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