Rival Consoles is an electronic musician known for his intricate sound design, evocative melodies, and meticulous attention to detail. He utilises synthesizer modulation and effects to craft rich, organic-sounding synth patches which he uses alongside intimate piano chords and techno-influenced beats. With a career spanning over a decade, Rival Consoles has released several critically acclaimed albums and EPs that showcase his innovative approach to electronic music production.
Rival Consoles is the persona of Ryan Lee West, and his go-to synthesizer across all of his releases has been a Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 08, although he recently replaced this with the similar Prophet Rev2. He also likes running his synths through guitar pedals to add deep reverbs, gnarly distortion and interesting delay patterns.
In this article, I will explore the synth sounds of Rival Consoles, examining the sonic elements that make his music unique. I’ve recreated the synth patches used in his songs Recovery, Articulation and Untravel using Xfer Serum and Arturia OP-Xa V, and my recreated presets can be downloaded for free at the end of the article.
Recovery is from Rival Consoles’ 2014 EP Sonne, and it’s built around a rhythmically complex chord pattern that starts with a 32nd note roll before playing dotted 8th notes. The synth patch is heavily modulated, which gives it a humanised feel, like something that was performed rather than programmed. Here’s my remake of the Recovery synth patch using Xfer Serum:
The original synth used on Recovery is the Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 08, but I recreated the patch in Xfer Serum as it’s more flexible than most of the Prophet emulators available, which mostly focus on the vintage sound of the 1978 Prophet-5 rather than the modern features of the Prophet 08.
The Recovery oscillator sound is a humble single sawtooth wave with a medium-speed LFO vibrato which adds a woozy, lo-fi effect. In my patch, the LFO rate is 3.1Hz and the depth is 14 cents. The envelopes are nice and short for a snappy pluck sound, with VCA decay around 850ms and filter decay around 300ms, both with no sustain or attack.
The filter shape has a 2-pole slope, which is important for getting a good balance between low notes and high notes. The Prophet 08/Rev 2 features a switchable filter via the 4 Pole button, and the gentler 2-pole slope allows more of the high notes through, while the lack of keyboard tracking prevents the high notes from being overpowering. The default Serum filter is 2-pole (MG Low 12) and I have the filter cutoff set to 112Hz with the filter envelope doing most of the work. Here’s the basic patch so far, with no extra modulation or effects:
- Recovery Basic Patch 00:00
Rival Consoles often uses Pan Spread to make his synths fill out the stereo spectrum. This is done with a dedicated Pan Spread knob on the Prophet 08, which starts to randomly pan each note left and right. In Serum, Pan Spread can be added in the Modulation Matrix screen by selecting NoteOn Rand1 as a modulation source and A Pan as a modulation destination, with modulation type set to ↔, which will ensure the oscillator gets panned left and right. For the Recovery patch, the amount of pan spread is set to maximum.
There’s also filter modulation that varies the filter pluck depth, resulting in a more natural sound. There are a variety of ways to achieve this, and I’m not 100% sure how Rival Consoles did this for Recovery, but I used velocity in my patch to control the depth of envelope modulation. Higher velocity notes result in a stronger envelope pluck, and lower velocities result in weaker plucks.
To modulate the envelope filter with velocity in Serum, first set envelope 2 to modulate the filter. Then, in the Matrix tab, set the Aux Source of the filter modulation to Velo. This will vary the amount of envelope modulation depending on the MIDI velocity. Note that directly modulating the filter with velocity would create a less smooth, stepped sound.
With this done, I then edited the velocity for each chord in the MIDI clip. I also added a small amount of velocity modulation to Envelope 2’s decay time, which varies the length of the pluck, as well as the amount of modulation. Here’s the patch with Pan Spread and filter modulation:
- Recovery Modulated 00:00
The patch has some white noise, which helps to ‘dirty up’ the sound, and I’ve also added some EQ to boost the low-end and compression via Serum’s onboard effects. Finally, there’s a huge reverb on the patch, which I recreated using Valhalla VintageVerb. I used the 80s mode with a decay time of 1.94 seconds and a mix level of 13%, also boosting the high-shelf and HighCut parameters to brighten the reverb sound. I added a small amount of Decapitator before the reverb and some light compression after the reverb. Here’s my final patch:
- Recovery Reverb 00:00
The synth patch in Articulation, from the 2020 album of the same name, is highly reminiscent of the one in Recovery, but with a more uptempo, drum-based arrangement. To start, here’s my remake of Articulation’s introduction:
Similar to Recovery, the Articulation synth patch features a single sawtooth waveform with LFO vibrato, white noise, pan spread and a modulated filter pluck. Rather than modulating the filter pluck with velocity, as I previously did for the Recovery patch, instead I’ve modulated the pluck depth using one of Serum’s Macro controls, which I’ve then manually automated using automation curves in Ableton Live. Here’s the basic patch with no modulation; the settings are mostly the same as in Recovery however Pan Spread is set to 75 instead of 100.
