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Emptyset's feedback loop techniques
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Author Emptyset's feedback loop techniques
kiddcabbage
So I've been really into this band Emptyset for about half a year or so. They've got a very experimental sound, extremely heavy minimal techno. I'll post an example:




I'm fascinated by their sound design and have tried figuring out whatever I could about their process.


In the one video interview I could find, they said this:
Quote:
"Yeah we've got two Akai sequencing samplers running very barebones parts of what we're doing that's getting processed with a bunch of analogue outboard and then all kind of fed back on itself through a couple of mixers. So I guess it's very much akin to our studio process which is based more upon creating processes in which we're feeding skeletal sounds through and the process itself is what's imparting any kind of interest because we're always starting with sine waves and noise and that's where the music happens. So kind of creating the conditions for the music to come alive."



And this from another obscure interview.
Quote:
"We wrote the entire album in the Multiverse Studio. The signal chain we used was based on using Logic 8 as a playback device for the noise and sine waves and sending it through a series of valve compressors and EQs, various transistor based gear and series of microphones set up in the control room and on amplifiers set up in other isolated rooms. We wanted to create situations where the music came alive from its own side by finding the points within signal chains where distortion begins to form before it overpowers. If you listened to our source material it would sound pathetic, everything interesting happens in the relationship between different elements in the chain."



Does anyone have any experience with anything like this? Getting good results from it? Maybe suggestions of routing to create these types of chains? Thanks.
mt3
Huge fan here.
Check out Blush Response as well. He's a fan as well and gets similar textures and rhythms, but over a deep kick.

Emptyset reminds me of most noise acts, but with an interesting rhythmic structure.
mt3






Haus Arafna has similar textures.
stk
I had not heard Emptyset before, enjoying the sounds. I must say I think they are a lot more interesting than the Haus Arafna stuff posted.

My techno stuff is a little less "noise" but I can definitely relate to their approach - I tend to feed very simple sequences with maybe 2 - 4 voices through complex sidechaining and feedback chains created with a combination of outboard (mixer, fx) and inboard (DAW, plugins). It's all about little tweaks until all the elements kind of merge into more than the sum of their parts.
justin3am
I'd never heard of emptyset, thanks!
Based on the quotes, I think you'd want to start with a mixer that has a bunch of sends. Route the send outputs to effects and the effects back into channel inputs, so that the effects can then be routed back to sends. That way, you basically have a matrix mixer. If your mixer has groups and enough sends (I use a mixer with 4 pre-fade monitor outs, 2 port-fade fx sends and four groups), you can get more than one voice going on simultaneously.
Now, if you put VCAs in front of the effects or after them, you can control the amount of feedback happening on each channel, with CV. With careful gain staging you can have the whole system on the verge of feedback, and then use simple sounds to get the system going. At that point routing envelopes to the VCAs which control the send levels will allow you to sculpt the feedback in a rhythmic way. In this kind of setup, very small changes can have dramatic effects, so always be recording!

I'm not sure if that is exactly what they are doing but it's how I would approach it.

This is the closest thing I've done to something like that track:
[s]http://soundcloud.com/justin3am/umb[/s]
That was just a chaotic pulse generator (Horndog), running through a Realistic Reverb and a Danelectro EQ, in a feedback loop. The rhythms are more freeform but some of the textures are similar.
submute
have nothing helpful to add, but I'd never heard of Emptyset and fuuuuuuu
Futuresound
I’d heard of them, but for some reason I thought they were horrible EDM crap.

Glad I was wrong!
PhineasFreak
i'm another in the heard of but never listened to camp - and i really like what im hearing. i been pondering some sort of matrix mixer for my modular, but recently i tarted leaning more towards getting something like the doepfer performance mixer, including the envelope follower section and the send/return section - this is definitely encouraging such thoughts...
defenestration
highly relevant video on the sound design for the most recent Doom game, which utilized some similar processes




heavy usage of sine wave sequences fed into multiple pedal chains with lots of compression
suboptimal
I've found that the Metasonix R-56 spring reverb module has some of the Emptyset vibe with the right material and gain staging. It has the right mix of growly tube distortion and, of course, that feedback.

The T-Resonator has some of the vibe too. Again, the feedback.

Neither of these things is the complete answer, of course. I think their process renders results that are hard to replicate through straightforward subtractive means.
kiddcabbage
Glad to introduce so many people to Emptyset; sounds like a lot of people are enjoying what they've heard.

Thanks for the suggestions mt3. Went and listened to Blush Response's whole Boiler Room set. Real heavy stuff.


Thanks for the routing suggestions, Justin. This is definitely the type of stuff I was looking for. I've currently been running signal into my mixer's channel 1, the output R into Channel 2, and having Channels 1, 2, and 3 running into Aux 1, which is inputting into Channel 3. Trying to insert effects in between Out R and Channel 2 mostly. I have a lot of guitar distortion pedals, but those are sound manglers which turn the sound into complete garbled noise super easily. I'm wondering if something more subtle in a feedback chain might get closer to the results I'm looking for?

I'd seen the Doom sound design talk. I know Mick and we've talked about his process for the game. He definitely created an "instrument" through his chains which represented the game so well. Huge respect for the guy.


