Grimes Synth Sounds

Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, recently released her fifth studio album Miss Anthropocene, exploring a darker sound than on previous releases, and her first album since 2015’s acclaimed Art Angels. For this synth sounds article I’ll go back to 2012’s Visions, particularly the tracks Genesis and Oblivion, as well as the hardware synth that shaped that album, the Roland Juno-G, a digital workstation synth released in 2006. The Juno-G boasts powerful features, digital oscillator sounds, multi-fx and layering, and very little in common with the vintage Juno-60/106 sounds that I usually cover. As well as uncovering which Juno-G patches were used in the original recordings, I also fully recreated the two songs using Arturia Mini V, TAL U-NO-LX and XV-5080 from the Roland Cloud collection.

Genesis

The main synth sound heard in Genesis is the bassline, which has a characteristic bouncing delay effect added. This rhythmic digital delay is an important part of the Visions sound, and is also used on vocals, drums and piano parts. To program the bass synth using TAL U-NO-LX, turn on the square wave oscillator and reduce the sub oscillator volume to 8.5. Lower the main filter frequency fader to 3 and set the filter’s envelope control to 3.5, which will set the depth that the envelope opens the filter for each note. Use a short, plucky envelope with decay set to 4 and no sustain. Finally, set the ‘KEYB’ fader to 5, which will reduce filter keyboard tracking, resulting in a more evenly balanced sound between high and low notes.

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  • Genesis Bass Dry 00:00

For the delay on the bass sound, use a DAW-synced 1/8th note delay with 30% mix level and feedback. There’s also a fair amount of small reverb on the bass, and I used a reverb mix level of 25% and decay of 1.08 seconds. Make sure to use the LowCut setting in your reverb to prevent the bass frequencies building up and resulting in a muddy sound.

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  • Genesis Bass FX 00:00

The lead synth in the intro of Genesis comes from the Roland Juno-G, specifically the Theramax preset. The patch is made of a single sawtooth waveform with a lot of the tone coming from the medium-high resonance filter and a delayed LFO vibrato (LFO speed around 4.79 Hz). Because of the high resonance, the filter cutoff point affects the tone strongly; in TAL U-NO-LX I found a cutoff setting of 4.63, resonance of 4.73 and keyboard tracking of 6.17 closely matched the settings in the Theramax preset.

After the synth, process the sound with a treble boosting EQ, a light amount of delay and a lot of big reverb. After the lead finishes the reverb effect is raised causing it to distort; I recreated this by automating the reverb mix levels as well as adding some overdrive effect in Ableton.

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  • Genesis Lead Dry 00:00
  • Genesis Lead FX 00:00

The lead synth in the intro of Genesis comes from the Roland Juno-G, specifically the Theramax preset. The patch is made of a single sawtooth waveform with a lot of the tone coming from the medium-high resonance filter and a delayed LFO vibrato (LFO speed around 4.79 Hz). Because of the high resonance, the filter cutoff point affects the tone strongly; in TAL U-NO-LX I found a cutoff setting of 4.63, resonance of 4.73 and keyboard tracking of 6.17 closely matched the settings in the Theramax preset. After the synth, process the sound with a treble boosting EQ, a light amount of delay and a lot of big reverb. After the lead finishes the reverb effect is raised causing it to distort; I recreated this by automating the reverb mix levels as well as adding some overdrive effect in Ableton.

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  • Genesis Harp X-Cultural 00:00
  • Genesis Harp XV-5080 00:00

I also used XV-5080 for the piano sound, which has a strong fake piano vibe. Similarly to the bass track, the piano has synced digital delay, this time of a 1/4 note at 40% wet, causing the arpeggiated phase to overlap.

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  • Genesis Piano Dry 00:00
  • Genesis Piano w/Delay 00:00

Here’s the full track; notice how the sounds are either almost completely mono, such as the bass, or extremely wide in the mix, such as the harp and supersaws.. If you listen to the original, pay attention to how wide Grimes’ vocal is in the stereo mix too. The drums for this recreation are all from either old Vengeance sample packs (which were popular in 2012) or from the Roland Juno-G’s rhythm kits.

Oblivion

Oblivion is another track primarily made using Roland Juno-G presets. The song’s driving bassline comes from the Juno-G’s Ourobots preset, which uses the Juno-G’s onboard step-sequencer to produce the bassline heard in Oblivion. Simply set the Juno-G’s tempo to 78BPM, hold D and then B, and you’ll get Oblivion pattern.

