Steinberg revealed what they label as a drum re-synthesizer in Backbone. In a market saturated with sample packs, this plug-in can help tailor samples into unique drum sounds, create risers, impacts, and other sound design effects. It is essentially a sampler, but more than a traditional sampler, it's focused on the layering and manipulation of one-shot drum samples. The workflow is to layer samples, decompose into tonal and noise sections, manipulate individual layers using built-in tools (or resynthesize the spectral version of your sample), then drag and drop the new one-shot into your DAW. It's fast and intuitive, and can yield some marvelous results.

The plug-in has three sections: The sample layers, the individual modules for each layer, and the effects section. It almost takes the shape of a subtractive synthesizer. The sample portion can stack up to eight layers, and each layer can be muted or soloed. Once a sample has been added, the Decompose algorithm can be used to separate the tone from the noise section of the sample. A prime example of this is a snare drum. Set the tone portion to change pitch chromatically, while controlling the noise section to maintain pitch. The snare sample retains its snap and punch while remaining natural sounding, even with drastic changes to pitch. Now that the sound has been split, you can process each layer independently using the individual modules: Sample, Resynth, Pitch, Filter, and Amp. Clicking each individual module reveals a detailed screen with more options. Resynth acts as an oscillator based on the spectral version of your sample. It contains information about the spectrum, time, and pitch. Lots of different timbres can be found by editing Purity, Formant, and Inharmonicity; all deal with changes to the partials of the sound. The Pitch section changes the pitch without changing the time or timbre of the sound and includes a synched envelope. Filter has a great multimode filter, and the Amp section has all the control one would normally find in both sections, including another synced envelope. Two buses can be routed parallel or in series, and have a set of useful effects such as Reverb, Delay, Distortion, EQ, Compression, Chorus, Flanger, and more. Once you are happy with your sound you can drag and drop the sample directly into your DAW for clip-based arrangement, or into a sampler, or bring it right back into Backbone for further manipulation and layering.

One unexpected use was to augment live drum sounds instead of replacing them. I received a few mixes with weak, close drum mics. Instead of using a drum replacer plug-in, I imported the original sounds into Backbone, split them into tonal and noise layers, and then got to work manipulating the tones. By using that process alone, I was able to build up the weak drum tones by adding in additional layers and tuning them to the song – it totally took the drums to the next level.

Freezing a sound at different positions in the sample allowed me to sustain the sound where there would be none. Utilizing single cycle waveforms on loop in Backbone makes it behave as a synthesizer with Pitch, Filter, and Amp envelopes built into each layer. This software also makes the creation of sample packs ridiculously easy: Design your sound completely in Backbone and then quickly export it for use. I found the Match Pitch function useful for being able to play sounds in key, especially when layering samples. Quickly being able to match samples to the same pitch of the song is a blessing, as layering samples is not effective if tones are not in unison. Backbone is also playable via MIDI from your DAW, and there are some tricks to animating the sound using the envelopes and various built-in tools.

Backbone is an excellent sound design tool for quickly building complex, layered hits. The ability to cherry-pick the best elements of a sound and tailor them to your needs in one place is a huge time saver. It's so much more than just a drum designer, and is capable of creating a melodic natural sound, even if the process is technically the furthest thing from natural. The Decompose and Resynthesize parameters of Backbone are unique, and brought new life to my existing catalog of samples. If your productions are heavily sample-based, this is an indispensable tool in creating unique sounds with an efficient workflow.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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