Black Cat, a new Sensory Percussion Sound Pack
Enter the nostalgic and quixotic universe of the Black Cat sound world!
This pack has over 3,000 samples and 33 original kits: from radio-ready virtual-acoustic and percussive kits to textural and tonal kits that utilize new Sensory Percussion features and techniques such as a center-to-edge technique based on Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bass voice leading, as well as sampler cycles modeled after the classic sounds of 80s sequencers. Read on to learn about the recording process and kit building techniques for Black Cat.
The sound ingredients are all neatly contained in a folder named “Wobblies Instruments,” and are derived from:
- Thirteen synth, keyboard, pad, or lead sounds featuring chord progressions, and a full range of notes recorded at various velocities
- Four bass guitars featuring a full range of notes recorded at various velocities
- Black Cat Drums: Exhaustive recordings of kick and snare (both clean and saturated by a cassette player), field snare, congas, floor-tom, hi-hat, ride, and auxiliary percussion: all with ample timbral gestures and velocities to power hyper-realistic virtual acoustic models
- Verdigris Drums: Exhaustive recordings of snare (sampled with sticks and hot rods), hi-hat (with hot rods), conga, djembe, and a detuned floor-tom (played with a puffy mallet so it functions as a kick)
- Three drum machines: many single hits of classic-but-unique electronic percussive sounds
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), aka, Wobblies, is a global labor union that was a prominent political force in the early to mid-1900s. Their ideology and visual aesthetic influenced the making of this pack.
The Black Cat Kits
An aesthetic theme of the Wobblies is a geodesic globe that predates the one in Flushing Meadows Park, NYC (the park made famous by the 1964 World’s Fair).
The day that I recorded the tonal sounds that are featured predominantly on Drums 2 and 3 was the day the Thai Cave Children were rescued. Those sounds are quantized to a C Hungarian Minor scale and cycled to sound like an 80s sequencer. The pitched sounds are paired with an electronic snare and pitched-down acoustic kick.
Drum 3 in this kit makes use of the SATB voice-leading technique that we recently developed. Playing the drum from center-to-edge and hard-to-soft will create rich harmonies and melodies. The Wobblies Dorian drum is supported by vibey-drum-machine snare and kick on Drums 1 and 4, and a pitchy warm analog Drum 2.
This kit contains a chord progression played on a patch I designed and named chrono-synclastic — after chrono-synclastic infundibulum “which is defined in [Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan] as “those places … where all the different kinds of truths fit together.”
In the kit, chrysanthemum, the chord progression on Drum 3 goes: Em7, D, GMaj7/B, C add 9.
And the progression mapped to Drum 2 goes: D7, E7 FMaj7, G, G69, G, G69, G.
Striking the rim-tip of Drum 4 resets the cycles of both of the chordal samplers.
Fletcher Chords, Fletcher Notes
Ben Fletcher was an Black labor leader and an important member of the Wobblies. He was wrongfully convicted of treason along with 100 members of the Wobblies and sentenced to ten years in prison — he ultimately served three years before his sentence was commuted in 1922.
The kits, Fletcher Chords, and Fletcher Notes use sounds of an eclectic keyboard I designed and named after Ben Fletcher. It has a sharp attack of the tines that evolves into a heavenly sounding sustain and release. Fletcher Chords makes use of the day-drunk-sounding chord progression that goes: G, G7, Em, CMaj7, Eb, AbMaj7, Bb7, EbMaj7.
The kit is set up so that striking the center of Drum3 will play a chord and then advance to the next chord in the progression (using the next button). But if you hit the rim-tip of Drums 1, 2, 3, or 4 it will load up a specific chord — Drum 4 restarts the progression at G, Drum 1 navigates to G7, Drum 2 navigates to AbMaj7, and Drum 3 navigates to CMaj7.
The kit, maximalism, makes use of a plethora synth notes sampled for Black Cat, Planetoid, as well as Galactic Brine (so this kit won’t load up correctly if you haven’t installed those packs). The 56 synth tones that power Drum3 of this kit are panned in samplers left and right and play in random order when you strike that drum.
The timbre of the Mother Jones Horns reminds me of a time when Bill Clinton was President and I was a child watching a VHS tape of FernGully. The chord progression, which is mapped to Drum 3 goes: G, Bb, F, D, G, Bb, EbMaj7, D. I like this progression even if it is a bit hokey: I think it is in D all along, but I don’t have the theory chops to explain it.
Like the kit Fletcher Chords, the rim-tips of the drums navigate to different chords in the progression (but striking the center of Drum 3 will advance you straight through the progression). Hitting the rim of Drum 4 takes you to the tonic.
vacantBrane uses notes from the tonal instruments in the Wobblies Instruments folder. The notes on Drum 3 are cycled in a unique way: with saw up and saw down LFOs mapped to the cntrl number boxes of the samplers. They create intriguing patterns that are independent of the tempo at which you play.
