Sound designer Roger Grønberg talks about Modular Beats and his love of all things analog

Zero-G Modular BeatsThis week sample pioneers Zero-G released their latest sample collection – Modular Beats. Crammed with stand-out beats and kits, no samples or drum machines were used in the making of this library as the sounds and loops were all created using only modular synthesizers and analog monosynths.

Roger Grønberg, a sound designer from Norway who specialises in physical modelling and sound invention, reportedly put over 4000 hours of work into this library; before we let him rest we asked him to tell us more about this unique collection of samples.

Hi Roger, thanks for speaking to us. Please could you tell us about your musical background?

I have always been interested in the basic elements of sound, sound broken down into its components.  I started out making pop music in different disguises and made a living by producing music for TV and cinema. The problem was that I started spending crazy amounts of time focusing on tiny details nobody noticed, days were spent on “ways to complicate a sine wave”.  So I knew I had the ability to focus hard on small fragments of sound and I also knew that I could do large batches of work. So I started a company,, with that in mind.

Roger GrønbergWhat inspired you to make the library?
I had one thing in mind: “What kind of percussion sounds could be made in the 1960s with modular synthesizers?”. I thought about sound theory, my own experiments with sine waves and current, contemporary music. I wanted to stay clear of the typical blip blop associated with analog drums. Even though I think those sounds are cool, I wanted to find out just what a big plethora of “non-analog sounding” sounds I could get using only analog modular synthesizers. I had the slogan “Old equipment, new sounds” written on the wall. Silly. But it became kind of a mantra.

What can our customers expect to find in this collection?
In making the library I constantly said to myself “most users don`t really care how the library is made, but how it sounds”. The sounds have to be new and fresh sounding, another thing is the beat itself, it has to have a swing, be usable and have the right colours. I also wanted the loops to be long. I could have cut up the loops into different fragments to make this a 1500 + loops library. Instead I made 400 loops with all the variations within the loop because I think this is an easier way for the producer to work, having all variations available at all times.

Roger GrønbergI also wanted all the sounds in the loops to be available as single sounds. So I made a vast amount of drum machines to accompany the loops, over 3,000 sounds.  I`m very inspired by experimental hip hop, electronic, urban pop, Sheffield bands like Cabaret Voltaire and Human League, Neubauten, fresh sounding electronics, sounds never before heard and minimal movie soundtracks.

The description for Modular Beats claims that the samples are made from pure analog sources. Could you tell us more about these sources?

All sounds are made using only oscillators and noise as the sound source. No drums, drum machines, no samples. I have stayed clear of multipurpose modules and “drum modules”. The starting point is oscillators, noise, filters and ADSR. Special modules include BBD delays (analog delay based on the bucket brigade chip), frequency shifter (translates every signal feed into it by the same amount of Hz), wave shapers (offset, clipping, overdrive) and uncertainty modules as modulators. You can click here for the full Modular Beats Equipment List (PDF).

Roger GrønbergCould you tell us more about how you created the sounds?
At it’s most advanced a typical bass drum has 6 enharmonically tuned oscillators for the batter click, two spring reverbs driven by one oscillator for simulation of the trapped noise/ambience inside the drum, one oscillator for the bass drum body, cavity/resonant modes and emulated sound bleed from the rest drumset and environment. The simpler models employ the typical 808 structure as basis. Snare drums is made with much of the same things in mind, modeling each element independently: Two drum skins tuned differently, the shell, spring on the shell, metal rib, trapped air, etc. Open cymbals is the most difficult and can employ a whole day’s worth of work to get right. It’s almost impossible to do in the analog domain and in reality is more of a digital waveguide technique, but I love doing that kind of stuff!

I have used a variety of different techniques: Karplus-strong, physical modeling, additive and subtractive synthesis, formant synthesis and modal synthesis. I have also developed some useful new approaches during the process. Another thing I love is, with theory as a basis, to work intuitively and counter to common sense. A lot of cool FX, sounds, small percussion and textures are obtained this way.

It took over 4000 hours to create the library – why so long?
It’s a very time consuming process. Patching cables between modules, adjusting filters, tuning oscillators, volume and length adjusting of single elements, depth control of the sound. Then you multiply this with number of elements in the loops. Working with a single sound can sometimes eat up a whole day. I’m also stupid enough to blank out the modular between each sound cause I like a clean canvas for each sound element. It can be daunting each day staring at the modular beast and know how much work you have to go through to obtain a full loop. But it’s hugely rewarding. At least for me.

Frequency Shifter
Frequency shifter

I love analog electronics. Just looking at all the cables and modules makes my heart skip a beat. And that is the core of why I work the way I do. It inspires me more than anything in the world and it rewards me with unique sounds.

What types of music projects do you see Modular Beats fitting into particularly well?

Anyone producing urban pop, hip hop or electro will find inspiration in this library. It`s also very usable for movie soundtracks. Not the BIG sounding side of it, but if you need signature sounds and all the sounds in between, you`ll find it here. It’s mostly for the whole range of percussion sounds, but it also contains textures, atmospheres. FX and single sounds.

Mini Korg
Mini Korg

What else is coming up for Frodebeats in the near future?

I have just completed a library for Native instruments and Maschine. It’s sounds, FX and drums. A really rewarding project and a great piece of hardware.

I’m currently working on my frodebeats VSTI/audiounit release with the working title “frodetown”. It`s a mammoth project with  400+ drum loops with 10-16 sounds in each loop and accompanying drum machine, 1000 soundscapes, textures and atmospheres, and 500 + instrument sounds. Will probably take me another 3 years to complete. Hopefully there will be some exiting project coming my way during the project so I can have a break from it. I would very much like to work with Spectrasonics sometime in the future. I think they have very cool platforms, a good philosophy and great people. I just want to make sounds from scratch, as detailed and cool as time allows.

Posted by Melanie Doidge

Having worked in marketing for over fifteen years with experience in various industries, Time+Space and the world of music production continues to be the most exciting of them all. With our brands consistently pushing the boundaries of technology with their products, the terrific DJs, Composers and Producers using them and the feedback from magazines and our customers, there's always plenty to tell the world about. Musical experience? I reached Grade 6 in piano back in my school days and am currently in the throes of trying to resurrect my abilities!


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