Edmonton based producer Neil Thompson, aka Dr. Perceptron, has been writing and recording electronic music since the early nineties. Initially from the UK, he has been in the arts discipline of the computer games industry since the late eighties, with companies such as Psygnosis, Sony, Bizarre Creations and now BioWare in Canada. He continues to actively pursue his twin passions of art and electronica, submitting music for games as well as releasing his own albums via Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
We got a chance to speak with Neil about how he approached creating music for Mass Effect: Andromeda with Reason.
You are one of a handful of Edmonton producers who’ve gotten track placements in the new Mass Effect game by BioWare. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into producing music for Mass Effect.
I've been in the games industry for a long time, but not for as long as I've been a keen amateur musician! I come from a musical family and after brief attempts at learning "traditional" orchestral instruments, I discovered the electric guitar and that was the end of any formal training. The move to electronic music came during the rise of the dance / rave scene in the late 80's and early 90's when my love for the older school of artists like Tangerine Dream, Vangelis and Kraftwerk started to combine with artists like The Orb, DJs like Sasha, John Digweed and CJ Bolland in particular, whose album "Electronic Highway" defined the convergence of European techno and pure electronica. Then Pete Namlook's explorations into electronic sound and his many collaborations (particularly with Klaus Schulze) were a huge inspiration.
When it became easier to self release work through sites like Soundcloud, I started to put stuff out more aggressively and several years ago the then EP of Mass Effect, Casey Hudson, heard a couple of my tracks ("The Sheep Look Up" and "The Jagged Orbit" from "The Brunner Sessions" album) and tweeted how reminiscent they were of the Mass Effect universe. Fast forward a few years and BioWare are working on a new Mass Effect title and I was approached by Jeremie Voillot and Mike Kent (the audio directors) to submit three tracks for the game's soundtrack and I was only too pleased to do it!
At the time of creating your music for Mass Effect, did you already know your songs were going to be in the game, and if you did, did that affect your writing in any way?
Originally, I was considering submitting some existing tracks, but with an opportunity like this I realized that it was a great chance to write some music specifically with the intent of capturing some of the mood of the game.
It's a really interesting story line with a great antagonist that lends itself well to a musical interpretation: anything sci fi is fun to interpret as it lends itself perfectly to the kind of avant garde electronic sounds that I love to make!
Do you have a favorite Reason production trick you can tell us about?
Not much of a trick, but more a rethink of my technique: I got really into modular synthesis a few years ago and now have a pretty large eurorack set up. It made me change the way I thought about using the modules in reason: I now do far more work using standalone LFOs (Pulsar mainly) to drive the oscillators independently of the matrix or the sequencer. It gives an unpredictable and more organic feel to instruments such as Parsec where you can drive the modifiers and filters all independently... Plenty of happy accidents to be had with this approach!
Plenty of happy accidents to be had with this approach!
Top 3 Reason devices?
Thor is fantastic and still a constant source of inspiration: I love huge sweeping tones and Thor has that in abundance.
Synchronous is my go to effect as I like to use a lot of filtering and glitch type effects. The graphical interface makes it a great tool to mess with and see what comes out.
Kong partnered with the Propulsion Drum Sequencer by Lectric Panda I find to be an immensely powerful combination. All my percussion tracks begin with this set up.
What's your favorite new Reason 9 feature?
I do like the new Players, particularly the Dual Arpeggio but the Pitch Edit has proved to be most useful so far. I use it to correct vocal tracks and it's really easy and really fast.
Pitch Edit has proved to be most useful so far. I use it to correct vocal tracks and it's really easy and really fast.
Do you have a favorite game soundtrack?
I've always admired the work of Richard Jacques and it was quite the honour to meet and work with him on a game we did at Bizarre Creations called "James Bond: Bloodstone". Richard's score for that game was tremendous! Very Bond.
If you asked me to name my favourite soundtrack in any medium, it has to be "Blade Runner" by Vangelis... It still gives me chills when I listen to it today and I've spent a lot of time in Reason trying to recreate the sound of his CS-80... with some success :)
Detroit raised producer/DJ Skylar Tait a.k.a. SKYWLKR woke up on his tour bus one snowy December day in Stockholm, while being on tour with rising hip hop star Danny Brown, and immediately tweeted his favorite music software company with a request to hang out. Naturally we obliged.
SKYWLKR has made a name for himself by producing music for, and touring the world with hip hop artist Danny Brown who recently released the album "Atrocity Exhibition". Besides selling out venues with Danny Brown, SKYWLKR is also a member of the Bruiser Brigade crew, where said Danny Brown also is a member. SKYWLKR came by the Propellerhead office to hang out in our studio and talk about what he loves about Reason and what to do when writer's block hits. You also get to know what his all-time favorite album is.
What's your favorite new Reason 9 feature?
It’s gotta be Scales & Chords! I wasn’t musically trained so sometimes I don’t really know what I’m doing. It’s really cool to being able to form chords by just pressing one button on the keyboard, and at the same time you’re learning too because it shows you what the chord looks like on the keyboard! That’s a cool thing so my new favorite thing in Reason 9 has to be the Players, and especially Scales & Chords.
Do you work with vocals? Do you use the new Pitch Edit in Reason 9?
I haven’t got a chance yet! I am working on this project back home but I have been on tour for so long. I’ve watched the tutorials and I can’t wait to get back home and use it.
How do you get started with a new song? What usually sparks your creativity?
