Although often overlooked, South Africa is a hotbed for brilliant electronic music producers, such as Swoon Recordings boss Ryan Murgatroyd. He recently released a fantastic piece of work titled Wooma, that features live instrumentation and highly detailed textures that reflect his surroundings and rich, culturally diverse region he comes from. It's without a doubt that Ryan is one of ZA's pioneering acts, and it shows in the quality of his work. Below, he breaks down his newest work for a new edition of How It Was Made.
Words by Ryan Murgatroyd
Starting the track: Spectrasonics Omnisphere.
The track started off with a riff I played in Omnisphere, because it has such great bell and mallet sounds, and they are really a lot less typical and more unique than anything else I’ve heard in software. The keyscape creative library is ridiculous for those sorts of sounds. The main riff, which is only 3 note polyphony, was written on one of those keyscape sounds initially, but even though it was awesome, it felt a bit static coming out of the software, and when I automated it felt more like a sample than a live expressive synthesiser. So I thought, hey, I love the riff, let's give it a go through some of the hardware.
Re-imaging the riff with the Korg Minilogue XD and Korg Wavestate
I love the Minilogue XD because, like OMNI, it has the BELL thing going, smooth, glassy, really futuristic sounding hybrid bell/keys that are very musical indeed. I used a factory preset called ‘MINI-MOON’ that is honestly one of the best sounds I’ve heard as a preset win a hardwire synth, and when you consider its a 400 Euro hardware synth, it’s absurd how good it sounds. I played the riff in fresh, with new expression and articulation, different accents on the notes, and the main thing of course: customising those envelopes. The AMP and the filter envelopes on the XD are very responsive, and I thought it would be cool to have the lead sound very tight and punchy, so I used the filter envelopes to great effect.
Layering that sucker up:
First off, I like to do a lot of live ‘takes’ of a synth line. Either I play it live each time, so that the articulation, velocity is a bit different, and if you’re using an analogue oscillator it’s going to sound a tiny bit different each time you play it. In this case, I recorded the riff into MIDI, let it run through the Minilogue XD and the WAVEstate a few times, using presets and original sounds I made from scratch. I had both hands free to automate envelopes and filters, and finally, after a few layers, I had the sonically rich, timbrally diverse main lead sound I was looking for.
The drum track: Session drummer meets modular rack:
Actually laid a good portion of the drums down with a very good session drummer, which I’ve never done on a dance record before, I wanted this very TOM drum focused low mid groove, and lots of clever fills, so he tracked it down on a MIDI drum kit, and then I spent a few days making individual drum one-shots on the modular rack: I Use PLAITS in the drum oscillator modes to generate a few very unique tom sounds, and a few other misc percussions, and then I used the triggers from the session drummer to play them in a drum machine. Its really one of my favourite grooves I've had on any record.
Bass and atmospheres: The trusty Prophet Rev 2
I actually don’t typically use the prophet for bass much, because it's sooo wide. It sounds exceptional for mid-range sounds but often the bass is a bit wide and dynamic. But in this case, I like the tone so much that I spent a good few hours removing some of the modulation routings, panning, stereo offset until I had a very clean, narrow, and focused sound. I'm using some subtle automation of the glide parameter, and I played it live to make sure the dynamics were interesting. Then I had a great take of the whole baseline, start to finish, a bit of compression and gain riding and even it out, and voila.
Even though it's only a single vocal phrase, we tracked it really softly on a great condenser, and then tracked it over and over to get it thick and shiny,. Olwethu is just soooo natural when It comes to doing these phrases. And this vocal, we wanted it to be a bit spooky, not really poppy, not too upfront in the mix, and we didn’t want it to be literal. So I used mutable instruments clouds and Output Portal, two granular processors, to make it a bit more ghostly and subtle… Love them both! Portal is so insanely easy to use and record. It's not cheap - around 200 euros I think for a granular effect but man, its serious stuff. I run EVERYTHING though it cos you just never know! It spits out the most insane randomness but it's still related in some way to the original audio material you started with.
Wooma is available now. Grab it here.