Thread: MiX iT! 3d – ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

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  1. #1
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    Clown MiX iT! 3d – ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    Okay! it's taken way too long for me to do this but I've been very distracted by other stuff. But a number of people were getting into my mix, and the thing is, they tend to say 'wow, not much done but what overwhelming emotional impact you get when you leave it that simple'.

    I'm not.

    It's just that the stuff I'm doing doesn't work like coats of paint on everything. I'm not doing a lotta 'coloring' or 'effect-ing', and the tracks didn't need fixing, but almost everything needed something, often quite radical stuff that you just don't hear as radical because of how it goes together.

    So my job here is to take the time to explain HOW it went together and why I made each judgement call- not so that people can start imitating my budding 'style' (ha, like that's gonna happen) but so that people can understand why I decided certain things, especially the stuff that's not normal for 2008 mixing, and have those options available in their own heads.

    Here's the screenshot of what I was doing. You can see that some stuff has nothing on it, lots have one or two things, key stuff like the lead vox has five. I'll take the vox last, step by step, but let's start with the drum submix.
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    Here's the full drum submix- I'm going to solo each bit of it (this is a different clip from the other stuff)

    The full submix sounds basically normal but what you have to understand is that I'm building stuff up out of a lot of different parts. The bloom on the kick is mostly tom mics (no FX, just play the raw track for your 'soloed' version). The far room mic is doctored to have basically no attack... the OHs are compressed to shit and only peek out with cymbals from time to time... it's all about finding which mic is bringing what part of the sound and isolating that part. This also reduces phase issues (not a problem here) because the tracks aren't made to sound similar to each other.

    Listen to the kik track- this is all one effect (HighImpact) which can be simulated using the plugin 'Cyanide'. It's a combination of distortion on loud sounds, and thinning out of soft sounds. I'll be doing a lot of the latter- yes modern mix topologies make everything fat and distort, but sometimes you want stuff to be SKINNY without EQing it. This kik is crunching a bit on the top, but the rest of it is an inverse distortion curve. Like a dist version of expansion or gating- you could also gate, but this isn't gating. If you do inverse distortion, the sounds move a bit farther away, just as distorting stuff brings it closer. Listen to the soloed kik and it should become clear.

    Inverse-distorting also makes stuff nastier and thinner and crunchier. I'm using this kik track for JUST the kik impact and no bloom or thickness- I'm actually getting my bassiness off the bass, not the kik.

    The snare is just overdriven a bit with 'DrumSlam', which of course is inspired by Massey TapeHead, so the alternate plug for that is obviously TapeHead. No attempt to further control it or to make it supply the big room-bloom sound like 80s hair metal. it's sort of the 'body track' for the snare, and treated as such. A very gentle distortion would have worked too. It's distorted just enough to bring it subtly up front without putting it in your face- that's what I was listening to, was where it was front-to-back rather than the exact tonality.
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    Default Re: ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    Here's the rooms. Notice something about the stereo room? It's NOT STEREO! I fucked up it was by command-option-dragging a Distance plugin over from the mono room. The plugin stayed mono, and I missed it because I have the stereo room so low anyway. Woopsy. it didn't hurt the emotional content of the song not having the stereo room actually stereo because our intended feelings weren't 'gee, wide drums'

    Stereo Room has 'ambience' and 'distance' on it. What those do is, Ambience is a series of basically delays, like really fast slapbacks (it's a bit more complicated than that but that's the gist) so you could use a quick slapback, like 30ms or so? The level of the slapback and its regeneration are very low. It just fills in a bit. Distance is a slew limiter combined with EQing- I find it way handy but you can simulate that too, either with my free Slew plugin or just never mind that stuff and just filter highs. The key concept is, distant stuff has less highs so you don't brighten your room tracks, you might even dull them a bit if it makes the depth of the space be farther away.

