Tired of using the same old samples again and again? Learn how to feed them into the Codex Wavetable Synth for futuristic and unpredictable granular sounds that will reshape your production landscape.
By DJ Pangburn
In the digital instrument world, there are a number of powerful forms of synthesis. Thanks to technological advances over the last four decades, musicians have a variety of sonic weapons at their disposal, from the FM (Frequency Modulation) synths of the Yamaha DX series to the sample-based synthesis of the Akai MPC machines, or even Elektron’s Digitakt and Octatrack samplers.
A lesser-known and far less understood technique is wavetable synthesis, known for yielding complex and evolving electronic sounds.
Wavetable Synthesis: The Background
Developed in the late 1970s by Wolfgang Palm (founder of synth company, PPG), wavetable synthesis often confounds those who attempt to understand it. But, in reality, it’s a type of synthesis that isn’t too difficult to grasp.
In traditional subtractive analogue synthesis, players generally select one or more oscillators (depending on how many oscillators there are), which generally include Sine, Triangle, Sawtooth, and Square waves; and then filter and modulate from there.
In wavetable synthesis, dozens of single-cycle waveforms (single notes) are sampled into the synth engine, creating a wavetable full of different waveforms that can be swept and modulated in a number of different ways. (Think of a wavetable as a file directory full of sounds that are always accessible in creating new oscillators.) The results can range from futuristic digital sounds to tones that replicate those of classic analogue synths.
Codex Wavetable Synth works precisely this way but also comes with subtractive synthesis features for additional sound sculpting. But unlike wavetable synths of yore, which didn’t make it easy for players to upload user single-cycle waveforms or samples, Codex makes the upload process easy and seamless.
One of the fun things to do with Codex is to upload user samples and tweak them to create ambient textures with unexpected sonic nuances. Codex comes with hundreds of presets. But, for the purposes of this tutorial, we are going to load a sample into Codex and process it using the wavetable synth’s parameters.
Finding a Sample
With wavetable synthesis, half the fun is in finding unique sound sources and turning them inside out. And that is the approach we will take here.
Just for fun, we sampled the synthesized bumper from PBS member station WGBH Boston. Kids who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s will probably recall this electronic music jingle, written by Gershon Kingsley, as it’s one of the most iconic ones heard on PBS at the time.
The idea here is to take something easily identifiable and then turn it into something granular and strange. And this is the same approach that any Codex user can take. Or, for another approach, load field recording samples into Codex and see what comes out of it.
Whatever sounds inspire you, use them.
Preparing the Sample
It isn’t absolutely necessary to prepare the sample, whether it be with effects or editing. It’s completely up to you as musicians and producers how the sample should sound before loading it into Codex. However, we want to create some odd sonic juxtapositions that Codex’s granular wavetable engine will accentuate when we play it.
Much like we did recently when we processed a guitar sample using Codex (in this article on producing noisy and industrial guitar sounds), we chopped up some slices, rearranged them, then reversed the entire recording. Both the original sample and the edited/reversed version will be loaded into Codex—one in each oscillator.
- 01 - WGBH sample
- 02 - WGBH sample - edited and reversed
Loading & Tweaking the Sample
We loaded the unedited sample of the WGBH bumper into Oscillator 1. More specifically, we loaded the original sample into dozens of Oscillator 1’s wavetables and adjusted the scan dial until it only scans the wavetables we loaded (of the sample). For Oscillator 2, we loaded the edited and reversed sample into over a dozen of its wavetables and similarly set the scan dial to scroll through only our sample wavetables, but at a slower rate.
After making these adjustments, we set Oscillator 1’s octave to ‘16 and Oscillator 2’s to ‘8. This gives us both some high and low octaves for some more pitch depth.
From there, we played around with the subtractive synthesis function of Codex. Specifically, we tweaked the envelope, voltage-controlled filter, and voltage-controlled amplifier. For each, we reduced the attack so there is more of a fade-in when playing chords, and then added more sustain and release to let the notes ring between chord changes. We also cut off some of the higher frequencies by lowering the Filter Cutoff and added a bit of resonance to the frequency.
To give the sound a little movement, we used LFO 1—set to a rate of 0.9—to modulate the VC cutoff. And LFO 2—at a rate of 0.2—modulates the resonance. All of these parameter settings can be heard below, giving it some more sonic complexity.
- 01 - WGBH sample: filter + lfo
Adding FX to the Sound
In Codex, we have the option to add effects like Bitcrush, Distortion, Delay, Reverb and Chorus. We decided to use everything but chorus for further sonic enhancements.
First, we added some Bitcrush, adjusting its level to 11.1, then added a bit of Pre-VCF distortion (set to 9.3). We used a delay time of ⅜ for the left channel and 3/16 for the right channel, with a mix level of 30.3. And for reverb, we set the mix to 71.8.
At this point, the results were sounding good, but the overall sound was not quite there. So, we turned our attention to equalization.
EQ was really, as far as the effect chain was concerned, our final opportunity to tweak the sound within Codex itself. (Of course, we could add more effects and edit our recording in Ableton Live, or another DAW for that matter; but we wanted to stick to Codex to show what it can do with user wavetables and its onboard effects).
In the EQ section, we boosted the low end a bit and took some of the top end off. Not much of either, but just enough to give the sound a bit more warmth and depth.
- 01 - WGBH sample: effects + EQ
This is just one way we decided to create our own granular sounds in Codex with user wavetables. The idea is to experiment.
Occasionally, users might fall short of their ambition when uploading sounds to Codex’s wavetables. Other times, they might be pleasantly surprised at the randomness of the results. Either way, let your imagination be unbound. Experiment! Try the most left-field sounds you can imagine and see what happens.
Remember, you are essentially creating your very own oscillators. So, have fun designing your own sounds!
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