Creating tension in transitions and breakdowns usually involves a sound that increases in volume and intensity as it nears the next phrase (usually an 8 or 4 bar segment where the music changes). These sounds are commonly referred to as sweeps, and when it involves pitch or frequency increasing it is called a riser. One of the old school methods of making sweeps was to take a stab or single note hit and reverse the playback of the waveform. This is just fine and still proves to be a good way of creating sweeps, especially with a lot of the pitch preservation tools allowed with stretch functionality in current DAWs. However, creating sweeps in a VST instrument can provide much more flexibility and control over the sound and understanding how to make them will allow you to create some really nice transitions.
In this tutorial, we will use Image Line’s Harmor synth to create a sweep/riser.
Here we see Harmor’s default Volume Envelope:
We will first modify this volume envelope by clicking on the “Tempo” option and altering the envelope so that the last three nodes are all on the same point and move them to create a ramp (this example shows a 2-bar ramp):
If you play a note you will notice the sound emerges from nothing and continually increases in volume – not exactly a killer sweep at this point, but with some additional envelopes it will get better.
Select “Pitch” from the envelope drop down menu and create a pitch envelope. A riser will increase the pitch as it progresses, but you can do whatever you like here to create a custom pitch sequence for your sweep. This example show a pretty straightforward pitch rise:
Now to add a little more complexity to the sweep, lets adjust a couple of parameters. First, turn the “Unison” to “3”. Second, turn waveform mix to the right (the Square Wave). Third, turn the “Phaser Mix” all the way to the right. Fourth, select “Phaser Mix” in the envelope drop down, select the “Tempo” option, and create an envelope that adjusts the amount of the “Phaser Mix” that matches the length of your sweep. This example shows a 2 bar sine wave that oscillates at the same speed until it gets to the final 1/4 bar:
Keep on fiddling with other parameters to change the sound of the sweep. You can also change the length of the envelopes to create longer sweeps.