The future is in your hands! Grab your blaster! Suit up! Enter the God Mode code! We have enemies to take down! It’s…
You know the drum kits. You know the pulse instruments. You are nearly a Jedi now . Over this episode, we’re going to tackle the noise channel, commands, and the table page. At the end of the tunnel, you will be a chip master, fully capable of saving the planet through blips and magic. What you do with this power is up to you. Now, ONWARD! Open up the project we’ve been working on and head on over to the song page.
Oh, old friend. You’re looking great. Now, let’s explore the noise channel by creating a new chain there, and a new phrase in the chain. Now, on the phrase page, do yourself a favor and HOOOOLD YEEER HOORSES! You’re about to make a loud noise, so if you’re wearing headphones or have speakers plugged in and the volume cranked, be warned.
Now, with caution, add a note, change the instrument to 30, and head over to the instrument page.
Now, I’ve created instrument 30, which we’ll be using as a little tick accent, similar to a hi-hat sound. Here’s what the instrument looks like:
I changed the type to Noise, the Envelope to 91, and the Shape to EF. If you play back the note you set, you’ll hear our current sound. Now, you’ll understand most of the options available for noise instruments, but a small explanation of shape (the option that gives a noise channel instrument it’s…er…shape):
The shape of a noise instrument completely defines it. In the example above, we’ve made a hi-hat tick, whereas if we dropped the shape down to CF, we’d have more of a snare-type sound, down at A4 we hear something like an 8-bit bass drum. You can also create notes (sort of), at shapes like C7, D7, E7, and F7. These are all approximately C notes in different octaves. It’s a bit hard to pin down exactly how to manipulate the noise channel precisely, but play around with looping a note and adjusting the shape parameter bit by bit to get a better grip on it.
Now let’s get a phrase going for these ticks. This should work well for a little accent:
Now, we’ll go ahead and build our chain with 4 phrase 9′s, and we’re good on that.
And that’s what you need to know about the noise channel. Use it to augment your drum kits and make a little extra tension with an angry hiss or grumble! Now, you go to the fridge and grab a snack. You’re going to need it. And bring me back one of those chocolate covered strawberries. I seriously love those.
Well, technically, that’s not a strawberry. That’s a beer and a kitten novelty calendar. But it’s good enough, I guess. Anyway, let’s talk COMMANDS.
Commands are what give LSDJ a good amount of its power. Commands allow you to alter notes, beats, and noises individually in ways which open up the musical possibilities to a near endless level. Here are a list of commands LSDJ offers (and their accompanying letters):
A: Run Table – Runs a table of your choosing (more on tables coming up)
Ex. A00 runs table 00.
C: Chord - Very quickly executes an arpeggio (of 3 notes, one of which is the note to which the command is applied). The numerical values you enter will determine the next two notes in the arpeggio (counting up from the root note in semitones).
Ex. In this screenshot, a chord is created beginning with C5, moving up 4 semitones from C5 (to E5), then moving up 12 semitones (one octave) from C5 (to C6):
D: Delay – Delays a note’s triggering by a certain number of ticks (there are 6 ticks per step in the default groove).
Ex. In this screenshot, the note is delayed by 0C (12) ticks, meaning that it will trigger on 2 instead of 0.
E: Envelope – Should be self-explanatory. Works the same as when you set up an instrument. When applying this command to a wave instrument (like drums), the only acceptable inputs are E00 (volume at 0%), E01 (volume at 25%), E02 (volume at 50%), and E03 (volume at maximum).
Ex. E61 on a pulse channel note will change the envelope for that note to be semi-quiet with a quick fade.
F: Wave Frame – Changes the wave frame currently being played. We’ll get more into this once we get to our master class on wave instruments and the synth page. For now, don’t worry too much about it.
G: Groove - Selects the groove to be used. We will touch on groove in a future installment.
H: Hop – Jumps to the next phrase in a chain, and can also stop the song completely (triggered only when you enter HFF). Placing these at certain points in phrases can also alter the current time signature of a song, for you crazy prog-chip yokels.
Ex. H00 hops to the next phrase, starting at the beginning. H03 would hop to the next phrase, starting at position 03.
K: Kill Note – Kills the note, with the swiftness of a Yakuza assassin.
Ex. K00 kills the note at the current step. K05 would kill the note 5 ticks from the current step (so, not quick one full step).
L: Legato (Slide) – Slides a note up or down (works only on pulse and wave channels) at a given speed (the numerical value). Note that the step where the note and L command are triggered is where the slide will begin, so make sure to keep that in mind if it sounds off-time.
Ex. In this screenshot, the C5 note bends up to C6 at speed 6 (which is pretty fast: bends the note in about one step’s time).
M: Master Volume – Alters the master volume. In the two-digit numerical value, the first digit represents the left output channel and the second represents the right output channel. 0-7 are set volumes (0 being lowest, 7 being highest), 8 keeps the volume the same, 9-B increase the volume relative to the current volume of the channel, and D-F decrease the relative volume of the channel.
Ex. M00 mutes the right and left channels. M27 sets the left channel at volume 2 and the right channel at maximum volume. MEA decreases the left channel volume by 2 steps and increases the right channel volume by 2 steps.
