Machine Gun Hi-Hats
RRRAT-A-TAT-TAT-TAT! – Machine Gun Hi-Hats by Chris George
There’s no escaping the ever-evolving trends in music and music production especially in electronic music these days. Just in recent times we’ve seen trends go from bass to subs to midrange synths back to bass synths using LFOs and distortion, back to subs, and now no one can deny how vital it is to have your hi-hat game on really tight! Almost like one gargantuan, global engineering session that’s always in progress in the EDM production world and community. Today, I’d like to help you get your hat game under control in way that 1) brings the real artist out of you that makes creating fun again, 2) gets it done super fast (and done right), and 3) how to do it whenever you want to right away. And although I will be referring to very basic components, the theory is universal and can be applied in any hardware or software you are using to create.
First, lets start with:
1) a drum machine,
2) a matrix pattern or step sequencer, and
3) an audio track to record your performance.
*you will need a sound card with both Ins & Outs if using Reason*
On the drum machine, Load up your samples for your awesome new kit and then flip the device around and look at the back of it. Locate the slot containing your hi hat (preferably closed hi hat) and connect the “cv gate in” of your hat to the “gate out” of the sequencer. Next, take the audio out from your hi hat and connect it to the input of your audio track. That’s it for the connections so flip this puppy back around to the front and let’s get to blastin’ the hats on some foos!
Now, we’re all hooked up and looking at our system, ready to get rolling! *Make sure your sequencer is not set to play along right now!* If you already have a beat programmed in, hit play and you will notice that you are able to hear your hi hat, except that now you are hearing it play through your audio track. If you have not yet programmed your beat(s) (MIDI), stop here and go do so- including an interesting, creative performance for your hi hat to default to.
Okay, now that we have our beat(s) and everything is still wired up, we are ready to make our MIDI controller assignment(s) and get rollin. Set your sequencer’s “# of steps” to 1, and turn the timing up to 32nd or 64th notes. Then make sure the sequencer is in sync and set to play along this time. Press play on the song, and-TADA!!! THERE is your machine gun! *Only problem is, it still takes a whole bar to shut off if you try to automate this pattern via the pattern banks (A1, A2, B1, B2, ect.,) which isn’t cool at all. And you could automate the bypass button, but you risk over-shooting your target and botching your performance as the bypass button is a 3-stage spectrum. BUT the ‘Play’ button on the sequencer is always always always immediate and is a fail safe 2-stage spectrum- so this is where we must think AND go “outside the box” because (Reason) will not let you automate this parameter yet, this is why we are wired up to an audio track
Lastly, assign a knob, or fader-like controller to the ‘Play’ button on the sequencer (left will be OFF, right will be ON). Now when your beat is playing, you can simply jump from your awesome original hi hat pattern to your rat-a-tat machine gun hats with one easy movement. Personally, I like to use the same fader I use for scratching! Want to take it one step further? Assign another MIDI control to the timing of the sequencer parameter to vary your machine gun’s speed, you can perform both simultaneously for lots of fun! When ready to put it down ‘on tape’, just arm your audio track hit record and get to jamming instead of penciling in!
I encourage you to do some type of loop record and go through it a bunch of times to have as much fun as you can and then comp it together. Then, do the same thing with your snares (create a new audio track for your snare and adjust your cv connection in back to go from the “gate out” of the same sequencer to the “gate in” of your snare.) Assign one more MIDI control to the pitch of the snare and you will be well on your way
Don’t forget that this IS AUDIO!!!! You CAN redo it, but you can’t quantize it, so be sure to set all your quantization and groove settings before recording as much as possible!
Today I used a step sequencer as the modulator that controlled the speed of the 1-step hit hat machine gun pattern, but you can use anything with a control voltage (cv); LFOs, filters, even other synths and drum machines with In’s and Out’s. Now that I think about it, how do you think Live’s audio-to-MIDI feature could be used to modulate in this manner? Hmmmmmmmm….. Whichever path you choose, make sure to save your setups as templates so they will be already hooked up and ready to roll as soon as you are from now on!
I do not intend to promote or comment on any products or companies in these articles. However the reason that I refer to Reason here is because of the very very very tiny detail about the lack of ability to automate the one single function of the step sequencer that keeps it from playing whole bars when arranging in this manner. It’s something that caused me quite a bit of frustration while figuring out my workflow here at home and I was very proud to have put together a work-around where others might have simply bailed. IF that one very simple parameter WAS automatable, I would have had no reason to write this entire article whatsoever as I wouldn’t have had any sort of obstacle to overcome, no reason to go ‘thinking outside the box’, thus running the audio in the same manner in order to achieve the holy grail of arranging through live performance again instead of tediously penciling in notes at the computer. This is so important because it keeps production fun, it gets the “artist” in us engaged again. It also grants us the opportunity to really ‘perform’ instead of ‘program’ what we’re hearing and sharing.