Deconstructing Brian Eno's Music for Airports

In 1978, Brian Eno released Ambient 1: Music for Airports, a landmark album in ambient and electronic music. Although it wasn’t the first ambient album by any means, it was the first album explicitly released as an ‘ambient music album’. The album was essentially a continuation of Eno’s experiments with the tape machine as a compositional tool, as well as his exploration of generative music. In this article I’ll discuss how the music was composed, break down and recreate the tracks 2/1 and 1/2, and hopefully give you some ideas about how to adopt this approach yourself.

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Tyler, the Creator 'I THINK' Synth Breakdown

Tyler, the Creator recently released a new album, titled IGOR, entirely written, produced and arranged by Tyler, and it became his first album to debut at number one. I’ve previously covered Tyler’s synth sounds in my Tyler, the Creator Synth Sounds article, where I concentrated on tracks from his previous album, Flower Boy.

In this article, I’ll look at one of IGOR’s more ambitious tracks, I THINK. The track is heavily layered, features a lengthy instrumental bridge, and has drawn some comparison’s to Kanye West’s Stronger. The track was inspired by Nigerian music, and is based on an interpolation of the track Special Lady by Nigerian soul artist Bibi Mascel. Additionally, the drums in I THINK are sampled from another Nigerian artist, Nkono Teles. The track was inspired by a trip to Italy with Solange and Frank Ocean, the former appearing on the track singing the chorus.

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Porches Synth Sounds

Porches is the synth pop project of Aaron Maine, a New York musician with a clear penchant for retro synth sounds. He released 3 albums under the Porches name to date, the most recent being 2018’s The House. This album, along with 2016’s The Pool, was recorded in Maine’s apartment home studio. The two main synths he uses for most of his sounds are a Roland Juno-106 and a Yamaha DX7, two classic synths from the 80s era. Additionally, his home studio also has a DSI Prophet 08 and a Roland D-50, as well as a Roland R-8 and AIRA TR-8 for drum machines. For live shows, Porches leave the vintage synths at home, instead using a Novation Bass Station and Yamaha Reface DX for live synths.

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Solange Synth Sounds

Solange recently released her fourth studio album, When I Come Home, following up the highly acclaimed A Seat at the Table. The new album is still rooted deeply in R&B and soul, but features a more electronic and psychedelic vibe, with modern trap influences also playing a part. Synths are at the forefront of her new sound, being used prominently on several songs such as Way to the Show and Almeda. The album features a diverse cast of collaborators, including Tyler, the Creator, Sampha, Panda Bear, Pharrell, and Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange. In this article I’ll look at some of the synth heavy tracks from When I Come Home, and discuss how to create the synth patches using several software synths.

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Homeshake Synth Sounds, Part Two

Homeshake is the project of Peter Sagar, a chilled synthpop musical artist from Montreal, Canada. I previously looked at how he creates his sound in my article HOMESHAKE Synth Sounds, where I concentrated on songs from 2017’s Fresh Air and 2015’s Midnight Snack. He has since released a new album, entitled Helium, which continues Sagar exploration of R’n’B influences and takes the chilled out aspect of his music to new lengths of chill.

In a recent interview with Red Bull, Homeshake’s studio is shown to be centred around a Roland Juno-60, replacing his previously used Korg Poly-61, a Dave Smith Prophet 08 REV2, replacing his OG Prophet 08, and a brand new Elektron Analog Rytm MKII handling drum duties. Another key piece of gear that Hagar relies on is the Roland SP-404, which he used to use for drums, but still uses for processing his voice and triggering samples live.

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra Synth Sounds

Unknown Mortal Orchestra is the project of Ruban Nielson, a New Zealand born musician who records and produces from his Portland basement studio. The band have a unique character, mixing 70s influences such as Bowie and Prince with a distinctly vintage processed sound to create a soulful lo-fi vibe. Nielson played everything on UMO’s debut album, but on subsequent releases he has collaborated with his brother Kody Nielson and longtime bassist Jacob Portrait.

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Blood Orange Synth Sounds

Blood Orange is the project of British musician Devonté Hynes, a fusion of 80s tinged electronica and R&B. Hynes sound is warm and full of nostalgia, and he has a talent for catchy hooks and grooves. With Blood Orange, Hynes sings, plays guitar, bass, synth, piano, saxophone and drums, as well as undertaking production duties. He contributed the score to the 2013 film Palo Alto, and also wrote Sky Ferreira’s mega-hit Everything Is Embarrassing. Hynes appears to use a variety of synths in his performances, including the Korg Minilogue seen in the music video for Saint, and a Roland Juno-106 in his NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert. For all of the patches in the article I’ll use the synth TAL U-NO-LX, a software emulation of the Roland Juno synths. As always, you can download all the patches for free at the end of the article.

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Tyler, the Creator Synth Sounds

Tyler, the Creator, real name Tyler Gregory Okonma, is a rapper and producer with a unique, alternative take on hip-hop. Tyler produces all the music on his releases, and he has also co-produced on releases by Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt and Mac Miller. His style incorporates samples less than his peers, and he frequently uses synthesizers and electric pianos to accompany his unique, often aggressive vocal delivery. A photo of Tyler’s room posted on his Instagram page in 2015 shows a Roland Juno-6, JX-8P and Microkorg in his collection; he has also mentioned owning a Yamaha DX7 in a 2018 interview. He is a co-founder of the alternative hip-hop collective Odd Future, and he also creates album covers and merchandise designs.

