Make do and mend - humanising MIDI drum tracks
tl;dr - (update) Round robin sample playback possible with Patterning, AB3 MIDI effects and BM3
I’ve been distracted by a couple of drum apps that I think might ‘add something’ and otherwise prove useful when programming full songs. I tend to be more of a crafter than a jammer - currently going for a ‘high energy rock with synths bleeding into the feedback’-type sound. I’d love to crank out something in the territory of Kevin Shields-era Primal Scream, although I’ve not made such great strides thus far. Mind’s too flighty.
Anyway, I was drawn to DrumPerfect Pro, obviously, and Drum Session. Then I got to thinking about Patterning. I have Patterning already and I’ve always been impressed. It’s my favourite drum app of those that I have, and 8 drums should be enough for this use. You can do a lot with its 8 separate outs, MIDI out, or a mixture of the two even. The song mode workflow makes sense to me and it’s not too hard to get something going.
[Sidebar: I often catch myself thinking, “If only I had app X then I’d be able to do Y” or, “When app X is released I’ll be able to...” when it’s already possible with what I do have, which is admittedly far too many apps. Why is getting a new app so high on the solutions list? Workarounds can be annoying, sure, and you should factor in your time of course - however much it’s worth to you - but it also takes time to learn complex new tools. DPP has a notorious learning curve, for instance, and I already have more apps than I know how to use. Anyway, let’s continue!]
That said - and don’t fret, I’m gonna ‘too long didn’t read’ this bad boy - I’m wondering about humanising these accurately-sequenced drums. A little fallibility, to endear and engage. I like my diamonds rough. Patterning already has probability and velocity per step, strange and exciting time divisions, swing and ‘auto-rotate’, but it doesn’t offer ‘human feel’ variability or round robin samples, which should help with organic-sounding ‘there is a drummer playing these drums’ drums. Not really the point of the app, but bear with me.
I’ve had an idea for how to get humanised drums with Patterning. It’s MIDI-heavy, half-formed and it involves a few other apps, so I’ve decided to ask the AB Forum Hive Mind before trying to make it work and possibly losing several hours of my life, which I’d never get back, to frustration and disappointment.
The basic idea is to run Patterning’s MIDI out into AB3, through the MF Randomizer and into BM3. It sounds simple at first, doesn’t it?
MF Randomizer lets you subtly vary the velocity and timing of MIDI notes, obviously, but importantly - and this is where I get a little hazy now - it enables you to randomise which note is actually triggered, to any of the notes within a range of semitones surrounding the actual incoming MIDI note. One note leaving Patterning could be interpreted by BM3 as ‘one of these 3 notes’ (+/-1), or ‘one of these 5 notes’ (+/-2), or 7, 9, 11 and so on, increasing by 2 each time as you widen the net. Surely this makes round robin sample triggers possible? If you map different hits to different semitones in the BM3 sampler. I’ve read somewhere that round robin is on the ‘someday’ road map for BM3, but it’s not here yet.
For anybody who doesn’t know what ‘round robin’ means: it’s a way to avoid repetitive, static samples - instead of a static kick drum that’s always the same hit, every single time (and clearly a recording) you can take a group of samples and trigger a random ‘one of these ten similar kicks’ each time, for instance, and it sounds a lot more like there’s a real drummer sat there in the corner, thumping away, each hit slightly different.
So. If you map similar-but-different samples to be clustered around the ‘official’ trigger notes in your BM3 setup, surely you can have a ‘random from this selection’ kick each time Patterning says ‘kick’? Same goes for snares, hi hats and so on. All with the subtle fluctuations in timing and velocity that you’ve dialled in to taste with the Midiflow randomising effect. This should work, no? Carefully map your samples across the keyboard in BM3, save it as your ‘human feel drum module’ preset, save the MIDI setup in Patterning, save the AB3 preset and you’re good to go surely?
It doesn’t have to be Patterning sending out the triggers, either. It could be any MIDI sender. And it could be the Cubasis sampler instead of BM3 - that lets you map a different sample to every piano key. You get the idea.
Thing is, Patterning doesn’t support AB3 MIDI. I want all of this to be state-saved within AB3, so I only have to set it up the one time, then I can forget about all of this left brain stuff and just build songs with realistic drums using the Patterning interface from that point on. If I have to open several apps in the right order, then go back and forth and figure out why it isn’t working, I’ll start screaming.
The Midiflow adapter should get Patterning’s MIDI into the AB3 MIDI lane, but I don’t know what happens to state saving when you’re using adapters. Would the AB3 preset recall the states of 8 different instances of MF Randomizer and bring back all of the Patterning connections? Would I need to set something up every time? Have I missed or misunderstood something important? I’ve been burned by MIDI troubleshooting before, so I’m asking before doing. I’ve got the fear. This path is fraught with calamity.
If it’s a nightmare of temperamental connections I’ll leave this alone and probably just run Patterning’s separate audio outs through some effects magic, or record the MIDI into Auria and click ‘humanise’. It wouldn’t be the same, though.
I expect many of you are very happy with DPP and I’m very happy for you, if you are. By all accounts it’s a fine app and I’ll likely get there eventually, the next time I’m jonesing. The purpose of this thread, however, is to find out if there’s a slick way to do something fancy with some of the tools that I already have. I imagine some of you have them too. Just think of all of the things we’re not humanising. O Humanity.
I’m not looking for generative drums.
Your success stories are welcome, although anything constructive is appreciated. Or if you just want to say hey. Thanks for reading down to here. Phew.