    Mono Room. Now we're talking! This one is STRONG processing, and it's using Point and Distance again. All Point is, is a kind of transient designer, and what you do with your transient designer is you whack the attack off completely so there's only 'whoomph'. It's totally washed out, and then dulled by 'Distance' to put it totally in the back of the mix, no attempt at other EQ, no attempt to have the room 'sparkle' or any shit like that. Room size is supposed to be DEEP, far back there, or it is distracting. Check out that mono room track again and note that nobody listening to the mix was distracted from the point of it by 80s drum sounds, and yet if it was all mono room the drum sound would be HUGE. It's just a hint of it in there that you don't really notice, and the reason for that is mostly because it's so dull. I could have made this one track into monster drum madness and totally didn't want to do so, but you'll notice I still took it in that direction and then buried it... you don't take tracks and make them not what they are. Mono Room is ONLY 'far big deep room whoomph' and doesn't try to imitate snare rattle or anything like that. Things are strongest if they are what they are, so you make them as strong as possible and then you bury them in the mix if you don't want as much of that. If you only want a hint of big room whumph, you don't twist the mono room away from that goal, you make it as big as possible and then sneak in just a trace of it- less extraneous stuff to get in the way.

    Overheads. This is pretty funny. This is the Kenny trick, except I'm not even attempting to retain a 'dry overheads', I'm using them only and completely to make that 'hyper compressed cymbal shine' effect. Overheads use my VariMu (Pressure is the free variation on that, or use any compressor you really love) and Air, which only boosts 11, 15 or 22K. You can hear how the snare hits instantly kick the level down, and how the hats jump out from time to time- this is pretty hard compression, but after the compression I'm throwing such a hard 'air' boost that in the mix all you really hear from this is the cymbals and a bit of snare attack. When setting this, I kept it quiet and kept cranking the compression until I started to hear that pumping becoming obnoxious, and then cut it back so I could pretend it wasn't pumping if I wasn't listening closely.

    it's not supposed to sound good by itself. it's only for adding cymbal sheen. If there were no tom mics, I would've had to get my toms from here too and it would have come out different.
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  4. #4
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    Default Re: ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    Tambourine. Contrary to Mixerman, I found it incredibly important, but that's because I use tambourines for a very specific purpose. I know it seems like they should be bright and trebly, but we already have hats for that.

    What I use tambourine for is stuff like the 'cowbell trick'. I want it to be sort of high-middy, I want that really hard metallic strike in there, and then I want everything else to sort of vanish.

    Load up the tambourine and either my Density (free) or something like 'Cyanide' that will also do this: instead of pushing the curve up to make things fatter and more distorted, pull it DOWN. Lean the fucker out until it sounds horrible- and listen.

    It should be just on the verge of being crunchy and coming apart into crackly popping noises. What you're hearing is DISTILLED rhythmic impact, minus the sound of the instrument. When you thin it out this way so it's nothing but a big transient spike, you can then introduce it into the mix and it'll hide... go back to 'DrumsSoloed' above and check it out. The tambourine isn't sticking out, and yet it is, its attack is practically as big as the other drums but then it's just gone- only the accents get really loud and you have to be paying attention.

    That's how to bury something like that and still have it kick ass. It would work for cowbell trick too. Also, when you do that the sound moves back in the image, further hiding it. The accents become part of the 'feel' of the snare backbeat and it helps the snare attack take on a more forceful, metallic edge. Also, when you do this, you get color variations between snare+tamb and just snare, but again not so's you'd really notice.

    STUDY THIS cos it's important in this modern day where you distort everything to be equally upfront on the radio. I'm telling you, some stuff you gotta do the absolute opposite with, you hide it by UNdistorting it to move it back and have just the 'vibe' sticking out, unnoticable as itself. AU people, my 'Density' is free, VST people, 'Cyanide' can do the same thing, get something that can do this, you WILL need to use this very basic sound tool because not everything should be upfront, or loud, or big.

