sketchbook: hand-arranged glitchy drums

I love that glitchy modern percussion sound that you hear in a lot of electronic music these days (BT comes to mind, but there are plenty of examples), but I’ve never had much luck creating those sorts of sounds myself. I did give one track, tiny droplets, a bit of a glitchy feel by distorting the crap out of some Hydrogen drums (a 909 kit, no less), but that wasn’t quite the sound I was looking for.

The solution had been staring me in the face, but it almost seemed too simple to work, or too cumbersome to be practical: instead of using some kind of drum instrument, just load drum samples in to Ardour directly, and copy and paste the individual drum hits in to place. It sounds like fiddly work, but it’s really not that bad — with Ardour set up to snap regions to its grid, and with the grid set appropriately, it was really quite easy to lay down a simple kick/snare beat, and it was just as easy to copy and paste that beat out over multiple bars.

From there, glitching it up takes a bit more effort, but with such fine control over things you have a lot of scope for creative effects. I tried two main techniques — trimming down individual hits and repeating them very quickly (which required more copying and pasting), and reversing individual hits (using the “Reverse” option from the region’s right-click menu) so that they played backwards, often combined with some fast repetition.

Individual drum hits, sliced and glitched up in Ardour

For the hats, I didn’t want to lay down the individual beats in Ardour, so I created a hat loop in Hydrogen and imported that. In most bars I just let it play as-is, but in some I add some variety by splitting the loop in to beat-length chunks and then manipulating those chunks. I shuffled the chunks around a bit, reversed some of them, repeated some of them, and also shrunk some of them to half their original length (using the Stretch/Shrink Regions tool) and repeated them.

There are tools that can help with this kind of beat-slicing if you don’t want to do it by hand, including Smasher, which works offline but has a lot of different effects on offer, and Tranches, which can slice beats under live MIDI control, but I’ve had trouble fitting these in to my workflow. There’s also Sequent, a commercial plug-in and stand-alone tool, but it’s not super-cheap (though for what it does, I think the price is entirely reasonable). I’m really happy with the results I achieved entirely within Ardour, though, and now that I know how to get these sounds, I think I’ll be making them a lot more often.


mp3 | vorbis | 0:57

3 thoughts on “sketchbook: hand-arranged glitchy drums

  1. oi! thanks for the good read. its always interesting to find out how others workflow progresses in the studio (especially ardour users!).

    also, biggups for pointing out smaher… that app is awesome! i’ve already warmed to it and will prolly we speding many hours in it i can tell 😀

    as for you tune… i can really appreciate the perspective of what your trying to accomplish with the drums. however, id recommend using some better samples for the kicks. you’ll never hear ppl say it anywhere, but the best drum samples come from commercial tunes: just find your favorite tune thats palpable and cut it up (no one will ever know u stole a snare or kick)! otherwise, i dig the other samples u used and like how the technique you wrote about varies the drums. it comes out very well.

  2. Thanks for the feedback :) It’s still early days for this track, so I’m still playing around with different drum sounds — that kick is balloon sound from Microhammer’s Gnomehammer Vol. 1, so it’s definitely not a conventional kick sound. I kinda like it myself, and I plan to play with distortion, compression, and EQ to sculpt it a bit, but I may well end up replacing it with a more traditional kick sample if I can’t get a result that I’m happy with.

  3. hehe nice beats!

    That’s actually an idea that came into my mind to make some beats because the lack of some particular sounds in the drumkits (Hydrogen) that I’ve found in the net.

    I was thinking of using Audacity instead or Ardour, but the handling of the plug-ins (EQs especially) that Ardour provides definitely will be more productive and the result will be more enjoyable to my ears.

    If you have (I’m sure you do) a nice mic, then you should try to record the sound that produces an old big book (Bible and Encyclopedia works) when you close it in an abrupt way, the outcome of a natural kick sound (but over-“clicked”) will result.

    Sorry for my poor English, nice blog (still reading).

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