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Hands On – Drawmer DS 201 Dual Gate (part 4)


The engineer’s secret

Well, it’s not really a secret but this technique isn’t all that
well publicised and you can achieve some spectacular results. Recently it has
become known as the ‘Shamen sound’ since they appear to like it a
lot, but you can use it successfully on all styles of music (well maybe not
Country music) if you know how. You will notice a switch to the left of the
unit called ‘Key Source’. The key is the signal that opens the gate,
and in normal operation it will be the signal that you are gating. But that
doesn’t have to be so. You can send one signal through the gate and use
a completely different signal to switch the gate on and off, and you can automate
it via MIDI even though the DS 201 doesn’t have a single 5-pin DIN. Let’s
try an example…

Supposing you have a track half finished on your multitrack tape, on which
you have timecode or a sync track. Strap on your battered old guitar and plug
it into a fuzz box (or set your multi-effects unit to a distortion preset, if
you want to be posh). Record chords that change only as quickly as the harmony,
one chord per change of harmony without introducing any rhythm at all. Now get
out your drum machine and create a closed hihat pattern in any rhythm you choose.
It doesn’t have to be hihats but the hihat sound is probably favourite
for this trick. Synchronise the drum machine (or sequencer) to the tape and
get it playing along in time to the music. I’ll assume that you are already
familiar with synchronising this type of equipment and you don’t have any
problems achieving this. Now patch the guitar track through the noise gate in
a similar manner to Figure 1. Patch the output from the drum machine supplying
the hihat sound to the Key input of the same channel of the gate. Switch the
key source to ‘Ext’ and set everything in motion. What you will find
is that the guitar sound is chopped up into the rhythm of the hihat. You may
need to adjust the threshold setting from the starting position to get this
but you won’t be far away. To fine tune the effect you may want to adjust
the attack, hold and decay. Since the hihat is a very short sound (or at least
I hope you used a short one) you shouldn’t have any trouble with jitter
and you will have complete freedom to set the envelope of the guitar sound according
to the needs of the track. If you set a long attack then you might need to advance
the hihat so the gate opens a little bit earlier. Hold, you will find, sets
the length of time the gate will stay fully open, after which it will close
abruptly. Decay sets the time it takes for the gate to go between fully open
and fully closed once the level of the triggering signal has descended below
the threshold.

If all has gone well, then you will probably be doing a dance of joy because
a whole new world of possibilities has been opened up at a very reasonable cost
in money and effort. But perhaps you haven’t got to this stage yet, perhaps
you don’t synchronise MIDI equipment to tape and you are wondering how
you are going to achieve a similar thing. Well you can always open and close
the gate manually. Just patch a synth into the key input. A sustained sound
at a constant level with a quick attack and decay will give you a switch with
which you can open an close the gate at will, usually more conveniently and
more silently than you can manage with the console’s muting or routing
switches. Or you can try some thing a little more clever. Find among the drum
tracks on the tape a drum with a suitable rhythm, maybe the bass drum for starters.
It’s probably better if it’s by itself and not mixed in with anything
else but it’s not the end of the world if it isn’t. Apply this to
a digital delay and adjust the delay and feedback controls so that you get repeat
echoes in time with the track; now apply these repeat echoes to the key input
of the gate. You will have to fiddle around with the threshold of the gate and
the degree of feedback applied to the echoes, but you should find that this
triggers the gate quite nicely and chops up your guitar chords into a pattern
of eight or sixteenth notes. Producing a particular rhythm with this technique
might not be possible the way it is when you synchronise a drum machine, but
there are still lots of things you can do, and we’re not finished yet.

David Mellor

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David Mellor