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Old February 26th, 2012, 05:04 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Location: Paris / Montpellier, FRANCE
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Realistic fast tremolo MIDI bass part programming

Hi there,

i'm one of those people using a VSTi (Trilian) for bass, and really happy with it, except when it comes to super fast tremolo parts (very common in extreme genres such as brutal death metal), where it sounds weird/robotic/unrealistic/unpleasant/annoying.

I'm not gonna buy a bass and i want to get those fast parts to sound decently realistic. The other parts sound awesome and realistic, and people know how to program MIDI drums to sound realistic even for extreme parts, so i guess there should be a way to do the same with fast tremolo bass parts.

This is an issue that has been mentioned in many past bass VSTi MIDI programming threads, and yet nobody seemed to be able to solve it.

For now i do the following (in addition to the usual humanization (random timing and velocity changes with my DAW) i do to all my MIDI bass parts) but i guess it's kinda wrong or not enough at least :

-emphasize (i.e increase velocity) on the first note (out of 4 quarter notes) of each series of quarter notes
-for the other 3 notes of each 4 quarter notes group, i do the same kind of velocity changes i would do for a drum roll

which in the end resembles the following, velocity-wise :
100 / 80 / 82 / 78

Any ideas ?

Here are mine :

-use way lower velocity for tremolo riffs than for normal riffs ? (not sure about that, because i can think of say finger players where the tremolo part would have less energy, but there are also pick players who pick the shit out of their strings during fast parts (Fear Factory ?), and i'm using a finger played but very "rattly" patch ) -> just tried it and it doesn't solve the issue, it just does what expected, i.e changing the playing style from soft/round/fingerish to harder/clankier/sharper/pickier
-try using a different cutoff/legato/sustain mode and/or articulation in Trilian ? -> maybe Staccato articulation would work (idea taken from MetallyGuitarded in a previous another bass programming thread) ? -> tried it, didn't seem to fix the issue (it seems to really come down to MIDI programming (velocity, timing, note length))
-the most extreme and cumbersome : playing it with a guitar, and then convert the DI into MIDI using a Melodyne/VariAudio kind of plugin


example here (fast tremolo part during the blast beat part) :

drums + bass :

bass alone :

NB : i think the bass sounds fine during the non tremolo part, and this is the kind of tone i like (Slipknot, Cannibal Corpse, Pantera, Madball, Earth Crisis), namely some kind of Ampeg tone with rattly strings

I guess it comes down to "think of how a real bass player does it and it how it would translate it termes of MIDI information", but i have a hard time figuring this out...

Pics :

my MIDI score (zoom in if needed) :

my Trilian settings :

EDIT : found out i was using the "sequential" Round Robin mode in Trilian, which contribute to this unnatural/robotic feeling on tremolos (but not as much as no Round Robin at all trust me). I tried switching to the "random" Round Robin mode (i guess the "random full cycle" mode is less random than the "random" mode, yet more random than the "sequential" mode... There is no precise explanation in the Trilian user manual btw), and it seems a tad better, but not there yet IMO :

Here is how it sounds like now (to sum up : maybe a tad better (placebo effect ?), not worse i think, but not quite there yet) :

I think for now my Trilian settings are fine and it comes down to improving the MIDI programming, but i'm still clueless and need some help.

Couldn't find a version of that part/song ("I Cum Blood" by Cannibal Corpse) played by Alex Webster himself with the bass loud enough, so here is an example played by another dude who sounds a bit like Webster (same kind of finger playing), for reference :

I like this video cuz' the tremolo is real but sounds weird/a bit annoying somehow, so i guess this weird/annoying character is not due to MIDI bass programming alone

EDIT 2 : Actually i just noticed that this guy is playing series of triplets (using his first three fingers : 1/2/3 1/2/3 1/2/3...) with the last note ringing a bit more than just a 1/3th note and not real tremolo, but i'm not sure if that's the way Webster does it, and if that's how finger tremolos are played, or if there are "real" finger tremolos on bass.

Posted a comment on this guy's video, i hope he'll answer back :

"Little question about your technique while playing the first riffs : are you playing "real" tremolo as in "using your four fingers in a 1/2/3/4 1/2/3/4 1/2/3/4 fashion, with each finger playing a quarter note (16th i mean) ? Or are you playing kind of "triplets" with three fingers (1/2/3 1/2/3 1/2/3) and leaving the last note of each series of 3 ring a little longer ?

Or maybe if you're doing real tremolo using the four fingers, the 4th hit of each series (which i guess is played with the pinkie) is softer sounding the first 3 hits ?

I'm trying to program that bass part in MIDI and have it decent and realistic sounding so that's why i'm asking those weird questions (i sent you a PM with an audio example btw)"

If someone has a solo-ed tremolo bass part i'm very interested to hear it for reference.

EDIT 3 : Listening to some solo-ed exported bass tracks i made on another song and realizing there are drop-outs, which seems like the VSTi can't reach all samples properly while exporting in speed time (=faster than normal 1x speed) offline, so i'm thinking it might also cause the tremolo part (which should resort to a lot of different samples/Round Robins being triggered) to fuck up...

I'm gonna do some "proper" exports (1x speed and/or online) and see if it makes any difference.

Last edited by Djabthrash : February 28th, 2012 at 07:20 AM.
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