Electronic music fans will recognize the name Bon Harris as a founding member of one of the world's most influential electronic acts - Nitzer Ebb. Apart from his own bands, he has done writing, production and programming work with artists such as Billy Corgan and Marilyn Manson.
As an electronic musician, Bon relied heavily on large modular systems to create his music and often dreamed there was a way to make music on the road without hauling the whole studio on each trip. In the end, he found Reason.
Being used to the modular approach, Bon Harris constantly finds himself patching audio and control voltages on Reason's back panel. Only in software, it's much faster and there's an undo function as well.
We met with Bon Harris in Los Angeles to talk about his use of Reason in his production work and on the new Nitzer Ebb album. He also gave us a thorough lesson in how to craft a Nitzer Ebb-style bass patch using Thor, a vocoder and a mile of virtual patch cable - check the video!
Nitzer Ebb-style bass, a tutorial
In the video, Bon Harris shows a trick for animating parameters using CV. We asked him to elaborate on that subject and he sent us an example file and a very thorough description of how his bass patch was created.
Download the example song file (Reason version 4), put on your lab coat and taped-together thick glasses and get ready to dive in!
Here is what Bon Harris says:
Start off with Thor (or your preferred module), a Matrix Sequencer, and a Spider Audio split/merge. Cook up a sound and sequence you like.
I chose a 3 oscillator Pulse Wave bass, with sync on oscillator 2, and some LFO mod to PW and pitch (on the sync'd oscillator - #2), for a bit of animation. Patch the audio output of the Thor into the Spider audio splitter and send dual splits to channels 1 and 2 on the mixer. Channel one will be the basic sound, channel two will be the vocoder sweep EQ sound.
Add the BV512 Vocoder, (while holding down the shift key – so it doesn't auto patch). Re-patch audio split #2 from the Audio Spider to the Vocoder input, and the patch the Vocoder output into mixer channel 2. Mute channel 1 (the basic sound), so you can hear the Vocoder sound solo. Set the switch on the BV to "Equalizer", and choose how many bands you'd like.
I went with the basic four band, because it's early and I haven't had much Tea yet. Muck about with the 4 EQ bands, and the shift knob until it starts to get "fruity".
Add a Subtractor, (again, holding the shift key, so that it doesn't auto patch to anything). Flip the rack around and patch the LFO 1 CV output into the Shift CV input on the BV512 Vocoder. Mess around with the Subtractor LFO 1 settings and the BV512 shift CV amount on the back panel, and the shift knob on the front panel.
Now the Subtractor is acting as a modular LFO to sweep the BV512 EQ shift.
You could stop there if you wanted, doing an A/B between mixer channel 1, (basic sound), and channel 2, (BV512 EQ w/LFO mod). You could layer them, use the BV sound as an alt bass, whatever.
I decided I wanted to have more options, so I went one more step. (This last paragraph is for Turbo Nerds. If you have a life I would suggest getting back to it. Quickly.)
Earlier, in the basic Thor patch, I had routed the Matrix "Curve CV" output to the Thor back panel "Filter 1 Freq" CV input, for some filter accents. I decided that might sound good on the vocoder shift as well. I added a Spider CV merge/split (with the shift key again –otherwise the machines WILL take over and all humans WILL die). I re-patched the Curve CV output, (on the Matrix back panel), to the CV splitter input on the Spider CV. I sent CV split output #1 back to the back panel Thor Filter 1 CV input, re-establishing the filter movements I had already setup on Thor.
Now, my shift CV input on the BV512 is already patched from the Subtractor LFO, and I now also want to use the Curve CV from the Matrix (on CV split output #2 of the Spider CV). I re-patched the Subtractor LFO output into input #1 of the Spider CV merger, and re-patched the output of the merger into the BV512 shift CV input. Now I've basically got a four input CV mixer going in to the BV512 Shift CV input. Last, I went to the Spider CV splitter, took the Curve CV split output #2 and patched back into the Spider merge input #2.
Now I can play with the CV amount on both the Subtractor LFO and the Matrix Curve CV inputs on the Spider CV before sending them to the BV512 shift CV input. As you can see, (if you are still awake), this patch involves patching the Spider CV split output back into its own merge inputs.
Once this patch was complete, I went train spotting.