This is a stereo patch, with lots of movement between the left and right channels. Grime’s recorded many of the Juno-G parts in mono, using only the left output of the keyboard, so a lot of the notes ‘disappear’ from the bassline, and the final track lacks the width of the full preset. This was likely an intentional decision, as the stereo bassline is very busy sounding, and the largely mono sound of the instrumentals on Visions, especially in contrast to the width of her vocals effects, is a big part of the albums sound.

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  • Oblivion Ourobots Preset 00:00
  • Oblivion Ourobots Mono 00:00

I recreated the bass sound in Arturia Mini V using two detuned sawtooth waves set to the 16’ octave and a third sawtooth acting as a sub set to the 32’ octave with much lower volume. The filter envelope is set to 85Hz with resonance of 2.72 and amount of contour set to 52%. The keyboard follow 1 switch is activated, giving light keyboard tracking to the filter, the filter’s decay time is set to 165ms and there’s no sustain, creating a snappy pluck sound. The amp envelope is similar, with no sustain and a slightly longer 221ms decay time.

The step sequencer in the Ourobots preset doesn’t just control the pitch, it also controls volume and modulation amount. I used velocity control to add some of this variation into the Mini V patch, routing the velocity to modulate VCF ENV LEV (filter envelope level) and VCA AM (amplifier amount) in Mini V’s modulation tab.

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  • Oblivion Mini V Bass 00:00

For the Oblivion bridge, I used the Upright Pno preset in XV-5080 with some heavy EQing to cut the lows and boost the highs, and a 1/4 delay at 34% to create the cascading effect. The descending arps are the Soaring Saws preset and the strings are the Lush Strings preset, both in XV-5080 with very similar sounds available in the Juno-G.

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  • Oblivion Strings 00:00

The choir sound that plays in Oblivion’s outro is the Vocastic preset on the Juno-G, and it’s a layered patch consisting of choir, orchestra hit and a sub bass layer along with the step-sequence that is heard on Oblivion. Playing the keys D down to B produces a sequenced pattern, and adding a 3rd to each note produces the pattern heard in Oblivion.

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  • Oblivion Vocastic Preset 00:00
  • Oblivion Vocastic Thirds 00:00

The choir layer of the Vocastic patch is itself layered, with two different choir samples panned hard-left and hard-right, producing a wide stereo sound. However, just like with the bass sound, Grimes only recorded the left channel from the Juno, so only the left choir sample made into the final recording. I couldn’t find the exact sample in any plugins I searched, so I sampled the choir directly from the Juno-G and loaded into into Ableton’s Sampler to use in the remake.

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  • Oblivion Vocastic Mono 00:00

For the classic orchestra hits I used the XV-5080 patch PR-B: 071 Impact preset, and for the sub layered I used a filtered unison sawtooth wave. The main drum beat is processed with a 1/4 note delay at about 40% mix, which causes hits to layer over each other, and the snare has a slow flanger on it, which adds tonal variation on each hit.

Download

Thanks for reading! In the download button below you can find all the Arturia Mini V and TAL U-NO-LX presets from these recreations, as well as the choir samples used in the Oblivion remake and some extra presets I recreated from Be A Body and Nightmusic.

If you want to download the Ableton Projects, MIDI files and multitrack stems for all five recreations, check out my Patreon page!

9 thoughts on “Grimes Synth Sounds”

  1. Great article. I’m new to synthesis, so I appreciate the insight into the production and the motivation to dig in all the more. Thank you!

  2. Chris Saksida

    Your articles are awesome! I’m new to synthesizers and I’m learning a lot… I have a request though: could you please make an article about Depeche Mode?? It’s one of my favourite bands and I would love to learn how to replicate their sound, the Tears for Fears one was awesome too, but it would be great if there was an article about DM, thank you so much for the knowledge.

  3. These articles are amazing! Learning so much. Putting in a request for Lorde synth sounds. Some really great ones on Homemade Dynamite especially.

  4. Thank you so much for such an informative article, Grimes’ work is absolutely fascinating to me considering she does it all on her own. Would it be possible to do another Grimes article covering Be A Body, Nightmusic, and perhaps songs off of Art Angels and Miss_Anthropocene?

    1. reverbmachine

      Hi! I put together a remake of Be A Body but didn’t include it because it’s a little boring without vocals. The Juno-G presets are ‘Wet Nylon’ for guitar, ‘Big Mini’ for bass and ‘SH101 Bs1’ for the lead sound. I also half finished Nightmusic but couldn’t get the bass sound right, the lead sound is the ‘Trance Keys’ preset.

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