Last year, Travis Scott released his third album, Astroworld, a continuation of his hip-hop sound pursued on earlier releases, but with a heavy trap and psychedelic influence. The album was hugely successful and cemented Travis Scott as one of the top hip-hop artists of the current era. Astroworld was recorded in Hawaii with a diverse set of collaborators, including Mike Dean, whose analog synth sounds feature prominently, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, who produced Skeletons, John Mayer, who played guitar on the album, James Blake, and even Stevie Wonder, who added his signature harmonica to Stop Trying to Be God.Read More
Neon Indian is the project of Alan Palomo, an important artist in early chillwave music. Palomo has released three albums under the moniker, each growing with maturity and intricacy, and a fourth album is in the works. In this article, I’ll concentrate on earlier Neon Indian tracks, in particular, two of my favourite tracks from Era Extraña, which Palomo recorded in Helsinki, Finland. In a follow-up to this article, I’ll continue by looking at tracks from 2015’s Vega Intl. Night School.
Palomo is an avid synth enthusiast and has an eccentric collection of hardware synthesizers. Around the recording of Era Extraña Palomo was using a Korg MS-20, the Roland SH-101, and the Voyetra-8, a rack-mounted analog synthesizer with powerful digital controls. Synths are such a big part of the Neon Indian sound that a deluxe edition of an album came with a tiny, portable analog synthesizer. For this article, I’ll recreate the Neon Indian synth sound using the software synths u-he Repro, TAL U-NO-LX, and TAL Bassline-101, which is an emulation of the SH-101. You can download all the synth presets on this page at the end of the article.Read More
Brian Eno released Discreet Music in 1975; the majority of the album is taken up by its 30-minute title track, which was one of Eno’s first experiments in the quiet, unobtrusive music that would go on to define his career, as well as ambient music. The songs concept was conceived by Eno when he “discovered” a new way of listening to music, where at low volumes the sounds is on the verge on vanishing, and merges with the sounds of its environment.
In this article I’ll explore how Eno created Discreet Music using a simple but clever system that utilised early synthesizer sequencing and sound-on-sound tape looping. I’ll also recreate the sounds using Arturia Synthi V and Soundtoys Echoboy.Read More
Continuing with my exploration of Tyler, the Creator's synth sounds, I’m looking at IGOR’s opening track, IGOR’S THEME. The track opens with 22 seconds of sustained synth-bass, features some classic samples, and ends with an extended synth solo. In this article, I’ll dissect each synth sound one-by-one, and show you how to recreate them all in the free softsynth PG-8X by ML-VST. This synth is a tribute to the Roland JP-8X, a synth that Tyler has in his studio that was likely used a lot on IGOR, along with his Roland Juno. The JX-8P has a few features that the Juno doesn’t, such as cross modulation, a second DCO, and an extra envelope. These extra features are important to the IGOR’S THEME sounds.Read More
Thom Yorke recently released his third solo album, Anima. The album continues the musical progression started in 2006’s The Eraser and 2014’s Tomorrows Modern Boxes, and was worked on alongside Nigel Godrich, longtime Radiohead producer. Anima’s release was preceded by mysterious worldwide adverts for a ‘dream camera’, and the albums theme involves dreams.
Thom is a big fan of the Prophet synths, having used an SCI Prophet-5 with Radiohead on Kid A and a DSI Prophet 08 in later live performances. Since 2015, Thom has been using a Prophet-6 live, and it’s likely this synth that many Anima’s sounds came from. The Prophet-6 is important enough to the sound of Anima that Godrich uses a second unit offstage for live shows. The Prophet-6 is a faithful-yet-modern tribute to the vintage Prophet-5 synth, with all the character of the original synth, but with modern perks. For this article, I’ll use the fantastic softsynth u-he Repro-5, another tribute to the Prophet-5, to recreate some of Thom’s Prophet sounds from Anima.Read More
This year Com Truise released a new album, entitled Persuasion System. Dubbed a ‘mini-LP’, the new album marks a slight change for Seth Haley, as he started using a new DAW and built a new slate of sounds to use. In this article, I’ll look at some of the new synths sounds of Persuasion System. I’ve previously covered Seth’s sounds in the article Com Truise Synth Sounds, which concentrated mostly on sounds from his 2017 album, Iteration. In that article I wrote a little bit about which hardware synths Seth was using, however there isn’t much info about what he used on the new album. To recreate the patches for the article, I’ll use the software synths TAL U-NO-LX, u-he Repro-5 and SEM V & Mini V from the Arturia Collection.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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!Read More
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.Read More