- Articulation Dry 00:00
To modulate the filter envelope depth with automation curves in Serum, first set Env 2 as the modulation source, Fil Cutoff as the destination and Macro 1 as the aux source.
You should now be able to manually automate Macro 1 within your DAW, and that will control the filter envelope depth. Here is what the automation curves I used for my remake look like:
- Articulation Modulated 00:00
For effects, I used Soundtoys Decapitator for saturation, an EQ to reduce the low-end and mid-range, and then reverb from Valhalla VintageVerb with decay set to 4.69 and mix set to 15%. Here’s the final sound:
- Articulation w/FX 00:00
The melancholy Untravel features a somber chord sequence played through an expressive arpeggiator patch, with the filter opening and closing throughout the piece; all run through a cavernous reverb. The song was featured on his 2018 album Persona, which I’d highly recommend as a starting point for Rival Consoles discography. Here’s my remake of the Untravel synth patch:
The Untravel arp pattern is random, which means the chord notes are always played in a random order, which produces new variations every time and makes it seem like an improvised performance, rather than a simple arp synth patch.
In his Reddit AMA, Ryan described the creation of Untravel:
Since Serum doesn’t feature an onboard arpeggiator, I instead recreated this patch using Arturia OP-Xa V. Although Arturia recently released a Prophet-5 emulation, OP-Xa V gets closer to the Prophet 08/Rev 2 sound as it features pan spread and the optional 12/dB filter, which Prophet-5 V doesn’t.
The basic synth sound of Untravel is lightly detuned sawtooth waves with vibrato a soft, brassy attack. I used OP-Xa V’s dedicated vibrato LFO to add the vibrato with a rate of 7.45Hz and depth set to 0.28. The filter cutoff is set to 160Hz with a soft 210ms attack envelope while the VCA envelope has a 35ms attack, 325ms decay and no sustain. This prevents the patch from sounding too plucky and aggressive and instead gives it a soft quality. Here’s the patch so far:
- Untravel Chords 00:00
- Untravel Arpeggiated 00:00
There is more pan spread in the Untravel patch, which works nicely with the arpeggiator to randomly pan each arpeggiated note. OP-Xa V has a dedicated Spread knob, which has to be used with the individual voice pan trimmers.
Untravel has filter and volume modulation, as well as manually controlled filter movement. I emulated this by modulating Filter Freq and Loud Env Vol using all four of OP-Xa V’s extra LFOs, which are accessed in the Advanced panels’ Modulations screen. The first three LFOs are set to 1-bar length, while the fourth LFO is set to 5.9 seconds. These LFOs add tons of automatic movement to the patch, which really bring it to life. I also manually adjusted the filter throughout the recording to try to match the original filter movement.
- Pan Spread 00:00
- Modulation 00:00
There is a synced delay in Untravel which works nicely with the arpeggiator; the arp is synced to 1/16th notes and the delay is synced to 1/8th notes. I used OP-Xa V’s onboard delay in ping-pong mode with Dry/Wet set to around 20%.
For reverb, I used VintageVerb Huge Synth Space preset as a starting point. I also used Valhalla ShimmerVerb around the 1:20 mark to roughly emulate the high layer introduced in the original track, which I assume came from the Red Panda Particle guitar pedal.
- Delay 00:00
- Reverb 00:00
Rival Consoles is pretty open about his music-making process, and below you can find some resources where he goes into his process:
- TapeOp’s Dave Smith & Rival Consoles: When Prophets Collide interview.
- The Rival Consoles – Synth parts Soundcloud playlist features isolated Prophet 08 and Rev2 tracks from several of his songs.
- FACTmagazine: Rival Consoles – In The Studio shows Ryan’s studio setup around 2016.
- FACTmagazine: Rival Consoles – Against The Clock shows Ryan putting together a quick track.
- Rival Consoles first Reddit AMA, from 2018.
- Rival Consoles second Reddit AMA, from 2020.
- Rival Consoles most recent Reddit AMA, from 2021.