Thanks Chris, "alive" is a great word for it... and its all about automation like you said. Im gonna try to start at the VERY beginning here...
Automation has two ends - the source and the destination. Sources (like lfo's and envelopes) are controlling parameters that change the sound. Destinations (like filter frequency, or osc pitch) are the paramaters that are being affected. All this is obvious so far... The reason some of my patches sound "alive" is because they are executing WAY more automations then most.
Here's why - How many sources do you typically get in an average synth??? two lfo's... an amp envelope... maybe a mod envelope that can be looped if your lucky. So you are limited to having about 4 interactions within your patch. The way I use Reason, I have no limit.
Here's how - Group a ton of synths in a combinator and unplug all of them except one. The one that is plugged in is the one that produces sound. We'l call that the primary synth. Take all the others and use their cv as sources. If you need more automation, just create more instruments - unplug them - and route the cv of their lfo's/envlopes/etc to the primary synth.
(thats the fundamental idea. here's a more detailed description for reason users...)
Suppose you have a thor inside of a combinator. Off the bat, you have 2 lfo's and a mod envelope that can be routed for automations. After you have used those up, create another thor AND UNPLUG ITS OUTPUT. Now the thor is making no sound at all. Open the programmer of the thor and route its sources to different CV outputs (lfo1 to CV1, lfo2 CV 2, however you want...) Now you can plug these CV into the original thor cv inputs. Go to that thors programmer and set CVinputs as sources and choose whatever destinations you want. If you run out of cv inputs on the primary synth, yous CV mergers to consolidate.
So when you hear a sound evolving, growing, breathing its tons of lfos and envelopes acting at the same time. Some are very fast. Some are 4 bars long.
My personal favorite destinations: (things to affect)
- filter frequency
- delay time
- delay feedback
- osc pitch
- wave position
I hope this helps. might be too specific, but you get the idea.