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 :)
Take a listen to Hip Hop, Trap, Pop, EDM, or just about any other genre these days and you'll hear the distinct tones of the "808 Bass" - a term used to describe tuned and pitched sub-bass lines whose origins come from a classic drum machine, not a bass synth. But as standard as the 808 Bass is, the way everyone makes them these days is not quite as standard. That's one reason why 808 Bass sounds and bass lines are something of a mystery for aspiring producers and beat makers.
In part one of a two part series, we take a look at the origins of the 808 Bass and the philosophy that goes into creating custom patches and writing 808 bass lines.
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?
Dunderpatrullen is a four-man electro-collaboration with roots ranging from the wild, untamed forests of northern Sweden to the flower covered fields of southern Scandinavia. The quartet makes music and visual entertainment in a category of its own. Behind the powerful music-making machines, the band members Jim, Stefan, Patrik and Erik fill the musical void left behind by now obsolete retro-consoles you once grew up with and still love. Dunderpatrullen takes you on a musical adventure through a full-color shower during which they make you feel like riding a mental roller coaster of nostalgia.
We had the chance to speak with them about what role Reason plays in their musical production. They've also been so kind to make two video tutorials showing a couple of their secret tips and tricks! Check it out!
What's your favorite new Reason 9 feature?
The new Player devices, hands down. They are amazing for creating new
ideas you probably wouldn't think of otherwise. The new Pitch Edit is
pretty neat as well.
How do you get started with a new song? What sparks your creativity?
The way of getting started with a new song varies. Jamming along to a loop
with drums and a bass line might do the trick. Sometimes it could be more
specific like "I feel like making a really fast and explosive track", or
"let's try out this mellow vibe I've been thinking of".
Inspiration comes from all types of sources. It could be a really great
video game or movie soundtrack, a random song or sometimes an idea just
pops up in your head out of the blue. For some reason the bathroom has
become this holy place for melodies to pop up in the head while taking a
Scales & Chords is also a great way to mess around with unusual scales
or keys you perhaps don't use that often.
What do you do when inspiration just isn't there?
We do something else! You can't force inspiration, so chilling out with a
gnarly video game or watching a movie does the trick sometimes. Hanging out with friends is another neat
way to replenish your inspirational resources. Forcing creativity just tend
to get you frustrated, and creativity and frustration doesn't match that
Do you have any special Reason production trick that you always use?
Not that we ALWAYS do this, but we work with sampling stuff from our own
video clips and turn them into "audiovisual experiments", as we like to put
it. We chop up the audio sample and put it into Recycle to turn it into a
rex file. Then we just mess around with it on the keyboard to find some
catchy phrases and sometimes match it to the respective video.
A great thing with Reason is that it’s really easy to come up with some of
the strangest ideas and actually make them work.
The three most used devices in your Reason rack?
Erik: It has to be Thor, Synapse GQ-7 Graphic Equalizer and Kong.
Jim: It's probably the good old Subtractor, NN-XT and Thor.
Jim: Funny thing - I had also wrote down Sigur Rós before we combined our
answers. I choose their untitled album with untitled songs and made up
language. I think they are really good at creating instrumental music that moves you
without the need of explanation with lyrics and titles, and to me that's a
really important part of music.
The Dual Arpeggiator Player in Reason 9 can be a simple arpeggiator, adding monophonic complexity to static chordal input, but it is so much more than a basic arpeggiator. Its polyphonic approach, pattern ability, and parallel construction of dual arpeggiators all adds up to something quite unique.
In this tutorial, we'll walk you through and show you how Dual Arpeggiator works - from basics to wowzers.