    Some things have to be weird twisted wizened little husks of sound that you don't notice, and you don't have to do that with EQ (though it's another way- a really narrow bandpass for instance, tuned to the place where the most impact is). A tight bandpass will put that frequency FORWARD. This undistort-trick will move the whole thing BACKWARD and make it way more subliminal. More on that later with many other tracks...
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    Default Re: ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    Bass. I loved this bass

    You'll notice a lot of grind on it in BassSoloed- I've learned from the heavyweights here (more than anywhere else) that what you do with the UGLY middy crap of the bass means everything with the vibe of the song. The ugly mids of the bass are where all the force of the music resides. But I also like filling in the extreme lows with bass (not kik) too. How to do both at once?

    BassDI is using my FathomFive plugin to do a thing I always do, which is not much different from distorting the track and then filtering the crap out of it. The point is, it's got a bit of midbass, but mostly it's lows, lows, lows that get bigger and bigger as it goes lower. This also produces that jukeboxy effect where the bass notes are so compressed they're like a steady resonating tone. Again, this can be approximated by distorting and then filtering like crazy (though FathomFive doesn't do it that way)

    BassAmp is using DrumSlam again, like the snare track (interesting but it sort of follows that what would work for the snare will work for the rasp of the bass too). Again, Massey TapeHead will do this type of effect- sort of a midrangey overdrive. It's followed by Distance because the last thing I wanted was to have bass grind distracting from the vocals- I just kept dulling it out with Distance until the brighter instruments weren't being stepped on. Bass grind can sit WAY back, you can have bass grind all below 1K and it's awesome that way. End result, a dirty, distorted bass that still doesn't distract. Don't be afraid to have a totally shitty soloed bass sound if it moves right within the track. It's like a big muscle, you don't actually see it poking out of the skin do you? But without it, you'd be doomed
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    Default Re: ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    RyanGuitar: this is another one in the vein of the tambourine- it's using DrumSlam (alt: Massey TapeHead) again, just a bit, and then it's using 'Cojones'. That one is only from me and possibly TC Helicon has stuff like it, so I'm going to have to get more general about what's happening there, and people can approximate it with EQ or something.

    DrumSlam is just distorting it a hair, bringing it a bit more upfront and that's about it. What Cojones is doing is different. Cojones tracks stuff that's more fluid and continuous and can separate that from the 'frizz' and irregularities that also exist in the sound, and you get to turn THOSE up, and I called it 'Cojones' because that's what it sounds like. It drags out the raunchy, dirty quality (or subdues it if you like).

    What I'm doing there is isolating the aura and raunch of the guitar and bringing it out JUST to where you notice it's getting sloppy and raunchy, no farther. I don't want it to be excessive and distracting as a sound, but I didn't want the guitar to feel like a thick smooth distorted guitar tone- I wanted it more wiry, more ballsy.

    To do this without Cojones what I would do is probably throw in a really high-Q boost, sweep it around, and try to find a spot- probably NOT one with lots of energy there- where it seemed to bring out a wild, honking, raspy quality. Might have to use several high-Q boosts and cuts. I'd be looking for that 'aura' that just felt really loud and oppressive, and I'd push it until it started to become a recognizable effect-add and then pull back a bit. And then bury the guitar in the mix so that just the raspy aura was sticking out, as I did here. Isolate the feelings you want from each instrument and focus them in that direction so they can do their job at lower mix volumes.
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    Default Re: ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    If you didn't hear what I was talking about this might help. B3 part, soloed.

    I just KILLED this instrument. Here's what killed it deader than that deer in the song.

    First, Density (alt: Cyanide). I leaned it out worse than the tambourine was. Leaned it so bad that it's at +2.4 db just to compensate for how much I ate into the sound there.

    Next, Cojones. I rasped it up as much as I could. I was going for totally popping, crackling, raw, snarling B3 pad, where the grind of it was way louder than the actual notes. I mean, this sound is NASTY. I couldn't use it as a featured sound, but it's a background pad.

    Lastly, Air, just to bring a bit of brightness in. Any highs boost would do the same general thing. I killed it so bad that it was real dull. Not even Air brought that much back, but it was enough in context.

