modules for distortion (Erica Synths Fusion Mixer and Plasma Drive) along with some mid-side processing via the Worng Electronics LRMSMSLR. I'm addicted to Mid-Side processing at the moment because it gives you so much flexibility. For example, the Plasma Drive can be extremely overwhelming with its unique style of distortion - but if you just process the side channel with it, you can retain the punch and character of the original sound in the mid channel, while still getting a really unique almost guitar like tone out of the side. By running both the mid and side through their own channels on the Fusion Mixer, you can dial in the amount of stereo width you want.

Audio Signal Flow:

Manis Iteritas out -> Stereo DiPole A-In

Stereo DiPole-A Out -> Natural Gate in (left) -> LRMSMSLR in (left)

Stereo DiPole-B Out -> Natural Gate in (right) -> LRMSMSLR in (right)

LRMSMSLR Mid send -> Fusion Mixer in A1 ->Fusion Mixer out A ->LRMSMSLR Mid return

LRMSMSLR Side send -> Plasma Drive In -> Plasma Drive out -> Fusion Mixer in B1 -> Fusion Mixer out B -> LRMSMSLR Side return

LRMSMSLR Left out -> PanMix Stereo Channel 1 Left in

LRMSMSLR Right out -> PanMix Stereo Channel 1 Right in

Here I'm running a kick/snare from the Audio Damage Boomtschak through the Ritual Electronics Miasma. The Miasma has some awesome sounding feedback, but it can get out of hand really quickly. In this example I use an envelope follower (Steady State Fate DETECT-Rx) to control the feedback amount, as well as opening and closing a VCA that the Boomtschak is running through - essentially making a highly tweak-able noise gate.

Using an Envelope Follower and a VCA as a noise gate

The key for this is to patch the clean signal to the envelope follower so it opens and closes the VCA using the original signal without distortion. With distortion the envelope would not decay enough to close the VCA as the amplitude of the signal would be too high.

Signal flow:

Boomtschak out -> Multiple

Mult 1 -> Miasma In -> Miasma Out - Mixer channel

Mult 2 -> DETECT-Rx in -> DETECT-Rx Env out -> VCA CV input

From here, dial in the right envelope amount to taste. I then use the same envelope follower to control feedback amount.

I like re-using existing CV when I can because it can create a sense of continuity in the patch. Here I’m using a multed copy of the same envelope we extracted in the previous section to control the feedback amount on the Miasma.

Copy of DETECT-Rx Envelope-> Miasma Feedback CV in

Compression time!

Not much to talk about here, but I’m using the WMD MSCL to compress the entire percussion submix. I love compressing a distorted percussion mix as it can really bring out some interesting noisy artifacts from the distortion. Distortion can add to the noise floor obviously, so why not compress the heck out of it and add it to the rhythm section!

Signal flow:

Mixer Left and Right outs -> MSCL Left and Right ins

Dial in the compression amount, attack/release and gain to taste.

KK: Nice! I like the various uses of distortion and how diverse they are. I expect, being, Tl3ss, you’ve put them into something appropriately dark for us to enjoy?

T: Yep. Here I bring all the elements together. These concepts can be applied to any distortion really - the sky is the limit! That's the beautiful thing about modular.

Like what you see here? Check out more from TL3SS on YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud, and Bandcamp.

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Noise Engineering is proudly located in Los Angeles, CA