Country to Funky with Gating

Gating is one of those techniques that almost every engineer (and no DIY musician) reaches for. I’m hardly a sound designer but I use gates because it’s very easy to apply and can dramatically change the nature of loops, samples and recorded material. Typically gates are used on drums (especially bass drums) but in the example below I make things a little more interesting by turning a bass part originally categorized in the “country” genre into a more funky alternative that I used for one of my Jim’s Big Ego remixes.

What’s a “gate”? It’s an effect that silences the incoming signal under some conditions. When the gate is open, sound comes through, when it’s shut, the track is silenced.

There are two types of gates:

Timing Gates

A timing gate will open and closed based on two main parameters:

  1. How often does the gate open?
  2. How long is it open for?

For example if a timing gate is said to open every other beat and stay open for 1/4 of a beat, that means no matter how much sound is coming into the gate, the most sound you will hear will be every other beat and only for a 1/4.

Although there are many audio based timing gates, this kind of gate is typically found in MIDI environments. For example, many arpeggio generating synthesizers will have some kind of timing gate as a final stage to give that much more control over output. In this case all you’re really doing is shortening (or completely silencing) the MIDI notes.

To be honest MIDI gating is not interesting to me personally because I don’t work a lot with synths, leave alone automatic arpeggiating.

Amplitude Gates

These are the gates used in professional studios and based on one basic parameter: If the sound is softer than ‘x’ then close the gate where ‘x’ is some volume level. Basically that means only sounds that are louder than ‘x’ will be heard in the output.

Sometimes called “noised gates” these are great for blocking out headphone bleed and the TV from the junkie’s apartment upstairs that’s been blaring for two weeks. (You’ll need another web site to help rid the accumulating odors.)

This what the Sony gate effect that comes with ACID looks like. As you can see it couldn’t be simpler. The “Threshold” parameter determines the volume the sound has to be to come through the gate. The “attack” and “release” parameters control how slowly the gate opens and closes. If the gated notes are crackling or distorted it may be because the gate is opening and closing too quickly and clipping the wav in unfriendly places. Adjusting the attack/release parameters will act as a fade in/out to avoid this situation.

I’ve created an ACID (acd-zip) project that demonstrates what gating a legato bass line (where the notes are held for a long time) so that the notes end up being shorter. The reason this works is because the bass has a strong attack on every note and then, like most struck instruments and car values, dies off rather quickly. I tweaked the ‘threshold’ to sit right in the middle of the tail so that notes get much staccato (shorter).

You dump the loop into a wav editor like Audition or Sound Forge and shorten every note individually but ferkrizakes why would do that when you do it “live” with a gate effect. That way you can chop, glitch, change pitch on the bass part in the host and always know the gate will work on the final output.

Gated Bass

[ listen ]
[ download ]

By using a gate in the host you can alternate between legato/staccato at will simply by applying the gate or by-passing it. Click on Vincent on the left to hear what it sounds like when I applied the Waves C1 Gate in a FL Studio project to the bass in this project.

In the first few bars you can hear what the bass loop sounded like un-gated. Then I apply the gate and the notes get shorter. Then I alternate between the two to vary the feel. (I also add some other effects but you can/should ignore those.) Keep in mind that I am not editing the bass part wav or switching loops, it’s all the same unedited bass loop. (I started work on this example and it sounded so good it became the basis of my funky remix of Jim’s Big Ego “Mix Tape” song (MP3.))

Getting Gates

ACID and Live have audio gate effects standard in the host. If FL Studio (Fruity Loops) has an audio gate or someway to simulate it then I couldn’t find it — there is a MIDI style gate in the sampler under the arpeggiator but that’s all I could dig up.

Here is list of free gates on KVR-VST but most of those are timing gates. The famous Block Fish is on that list but its gate is really part of an expander (a whole other kettle) and not as brain-dead simple as the other gate effects mentioned above. Still you shouldn’t be above experimenting with it, it is free after all.