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The synth trick behind Hannes Bieger's Chemistry

For all the Synth-Nerds Hannes wrote a deeper explaination about the details of the lead element of the track. 

„Both tracks on my Chemistry release are almost exclusively based on modular synth sounds. My goal was to blur the lines between traditional harmonic/melodic elements on one side and percussive parts on the other end. Most sounds on this EP are in between these two functions or they combine them – something that goes very easily with modular synths.

The lead sound in the drop section of Chemistry stands out for me as an element that can only be realised with a modular synth. When you work with such an instrument in the studio all the time you begin to take the flexibility and the options for granted at some point. I only fully understood how much of a genuine modular element this lead is when I tried to adapt it with the Moog Sub 37 for my live set. While the Sub 37 is an extremely flexible synth in his own right, it was completely impossible to even get close with it to what I did with the big Moog. 

Here’s what I did: At first glance the lead sounds like a typical Moog line with a vibrato LFO controlling the pitch of the oscillators. But what you can see especially towards the end of the video snippet is that what sounds like a vibrato is in fact a multiple note sequence on the 960 sequencer module that runs very fast. In this case the sequencer is not synced to the MIDI tempo, but I am modulating the speed of the internal sequencer clock with my left hand. When it runs faster it sounds like a vibrato, and at lower speeds the individual notes from the sequence come through, then you can really hear this is not a mere vibrato but actually a melody.

While this is very cool to begin with, the complexity of the patch does not stop here. The sound is set up for amplitude modulation (AM synthesis), which means that the original mono signal from the oscillators is split after the filter into two VCAs, one for the left, and one for the right channel. These VCAs are being modulated with an LFO, whose positive and negative outputs go to both VCAs. In turn, at low LFO speeds, the result is a panning of the signal in the stereo field. But when the LFO runs at audio speed the resulting ultra fast panning means the VCAs are breaking up, producing a whole new range of harmonics. This has to be tuned very carefully so that the result doesn’t become a complete harmonic disaster.

To ensure this the LFO who controls the VCAs has to be controlled itself by the same pitch control voltage that the sequencer is sending to the oscillators. And when this locks in it gives a very beautiful additional harmonic spectrum, and also a super wide „natural“ stereo imagine. I say „natural“, because all the harmonics are wandering around in the panorama at their own individual speed, and this results in a super wide synth sound where the stereo width is actually a part, a function of the synthesis itself, and not achieved by way of using a chorus or reverb on top of a mono synth sound. I am using AM sounds all the time, the drone pad in Chemistry is another example, for instance.

Now the cool thing for this lead sound is that when I change the speed of the sequencer oscillator this not only changes the character of the „vibrato“ or the sequence melody, it simultaneously also changes the way how the sound bounces around in the stereo field. And it all results in a lead sound that has a very direct purpose at first glance, but if you delve deeper into this it sounds as complex and rich as no other synth – and all of it has been purely realised with the means of traditional synthesis, not with external effects. And that for me is the true beauty of modular sounds.


And, by the way: The high „backwards“ arpeggio that you can hear in the breakdown of Chemistry right before the drop is how this patch sounded when it was idling, without me playing any notes on the keyboard. I didn't plan to create this breakdown element, but working on the drop part I realised its beauty and recorded it for the break – a happy accident, and yet another reason why I love modular synths so much!“