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.
In this article, I’ll look at some of my favourite Porches synth sounds, and talk about how to recreate them using software synthesizers.
One of the cornerstone 80s sounds that Porches use frequently manifests itself in Mood, from their 2016 album The Pool. The track is one of their more guitar-heavy works, but the synth lead that plays the intro melody is a classic FM sound, and comes from the Yamaha DX7. The patch is the DX7’s 11. E.PIANO 1 sound, a famous factory preset that is the most recognisable FM synth sound of all time. Aaron actually posted a video on the bands instagram page of himself playing the synth part on his DX7.
Some great software versions of the DX7 are Arturia’s DX7 V and the free Dexed. The keys in Mood have been processed with a chorus effect to make it sound a little less dry, which is common with the DX7. You can add the effect in your DAW, or alternatively you can use the Arturia DX7 V preset RoadsForYou, which is a processed version of the famous preset. To learn more about famous DX7 sounds, check out my article Exploring the Yamaha DX7.
Even the Shadow
Even the Shadow opens with an incredibly behind-the-beat synth lead melody, that almost certainly came from Maine’s Roland Juno-106, with it’s recognisable chorus effect supplying the tracks warmth. You can use the soft synth TAL U-NO-LX, an emulation of the Roland Juno synths, to faithfully create the patch. Turn off the sub oscillator and raise the HPF fader to 7.5, which will remove all low-end from the patch, perfect for thinner sounds. Lower the main cutoff frequency to almost 0 and raise resonance to 2. Now raise the envelope modulation fader (ENV) to 6 and lower the keyboard tracking fader (KEYB) to halfway. Set the ADSR envelope with an attack of 4, decay of 6, and sustain/release both set to 5, which creates a contour with a quick fade-in and longer fade-out. Finally, activate the inbuilt Chorus II effect to finish the patch.
The songs synthbass track used synced filter LFO modulation synced to 8th notes to create the distinct rhythmic effect. You can create the patch in any synth, but I’ll Arturia Mini V. Set all three oscillators to the wide-rectangular waveform, and pitch one of them an octave lower than the other two. Set the cutoff frequency to the -1 mark, or 500Hz, and make sure the amount of contour knob is set to 0. Modulate the filter with an LFO by opening the extended panel (click the double arrow at the top) and set the LFO time to MIDI synced Tempo*2.0. In the modulation panel, send the LFO to the cutoff and set the amount knob to 0.1005.
Be Apart was the second single from The Pool, and consists of three main synth layers, the analog stab that play the hook, the bassline plucks, and a muted pad that plays chords throughout the track. For the main stabs, use a single square wave oscillator and modulate the filter with a medium-decay envelope. I found Arturia Prophet V was able to create the sound closely. Set the cutoff frequency to 40Hz, the resonance to the 8 o’clock mark, the envelope amount to 3 o’clock, and the decay time of 2000ms.
For the plucky bass patch, use Mini V again, this time with the oscillators set to square waves. Lower the cutoff frequency all the way, set the filter emphasis to just under the 2 mark, and the amount of contour to just under the halfway mark. Now set the filters envelope with an 860ms decay and sustain set to 4 to create a snappy filter pluck. You can also find the TAL U-NO-LX patch for I used for the pad in the download at the end of the article.
Goodbye is a dance-infused ballad from 2018’s The House. The two main synths are FM keys and a huge sound bassline that plays syncopated lines that weave in and out of the chords. The track also has an unusual structure, with several odd-time passages, such as the bars of 7/4 when the vocals come in. The main keys were likely recorded from Maine’s Yamaha DX7, and we can again use Arturia DX7 V to recreate the patch. It is a plucked string/guitar tonality, and the preset patch Portasound Guitar is a close match to the patch in the song.
For the bassline, program a similar filter pluck patch to the one created for the Be Apart bass, but for this patch use a mixture of sawtooth and square waveforms, and set the filter to the -2 mark for a more open sound, with decay set to 230ms. Process the bass track with some saturation such as your DAWs built in saturator or Soundtoys Decapitator, as well as a fair amount of small-sized reverb. For the video below, I used Valhalla VintageVerb with decay set to 0.70s and mix set to 28%.
The main arpeggio synth in Underwater is befitting of its track name, as the filter opens and closes in and out of time with the sequence, like tidal waves. The patch is chorused and quite wide in the stereo spectrum, so it may have come from the Roland Juno-106. Turn on just the square waveform, and also raise the noise fader to 4, which adds some graininess to the patch. Se the filter to 1.5, and both the ENV and MOD faders to 5. This sets the filter to be modulated by both the envelope, and every note trigger, and an LFO, which add additional movement to the sound. Set the ADSR envelope with an attack of 3, decay and release of 4, sustain of 0. Set the LFO’s rate to the 4 mark and turn on the Chorus I effect, and process the track with plenty of saturation and reverb.
For the pad chords, again use TAL U-NO-LX, with the sound set to a mixture of sawtooth and square waves, with the PW fader set to 8. Raise the high-pass filter to 10 to drastically thin out the low-end of the sound. Set the low-pass filter’s cutoff to 2 and the envelope control to 4, then set up the envelope with a quick attack, medium length decay and sustain set to halfway. For the big, thick bass that comes in during the intense part of the song, use Mini V with a detuned sawtooth wave oscillators. Pitch one of them an octave above the others to add some high end. Set the filter cutoff frequency to 1270 Hz with filter resonance set to the 1 mark and no envelope modulation. Drive the track hard by running it through Decapitator or your own saturator of choice.
Thanks for reading! Hopefully this article has inspired you to dig further into 80s sounds to use in a modern context. Click the button below to download the Arturia and TAL U-NO-LX patches to play with yourself.
If you want to dig deeper into these Porches Synth Sounds, check out my Patreon page to get access to the MIDI files, multitrack stems, and Ableton Projects from the recreations in the article.