O: Output – Sets the channel to the left output channel, right output channel, both, or neither.
P: Pitch Bend – This one is fun for effect. This is a continuous pitch bend, different than the legato command. This will bend the note indefinitely in one direction or another (looping around once it hits the highest or lowest note and continuing on), at a defined speed. The speed is determined by the numerical value. Starting from 1 and increasing, the pitch will bend up at increasing speeds. Starting from FF and decreasing, the pitch will bend down at increasing speeds. It’s also fun to use on your drum kits! Just play around!
Ex. In this screenshot, I’ve made a cool effect with an upbending pitch, sounding almost like 8-bit helicopter blades or a rapid-fire laser.
R: Re-Trig – Re-triggers the note to which the command is applied. The first digit in the value controls the volume of the re-trigger: 0 keeps the same volume, continuously re-triggering the note until another note is played, 1-7 increases the volume by rising increments, and 8-F decreases the volume. The second digit controls the speed of the re-trig, with 1 giving very fast re-trig, and each number higher slowing the re-trig. This is one of my favorite commands to play with.
Ex. In this screenshot, the C5 note is re-triggered somewhat slowly, fading quieter as it goes.
S: Sweep / Shape – The effect of this command is different depending on the channel you’re working with. On the pulse channel, the first digit affects the pitch, and the second affects pitch bend velocity (kind of like an expanding version of the P command). Also note that this command does not have an effect when applied on PU2.
Ex. I’ve made our C5 sound a little bit like Little Mac punching King Hippo. This could actually make for some fun additional percussion.
On kit instruments, the S command deals with the loop and offset. In a kit set to loop, the first digit modulates the offset value and the second digit modulates the loop length. The best way to experience the use of this is just to try it out.
Ex. I’ve made a new kit and set the loop value to “ON” in the first screenshot, and in the second, I’ve used the S command to create a damn annoying sound (similar to a very loud and fast sprinkler).
(For the purposes of full disclosure, I’d never used S on a kit before now.)
Finally, on a noise instrument, the first digit changes the pitch, and the second digit changes the noise modulation, relative to its current value.
Ex. I’ve used our noise instrument (that we used to make the hi-hat sound) and set it down many times with a constantly changing pitch (and a noise modulation of +3). The end result are a few notes and some rumblings which come back around to a hiss and a snare crack.
T: Tempo – Change the tempo (in BPM) of the song.
Ex. TA0 would change the BPM to 160.
V: Vibrato – Shifts the pitch up and down. The first digit alters the period of the vibrato, the second alters the depth of the vibrato.
Ex. V12 makes a relatively quick vibrato, which doesn’t stray too far sharp or flat, while V28 is faster and much more erratic.
W: Wave – Changes the waveform (only works on pulse instruments). You’ll know what to do.
Z: Randomize – Reissues the last command issued on that channel (so long as it wasn’t D, H, G, or Z). The value you entered on the previous command will be added to a random number between 0 and the value you enter in the randomize command to produce something fully unexpected.
Hopefully working through the command list has given you enough practice (or at least a bit of understanding) for the commands. These commands (or at least some of them) will be your constant companions in the search of that signature sound you’re looking for.
Now that you have a grasp on commands, let’s talk tables. Tables are a way to link several commands together. You can issue up to 2 simultaneous commands, a volume adjustment, and step transpose all at once. This is where you get into the big stuff. There are endless possibilities available with tables, so I obviously can’t cover even a fraction of them in this tutorial, but we can play with one of my favorites, so you can learn by doing.
Let’s make a new chain and phrase on the PU1 channel, and go to a new instrument. I’ve made something like this:
Note that I’ve set the instrument up with a loud attack and quick fade, with Automate set to OFF (more on that in a minute) and the table set to 00. Let’s flip on over to the table page with Select+Right.
Here’s the table page, at last. There are 4 columns: VOL (volume), TSP (transpose), and two CMD (command) columns. The volume column controls the volume envelope. The first digit in each value sets the amplitude, and the second sets the length of that amplitude value (in ticks). The transpose column transposes the triggered note up, just as in the C command. This can be used to create extensive arpeggios, and other fun effects. The two command columns work exactly in the table page as they do on the phrase page.
Here’s an example of how I like to make a dirty bass sound, by quickly changing the waveforms over and over, making things sound crunchy and angry.
The W commands are changing the waveform every tick, and once the column reaches the 5 position, it hops back to the beginning of the table. Now set some notes on the phrase screen, like so, and listen to the crunchy goodness.
It’s like a bag of chips on top of gravel. Mmmm.
Now, on to the Automate option. Head back over to your instrument and turn Automate ON. Automate will change the way your table elapses its steps. Instead of one step per tick, you will have one step per instance of the instrument to which that table is assigned. Try it out and see the difference. Now the instrument changes sound per note.
As you become more familiar with commands, you’ll find it fun to chain them together and use tables to their fullest extent. We’ll likely brush against tables again in future installments, but this episode seems to have become near the length of a Harry Potter novel. So that concludes Hyphen and the Order of the Tutorial. Keep an eye out, because next time, we’ll be tackling the groove page, as well as synth and wave.
If you need some inspiration, go listen to Awkward Terrible, and witness the raw power of chiptune.