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 can be rhythmically complex 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 through 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 synths. I’ll use the Arturia V Collection 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!
Simplicity – huge for me. My favorite thing to do is initialize instruments and program a new patch; [it can be just] two oscillators, one detuned, and a nice envelope on the filter and amp. Then I just play it. I really like the simple sounds. I was never really going for complexity. I like the nice clean synth brass sounds, smooth pads, a tiny bit of chorus, and some delay. You’ve got a nice patch right there. I never set out to make brand-new sounds. I just try to add today’s flavor to what’s already been solidified in the ears of history. – Com Truise
I’ll start this article with the track Cathode Girls, from his debut album Galactic Melt, as it begins with an exposed synth track. Although the heart of the synth patch is a basic sawtooth with an envelope modulated filter, there are plenty of other things going on that make this patch sound killer. I’ll use Arturia SEM V, a software Oberheim synth, although any polyphonic analog-style synth should be able to create the sound. In SEM V, start with the template patch Init Voice 2 (2 Osc detuned) and lower the cutoff frequency to 244 Hz. Set the resonance to 62% and the filter modulation knob to 100%, on the positive side. The filter is set to be modulated by envelope 2 by default, so give envelope 2 a 35ms attack, 185ms decay and no sustain, giving us our basic plucking effect.
Two other interesting effects you can hear in Cathode Girls are a subtle pitch-drift, present in many of Com Truise’s songs, and a heavy ping-pong delay, which creates a counter-rhythm to the riff. For the pitch-drift, we can use a slow LFO to modulate the oscillator’s pitch. Set each of the oscillator’s modulation knob to 8-9% anti-clockwise (towards frequency) and set LFO 1’s frequency to around 3 Hz. For the ping-pong delay, we can use SEM V’s built-in delay. Set the mix to 25% and click the top of the interface to open up the back panel and find the effects section. Make sure the tempo sync and ping-pong options are on and set the delay time to 1 beat (Tempo * 1). This gives us a long delay that repeats the musical material a bar late. The built-in delay gives quick access to good sounding effects, but for more powerful options with deeper control, you should use dedicated plugins.
Ephemeron is a relatively straightforward track for Com Truise, focusing on a driving bass groove that is gradually accompanied by layers of ghostly synths. The bass patch is easy to create, and we can use Arturia Mini V to create it. Mini V is an emulation of the legendary Minimoog and is a specialist at creating big bass sounds. Set up two sawtooth waves tuned to the same octave, and detune one of them by about 15%, which in Mini V is done by right-clicking the tuning knob. Lower the cutoff frequency down to 0, and raise the amount of contour to between 3-4, creating the basic pluck. Now set the sustain level underneath to 5, and the decay time to 320ms. Then raise the filter emphasis to 4 to add some resonance and brightness to the pluck. The decay time set will control the note length, and the amount of contour will control the filter amount, so you can adjust it to taste. Run the patch through some compression and saturation to even out the volume and give it some growl.
For the polyphonic lead part, I’ll turn to Arturia Prophet V. The patch is really simple and uses the same plucking idea as the bass patch, with heavy use of chorus and delay effects, and the part itself is syncopated. Start with two detuned sawtooth waves (like the template patch Pro5 2 Osc), lower the cutoff to the 9 o’clock mark and raise the envelope amount to 2 o’clock with a decay time of 600ms. Set the inbuilt chorus’ mix level to 50% and add a tiny bit of pitch modulation using Prophet V’s modulation wheel.
For the delay, you’ll want to use something with more control than the synths built-in effect. Your DAW’s delay is probably suitable, and Seth has mentioned using Soundtoys EchoBoy for delay FX in his earlier work. Set the delay to act as a ping-pong delay with 1/8 note delays. Set mix at 25-30% and raise feedback as high as you can without it getting too muddy or feeding back. Filter out the highs and lows of the delay signal to make it sit in the mix better, and if you’re using EchoBoy then the EchoPlex style is great for these types of delays.
- Ephemeron Lead 1 00:00
The next lead that gets layered with the polyphonic plucks is a dark, choir-like synth lead. Although I couldn’t recreate the sound perfectly, you can get close by combining an 8’ wide-rectangular wave with a 16’ sawtooth wave, with the former being louder in the mixer section. The sound is dark so lower the cutoff frequency to the -2 mark with a little bit of filter contour. Add some vibrato by again using the modulation wheel with oscillator 3 set to LO MONO mode (effectively turning it into an LFO). Run the patch through some chorus and EQ out the low-end to get it to sit in the mix.
When Will You Find the Limit...
When Will You Find the Limit is my personal favourite cut from Iteration. The song opens with a lush chorused synth part, and when the groove comes, it turns out the song is in 7/4, which continues when the beat goes double-time – pretty unique for a synthwave track!
The intro patch sounds like it may have been recorded from the Juno-106. We can use TAL U-NO-LX to recreate the basic Juno vibe in the software realm. Combining sawtooth and square waves is a great way to create a rich sound, so turn off the sub-oscillator, turn on the square oscillator and raise the PW fader to 8. Set the pulse-width mode switch to LFO, then find the LFO section and set the rate to 3 on ‘free’ mode. This modulates the square wave shape with the LFO, which combined with the sawtooth wave, sounds really sweet.
Dampen the sound by setting the HPF to 6, the low-pass filter’s cutoff to 4, and it’s envelope to 3. Raising resonance to 1 will add a little brightness and raising the MOD fader will send some of the LFO signal to the filter, creating some subtle movement. Set the envelope up with a quick attack of 1 and long decay and releases of 7 and 6, respectively. Turn on Chorus II to finish the basic synth patch! For extra effects, try running the track through a subtle phaser with a mix around 60% max, and use plenty of reverb and delay!
