Weekend Workshop: Create glitchy beats with Momentum for free

Perform impressive beat slicing and glitching effects with Big Fish Audio’s free sample manipulator. 

Sometimes a sample sits perfectly in your mix; you find the perfect drum loop or melodic phrase, add a little bit of processing, and it hits the spot. While this is the dream scenario, usually you spend hours digging through folder after folder of great sounds that don’t fit your vision of the finished track. And it’s a fantastic way to kill inspiration.

For this Weekend Workshop, we’re not wading through an endless pool of sounds, but we aren’t going to settle for what we have either. Instead, we are going to use Big Fish Audio’s Momentum to sample, slice and downright mangle our way to a unique and inspired sound. First, let’s find out what Momentum is all about.

Momentum is a free sampler, slicer and multi-effects processor that was released earlier this year. As with most sampling engines, Momentum allows you to load multiple samples and process and sequence them individually. What makes Momentum stand out is its ability to apply effects to individual slices of a sample. Momentum is available for both Windows and Mac OS in AU, VST and AAX formats.

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Here’s the type of sound we’re going for:

What you’ll need:

  • A DAW
  • Momentum, which is available for free, here

1. Getting started with Momentum

First, we will need to choose a loop. We’ve decided to go with a heavily processed breakbeat that we recorded in-house. You can download our sample, or you can select a drum loop from one of your favourite sample packs. A more dynamic loop will give you more unique slices to work with and add variety to the final groove.

Once we have chosen our sample, we will load a new instance of Momentum. If you have never loaded Momentum before, you will need to create a free Big Fish Audio account or sign in to an existing one. The entire process can be completed directly from within the plug-in interface and doesn’t require email verification.

Once you have logged in, the layout is pretty straightforward. On the left-hand side, you will see the sample library. You can drag samples you already own in here, but also it provides direct access to any sample libraries you have purchased from Big Fish Audio. They are nice enough to include an extensive collection of free samples to get you started, too. Along the bottom of the interface, you can switch between mixer mode and slice mode. Since we are only going to be working with one sample in this workshop, we will be living in slice mode. The keyboard along the bottom of the UI will come into play later when we start rearranging slices.

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Let’s load our sample by dragging and dropping it into Momentum. Once we drop a sample into the editor, it appears on its own track with basic mix controls. We also have a selection of effects applied to the track, though they are all disabled by default. Let’s head over to the slice editor to dig into the audio.

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2. Adjusting slices and effects overview

Within slice mode, we see another effects section, this time labelled ‘Slice Effects’. We have eight available effects slots that allow us to adjust effects for each slice in a sample; we’ll dive into these a bit later. Up top in the wave editor, we can see that Momentum has done a pretty good job of automatically adding slice points at the transients within the loop; there are a couple of markers that are slightly off. Let’s get into slice edit mode by clicking ‘Slice’ on the top left.

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Editing slice points is as simple as clicking on the marker above the slice and dragging it over to a new position. In our sample, there are two areas to adjust to preserve the original transient when we start re-arranging our slices. This process also ensures that the previous slice doesn’t contain any strange artefacts that might create to clicks or pops in the final arrangement. We want to end up with a glitchy groove, but intentionally so.

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Now that we have adjusted our slices, let’s see what we hear when we program a C0 note over two bars.

Momentum has automatically time-stretched our 100bpm sample to fit our new tempo of 140bpm, but the timbre and order of playback are unchanged. We are going to adjust the former by applying effects to the individual slices.

Let’s click back over to the ‘FX’ tab at the top left so we can change our default palette to something that suits our sound a bit better. If we click the three dots next to any of our assigned effects, we see a window that lets us swap out the current effect with any of the 17 available slice effects. Momentum’s effects chains are some the most open we’ve seen in a plug-in. There are no limits on stacking the same effect multiple times; if you want to give two slices an entirely different sense of space, add multiple instances of the reverb effect. If you need a low-pass and a band-pass filter, simply stack the filter effect. We are trying to create a cohesive groove here, so we’re going to choose our effects as we go through the slices.

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3. Creating our effects chain

Listening back to our loop, we felt the kick drum lacked a lot of the low-end punch that we would typically have in a synthesised kick. For our first effect, we are going to load Subbass. This will layer a solid sub under the slices that we apply the effect too. Since we are going to be rearranging the slices, we only need to apply this effect to our favourite kick slice from the loop. Start by clicking and dragging up the blue line below the slice in the editor. This will adjust the amount the effect is applied; we’ve gone with 55 per cent. The only two parameters we can adjust are the maximum frequency and the tone. We’ll bring down Max Freq to 115Hz; this behaves like a low-pass filter. Next, we will change the fundamental frequency of the sub using the ‘Tone’ parameter. We’ve gone with 36 per cent, but you can adjust to taste. Be careful not to go too low, or the low end will start to sound muddy. If we take a listen now, we have a lot more thump in our kick.

