AM Static Voices

The hum of an AM radio morphed into a dusty, warbly choral pad...

The story

About two years ago I found an old AM/FM radio in a hardware store near where I lived. It was the only one left in the store, and encased in a beat-up cardboard box. To my delight, it had a headphone output—perfect for sampling and recording. I decided to pick it up (to the rather amusing incredulity of the elderly lady running the shop at the sight of some Gen-Z kid wanting to buy an old radio in 2019), and took it home with the intention of making some recordings.

As these stories go, I ended up barely touching the radio over the next two years, only making the occasional recording of static hum for certain projects and very occasionally using it to (gasp!) listen to music.

Fast forward to the end of 2020, Pianobook launched its Winter Voices project (which I took part in), and I was very inspired by all the submissions, particularly from those people who had made use of creative sampling and processing to make wonderful choral sounds out of all manner of everyday objects and unique instruments. This spurred me to try making such an instrument of my own using what I had around the house, which inadvertently got me thinking of my old radio, collecting dust in the corner of the room.

I thought of how AM radio static, amidst the chaotic wash of noise, contains a low, but very much audible, hum. I thus sought out to make an instrument out of this low hum, and using various EQs and reverbs to bring out this hum, while dialing back the wash of white noise. I then sampled the result into Logic’s Sampler, put on some fluttery delay, then in turn resampled that using Logic’s Auto Sampler to create a multi-sampled version of the instrument, with all the delay / reverb tails baked into each recorded note for a more natural reverb tail (as opposed to an artificially pitched one).

The result was a dusty, warbly choral pad sound which I found to be very emotive and playable, and very surprising considering the chaotic, noisy origins of the base sample. I then thought what better place to share my first sampler instrument with than the Pianobook community that inspired me to create this instrument in the first place, and here we are.

Be safe, and have a great year ahead everyone! 🙂

– E-Reng

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