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One lesson we can learn from the modular synth world to apply to our music production and sound design, is to drop the Sustain and Release stages of our 4 stage ADSR envelopes, turning them into West Coast friendly Attack Decay functions. These simpler envelope shapes are particularly useful for sequencing and arpeggiation as well as shaping percussive sounds, elements often found in West Coast synthesis.

Attack decay envelopes are extremely handy functions, and are quite commonly found in Eurorack modules. These envelope shapes are critical for getting drum and percussion sounds, among many others. One example, the Malekko ADLFO, includes a two sets of 3 attack decay envelopes, with a cycling button that converts the rise and fall of the envelope into a low frequency oscillator. This envelope looping function can be found on many envelopes, including many software synths.

In Ableton (or pretty much any modern software synth instrument) we generally find more complex 4 stage ADSR envelopes which sustain tones while notes are held, a common characteristic of the East Coast style of synthesis).. By decreasing the sustain volume and release time completely, these stages are effectively removed from the envelope shape. The leftover attack and decay stages should operate just as they would in the modular world, requiring a note on to trigger the entire envelope shape.

Some envelope modules, like Maths from Make Noise or the Richter Envelator, include voltage control of the attack and decay times. This expressive element adds depth and variation to otherwise stagnant tones, expanding and contracting sounds from short to long and back again. This kind of functionality is also possible in Ableton, where we can assign an LFO, clip envelope or automation to any parameter, and change them over time for a musical effect.

What are your favorite envelope modules? Let us know in the comments!

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Lessons From The Modular – Attack Decay

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