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

It’s not really a secret but this technique isn’t all that well publicised and you can achieve some spectacular results...


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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.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004