The Music Challenge aka Creating Tracks from Samples

  • Post author:
  • Post category:music

Ok, so I just so happened to see a competition to create a song using only six provided samples by 13lfo on twitter.  That grabbed my attention, I did the same thing myself as a challenge to Caustic users to produce a song only using sounds produced by a VSTI called The Element of Surprise, which is effectively a synth with a random patch generator.  So I had to know more.

The rules, pretty simple. There are six provided samples. Process them in any way you want but you need to use all 6 (or bits of all 6) in the song. Timescales were pretty good too, about 2 weeks to submit the completed track to the Soundcloud group.

The great thing with these sort of challenges is the anticipation of what you’ve got to work with. So listening to the samples I find that the first one sounds like an analog synth bass, a sweeping sound like you’d hear in a sci fi film; The second is a glitchy loop; The third is a shortish piano loop; The fourth is a ringing sound which would make a good lead; the fifth is a bass drone; the sixth is the spoken expression ‘electric future collective’.

My first thought is that it might be quite difficult to produce something interesting. I haven’t really got percussion for instance which I tend to start with. I thought the glitchy loop could work as it is but what is the tempo and what will be the tempo of my song?  I was also torn between using a range of VSTIs to substantially process the samples or keep it fairly simple and do basic editing in Audacity and do most of the work in Caustic.  I decided to go for the latter and chop up samples into smaller pieces and use basic editing in Audacity then import them into Caustic to do most of the work.

My next thought was synth sounds. I find one shot samples are much better to use than loops but they can be limited if you have only got one of them. For instance, these sounds have some ‘movement’ which means if you change the pitch this will be quite noticeable. Usually for sounds like this I would resample each note to import to Caustic to minimise this. So the first sample I chopped up into smaller samples to use for effects.

Similarly I chopped the piano loop up into individual samples.

From the fourth sample, I selected a small section to loop and faded out the ending. Audacity suggested A6 was the root note, so I created samples at A and F notes at various octaves by changing the pitch. This is one of the samples with movement in the sound, presumably from a component oscillator, so changing the pitch this much will likely make this effect much more noticeable working from a single sample.

The fifth sample was similar to the fourth, except I only changed the pitch down one octave as I wanted it as a bass sound.

The sixth sample was chopped up into individual words; ‘future’ was run through a vocoder and each word was timestretched.  The sample was also chopped up into very short vowel sounds to use as an extra layer of percussion.

So that was the samples processed over 3 nights and about 4 hours in total.

The first part of the song I created was a simple percussive pattern using Skarabee’s mod delay4 preset for the modular synth.  One very cool new feature in the beta of Caustic 3.1 is the ability to use a machine as the input to the modular synth.  This means that you can have an extra 2 effect slots but also incorporate features like the arpeggiator, envelopes and filters to synths.  Skarabee’s mod delay4 preset is a panning delay with some modulation.

I then layered the short vocal sounds as an extra percussion layer.  Both of these were kept fairly simple and minimal with a bit of variation in the patterns.  After reading some excellent ‘beat dissection’ tutorials on the vocal patterns were changed at the very last minute.

I intended to keep the percussion pretty similar throughout with effectively a fill type of pattern to break it up a bit.  The idea was to create the track using 3 repeating sections with some variation between them.  So I then created layered bass sounds with the fifth sample and also with a second instance of a heavily filtered fourth sample.  The sections were created using the percussion, bass and other elements arranged to give a bit of variety.


This shows all of the machines in use.  Most of these are PCM Synths because you can load a lot of wav files into each one, set loop ranges, set note ranges etc.

Once I had the outline of the song, I started to the consider what effects I wanted.  Most used compression and a lot used a cab simulator.  I used a bitcrusher on the sample 1 effects and subtle distortion on the bass.  The percussion sound used compression, cab simulator and reverb.



These are the effects racks, two per machine.  Using the new machine input on the modular synth gives up to 2 extra effect slots (16 available effects)


Automation was added to the filter and I also added a second instance of the bass sound and ran this through a formant filter with automation.


Example of automation feature.  This can be done ‘live’ whilst the song is playing and then fine tuned in the editor afterwards.

On mastering the track I adjusted the EQ a little bit and added a compressor, then adjusted the volume levels of the component tracks.  A lot. Until I was happy with it.

That’s quite a lot of information.  But I really wanted to show just how good and powerful Caustic is.

You can check out Skarabee’s soundcloud page here:

Caustic :

13LFO’s page here:

And other entries here:

If you feel inspired, a new set of samples for music challenge 2 have been uploaded