    You probably can't hear this track real well in the mix, which is for a reason, but if I muted it, quite a lot of the wild emo despair would be gone- the other instruments are too fluid over this passage and there needed to be some grunge in there. Again, listen to the soloed B3 track and how badly I ruined it, and consider how horrible and unpleasant it sounds, but you don't hear it by itself.

    It's like the drums- it's focused on bringing just a QUALITY into the total mix, barely even notes, just a kind of texture. I killed the instrument, the part, the notes, the tone, and left only the texture of the way a B3 grinds, and I was happy. It was great

    If I hadn't soloed it for you you might STILL be thinking it actually sounded good and nice, because the bass and the guitar are filling in roundness for it...
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    Default Re: ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    Rhodes is pretty straight- just some VariMu (i.e. 'compression') which you can get something like it from Pressure or any compressor you like, and Air. I think I'm pushing 11K on Air. It barely does anything, it just brings a tiny bit of the 'chime' out, and the compression just packs everything a bit more densely- sort of packs the Rhodes sound into a box so it doesn't expand out when the chorus etc. kicks in. It's not so much that it sounds heavily processed in the intro or anything, but when the player digs in, the sound doesn't get bigger. Compression.
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    Default Re: ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    Now, the money part- Lead Vocals. Here's the same bit, extended a bit longer- the big overwhelming chorus vocal, but without any of the backing that it so effortlessly dominates. I'm going to do a set of posts, each demonstrating the addition of one more of the FIVE EFFECTS on this vocal and why I needed each one. See for yourself in the initial screenshot- you guys say 'subtle' but there's five different things on this lead vocal. Not to make it processed and 2008- each one to make the lead vox just that little bit more emotionally overwhelming.

    I shoot for that 'maxell commercial' effect with stuff like this- you're supposed to be leaning back in your chair with your hair blowing back, going 'oh shit!' from the intensity this guy is throwing at you. You can do that with stuff like reverbs adding a flare to the vox and making it more screamy, but I like doing it with a vox that appears totally intimate and dry, because it's like a stealth thing- you connect with the singer more, but I'm actually doing stuff to increase his impact on you.
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    Default Re: ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    First, Compression. That's just VariMu again, which I'm using to bring up anything that wasn't already up- also for another purpose, I'm clamping down a bit on the stuff that was extra loud. It's evening everything out- but it makes it SOUND more even as well. Not everything sounds right. The soft 'goodbye daydream' is great, but some of the other stuff, I just want a LOT more emo in there, you know?

    So, CompBrite. The brite (Air, a high boost) is actually after everything, but I'm using it as the second step for adding stuff. I can get the louder stuff to take on an edge this way, but I'm noticing that the sibilance is starting to get maybe distracting. It could be worse if I was going for a really obviously highboosted sound, but even just using it to bring out the tops of the vowels, the sibilants are still extra loud.

    So, CompBriteDess, and in a lot of ways this would be enough. I'm stepping on the hottest sibilants with DeEss, but the tops of the vowels are still totally open from the high boost. Also, I'm not hitting the esses so hard that the guy lisps, they are still HOT esses. But they're hot esses with a different timbre than they had. I didn't want the supersonic esses, I wanted hot esses like you'd get off a SM58 even after I boosted the highs. So I'm using the de-esser to just filter the sound when it's on- it's partly ducking and partly throwing on a filter that takes just the brightest stuff out. It should sound like there isn't a de-esser present at all, but before using it it sounded like there was a big high boost present. Add coloration with EQ, take back away again with de-esser, so the coloration only remains on those vowels.
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    Default Re: ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    Holy shit, last post! Phew we come now to me trying to go a notch or two above where the comp/EQ/dess thing took me. With one thing that's free and widely available, and another that's chrisj voodoo madness- and thus, we conclude.

    First- Density. Which is, of course, just DISTORTION, softest one I've got (free too). The deal is, I'm not trying to crunch up the vocal- I'm just doing one very specific thing with it. Distortion (especially very soft-edged distortion like this) moves stuff FORWARD. I wanted this vocalist to lean just a hair forward from the rest of the mix, so he could absolutely dominate everything. It took very little distortion to do it. Very very little- but the effect is real noticable. It's almost oppressive- you CAN NOT IGNORE the guy, he commands your attention. Remember how much stuff like tambourine and B3 I'm doing the exact opposite with? This is why. I have so much designed to get the hell out of the way, not so that you can 'hear' the lead vocal, but to provide room for it to BURST THROUGH YOUR SPEAKERS AND BLEED ALL OVER THE FUCKING FLOOR man.