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Exploring the Yamaha CS-80

The Yamaha CS-80 is one of the most iconic and revered synths of all time. It was one of the first polyphonic synthesizers on the market, and it boasted an incredible sound, expressive controls and an early example of patch memory. Despite its now legendary status, it was released in 1976 to a pretty lukewarm reception, regarded by some as being too heavy and expensive, and the patch bay system was seen as clumsy. The Sequential Prophet-5 was released soon after, and being much lighter and sleeker, it soon overshadowed the CS-80. Despite the Prophet-5’s greater popularity, the CS-80 was arguably a more expressive performance synth than the Pro-5; it had a velocity sensitive semi-weighted keyboard that had aftertouch, and a ribbon controller, which is still a rarity on modern synths. It was a favourite of Greek composer Vangelis, whose use of it in his score for the 1981 movie Blade Runner cemented its status as a classic synthesizer. It was used on 80s pop hits by artists such as Michael Jackson, Toto and Paul McCartney, and now its rarity and legendary status make it popular amongst modern artists such as Phoenix, Empire of the Sun, Aphex Twin and Squarepusher.

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Trent Reznor Chord Theory

Whether it’s in his music as Nine Inch Nails, his soundtrack work in collaboration with Atticus Ross, or with How to Destroy Ghosts, Trent Reznors sound is always uniquely identifiable. Although part of this is due to his sound design, involving digital distortion and noise processing a variety of sound sources, his use of harmony also has a major impact on his sound. Reznors sound has a distinctly anxious tone, that sets the scene for his often bleak output. In the film Sound City, Reznor explains that he has a music theory foundation, and this subconciously affects his writing.

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Com Truise Synth Sounds

Com Truise is the alias of Seth Haley, a synthwave musician and self-styled synth nerd. His unique brand of synthwave has been alternately labelled mid-fi synthwave, slow-motion funk, and chillwave. His sound is complex and synth heavy, with a focussed production bringing together layers of woozy synths, sharp rhythms and huge, snappy drums. He has released three albums, with the most recent being 2017’s Iteration. Seth has an enviable collection of synths, too many to accurately list. In interviews, he has expressed an affinity for Oberheim and Prophet synths, and he has toured with a Juno-106, DSI Mopho and most recently the DSI OB-6.

Although Haley’s music appears complicated upon first listen, and while some of his music does rely on complex patterns, the sound design element is quite simple. He favours detuned patches with a filter envelope, and tends to run his sounds though chorus and rhythmic delay effects to create his signature sound. In this article I’ll focus on some of his core sounds and production tricks. Although Haley is obviously passionate about hardware synths, he’s no stranger to using software. I’ll use the Arturia range of synths and Soundtoys effects plugins throughout the article. Haley has mentioned using both, and at the end of the article I’ll try to compile the interviews where he talks about gear. Enjoy the walkthroughs, and make sure to download the free patches at the end of the article!

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Future Islands Synth Sounds

Future Islands’ sound is built on layers of synthesizers, driving basslines and electronic drum beats. The Baltimore based synthpop band have released five full-length albums, traversing from the punk-like Wave Like Home, the lo-fi loops of In Evening Air, the super-polished Singles, and their latest album, 2017’s The Far Field. Throughout all their albums, the core sound has remained the same. Although they’ve been through several drummers, the combination of punchy basslines, lush synth layers and frontman Sam Herring’s vocal is instantly recognisable.

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LCD Soundsystem Synth Sounds

LCD Soundsystem are an electronic dance-punk group hailing from New York, and their use of synthesizers is unique. Frontman James Murphy is the bands driving force, playing every instrument on their single Daft Punk Is Playing at My House, and the bands synth duties are handled by Murphy and longtime member Nancy Whang. The band have a huge list of gear, and the footnotes for the their 2017 album All American Dream listed a Yamaha CS60, Roland SH-101 and System 100m, an EMS Synthi AKS, Korg MS-20 and Trident, and the ARP Odyssey and Omni III as synths used on the album. Quite a collection! Frontman James Murphy has also scored two movies, Greenberg and While We’re Young, both for director Noah Baumbach, and these are worth checking out as they feature plenty of nostalgic synth sounds.

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Kate Bush Synth Sounds

Kate Bush has had an enormous impact on modern music, as a musician her adoption of the Yamaha CS-80 synth and CMI Fairlight sampler empowered her to be more creative. Bush released four albums before finally building her own studio in 1985, and subsequently released her fifth album, Hounds of Love. The album was an art-rock masterpiece with heavy synthpop overtones; it topped charts and is regarded as her finest album. On many of Kate Bush’s early albums, she used the Yamaha CS-80 as her main composition instrument. She seemed to favour it particularly for its touch-sensitivity, and it was one of the few synths that offered the feature at the time. Bush mainly relied on the synths presets, and utilising its touch-sensitivity allowed her to create more organic-sounding tracks, which worked for her as she would often layer the CS-80 with real acoustic instruments, such as cellos and the balalaika. The Fairlight CMI was released in 1979, and Kate Bush was an early user, utilising it on several tracks from her 1980 album Never Ever. The Fairlight soon replaced the CS-80 as her main instrument and ended up being used heavily on Hounds of Love, providing many of the album's signature sounds. Arturia has created software emulations of both the Yamaha CS-80 and the Fairlight CMI, and I’ll use these throughout the article. 

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