To create the elastic-y sounding bass part, we can use Arturia Mini V’s rectangular waves. These are square waves with pre-set pulse-widths which sound thin and hollow, great for certain applications. For this bass patch, use 3 oscillators all set to narrow-rectangular and wide-rectangular and 32’ tuning. Set up a filter pluck just like in the Ephemeron patch, but with the amount of contour set to maximum. Again, process with saturation and compression, and notice how the use of rectangular waves gives the patch a different character from using sawtooth waves.
Memory was the first single from Iteration, and it features simple synth sounds alongside complex, syncopated parts. In a track-by-track guide to the album, Haley says he “used the Juno 106 for the main stabs and the Prophet 6 for the stab chords. I also used some Eurorack bits towards the end.”.
We can use TAL U-NO-LX again to recreate the Juno sound, as it’s based on the Juno synths, and when you’re using the right synth the patch is usually easier to create. The patch is simple and employs just a single sawtooth wave run through the Juno’s signature chorus effect, in this case, Chorus I, which is mono. Reduce the bass frequencies by raising the HPF fader to 6. To create the stab effect, lower the cutoff frequency to 0, raise resonance to 1, and the ENV fader to between 7 and 8. Set the ADSR envelope with an attack of 2, decay of 7 and release time of 5. Use plenty of delay on this type of track; I used two delays of 130ms and 1/4 note.
The stabs provide a cool, funky synth figure, and as mentioned, came from the DSI Prophet 6 synth. The Pro-6 is a modern tribute to the legendary Sequential Prophet-5 synth, which Arturia Prophet V is modelled on, so we can use that to create a similar part. The track has also been processed with some chorus and plenty of rhythmic delay.
Start with two detuned square waves, change their pulsewidths to 3 o’clock and 9’clock, and then modulate the pulsewidth over time by activating PWA and PWB in the wheel-mod section and raising the modulation wheel to 0.45. Pulsewidth movement like this is a great way to create colourful-sounding timbres.
Create a medium filter pluck by lowering the filter cutoff and raising the envelope amount, and in the amplifier envelope lower sustain to 0 and set amp decay to around 430ms. Use Prophet V’s onboard chorus with the mix level set to 40-50% and run the track through a 1/8 note delay with a 25% mix and high feedback to create the rhythmic delay effect. Now play (or program) short staccato stabs and enjoy the sound!
The album’s closer and title-track, Iteration is based on some funky synth patterns again made more complex through their use of rhythmic delay. The main, introductory synth uses detuned sawtooth waves through a filter pluck, and I’ve used Prophet V to create the patch. I set cutoff to 0 and envelope amount to the maximum setting, with a decay time of 520ms and sustain at the 9 o’clock mark. I also used Prophet V’s built-in chorus on mode 3 with mix set to 25%.
For delay, I used Soundtoys EchoBoy on a relatively simple setting, with a single echo set to a time of 1/8. Use the EchoPlex style and set mix and feedback to around 25% and 50%, respectively. Check out the synth without delay, and then how different it sounds when the delay effect comes in and provides the extra rhythm.
- Iteration Delays 00:00
The songs monster bass patch uses chorus to create its detuned effect. Use a 16’ square wave with a volume of 10 and add a sub-oscillator by setting up a 32’ square wave with the volume set to 4. Create an envelope-controlled filter pluck as we have done previously, only this time with a higher resonance of 2 and a longer decay time of around 1300ms. This creates long drops in the filter, great for slower riffs. Mini V has an inbuilt chorus in its extended panel, which can be accessed by clicking the top wooden part of the interface. Find the effects section, turn on the chorus effect and set the mix to 35%.
Probably the most well-known track from Iteration, Propagation was released as a single and has a great music video worth watching. The songs opening synth hook is catchy and is perfectly demonstrative of Com Truise’s influence. In the track-by-track guide, Seth says of the song “For the main chords I used the OB6 and for the bass I used the Arp Odyssey. There’s also a bit of DX7 on this track.”.
Arturia SEM V would be the best choice to cover this patch, but I had better luck using Prophet V instead. Similar to the Memory stabs patch, set up two detuned square waves, and set their PW knobs to 0.74 and 0.22. Set the cutoff and resonance knobs to the 10 o’clock mark and envelope amount to 2 o’clock. Set the filter envelope with a long decay and release (1600ms and 2250ms) and sustain at 9 o’clock. Then set the amplifier envelope with even longer decay and release times (9000ms and 7000ms). The filter envelope will do most of the work here, but the longer amp envelope times will ensure that some of the bassier frequencies get to ring on past the filter pluck.
For chorus, use Prophet V’s built-in effect, with mode set to 3 and mix set to 50-60%. Add a slow phaser effect with the mix set to 25%. I used SoundToys PhaseMistress but any phaser effect will likely work as long as the mix is subtle. Lastly, use a ping-pong delay effect with one channel set to a 1/4 delay and the other a 1/8 delay, with mix set to 40% and feedback set high. I again used EchoBoy’s EchoPlex style and filtered out both the high and low-end.
For the bass patch, use Arturia Mini V with detuned sawtooth waves, one pitched an octave below the other two. Set up a long filter pluck of 3400ms and keep the amount of contour subtle so as to keep the patch dark and growly. For the high-string part, use TAL U-NO-LX with a single square wave oscillator. Set PW to 8 and modulate it using the LFO, just as we did for the When Will You Find the Limit patch. I had to use TAL U-NO-LX’s built-in chorus, a stereo-widening delay effect and even more chorus from Ableton Live’s built-in chorus to get the patch sounding as rich and wide as it is on the record. I also EQed out the low end below 350 Hz and boosted 5.79 kHz to make the patch brighter.