Tempest Recipes: Apito – The Samba whistle

So it’s been a while – life and all that – but I’ve somehow found time to rekindle my love for the Tempest. Let’s get back to the business of making sounds on this thing.

To start, a nice ‘n’ easy analogue take on the apito – the brazilian samba whistle – otherwise used world-over by your friendly local match official.

  • Start with 2 Triangles – around F6 and F#6
  • Apply extreme detuning to Osc 2 (fine +/-40)
  • For the Amp envelope, use ADSR with a decent amount of sustain and shorten the default release time to around 30.

Sounds vaguely familiar, but needs some movement…

  • Arm LFO1 with the random waveshape map it to Osc1 frequency – a high rate 126 but only a small amount 5.
  • Map LFO 2 (square) to Osc 2 frequency and give it some welly with a rate of 120, Amount 83. This mimics the little ball inside the whistle.
  • Try both filter slopes with lots of Filter FM and a slight envelope to emphasise the attack. Also, use the high-pass filter with a setting of about 50.

As always, not set in stone – play around with it. You can spice it up, perhaps by adding a little pitch envelope or noise to model referee spit. ūüėõ

Plenty of bonus sounds open-up when played chromatically, especially at low and high octaves where Tempest’s analogue character really shines through.

Try it through a nice delay. Mmmmm.

Tempest Recipes: Tom-Toms

Many varieties and sizes of tom-tom, but for our purposes they can be¬†considered¬†as basically snares without the snare.¬†Electronic toms rarely sound close to the real thing, their whackyness often a signature. The¬†function¬†is what’s most important:

Tom-Toms are tonal instruments Рthat is, if they are pitched correctly relative to each other, they can play a tune. If they are tuned to the key of the track, you can play key chords with the Toms, which tends to provide a strong harmonic reinforcement. This is a phenomenon you need to hear yourself, but the recipe below should get you going.

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Tempest Recipes: Snare Drums

I’ll be¬†honest¬†– I’ve been fretting over this recipe for quite a while. I did a lot of reading and experimentation with snare synthesis and I had prepared a lot of¬†background¬†text on different snare types and how they might be approximated blah blah blah.

But then I came to a stark¬†realization: ¬†You probably don’t want to hear all this – it’s all on Google anyway – but more than that, although snares¬†can¬†be highly individual, the core snare sound is pretty standard and can be synthesized with ease. There’s no big secret. Once you know how to get the basic patch, there is a rich vein of snare variants to be mined from it.

In many modern music genres the snare tends to hit on the upbeat (beats 2 and 4) and serves to give a fixed focus to the entire rhythm. While other drum elements fly around, it is the snare that reinforces the sense of tempo. Thus the snare is often be the loudest¬†instrument¬†in the kit. It is an important reference for our ears. Changing the pitch of the snare can completely change the feel of a beat. To me, short and snappy snares make a rhythm sound more ‘urgent’, but this also depends on their placement.

Snare ‘ghost’ rolls are those barely-perceptible snare-hits in between that can add a lot of interest and variation to a beat without dominating. On the Tempest, the roll feature is perfect for real-time¬†ghost rolls on velocity-sensitive snares.

Moving-on, for patching¬†references¬†we must define¬†a standard.¬†Our archetypal snare is a complex instrument. The stick hits an enclosed drum head, giving the initial impact transient which is then consumed by the rattling of the snares, producing a rich,¬†noisy¬†tail. But there is also some vibration from the second head which adds more subtle elements. Don’t forget that, these days, post-processing makes all the difference. ¬†A snare without reverb rarely works.


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Tempest Recipes: Hi-Hats, Shakers, Zaps

So, I was diverted away from drum syntheses and a fun time was had. But now it’s time to get back to kit basics, with at look at creating Hihats, shakers, maracas, cabasa and their ilk –¬†important¬†drivers of any rhythm.

It’s no big secret that noise is the major component of interest. There are no definable harmonics here – all frequencies are represented. We don’t create a tone, but rather we sculpt this block of frequencies with the filters to just those we want at any particular time.

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Tempest Recipes: 1-voice chords

On the Tempest, as with any decent synthesizer, we can create 1-note Рand thus 1-voice Рchords by tuning our oscillators to the correct intervals. We can mix-and-match between these chord types as you play, and record them on-the-fly. In 16 tunings mode, notes pressed will play the relevant root chord.