I don’t really have a formula to making beats. Sometimes I’ll just sit there and I’ll be drumming on the table, or I’ll hear a sound or a melody in my head and I’ll put it out on MIDI and then I’ll just go through patches and find a patch I like and tweak it a little bit. So I don’t really have a formula but I’ll just say I get started in my head when I’m not even in front of my computer.
If I come up with a cool melody, I’ll browse presets or sometimes if I’m bored, I’ll do both at the same times: play something on the keyboard and browse patches at the same time. A patch or a sound might give me inspiration. It’s not really one way or the other, it’s really both. Sometimes I have the melody and I need the sound and sometimes it’s the other way around.
What do you do if writer's block hits? Any tips to break out of it?
That’s what I love about ReCycle! I have this folder full of 200 songs that I’ve chopped up in the past. I have so much stuff that’s never been put out so when I’m bored or when I have writer’s block, I’ll go through my pre-chopped samples and just sit there and try to come up with a new way of flipping the sample. Some times I’ll be on the keyboard and I think everything sounds terrible, or everything I’m playing sucks, like I’m garbage. I’ll open up my REX files folder and I’ll just go through it.
I find that an easy way to surpass writer’s block is to just go through my REX files, hit a few keys, seeing if something clicks in my head. I might do little stuff like changing the pitch or reversing it. That usually gets me through writer’s block.
Do you have any special Reason production trick that you always use?
I swear by the tape setting in Scream 4! You could almost put that on every single sound or drum hit. It makes it sound warm, you know? Other than that I like adding things to the master, even an odd thing like Polar pitch shifter, I use that on everything!
The three most used devices in your Reason rack?
Polar, Scream 4, Thor. Thor is my synth of choice! You can just get the most creative with it! Make a whole new sound, make it wobble, make it gate, change the pitch as it goes. You can do a lot of crazy stuff with Malström too! Try loading the Thunder graintable in Malström and make the movement stop at the perfect spot and it sounds like a synth note. I would pick the Thor over the Malström at this point in my life though.
What do you use for drums? NNXT or Kong?
It’s funny, when I started I used to put all my drums in one or two Redrums. The kicks, snare and hats all in the same Redrum. Later I got into opening a new NN19 for every single hit, so all my drums would be on nine different NN19s. I know you can do it with Kong, EQ different hits differently but I’m so used to the NN19 way. Since Reason now has Drag and Drop–a lot of times I’ll just drag the hit right onto the screen and go from there.
I use a lot of sounds from the Kong kits because there’s a lot of cool sounds in there. I use a lot of those hits, but I just don’t like having all my drums on one track. I know you can do each hit on a different track, but in my head it’s easier to use NN19 to use drums.
This is a hard one: what’s your all-time favorite album?
It’s gotta be Oval - 94 Diskont. That’s my chill music! When I’m just chilling, that’s what I like to listen to–minimal and ambient and relaxing. That’s gotta be my favorite. I can’t listen to it when I’m partying, it’s not really a party album but as far as every other situation in life, it’s my go to album.
Over the last months we've been posting these #ReasonQuickTip videos on our social media channels and due to popular demand, we've now compiled them in one space. This YouTube playlist will be updated whenever a new #ReasonQuickTip gets posted so be sure to bookmark this page!
If you want to share your best tip with us, just tweet us or write to us on Facebook or Instagram! Maybe your tip will be our next video?
The age-old adage, “be in the right place at the right time” leaves out the most important third element. “Be ready.” AnonXmous did what he had to do to make sure he put himself in the right place, ready for the right time. But long before that he invested countless hours honing his skills so that when those did converge serendipitously he would also be ready. And now he’s got three Grammy nominations and a Universal publishing deal to show for it.
AnonXmous is the creative mind behind Nicki Minaj’s biggest single to date (Anaconda), as well as records with Chris Brown, Timbaland, Fergie, and work on the best selling Empire soundtrack. To hear him speak of his accomplishments however, he’s just getting started. We sat down to hear his inspiring story and learn some clever techniques he has to stay creative and inspired himself when approaching new writing sessions.
Did you watch the epic Reason 9 Sound Bank video? All 9 hours 55 minutes of musical desert automotive action? Good! Because if you did, you could score big in our Reason 9 Road Trip Treasure Hunt!
Treasure Hunt #4 - The Final Quest
Last week we asked you to find the Reason 9 patches used while visiting the Vegas sign and make some music with them. We've had a hard time picking only three winners but we would like to congratulate the following music makers! Congrats! You now have the Rack Extensions in your accounts!
Thank you all for participating! Now go check out all the Treasure Hunt songs right here!
Treasure Hunt #3
It's time to reveal the lucky Parsec winners! First, the answer we were looking for was "the world's biggest thermometer", and we asked you to make some music with the patches heard during the walk to the temperature measuring device. We've enjoyed listening through your Treasure Hunt music and we've chosen these five as our winning favorites! Congratulations! You'll find Parsec in your Propellerhead accounts.
Rules & Conditions
To enter the Reason 9 Road Trip Treasure Hunt, you need to have Reason version 9, since you need the sounds in the Reason 9 sound bank, and you need to be able to drop to Allihoopa. If you don't own Reason 9 yet, you can buy it here or try it out free for 30 days here, and enter the challenge!
The submission period closes on September 12 2016. We will pick three winners and present them on September 13. If you already own one ore more of the prize Rack Extensions, you may still enter the challenge but you won't be able to exchange the ones you already own for other products, nor will you get another copy of that particular device you already own. Propellerhead employees and affiliates may not enter the contest.