Modular synthesis in Reason part 2: Detuning and Vibrato

Last time we built a basic monosynth using modular synthesis in Reason. What we have so far is pretty simple; a single oscillator sawtooth wave triggered by an envelope generator. So far it’s nothing fancy so this time I’m going to be building it up by adding a second oscillator and showing you how to apply vibrato using the mod wheel.

To follow along you will need AMMO 100LA (€15), Charlotte Envelope Generator (€19) and Propellerhead’s Pulsar (€39). We will be following on directly from last week’s tutorial, so if you’re following along you might want to check out part 1 first.

Modular synthesis in Reason part 1: Creating a basic monosynth

When you think of modular synthesizers you might envision a huge Eurorack system complete with countless dangling spaghetti cables. It’s the king of hardware gear, the holy grail of synthesis that’s reserved for the few enthusiasts that have spent countless hours and a vast amount of money perfecting their dream instrument. It can quickly turn into an addiction that can completely take over your life. Ok, maybe I’m over-exaggerating a little bit here, but it’s not hard to see why modular synthesizers are so desirable.

However, you don’t have to spend a tonne of money to build your dream modular synth. You don’t even have to a clear a room out to house your massive Eurorack system, not when you have the power Reason at your disposal. Don’t believe me? Just flip the rack around in Reason, don’t those spaghetti cables look familiar?

Sure, using software to create your perfect instrument isn’t as glamorous as owning the real thing. You won’t get the satisfaction of hand patching the cables or turning the physical knobs but you will get to explore the world of modular synthesis for a fraction of the price.

Just check the Propellerhead shop and you’ll find loads of Rack Extensions that will help you on your way to modular madness. With all this choice it might not be clear where to start so I’m going to be writing a series of tutorials here on RER to get you up and running.

In this first tutorial I’m going to be showing you how to set up a basic monosynth using modular synthesis within the Reason rack. To follow along you’ll need Ammo 100LA (€15) and Charlotte Envelope Generator (€19). Let’s get started, if you get stuck be sure to check out the example images provided.

Sound Layering: An intro to the Combinator

Layering sounds is a basic and old technique to turn any chord, bass or lead lines into a more harmonically complex, interesting and/or bigger and wider sound.

Electronic instruments are no exception to this. Some were even designed from the ground up with this as a key feature.

MIDI helped this technique, allowing musicians to easily play more than one synth simultaneously out of the same controlling keyboard, achieving that same layering effect even with those instruments that weren’t capable of playing different sounds (i.e. patches/presets) at the same time on their own (i.e. weren’t multi-timbral).

On early versions of Reason, one could achieve this layering of sounds by duplicating the same MIDI track and assigning those tracks to drive different instrument layers, but fortunately, since Reason 3.0, there’s a more compact and elegant solution: the Combinator! Read on for our tutorial on getting started layering sounds inside a Combinator.

CV in Reason: Behind those front panels

Soon after Rack Extensions were made available to Reason users, we’ve seen a clear growth of utility-type devices specifically dealing with Control Voltage (CV for short).

To better understand why that happened, what missing features these devices are trying to cover and how to get the most out of the existing and new devices, there are a few basic principles about CV that beginners in computer-based music production and even experienced DAW users new to Reason need to keep in mind. Even experienced Reason users that dismissed CV as an uninteresting tool may end up getting something out of these basic notions when reading our reviews and tutorials.