Thanks for the gear suggestions, suboptimal. I'll look into those, especially the R-56. Do keep in mind that I am not necessarily hoping to do this entirely within my modular system though! As much as these things are great, I do expect that if I'm going to be feedback looping it's going to have to include a mixer and maybe some outboard!

Cheers guys! Keep the comments coming, hoping to get cool stuff out of this soon!
suboptimal
For sure, mixers and outboard are in order. I mentioned those two devices only to highlight that they have characteristics that might be worth studying. It's clear from those interviews that these aren't close to the process Emptyset actually uses.
justin3am
kiddcabbage wrote:
I have a lot of guitar distortion pedals, but those are sound manglers which turn the sound into complete garbled noise super easily. I'm wondering if something more subtle in a feedback chain might get closer to the results I'm looking for?

Yes, when doing complex feedback systems, it's easy to just get garbage. Especially, if you are using a mixer which doesn't have much headrooom. Graphic EQs and BBD delays are fun. So are phasers, particularly if you can turn off the modulator and control it manually. But yes, subtlety is the key and getting fine control of each gain stage.
It helps to get each feedback loop going on it's own and then try to route them into each other. It'll be a delicate balancing act at first, but once you get the hang of it it's easier to know how to keep it all under control.
Rosaria
I've found that I can introduce subtle modulation of the feedback if driven by a very slow lfo, especially when doing no-input mixer feedback. I'll take the signal just to edge of feedback and let the lfo drive the signal into feedback.

I've just driven it with an ever so slow sine wave from Pure Data, which made it easy to program lfo-modulation sequences and produce a surprisingly controllable system. Square waves are great for rhythmic repetition, especially when the feedback signal takes half a second to respond to the changes. Some wonderful modulation can happen in that brief moment.
stk
Yeah with feedback stuff you've got to keep it super subtle. The magic is in the sub-millimetre range around the feedback point. The trick is finding that point, then massaging things ever so slightly so they revolve around it.
mt3
stk wrote:
Yeah with feedback stuff you've got to keep it super subtle. The magic is in the sub-millimetre range around the feedback point. The trick is finding that point, then massaging things ever so slightly so they revolve around it.


Om
Good stuff here.
burnn_out!
From what I've gathered over the years from emptyset is that it's a couple signal generators with heavy fx shaping them chains. The sounds are from sides chains and gates. They've also used amplicfication, natural room reverb with Mic placement. The imo obviously use very quality mixers and mics. They're pretty reclusive so I'm just doing a guesstimate here. They're imo closer to SUNN0))) than straight techno production techniques
mt3
burnn_out! wrote:
From what I've gathered over the years from emptyset is that it's a couple signal generators with heavy fx shaping them chains. The sounds are from sides chains and gates. They've also used amplicfication, natural room reverb with Mic placement. The imo obviously use very quality mixers and mics. They're pretty reclusive so I'm just doing a guesstimate here. They're imo closer to SUNN0))) than straight techno production techniques


Ya, the Pan Sonic approach. I'd say they're more the electronic noise scene than SunnO))). The techno elements are due to the fairly straightahead rhythm of their envelopes I would guess. Excellent shotgun marriage of styles.
lasesentaysiete
I interviewed Paul from Emptyset a couple of years back, and he admitted that they mostly start with samples. This leads me to think that the DOOM video game music video above pretty much nails it.
mt3
Link to interview?
How do they process the samples? What do they do live with the samples? Do they create the samples themselves?
lasesentaysiete
mt3 wrote:
Link to interview?

It was actually just an email exchange I initiated for some research I had been doing. It was never published. I was asking about Emptyset's synthesis techniques, and the answer I got was more or less:

"synthesis? No. We process samples."


Now, this was a few years ago, so who knows where they're at now.

Quote:
How do they process the samples? What do they do live with the samples? Do they create the samples themselves?


I didn't ask much more about the sampling, etc. because it was irrelevant to me at the time.

Did you watch the video posted above about the music for the Doom video game? Seems bang on.
mt3
Ha, ya. Huuuge Mick Gordon fan.
The Harvestman

Curious. What was the research on?
lasesentaysiete
mt3
kick drum synthesis.
kollo
One of my favourite bands all time!

Try mixing noise, kick, slow (lfo speed) sine or sine slowly modulated and some higher pitched sine or feedback. Set the levels very carefully. Run it all through distortion/wavefolder etc. The kick will eat the headroom making everything duck, the noise and high pitched sounds will slowly come back at the decay of the kick and the slow sine will create rhythms by eating headroom.. Fine tune. Introduce hihat. Etc. I often start patches like that,get results similar to emptyset. The doepfer a137 is great. (When the kids are sleeping, i cant feedback freely in my basement wink
Val
yo
what burnn_out! said
it's more about the processing and sidechaining compression
very simple it's some sound compressing another one
basic sound doesn't matter what's why they're working with sines and noise, it just gets heavily processed / distorted, and the "arrangement" comes from natural interaction between the sounds via sidechaining

also, i saw them in berlin few month ago, they were using some string thing, one of the two would pluck or pinch that thing, the sound would go to some processing machine

i saw them another time, but that was a long time ago, can't really remember what was going on, laptops and stuff, maybe that was just them playing back recordings

i think that distinctive distorsion comes from the expensive outboard they're using

that's all i can say
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