    Why 'balance' things? Why, why? Are you telling me that the color of a guitar is more important than a DYING LEAD SINGER? That a drum ambience or whatever is more urgent than this living thing breathing its last and crying out its last accusing lament, begging forgiveness of its mate for the loss she's about to suffer, etc etc?

    Some people noticed how everything in the whole mix is just crushed by the lead vox. THIS is why. It's why people were getting flattened by the emotional impact- you can do what you like with guitar effects or where the rhodes sits, but in this case anyone who didn't notice the emotional impact of that lead vocal performance has some learning to do. All kinds of stuff were great in the tracks, but it was all about that vocal. Not even partly- ALL about that vocal.

    Last detail- I threw Cojones on and pushed it as far as I could without hurting the 'goodbye daydream', it does what it does, like a compressor 'lifting' just only the ragged bits and irregularities. Used too strong it'll actually make the guy sound like a poorer singer, or make crackly noises. In this case I was using it (again, you can sweep narrow boosts to try and find similar effects) to bring up a specific quality- I already had a really polished performance, with the lifted vowel brightness, the reshaping of the sibilants, and the slight lean forward of the whole track to make it overwhelming- but finding and lifting just the ragged roughness in the vocal took it up a notch because it's NOT a serene love song, it's a cry of death. As such, I 'unsmoothed' the vocalist a bit. He sounds just a hair less in control, just a bit more emo and desperate. Certain reverbs would have taken him in the opposite direction. It was the last touch for delivering that performance in the track in a way that commanded attention from the first note to the last, and it's another one of those 'not making it sound good' moves. By making him sound just a bit more ragged and desperate and fucking up his apparent technique a tiny bit the emotional urgency of the vocal was heightened.

    *WHEW*

    Thanks anyone who's listened this far. I'm still going to try to crit everybody who had their files uploaded right... but that's probably not going to be tonight, and not in this thread.
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    Default Re: MiX iT! 3d ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    Thanks for the excruciating (in a good way ) dissection of your approach to your mix.
    It's one of the more thorough breakdowns I've seen offered on these projects.. very beneficial for those (many, actually) of us who can't make use of the unavoidably platform - specific INFO files attached to the various mixes.
    I'll concur that while it's not what I would have sought personally as an aesthetic for this project, the in-your-face nature of your effort is HIGHLY effective; the steps and underlying principles that got you there are hugely instructive, and are great to read in context of your decision making process.

    (am I making sense here?)

    Thanks for taking the time to share..

    BTW, maybe I missed it, but you seem to be one of the few (only) posters making a direct reference to enhancing probably the most glorious feature of the B3.. and one I wanted to hear more of in this piece.. that unparalleled sonic assault known as the B3 Growl(tm).

    Like you, I wanted to kick it up a notch or two . It really is the glue that pulls the whole crescendo bit of the song together for me, and the additional harmonic richness adds that extra bit of orchestral overkill that I often find appealing.

    My approach was sheer brute force also..
    I normalised the tracks to get a good running start and just jammed 'em through TLS Saturated Driver cranked way up, and Sinusweb Peak compressor (I've got the free version.. don't member where I got it though..) to tame the fizzies that whirling horn produces when you distort it hard. I tried a bunch of different approaches but the sinus product seemed to work the best with the least cpu hit.

    Thought you might like to hear how that sounded, so I'm attaching a short excerpt. I pray that's not too presumptuous for this forum. It's supposed to sound knarly . Still a little ice-picky though by itself.

