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Tempest Recipes: Congas


Using a low 808 conga sample (grabbed from here) as our reference, we see the key frequency is around 150 Hz.


So let’s go straight to…

  • Osc 2, triangle wave with Frequency of D2, Osc mix 0/100. Depending on taste, you can tune-up closer to 170Hz (F2), which gives gives a more familiar sound to my ears.
  • Use the 12db filter, zero resonance. Slowly close it until you arrive at a tone very close to our example. Just shorten the Amp envelope and you’re 95% of the way there.

But the last 5% is often the hardest part. Although inspection of the waveform reveals no visible attack transients, our example, although typically dullish, somehow seems more ‘slappy’ and definitely has more crisp high frequencies. Our version sounds more tom-ish than it should.

So let’s simulate the initial slap of the conga….

  • One possibility is to use FM. I found that putting a sawtooth in Osc 1 with a frequency of 2 octaves above Osc 1 (thus, D4) gives a nice tight snap. We just want a very brief impulse at the start, so use an Aux envelope mapped to FilterFM and set all envelope stages to zero and envelope amount to max – 127. We’ll only use the Peak parameter here (over the screen right-most softknob). Just give it a small amount of peak – anywhere betewn 0 and 5 – whatever brings out the snap but is not overtly heard. We’re really only hearing the envelopes working here – but it’s precisely the effect we want. It’s sounding more like a conga now, eh?
  • Another route might be to use a similar abrupt envelope on the filter envelope (which is free because we haven’t used it up to now). However I prefer the FM route and instead apply a small amount of Filter envelope with a fairly fast decay.
  • Further, using again the same clicky envelope applied to a noise or percussion sample gives similar results but can lead to nice surprises. But I would reserve noise for other duties.
  • Try the various noise sample colours mixed at a low level (<40). This can add a natural, almost reverb-ish quality to the sound. Always worth a tweak. In this case, careful mixing helps to accentuate the snap – helped of course by the Filter and it’s envelope, which must open briefly to hear the impact.
  • It’s also good to experiment here with creating exponential (bendable) envelopes – i.e. self-modulating the Amp and Filter envelope decays (as detailed in the manual). This is the ticket for the perfect snap.
  • At this stage, will all the effort put into snap, our sound is perhaps a little too clicky – there will be artifacts from the short envelopes. Giving the Amp envelope a little attack – around 6, temporarily gets rid of the artifacts, however they can be re-introduced, but with more control, by adjusting the other envelope attacks slightly to compensate.

Referring back to our sample now, we should be even closer (or not), however we’re still missing the ‘airyness’ of the tail. It just seems brighter and more open. The solution is to modulate the Lowpass filter with another envelope…

  • Attach another Aux env to filter cutoff with a moderate amount (35) and decay (40). This will sound too strong, so turn-up the attack until the filter opens more smoothly, adding some brightness to the sound as it dies out.
  • At this stage I always close the HighPass filter a little – just enough to cut-out the lowest frequencies whilst retaining the body of the sound. It just makes everything less muddy in the end.
  • Although this sound reacts pretty well to chromatic playing – there are some nice marimba-ish sounds at the higher octaves – for a Hi and Mid tome, I would repeat the process above. Apart from the difference in pitch, filter and envelope setting will also vary. For example, ¬†lower congas tend to have a longer Amp envelope, with hi-congas being short and ‘pop’-y.¬†But done once, you’ll have some nice conga templates to experiment with. Layering-in different perc samples and retuning throws-up some great new percussion sounds.

Reverb definitely adds a lot to congas. Essential even.

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