SWAN MEAT: How I made ‘SUCKLING’ (Infinite Machine)

The Cologne based producer dives deep into the process’ behind ‘SUCKLING’, a high energy rollercoaster ride from their forthcoming ep FLESHWORLD

I always start with a melody. Always. Apologies, percussion purists, but for me music sans melody is like life without food, and I love to indulge. The best melodies I’ve written have come to me at the most inopportune times — in the middle of work, school, stuck on the perpetually slow U-Bahn here in Köln, etc. Therefore, there’s a bevy of probably cringe-inducing voice recordings on my phone, because when a good melody hits me, I’m petrified I’ll forget it, so I sing it into my phone immediately, no matter where I am. I collect weird looks like Magic the Gathering cards.

So it went with SUCKLING’s main melody, of which there is, indeed, a voice recording on my phone. I began working on this track last year, and for the longest time, all I had was that melody, and after I got the strings section down, I had no idea what to do next. So I closed the project file and didn’t open it for a couple weeks. Anyway, at the time I was thinking about the rococo melodies inspired by games like Castlevania SotN that I toyed with on tracks like “Alucard,” and I wanted to lean into that even more. I also sought to introduce a “swashbuckling” element after gazing upon a cover of Gene Wolfe’s underrated “Pirate Freedom” — it goes without saying that I love big, corny Hans Zimmeresque film themes. I stacked string libraries upon string libraries & adjusted each sound individually, mostly using Ableton’s default chorus and saturation plug-ins, as well as modifying/randomizing the MIDI notes’ velocity, to bring them to life. The orchestral elements in SUCKLING still sound wholly “MIDI,” but I like that effect of being in the weird interstitial space between the tissue of the digital and the real.

Of course there is also an obligatory brass loop running throughout this strings-heavy intro, as well as the body of the track — this is just the Kontakt factory library’s brass ensemble! It’s honestly one of my favourite brass libraries to use (for strings, I prefer libraries like Sonuscore and Native Instruments’ “Emotive Strings”), and though the sound is huge, my audio effects rack to beef it up isn’t that complicated — overdrive, a bit of wide reverb, plus FabFilter’s pro-C to glue it all together.

Later on, the same melody becomes synthetic, the meat of which is a fairly simple Serum patch.
To be honest, especially when I’m making “chiptune” influenced tracks, I (almost) always use Serum as well as Ableton’s operator to make synth leads. Once I find a synth or mess around and find a patch I like, I stick with it and pretty much never let go.

The leads are coupled, at first, with this super sharp percussive group, which I mixed louder than I normally would, because I really wanted it to jump out of the mix, like a puppet boinging out of a haunted toybox. My goal was to sort of mirror an amen break pattern, but with unconventional sounds. This is how I like to work, lately: take something conventional, then turn it on its head.

One thing which was really important to me was to make the track feel like a journey through a level in a video game — in the depths of some dungeon in an impossibly hard platformer, perhaps — so while ‘SUCKLING’ could easily be classified as “variations on a theme,” it switches up a lot; I think the best sound I made in this track was the “funky” bass that comes in around 2 minutes into the track, and also foreshadows the “psy” section at the end (to me, songs are like stories, so I always end up using literary terminology to describe them). As with the majority of my sound design, the sound stemmed from messing around with and randomising plug-ins then recording the result to resampling until I got/get it right. This one is a square wave run through “duelling” pitch shifters (Waves Bundle, Kilohearts) while randomising myriad elements of U-he’s “Uhbik-P” phaser, which is my favourite (their Diva synth is great, too)(when it comes to their phaser, sometimes I do this thing where I hit record then switch rapid, rapid, rapidly through all the plug-in’s different presets, which results in all these amazing little guttural glitches) then recording that while messing around with the waveshaper’s curve and depth functions in Ableton’s default saturator (I use this often to make a lot of glitchy ear candy). Viola!

Another break people have asked me about are the speed metal inspired 32nd note kicks that come in for a handful of bars circa 2 mins, 50 seconds. I imagine this portion of the dungeon crawl as the actual boss fight itself, a moment of both struggle and triumph for the player-character who is also, of course, the listener. It was so hard to get this right, because I wanted to (as ever!) include more elements than the frequency spectrum, as well as the stereo space itself, allowed. One element I knew I needed but was stuck on was the L-><-R panned hits — these bitcrushed “epic clacks” — that emerge at 2:57. These are heavily modified hits from Bluezone’s sample pack of metallic hits, which I’ve had and have used flagrantly since 2017.

The effects processing looks like this, a stark high pass filter (on the individual tracks, not pictured here, less so on the wider group) plus JSL’s great Pixelator plug-in to bring out the tops of the sound, panning to eek out some space in the stereo field, and Ableton’s vocoder to give them a grainy texture.

After this point the main melody reprises, but because it’s a moment of triumph — the boss defeated — in the track, I added some arpeggiated flares up & down the scale. Also, there is the inclusion of bell sounds, sourced from Spitfire Audio’s amazing library. I love this toy ballet, music box sound.

The last section of the song is this chugging, almost psytrance outro, which features a simple saw wave sound in Ableton’s operator plus a series of filters, reverb by Valhalla, + tape delay.

‘SUCKLING’ was a pretty ambitious track, and it clocks in at over 110 individual tracks in Ableton, which mostly has to due with the (perhaps fiddly) amount of ear candy in the track; I work in a fairly disorganised fashion (so sue me), and a lot of times I’ll make a new track simply to drop one, like, impact hit, or one riser made from one tiny resampled reverb tail. So it goes. However, I did my best to group everything by frequency range for the sake of showing off a birds’ eye view of the project file (and so I can send the stems to my friends to remix it, naturally). To really sink one’s teeth into how I made it, I’d have to get nitty, get gritty, and ramble for pages. Which I’d be willing to do; I encourage any & all producers interested in how I made specific sounds to reach out to me.

P.S. ‘SUCKLING’ comes with a companion track I made, ‘SUCKLING GROWN’, where the main melody re-emerges as a crazy little synth lead that is actually a vocaloid “oooooh.” I think they’re best listened to one after the other, one crazy 10-minute escape from the fiery dungeon that is also my DAW.

FLESHWORLD lands February 21st via Infinite Machine.

Pre-order it here.

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