As broadcast technology has evolved our fetish for unique low-end drive has only deepened. Contemporary music kick drums are now far more likely to resemble imaginative sonic fictions than anything existing in a ‘real world’ acoustic space. Whether it be the overdubbed kick track of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean”, or trap music’s obsession with Roland TR-808’s synthetic kick machinations, our experience of low-end remains an ostensibly ‘post-real’ one.
For most, sampled sources easily suffice as the bedrock of genre-specific work, whilst for others, the desire to sculpt a bespoke low-end signature remains an obsession. Software instruments like TRK-01 and BATTERY provide extensive collections of club-ready kicks – whilst, for owners of REAKTOR, the User Library offers great scope to explore kick synthesis, with several ensembles having secured their place as contemporary software ‘classics’.
Low End Fundamentals – From 808 boom to 909 Punch
Few drum machines have contributed as substantially to the dance music cannon as the ubiquitous TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines. Indeed, these machines continue to inspire both purist emulations, and exciting new hybrids with functional twists. Below are a selection of ensembles, tools, and synthesizers from the REAKTOR User Library, that help bring this sound to your production.
David Elson’s K-Kick offers a faithful recreation of a TR-808 kick, including basic accent, decay, synth and tone controls to help shape its elegant tone. True to form, K-Kick is also playable chromatically, and doubles as dub-wise and usable bass-line synth.
Crack Baby 808
Matthias Schaffner’s intriguingly named Crack Baby 808 is presented with the the kind of unassuming GUI only a mother could love, whilst its drab exterior belies exceptional musicality. Six basic controls afford broad spectrum design – from deep boomy subs to panic-inducing hardcore terror.
For those wishing to dig a little deeper, Schaffner’s Drum Designer offers further sound shaping possibilities, incorporating additional oscillator ‘layers’, filters, envelopes and distortion options. An elegant and intuitive tool.
Keith and Kevin Kicks
Recently, the Reaktor Blocks modular environment witnessed the addition of the beautifully designed Keith and Kevin kick Blocks. Both Blocks offer extensive timbral control in addition to an inspired selection of user snapshots. From clean 909-style thuds to Keith’s own ‘weird’ and ‘random’ banks, there’s plenty of room to navigate genres here. There’s even a ‘Happy Hardcore’ kick nestled amid the selection. Novice Reaktor users take note, however – you WILL need to patch in a note- in order to get these blocks to ‘sound’.
Da Kick Maker
Da Kick Maker is another ‘bread and butter’ addition to the Reaktor Blocks cannon. Don’t be perturbed by the somewhat corny name though – this powerful block offers both essential tonal controls, as well as two selectable waveforms. Engaging the less common square-wave oscillator quickly catapults its output into freaky hardcore, gabba or electro bleep territory.
Block Drum Pack
A pièce de résistance of “well tempered” code, the Block Drum Pack is based on classic “TR” circuitry, and faithfully extends the signature sound of Roland’s TR-909 drum machine with finesse. Come for the kick, but stay for the hats, the claps, the rim and….behold the incredible power of a well executed vision!
Using this block will once more require a basic ‘note in’ trigger patched (.ism) to the drum unit within Reaktor’s environment, but the less than patch-savvy can be assured that mastering this basic task will provide hours of subsequent gratification.
AmpDrum is a fully-fledged drum machine, describing itself as a “drumsynth for rock drums”. Occupying the same retro-futurist headspace as Elektron’s Machinedrum, it offers a wonderful example of how a well-designed modulation matrix can radically transform a seemingly simple source tone. Far from traditional acoustic modelling, AmpDrum’s user snapshots highlight its diverse timbral palette. Presets like “dusty” and “lo-fi” are imminently tweakable, bearing the gritty hallmarks of an instrument well suited to dubstep, hip hop and EBM productions.
A true ‘Swiss Army knife’ for synthesizing sizable techno kicks. It’s ‘knock’, ‘deep’, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sliders offer immediate and intuitive responsiveness, with the welcome addition of a reverb effect, and some stunning techno-savvy snapshots including an aptly named ‘Oliver Lieb’ preset. Check out Kick Box here.
A project which speaks volumes for author Nick Dwyer’s evident passion for all things acid. This unit hums, pops and throbs in a jocular, idiosyncratic fashion, imbued with a sense of organic charm. Presets are reminiscent of neglected analogue technology left to rust, or just a little too much coffee spilt on unwitting transistors. In short, techno heaven, laced with punk attitude.
In the words of the author, “I have always found the kick drum the most boring of instruments so I’ve enabled an acid house style tweakage”. TalkBoxKicker is far from boring, and speaks to the potential of REAKTOR to reinvigorate the familiar in creatively unexpected ways.