New Order’s Elegia was originally released on New Order’s 1985 album Low-Life. The haunting instrumental is a tribute to Ian Curtis, the late singer of Joy Division, from whom the remaining members formed New Order. The 5-minute version presented on Low-Life is a shortened edit of the original 17 and a half minute recording, which was eventually released on the 2002 compilation Retro. Since then, Elegia’s eerie atmosphere has made it popular in film and television soundtracks; you may have heard it in Stranger Things, The Crown, or the trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
In this article, I’ll look at where the sounds of Elegia came from, which offer some insight into how New Order approached layered different samples together to create a rich tapestry. I’ll also look at the E-mu Emulator II, a vintage synthesizer with an 8-bit sampling engine and analog filters. Here’s my full remake, using no samples from the original recording:
In his book Substance: Inside New Order, Peter Hook describes the recording of Elegia, which was recorded in a 24-hour session at CTS Studios in Wembley, London, studio time given to the band for free. Hook wrote:
“We spent the session whizzed off our tits on speed, and although he assumed it was going to take around eight hours, instead we spent ten just programming the sequencer, then putting the bass and guitar down and the drum effect overdubs, even at one point bringing Melvin’s nephews, who called in from school in the afternoon, onto the track and recording them saying their names, ‘Ben and Justin’, over and over again. (It was the working title for a while.)
It was a great day. Barney, released from the pressure of singing, was really relaxed. He wrote and played all the keyboards and layered them onto the track. We ended up recording an epic 17-minute, 32-second version of it.”
Most of the sounds in Elegia are from the Emu Emulator II, an early sampler keyboard which used 8-bit samples from a floppy disk run through analog filters for responsive sounds. The Emulator II was a favourite of New Order, who also used it extensively throughout their other songs, including Blue Monday. The Emulator II was released in 1984 as a competitor to the CMI Fairlight, and it boasted a cheaper price tag of $7,995 vs $27,500 for the Fairlight.
The Emulator II shipped with a library of factory sounds, some of which have become famous in their own right, such as the Shakuhachi flute heard on Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer and the Marcato Strings patch in the Pet Shop Boys West End Girls. There were also several 3rd party sample libraries for the Emulator II, including the Universe of Sounds series, which collected a huge assortment of samples into an early optical disk format, freeing Emulator users from the floppy disks.
More Wires!!!!The new Emulator 2 was a very emotional keyboard.— stephen morris (@stephenpdmorris) April 30, 2020
some days it would get moody and refuse to work at all. The fix was to wallop it hard with an iron bar, frustrated owners would ring me up and ask where exactly the blow should be aimed to make their e2 behave. pic.twitter.com/e9jMA4STtn
As the Emulator II was a sample-based instrument, plugin libraries are generally very faithful to the original instrument, and there are a few options to choose from. Rhythmic Robot Audio have recreated the complete OMI Universe of Sounds libraries for Native Instruments Kontakt, and UVI’s Emulation II+ library is also very exhaustive, featuring factory presets as well as Universe of Sounds samples.
Arturia’s Emulator II V plugin, released last year as part of the V Collection 8, includes the initial factory Emulator II sounds, but sadly doesn’t include the Universe of Sounds samples, likely for licensing reasons. It does, however, have the ability to load your own samples for vintage-style sound design.
I’ve used Arturia Emulator II V for this article, as I already own it as part of the Arturia V Collection, but all the sounds featured are also available in the Rhythmic Robot or UVI plugins. For the samples, I’ve used a mix of factory presets & samples and a few custom patches using Universe of Sounds samples found on this website.
New Order Synths
Elegia opens with a funereal harpsichord playing the songs main arpeggiated theme. This is the standard factory Emulator Harpsichord sample, which has been layered with a higher octave panned to the right and a lower octave panned to the left. I’ve also dialled in some of Emulator II V’s onboard chorus, delay and reverb effects for both layers. This panned octaves layering technique is used throughout Elegia to add a great deal of depth to the otherwise quite-plain sounding Emulator patches.
- Harpsichord Low 00:00
- Harpsichord High 00:00
- Harpsichord Layered 00:00
The otherworldly choir sounds are one of the highlights of Elegia, and they help give the song it’s haunting atmosphere. This is another panned octave sound, with a high sound panned right channel and a much quieter low sound panned left. For my remake, I used the Universe of Sounds Ah Liz sample for the high layer and the factory Voices preset for the lower layer.
The choir chords that you can first hear at 0:56 are also played by the Emulator II Voices patch. This a much darker track that fits nicely behind the brighter, layered melody sound, and you can really hit the gritty lo-fi Emu sound at work here.
- Choir High 00:00
- Choir Low 00:00
- Choir Chords 00:00
- Choir Layered 00:00
Elegia features a mixture of real guitars played by Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook, and sampled Emulator II guitars playing different melodic patterns to create a rich tapestry of sound. The first Emulator guitar is the Nylon Guitar sample which doubles the Harpsichord arpeggio and slowly fades in just before the choir melody is introduced. This makes the Harpsichord melody sound stronger, and prevents it from getting lost in all the layers that get introduced later. For some reason, there isn’t a Nylon Guitar factory preset in Emulator II V, so I created one using the factory samples from folder 25 Nylon Guitar & Mandolin.
There are two descending arpeggio guitars, one is the Universe of Sounds Rin Guitar sample which is panned hard-left and quite low in the mix; it can be most clearly heard at 3:07 on the album version. A similar pattern is played by the Guitar Harmonics sample, which is in the centre of the mix.
- Nylon Gtr 1 00:00
- Nylon Gtr 2 00:00
- Gtr Harmonics 00:00
- Gtr Left 00:00
- Gtrs Layered 00:00
At 1:52 the 12 String Guitar sample plays a variation of the choir melody. This is a rich sound created with two panned octaves, a high sample is panned left and a much more prominent low sample is panned right. Again, there isn’t a 12 String Guitar preset included in Emulator II V, but there are factory samples in the folder 56 12 String Guitar which I created a custom preset from.
- 12 String Low 00:00
- 12 String High 00:00
- 12 String Layered 00:00
The sustained string chords at 2:30 are layered in the same way, with an octave-high layer panned hard left and a lower layer panned hard right. For the high layer I used the Universe of Sounds Synth Strings sample and for the lower layer I used the factory Bkwrd Low Strings
- Strings High 00:00
- Strings Low 00:00
- Strings Layered 00:00
Bass & SFX
The bass synth is a growling, wide unison sound, and at a guess, could have come from New Order’s Octave Plateau Voyetra. I recreated the sound using Arturia Jup-8 V4 with two octaved sawtooth waves in unison mode. My patch has unison detune set to 0.14, pan spread set to 0.45 and I automated the filter cutoff to open and close throughout the song.
The dramatic church bell that plays at the start of the outro guitar solo also comes from the Emulator II; it’s the NY Church Bell sample from the Universe of Sounds collection.
- Bass 00:00
- NY Bell 00:00
Alongside the fake Emulator II guitars are two real guitar parts, the main melody that plays through the song and the overdriven solo that plays during the outro. I believe the main melodic guitar was played by Peter Hook on his Shergold Marathon six-string bass, likely tracked through a big-box Electro-Harmonix Clone Theory chorus pedal, part of his signature sound. I don’t have a six-string bass so I used my Les Paul through one of the newer, small-box Clone Theory for my remake.
For the outro solo I tracked through a Vox AC30 emulation on my Kemper Profiler amp, using the onboard gain for distortion.