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Now we are going to start shaping our snare sound. We want to have two distinct snare sounds in our groove, so we are going to use the default pitch effect and enable it by clicking the power button; as expected, there are no parameters to adjust here. After choosing our first snare slice, we can shift it’s pitch up by two semitones. We are going to be using a reversed sample to lead into this snare so we will need to adjust the pitch on this slice as well. Now, let’s change the playback mode to ‘Shot’. Going forward, we will spend most of our time in one-shot mode. Since this will map all of our slices in order across the keyboard, it’s a lot easier to select and audition our slices; we also need to be in one-shot mode once we start programming our beat. Let’s hear how our repitched snares.

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Now we can reverse our second pitched up snare slice. Let’s enable the Reverse effect and drag the amount up on our slice. Like ‘Pitch’, the reverse effect lacks any parameters to adjust. While it might be nice if you could access a range of playback speeds, we only have an on or off setting. If we go into our DAW’s MIDI editor and place the reversed snare hit just before our other slice, we get a nice build effect.

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Next, we are going to add some reverb and delay to create a Dub inspired snare sound. Let’s swap out the Stutter effect for Reverb and start tweaking the parameters. We can adjust all of the standard reverb settings in the effects panel, except for the decay. Change the decay value per slice by selecting the time tab and dragging the red line to an appropriate time value. Set the time to around two seconds for both of our pitched up slices.

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If we play back our two slices, we won’t hear any change. First, we need to go back and adjust the send level for both of our slices; we’ve gone with around -7 dB. We’ve also brought the low cut filter down to 300Hz and cranked the high cut to maintain more of the top-end in the reverb tail. We left the mix at 50 per cent to avoid washing out the transient. We also left the remaining parameters on their default settings, but feel free to experiment. Let’s hear our two slices with the reverb.

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The last effect we are going to add to our first snare sound is the delay. This time we aren’t going to be adding it to our reversed slice. Let’s enable the delay effect and start adjusting the parameters. As with the reverb effect, we can change most of our settings from within the effects panel; we can specify both delay time and feedback per slice. We are going to head over to the feedback tab and increase the feedback to 65 per cent on our snare slice. We’ve decided to keep the delay time at its default setting, as this sounded best in the context of our full beat.

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Now we can bring up the send level to around -2 dB. Adjust the damping to taste and let’s see how the finished snare sounds.

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We can also tweak our second snare sound and create some glitchy percussion slices. For our second snare, we want it to be reasonably short and direct to provide some nice contrast. Let’s choose a slice that we want to work with and then add the Transient effect. There are only two settings to adjust on this effect; both are applied directly to the slices. First, let’s boost the attack and then head over to the Hold tab and drag the bar down about halfway.

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Let’s take a listen to the before and after. The difference is subtle, but we’ve removed some of the sustain and added a bit more bite to the transient.

One of the great benefits to working with sliced loops as the basis for our drumbeat is that after we’ve picked our snare, kick and hat samples, we’re left with quite a few slices that can be used as glitchy percussive filler. We can use the stutter effect to add eighth, 32nd, and 64th note repeats to some of these extra slices. Let’s pick three slices and add different subdivisions to each of them. We are also going to add an eighth note repeat to our second snare sound to give it a bit more interest. We’ve chosen to add the effect to a kick, snare and hat, but it can work well on any slice in your loop.

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4. Rearranging slices

Now that we’ve finished tweaking our slices in Momentum, we can finally start rearranging them and programming a beat using our DAWs MIDI editor. We’ve decided to program a beat that would work well in a modern Dub or Dubstep track, but these slices could work well in many different genres.

We are going to be programming a four-bar loop that would work well as that main beat for a track. The first and third bars will be identical, so we will start by programming two bars and then duplicating them later. Since we are programming in half-time, we will begin by placing a kick on the first beat of the first bar and the fourth eighth note. In the second bar, we will add three kicks in triplets. Since we are using two different snare sounds, we will place our first snare on the third beat of the first bar and our second snare on the third beat of the second bar. We are also going to add our reversed snare sample so that it starts less than a 32nd note past our second kick. The slice will blend into the snare hit a little bit better this way.

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Our beat sounds a bit basic, but now we can start adding in some hi-hats to fill it out. Using a few different hi-hat slices adds subtle variation in dynamics to our groove. We’ve decided to add a mix of 16th notes and triplets, but you can use any rhythm you like.

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Our first two bars are starting to take shape. We can finish them off by adding in a couple of our glitchy percussion slices. Having these prepared earlier with Stutter makes it much less tedious to add note repeats than manually programming them.

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For our final step, we can duplicate what we have so far and make some changes to the fourth bar, which will help resolve the beat. We’ve removed two of our kicks and the snare. Then we’ve added in a couple of new slices to finish it off.

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We now have a fairly complex beat that’s ready for any further processing you would ordinarily put on your drum bus. Most importantly, we have used Momentum’s sampling and effects capabilities to create something truly unique that’s and dramatically different from our original sample.

We’d love to hear what glitchy sounds you create. Please share your results with the MusicTech Creator Community on Facebook. Tell us how you got on and what other tutorials you’d like to see.

Check out more Weekend Workshops here.

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