Fractal, Lasko, Euclidean Rhythm
These three kits are completely tonal — they contain no non-pitched elements whatsoever — and they are built with that aforementioned SATB voice leading technique, but on steroids!
Instead of having a single voice per sampler (like Wobblies Dorian and other SATB inspired kits) these kits have 13 or more cycled synthy samples per sampler. The resulting kits sound like classic sequencers and arpeggiators, but are controlled with the center-to-edge technique that allows for interesting harmonic textures.
slagCat, and labyrinthCat
I learned recently of a Sensory Percussion user who found an interesting way to make new kits: they started with a preset and simply removedall of our samples and replaced them with their own. The controllers, pad assignments, and effects all remained, but the raw sonic ingredients all changed. It reminded me of the Ship of Theseus paradox: if a ship has all of its component parts replaced over time — one-by-one — is it still the same ship?
I was inspired to make these two kits in the same way. For slagCat, I started with the popular Sensory Percussion kit chill slag (from the Galactic Brine pack) and then removed all of the samples and replaced them with samples from the Black Cat pack. For labyrinthCat, I started with Labyrinthine (also from Galactic Brine) and did the same thing.
The Wobblies’ iconic Black Cat logo is also known as sabo-tabby. Drums 2 and 3 utilize the new voice leading technique with synth-horns and synth-choir sounds.
Welsh’s Synthesizer Cookbook by Fred Welsh has been a big influence on me recently, and I noticed that prescribes a very fast triangle LFO mapped to amplitude (but not very deep) in many of his patches. If you dissect this kit you’ll notice I did exactly that on the synthy-horns and choir samplers in this kit. It sounds wonderfully warbley-warm-and-nostalgic to me. Thanks, Fred!
orchid uses the same voice leading technique of kits like Wobblies Dorian, sabotageCat, Fractal, Lasko and Euclidean Rhythm, but with plucky poly-synth sounds mapped to Drum 2 and dreary horn-vocal composite sounds mapped to Drum 3. I again used the Fred Welsh triangle-wave-LFO technique on the amplitude of the samplers mapped to those drums.
Sophronia, greenLillian, and Pluto
Sophronia and greenLillian use tonal sounds from Verdigris (the pack-within-a-pack that powers the coffee-shop-esq-virtual acoustic kits and various drum machines). Strike the rim-tip of Drum 4 of greenLillian once to shift the warm orchestral chords (mapped to Drum 3) up or down a whole-step for a gospel style modulation.
Pluto uses some of the more triumphant chords and notes from the P_lutonian Synth_ folder. Striking the rim-tip of Drum 1 sets both chordal samplers on Drum 2 and 3 to A7/C# and and Em7, respectively (a pretty cool starting point, I’d say).
Black Cat Acoustic, Cassette Cat, Black Cat Congas, Black Cat Cymbals, Field Kit, Bronze Disease, Green of Grey, Fungicide, and Chloroplast
These are the virtual acoustic kits that are built from two unique drum-sets we recorded here at Sunhouse HQ:
The drum sets, Black Cat Drums, and Verdigris Drums were recorded in three separate recording sessions. The first night we recorded the Congas, Field Snare, and Auxiliary Percussion of Black Cat.
For the congas: we recorded both a Quinto and Hembra by close miking the head and base of the drums. We also put a wooden board underneath the base of the drums in order to project a vibrant reflection. Tlacael performed bass tones, edge tones, muted tones & slaps, open tones, slaps, fingers, and heel/toe hits.
Like most of our virtual acoustic kits we recorded five layers of three velocities per gesture, but for the auxiliary percussion, we simply recorded a few different articulations of shaker and tambourine (including striking the conga with the tambourine)
For the field snare, I set up a makeshift booth in the corner by arranging sound paneling and rugs. I cranked up the tuning of the deep drum and muted it with my wallet. I recorded three zones of the head, two zones of rimshot, two zones of damped, two zones of damped rimshots, three zones of stick-on-rim, and cross stick.
At the next session I recorded the Black Cat Snare, Tom, Kick, Hi-Hat, and Ride. The kick, snare, and tom were recorded using similar methods to the field drum. But I further processed the kick and snare by recording them at distorted levels to a cassette tape (and then recording the cassette sounds back onto the computer).
On the third night, we recorded all of the sounds in the Coffee-Shop-esq Verdigris Drums folder: Conga, Djembe, Detuned Floor-Tom, Hi-Hat with hot rods, and a snare with both hot rods and sticks.
phazeCraze, Zaira, Ennead, toggleCat, Cyan Balloon, and Nitrosomonas
These final kits are made with the drum machine and acoustic drum recordings of this pack. They utilize classic Sensory techniques such as center-to-edge effects control, speed controllers that only react to buzz rolls, and velocity control phaser, flanger, or chorus.