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Stealing Thor’s Thunder – Part 3

By Francis Preve
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In the previous two installments, we covered the ins and outs of Thor’s oscillators and filters.

On their own, these two components of Thor would be more than enough to create sophisticated sonic soundscapes.

This time out, we’ll review the possibilities lurking within Thor’s extensive array of modulation options.

The modulation matrix

Before reading further, it may be helpful for some readers to refresh their understanding of how modulation tools function.

If you’re unsure about the specifics of each of these tools, check out the associated tutorials on LFOs, envelopes and MIDI control sources.

While Reason’s other synths include a variety of dedicated modulation routings for their LFOs and envelopes, Thor is much more complex in this area, thanks to its sophisticated modulation matrix and integrated step sequencer.

For starters, Thor includes two LFOs and four envelopes (pictured above), each of which can be assigned to multiple destinations.

With so many routing possibilities, Thor includes a sophisticated modulation matrix that simplifies this process somewhat by displaying the routing in a basic table format.

Here’s how it works:

In the left hand section of the matrix (pictured above), there are seven rows for basic modulation functions.

Each row displays the routing and amounts for a single modulator.

The first cell in the row assigns the modulation source, which can be as simple as an LFO, envelope or key velocity.

This modulation source could also be something more exotic, like MIDI aftertouch, an audio input or Thor’s integrated step sequencer.

To its right, the next cell shows the overall amount of modulation from this source.

The amount is bi-polar, meaning it can either add or subtract from the base setting of the parameter to be modulated.

The next cell displays the parameter to be modulated.

Incredibly enough, this can be pretty much any parameter within Thor.

The next two cells – amount and scale – are optional.

The scale cell allows you to set an additional modulation source to further modify the modulation amount of the primary source.

For example, you could have a sine wave LFO modulate the filter cutoff for a wah-wah effect, then have the mod wheel control the depth of this effect in real-time as you play.

The maximum depth of the mod wheel’s effect would then be determined by the scale amount setting.

Make sense?

Pictured below is a more complex scheme, with a description of each routing beneath it.

1) LFO1 modulates the pitch of oscillator 1, with the overall amount of this modulation governed by the mod wheel.

2) Audio input 1 modulates the cutoff frequency of filter 1, depending on how hard you hit a key, since the scale is set to MIDI velocity with an amount of 78.

Note: You can use the audio output of any other Reason device as a modulator – drums and other rhythmic elements are particularly well suited to this type of application

3) The global envelope modulates the overall depth of the chorus effect.

4) Curve 1 of the step sequencer modulates the wavetable position of oscillator 2.

As you can see, Thor is capable of some pretty insane modulation options.

The matrix table on the right side of the screen works in a similar fashion, but with two simultaneous destinations for even more complexity.

Step Sequencer

Beneath the modulation matrices lies Thor’s step sequencer, which is similar to Reason’s aptly-named Matrix sequencer found elsewhere in the program.

In the above image, you can see basic structure of the step sequencer, which bears a resemblance to Roland TR-style drum machines.

The sixteen buttons determine which steps are active and which are rests.

The knobs above the buttons control the value for each step.

To the left of the sequencer is a knob that selects between six aspects of the step sequencer.

If you want to use the sequencer to create traditional pitch patterns, like the Roland TB303, then you’ll want to start with the “note” selection.

This allows you to set a different note for each step, which can then be transposed by playing different keys in real-time.

The velocity, gate length and step duration selections allow you to customize the rhythm of a pitch-based pattern.

Alternately, you can use the step sequencer to create custom patterns of values, which can then be assigned to various parameters within Thor via the modulation matrix.

This is accomplished by using either of the curve selections, each of which can contain an independent sequence.

Note: If you want to use the sequencer to control parameter values without sending note-on messages, you need to go to the top of Thor’s interface and switch off the step seq option in the trigger section (seen in the image to the right).

This should be enough information to get you started with Thor’s modulation options.

Experimentation is key, now that you understand the basics.

For a more thorough examination of Thor’s modulation tools, crack open the manual to page 216 and start reading.

It goes way deeper from there.

Until next time…