This is the second part of Stranger Synths, a series on the synthesizers used in Stranger Things. Check out the first part here.
With the second season of Stranger Things just around the corner I want to take a quick look at a simple but exemplar track from the Stranger Things OST by Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein of the band S U R V I V E. The group gravitate towards vintage synthesizers and favour live performance over MIDI programmed parts. To get an idea of how Dixon and Stein approach their music, check out Reverb.com's video S U R V I V E Explores Four Vintage Synths. The track I'm looking at is Biking to School, the song that plays when the gang ride their bikes to take a disguised Eleven to school.
The first part of Biking to School is the arpeggio pattern that repeats throughout the song, the core sound is a mellow triangle wave pluck played through a lot of reverb. As the short piece progresses the synth's filter opens up slightly creating a subtly more powerful sound. The complex arpeggio part was likely created with an arpeggiator or sequencer used to turn chords into the rhythmic pattern we hear in the song. All arpeggiators work slightly differently and the arpeggiator working in Biking to School may have been a built-in arpeggiator found on some synths or an external piece of hardware used to generate MIDI arpeggios. For some idea of arpeggio pattern types, check out the Ableton Live manual's section on it's own arpeggiator patterns. The arpeggio pattern here is similar to Ableton's Thumb Up / Thumb UpDown pattern, although the pattern in the song is still slightly different to this. Here's the exact MIDI sequence in Ableton's piano roll:
Using triangle waveforms in sound design will give you a really mellow sound when compared to your typical sawtooth / square wave patches. I also personally find that triangle wave patches play really well with saturation and reverb. Moog synths work great for this and sound fantastic (when don't Moog's sound good?). I set up a triangle and pulse waveform, set the filter with minimum cutoff and the contour knob around 4, then set the filter envelope with no sustain and a short decay time to create a nice short pluck. You can hear the results using Arturia Mini-V below. Process the sound using reverb with a high mix / short time and some compression to squash the reverb signal along with the dry sound to create a ghostly reverb effect.
For the plucked chord sounds we again want to use some mellow sounding waveforms, so I've opted for the Prophet's square / triangle combo with the triangle wave pitched an octave below the square wave. Set the oscillator volumes so that the higher square wave doesn't get overpowered by the subbier triangle octave. Then set the filter to create a nice pluck sound, just like with the Moog patch, but this time with the cutoff higher and the decay time much longer. Add some release time to the amp envelope so that you can get some sustain when playing the patch on keyboards. Check out the recordings on my Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 08 and in Arturia Prophet-V. To create the lush, ghostly space, add both analog-style delay and long hall reverb both with high mix levels.
Thanks for reading! Check the link below to download the synth patches for Arturia Mini-V and Prophet-V, as well as the Ableton Project.