This time I’m providing a template patch. (Download via right-click). The sysex is a Beat because at the moment the Slider FX configuration is not saved for individual sounds.¬†The Beat has a Kick on Pad1 and the Chord stab patch is on Pad 16. Pad 16 is already set-up to output the following chords using the FX sliders:

minor (0,3,7) – Default – slider 1@0, Slider 2 centered.
minor 7th (0, 3, 7, 10) – Slider 1 affecting Osc1/2 mix, miniumum=100/0.
minor 6th (0,3,7,9) – Slider 1@100, Slider 2 affecting Osc2 pitch @ minimum (all the way down).
min/maj 7th (0,3,7,11) – Slider1@100, Slider 2 @ maximum.

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Tempest Recipes: Bass Drums Part I

There are three basic types of Bass drum.

  1. Kick drums, as seen on typical drumkits and the classic drum machines. Generally more punchy than…
  2. Large orchestral drums such as the Timpani (kettle drum), and…
  3. Pitched bass drums, played in pairs or more that are tuned to different pitches. The Brazilian Surdo is my favourite drum, so I’ll particularly interested in synthesizing that.

Let’s look at a few ways to¬†approximate the more ubiquitous¬†kicks. I will use the famous Roland bassdrums as guides.¬†The aim of these exercises is not perfect emulation, but understanding. I do not own, nor have I ever owned, one of these instruments.

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Tempest Recipes: First things first

This is not intended as a course on drum synthesis, but rather some basic principles (from my own personal perspective) that can be applied to the DSI Tempest, or any other decent subtractive synthesizer.

I’ll start with some key concepts which will be expanded later as we step-through the synthesis of different drum types.¬†Understanding these concepts is simple enough, but putting them into practice can take time and careful tweaking, with plentiful moments of initial frustration. ¬†Tempest is not a preset machine – it needs to be programmed. Impatient types should stick to samplers.

I do not provide the presets. There are couple of reasons for this. The first is that it’s cheating. The best way to learn is to dive-in, roll your own. I will give some¬†pointers, but you have to fill the gaps.

The second is that I don’t want to disappoint people when I don’t ‘nail’ the sound they’re after. That’s not my job – I have my own exploring to do.

A tip to begin with: Visualization tools help you see the waveform and spectrum of sounds you may want to emulate, or as a guide to home-in on those critical frequencies. For this purpose I highly recommend this free VST signal analyzer. Run the Tempest through it when sound-designing. After a while your ear will improve and you may not need it. But it is really useful at the start.

OK, daylight is burning.


Envelopes are perhaps most important modulation source in any synthesizer, yet their importance and capabilities are often overlooked.

Envelopes give shape to various sound parameters over time, most importantly volume (amplitude) and pitch. Tempest gives you 5 envelopes per sound – Amp and Cutoff are hardwired, but the other¬†three¬†(Pitch/Aux1/Aux2) can be mapped to specific parameters. It’s a good start for a drum synth!

A drum is invariably hit with something. The energy from a swung stick will provide an short energy impulse on impact before bouncing back from the drum head. There is thus an instant Attack and a short Decay (the lenght of the impulse as it dies away) before the Release which consists of the residual vibrations left over from the strike only milliseconds ago. There is no Sustain in percussion (hence the default envelope mode on Tempest is Attack-Decay).

The stages highlighted above are broadly modeled using the ADSR envelopes that are standard on all reasonably-specced synthesizers.


Note that on Tempest, there is an additional parameter called ‘Peak’. This holds the sound at maximum for a defined period after attack, but before decay, allowing more control over the transient. In other words, it provides beef. Heft, if you will.
The Peak parameter is accessed with the rightmost softknob – over the screen – when on the envelopes page.

A critical step in becoming familiar with a synthesizer is to attach an envelope to a the pitch of a sine wave and tweak the envelope while tapping notes on the midi keyboard. This way you can clearly hear the shape of the envelopes.

For drums, you want nice snappy envelopes with exponential segments. These ‘Bendable’ envelopes allow for more nuanced and natural-sounding drum sounds.

On the Tempest, the envelopes are linear, but the can be ‘bended’ by modulating it’s own shape. ¬†See the manual for an nice demonstration. This is an important ability because it’s gives us much better control over the shape of sound components than a fixed ¬†linear ‘up-down’ envelope. Real sounds are not like that.

A side note here: The envelopes on the Tempest are fast Рvery fast. You can hear this by loading a bare 130Hz sine into OSC3. At deafault settings (Amp attack = 0) there is a noticeable click. This is a useful additional element to drum patching, but it can be smoothed out by slightly increasing  the Attack of the Amp and other envelopes.

