rpm 2012 post-mortem, track 2: hohmann

“In orbital mechanics, the Hohmann transfer orbit is an elliptical orbit used to transfer between two circular orbits of different altitudes, in the same plane.”

This was one of the quickest recordings on the album — I recorded it all in one night, on day 21, when I was starting to worry that I wasn’t making enough progress to finish on time. The inspiration was actually a modern game — I’d been meaning to make a track based on a Mass Effect-style “spacey” arpeggio for a while — though the actual sound was inspired more by the Metroid title theme.

The arrangement came together very quickly. I started with the bass sound, then added the arpeggio, and then worked on the melody, all using TAL NoiseMaker. There are a few rules you need to follow to create genuinely chiptune-like tracks, and while I bent some of these rules on the album’s other chiptune track, direct ascent, I stuck with them all here:

  • Don’t play more than three notes at once
  • Use only very simple synth sounds: use only one oscillator, and leave the filter wide open
  • Don’t play more than one percussion sound at once
  • Don’t use effects, such as delays (can I really record a track without at least one delay?)

Those self-imposed limitations on synthesis features forced me to use other features to make each sound unique and interesting, so I played more with envelopes and vibrato. I also used a lot of slides in the lead, both using legato in the synth patch and using the pitch bender, to add expressiveness to something that might’ve sounded quite static otherwise.

The percussion sounds are from the Dirty Dose sound set, loaded using LinuxSampler. To create the echoing effect without using a delay plugin, I used an old tracker-style method of simply repeating the note at lower and lower volumes.

While I’m happy with the overall sound of this track, and how chiptuney it sounds in particular, I think it’s one of the weakest tracks on the album; it just drags on for too long, and the lead actually starts to get a bit annoying. In hindsight, cutting off those long held notes in the lead part, and replacing them with some faked echoes, might have worked better. It was a great learning experience, though, and I certainly plan to make more chiptune tracks in future.

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