How Ian Chang Uses Sidechained Noise Gates in His Track “Audacious” (Video)

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This video was premiered by our friends at Sunhouse.

Ian Chang’s best-known solo piece to date is called “Audacious,” featuring Kazu Makino from the band Blonde Redhead on vocals.

It’s a powerful synth-driven pop track, where Ian’s own Sensory Percussion performance drives the attacks of the synth and bass parts throughout, in addition to the drums. The punchy punctuation of the various harmonic elements is a direct result of Ian’s experimentation with the software, and is a huge part of the sound of this track.

You can watch him perform “Audacious” in a full studio version inside his course, Warped Rhythms & Abstract Beats, or listen to the song here:

In today’s newly released video, courtesy of our friends at Sunhouse, Ian takes a deeper dive into how he created the track using Sensory Percussion and a series of sidechained noise gates in Ableton Live, and what performance elements are at play.

The initial seed of this track was a gritty flute sampler instrument that Ian made, on which he wrote a fluid, breathy pad part, and an accompanying arpeggio with a lot of drive and distortion.

He then employed a classic gating technique, common in trance and electronic dance music, to take control of the articulation of these long, legato samples through his Sensory Percussion drum setup. In this case, the center of his floor tom controller is mapped in Ableton Live to a gate, which opens up the sound each time he hits the center of the floor tom.

He has a similar setup for the arpeggio, but maps this sound to his floor tom rim, to separate it from the pad and to perform it separately.

Gating and Sidechaining

If these are new words or concepts for you, don’t fret. Let’s talk about what each of these terms means.

gate is a device that either allows sound to pass through or prevents sound from passing through, depending on whether it is opened or closed. Whether or not sound passes through depends on whether or not the sound level reaches a certain threshold level.

In addition, the gate also gives us control over how quickly the sound gets to pass through (the attack), how long the sound sticks around for (the hold), and how long a time elapses before the gate fully closes again (the release).

This is what the gate looks like in Ableton Live:

In addition, there can be two separate signals interacting within the gate — the sound that the gate is controlling, and a different sound that the gate watches to determine whether or not it should open or close in the first place. In this case, that means the gate is sidechained to a separate signal that has control over it, even though the sound that’s being let through by the gate is our original signal.

In Ian’s case, the signal that is being controlled by the gate is his flute sampler, but the signal that’s controlling whether or not the gate is open is his floor tom, through Sensory Percussion. That means the flute sampler gate is sidechained to the floor tom, and we won’t hear the flute sampler unless the floor tom is played above the threshold set on the gate.

Ian compares this to two people playing one saxophone:

“I think a good analogy for this technique is to imagine two different people playing one saxophone, and one person is picking the notes, but the audience doesn’t hear what those notes are at all unless the other person is blowing into them. In this case, Sensory Percussion is like the mouthpiece, and what I have set up in my Ableton session… is the person playing the fingerpads pad on the saxophone.”

Even More Control

Keep in mind, you could also set this up with a typical microphone, but Sensory Percussion allows Ian to have loads more control over the sound, in performance, velocity, timbre, and electronic processing in real time.

Since the sensors are so sensitive and well-mapped by machine learning, he can map the velocity of his hits on the floor tom to make the release time of the gate longer when he hits harder, and shorter when he hits softer. Ian has a similar setup on the kick drum, but in this case his performance on the kick drum opens up a gate on a crunchy legato upright bass sound. It’s the same principle, just mapped to a different drum.

Check out Sunhouse’s Sensory Percussion here.

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