Velocity Mapping:

The most important expression tool on a drumsynth. It’s unlikely that any human will hit the same drum with exactly the same¬†strength¬†each time. There are always small variations in pitch, volume, Amp decay, etc due to this ‘humanisation’. Older drum machines lack these micro-variations between hits and this added to their ‘robotic’ feel.

Luckily for us, on most modern synthesizers, including Tempest, we can vary the sound characteristics by velocity i.e. the strength at which the pads are struck, therefore modelling the human situation.

On the Tempest, use the ModPaths menu to map Velocity to Amplitude, Filter, Pitch for example. The key is to use only a small amount Рthat is if you wish to have small subtle changes between hits. Or go wild if you want all out chaos. With 8 modulation slots per sound, there is no shortage of options.

There are plenty of other interesting targets for velocity control – it’s up to you but do try mappings to¬†Filter¬†FM and feedback, or use velocity to bring in another oscillator on string hits. Experiment as always.

A note here about Tempests envelopes. In an initialised patch, the AMP envelope is, by default, slightly open already. This means that even the slightest touch of the pad will sound the note. By closing this down to zero, and setting the Envelope velocity amount to 127  (=default, press shift + use the same knob to change), the sound will be under full velocity control. MIDI velocity is scaled to 127 values.

Similarly for the other envelopes Рinitialized, these have both Envelope amount and Envelope velocity amounts set to zero. You need to set them up separately for each new sound. It  makes all the difference.


The Tempest gives us a hybrid of 2 analogue and 2 digital oscillators per sound/voice. They behave differently. Whilst the digital Oscs are precise by default Рthey sound the same each hit Рthe analogue Oscillators are by default free-running. This means that each hit will vary slightly because the analogue waveforms are not starting at zero each time. This is nice for synth patches, but for drums it can make some hits sound weaker than others.

Therefore to get a consistent sound from the analogue oscs, you need to set ‘Wave reset’ to On for each one. If you don’t intend to play the drum at various pitches you can ‘Key¬†follow’ to Off. You’ll notice that choosing this option automatically lowers the pitch.

I have also found that assigning each hit to a¬†separate¬†voice increases the¬†consistency¬†of¬†hits. ¬†I’m not sure why this is – something to do with voice allocation perhaps, but each voice¬†should, in principle, sound equally consistent, even when dynamically assigned.

On the other hand, it could be argued that it is little idiosyncrasies¬†like¬†this that give¬†analogue¬†synths much of their ‘character’.

Don’t forget to experiment with the suboscillator and Oscillatior sync!


For making bog-standard drums, the filters (Lowpass and Hipass) ¬†mostly function to control too-high and too-low frequencies. There are notable exceptions that we”ll look at later ūüėČ

A combination of Lowpass and Highpass filters = Bandpass filter.  This gives you decent control over the frequencies taken-up by each sound. Apart from shaving-off  the extreme highs with the lowpass, a tiny amount of High pass filter can give a surprising boost to the low end. Try it on a kick-drum.

Unless you are aiming for dubby sounds, it’s good practice to apply enough high-pass to be¬†unnoticeable. Inaudible low frequencies will be removed, reducing ‘muddiness’. ¬†Think abut this when designing a kit – you want each sound to ring clear and unhindered, so ideally it should¬†occupy¬†it’s own frequency space.

Remember that the lowpass can switch between 4-pole and 2-pole slopes for a smoother effect.

But filters can be used in more creative ways too. Again, the envelopes are critical here Рmodulating a closed filter to quickly open and shut again gives a good snap, especially with higher resonance. Filter FM (Audio Mod) is a tasty modulation target particularly for snares and cymbals. Envelope settings are of vital importance.

Keep in mind:

In general, percussive sounds don’t have a defined pitch. But longer bass drums, Toms, and chromatic percussion often do, and are¬†perceived¬†as notes. Therefore you should experiment with tuning your kits. This is much easier to do on the Tempest than a real drumkit – so don’t waste the flexibility. The same kit can take on a drastically different sound and feel when drums are tuned differently against each other. Tempest also¬†allows¬†any drum sound to be played chromatically in 16 Tunings mode, though careful patching is needed for¬†usable¬†results. Later I will look a tuning bass drums and toms so that they fit with the key of your song ¬†– your kits will ‘fit’ better in most cases.

Experiment, experiment, experiment. Then experiment some more. Tempest gives you the power of a full analogue synthesizer for each sound you make. No hardware drum machine has ever come close to this flexibility and power.

What next?

A firm grip of the principles above will provide a solid grounding for your patching efforts. Other elements like the LFO and the analogue FX will be explored in more detail when looking at different drum types.

Most important of all – know your tools!

First up:  Bass Drums Part I.