    Again, thanks much for your always informative and impassioned contributions, dude.
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  13. #13
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    Default Re: MiX iT! 3d ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    Oh HELL yeah Prschmitt, that's what I'm talkin' about

    The ONLY difference between what we did is, I'm working with transfer function to lean stuff out, so my B3 sits way BACK with the grunge poking out and crackling. The body and warmth are sucked out leaving that frizzy edge.

    Yours does it with EQ and distortion, so you brought out exactly the same qualities, but yours comes FORWARD and will be more noticable at a given level, more upfront and obvious. The body and warmth are DISTORTED out, and the frizzy edge melds with the distortion edge. Opposite approach to the same purpose.

    But oh baby. Loving your B3 treatment there
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    Default Re: MiX iT! 3d ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    Glad you liked it!
    Wouldn't have occurred to me though if Ryan didn't really know how to work that thing. He got some most excellent grind happening, at exactly the right times, evoking a really old school Wakeman/Emerson/Lord kinda vibe.
    I always loved the way the leslies those guys used would distort when you pushed them, and thought some emphasis on that quality would help sell the tracks.
    I'm gonna conject that Ryan would have pushed the gain on his leslie to breakup and MM would have miked the bass rotor if they had intended the tracks to be used in the way we're discussing, but that's just a wild ass guess on my part.

    One more thing.. gotta thank you for reminding me about Cyanide. I've had the zip file sitting here forever but never got around to playing with it, and I gotta tell ya, this little toy is gonna see a LOT of use!
    I just wish it was documented better
    As a plugin author yourself, perhaps you can illuminate for me what this guy is actually doing. I'm getting an intuitive feel for it, but a bit more detail would help me use it more intelligently. You can probably tell at a glance what his strategy is.
    I gather that it simply allows you to tweak a transfer function in various ways to create new harmonic content and filter the input and output to place emphasis on the distortion you want to create and 'harvest' the distortion components of interest at the end.. or something like that.
    I'm wondering if it will be rigid in how it handles signal levels (Lookup table... IOW, should I feed it a compressed or AGC'd signal?) or does it use a more sophisticated model that is insensitive to such variation?
    If there's a rigorous 'geeky' explanation, that would help me too, because even though my formal math background is weak, I research and read between the lines pretty well and can usually synthesize a fairly good picture for myself of what is going on in these sort of systems.
    [EDIT]
    Oops.. I really should read README's more closely..
    His says that he DOES use a lookup table. 1024 point with linear interpolation. No wonder the cpu hit is so low. That doesn't seem like nearly enough points though. Any deviation from a linear function is gonna kick out a *shitload* of artifacts.
    Maybe I'm missing something...
    [/EDIT]
    Regardless, though, Cyanide (and Density, too, I'm assuming) seems to fill a niche that seems pretty important to any audio tinkerer's toolbox.

    Thanks again for reminding me to take another look at it, and thank you yet again for taking the time to review our mixes.
    Last edited by prschmitt; May 19th, 2008 at 07:15 AM. Reason: brain fart
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  15. #15
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    Default Re: MiX iT! 3d ChrisJ's Detailed Mix Breakdown

    I did Density because I needed a more fluid version of Cyanide...

    I'd just say, keep it to as few control points as possible, like one, and move that one around. There's really a universe of tone qualities available out of Cyanide though all of them are a BIT gritty- Density only does one maximally fluid and artifactless variation, similar to making the control point on Cyanide always along the opposite diagonal from the signal line.

    But with Cyanide, you can depart from that and throw your nonlinearity higher on the line for more raucous peaks or lower for just bringing up low-level detail- you'll find that there's a whole world of tone voicing from finetuning the position of Cyanide's control point. Again, always with the same tiny amount of sand and grit, but what you gain really outweighs it. I think the grit is just from lookup table use- Density is a math function at double precision and has no lookup tables- it's sine/cosine based, can't get smoother than that.

    Cyanide does a WORLD of unsmooth, the craziest things you could imagine. Definitely play with it more. You can oversample it I think for more smoothness, at which point it loses some grit and also loses some immediacy and eats lots of CPU. And it has input-output filters, which I usually kept cranked, and which you can't turn off if I remember correctly.

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