Step-Sequencing like Klaus Schulze, the easy way

Step sequencer patterns can be pretty repetitive, and although that’s what you often want when using them, you don’t want them to be boring. So you can use filters and other tricks to liven them up. Or: If you’re into electronic instrumental music, I bet you’ve heard of Klaus Schulze. He’s one of the founding fathers of the so-called Berlin School (as opposed to Kraftwerk‘s Düsseldorf School) in which you can find artists like Tangerine Dream, Manuel Göttsching, Bernd Kistenmacher… And Klaus Schulze is famous for using step sequencer patterns that, although being repetitive in their parts, don’t really repeat over time, as they weave into each other more or less randomly and create new patterns over a song of, say 15 minutes.

Klaus Schulze
Source: Wikipedia

Recently I wanted to try this, too. So I started a tribute song for Klaus Schulze. Of course there are other ways to achieve these kind of (more or less) randomly interweaving patterns, but here’s how I did it this time:

One synth plugin – several pattern parts

For the sound I chose one of the original analog synths. I’m not 100 percent sure if Klaus Schulze used this one (he might have), but I know Tangerine Dream had several: the PPG Wave. A friend once had one – man, that’s a heavy beast. I used the not-so-heavy plugin version from Waldorf. The preset was “Factory ’84 045”.

And now, the cheap and easy way to create an ever evolving step sequencer pattern are several MIDI tracks all going into this one instrument. Why several if they all go into the same instrument? Because then you can easily create, copy, mute and unmute single parts of the pattern that differ in their length.

For a start we create a basic note pattern with 3 bars and one with 12 bars – pretty usual (there’s also a little delay on it).

This is what it sounds like, nothing special yet:
Only Pattern 1:
Pattern 1 & 2:

And now the fun begins: For the next parts of the pattern we use different lengths for each track and of course we don’t fill them completely with notes. Be creative, draw visual patterns or play with numbers (i.e. place a note, leave 2 beats free, place the next note, leave 3 beats free, place the next note, leave 4 beats free, and so on…).

Adding each of these pattern parts, you get this:

All in all I created 8 pattern tracks with different lengths and differently placed notes (within the used chord, if you wanna get really experimental, try not to think in harmonies – just place notes wherever you want and see where it leads. You might want to polish some dissonant edges, though). Some of them are copies of other tracks, but the parts are placed differently to get more random elements. Now, I don’t know for sure, but I guess this full pattern won’t repeat over the length of this song, although it still sounds familiar. If you like you can get even wilder 🙂

So here’s the final song – “KS2”:

Author: Chris Wirsig

Chris Wirsig enjoyed classical training on piano and saxophone, studied audio engineering at Munich’s SAE Technology College and has more than 15 years experience in music production. He has been writing songs since 1991 and contributed music for computer demos and commercial games throughout the 1990s. Apart from other music projects he started the acclaimed Electro Noire band no:carrier in 1995 and the Electronica/Chill-Out project Virtual Conformity in 2001. He worked as an editor for the musician’s magazine KEYS and founded the first German fair-trade record label, NovaTune. His latest works include music and sound fx for the acclaimed Top Ten iPad game “Alien Tribe 2”, the short mystery movie "20 Matches", the critically acclaimed no:carrier album “Wisdom & Failure”, and their EP of cover versions, "Ghosts Of The West Coast".

2 thoughts on “Step-Sequencing like Klaus Schulze, the easy way”

  1. Hi Chris
    Interesting info and a nice track.
    A few questions:
    – What version of Wave are you using? I’m using v2 and preset 84 045 sounds very different, unless you’ve modified it quite a bit. I can get something similar-ish buy setting a faster attack and less sustain on the filter envelope and moving the cutoff a bit, but it’s still not quite right.
    If you’re using v3 it could well be the presets are different.

    – Pattern 1: are the intervals 1-3-5-8?

    – Delay setting; is that a synced dotted 8th mostly?


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