Tycho – Division Synth Sound
Division was the first song to be released off the 2016 album Epoch. Featuring grinding guitars and post-rock breaks, it has been the set closer for most of Tycho's Epoch tour shows. I'll demonstrate how to create a synth lead like the one used throughout the song on a Korg Minilogue, Native Instruments Monark, and in the free TAL-NoiseMaker, although any synth with two oscillators will be able to play this sound. Listen to the song below, the synth lead appears at 0:47:
An interesting thing about this song is the time signature, which is the odd meter of 7/8. This is referenced in the title Division, as in beat division. Each bar contains 3 1/2 beats, or 7 quavers, counted as 1 & 2 & 3 & a 1 & 2 & 3 & a. Check out the music below for the notes and rhythm of the main riff.
Also released in 2016, the Korg Minilogue is used heavily on Epoch. It's a pretty simple four-voice polyphonic synth with different voice modes and some cool modulation tricks. Commenting on his photo on Instagram, Scott said the Minilogue is "all over Epoch". He uses the Minilogue live, and when I saw Tycho play recently he used it for the lead synth lines on Division, so I'm going to assume it was used in the album version of Division.
The basic patch we're going to create uses a few key elements, namely two triangle waves pitched an octave apart, and an envelope controlled filter with a long decay. This is easy to set up on the Minilogue's interface; firstly put the Minilogue into the MONO voice mode, making it act as a mono synth. Set both VCO 1 and VCO 2 to triangle and set one Oscillator an octave higher than the other. Also maker sure both Oscillators are set to the same level in the Mixer section, to get a good blend.
Moving to the filter and envelope sections, set the Cutoff to just below halfway and raise the EG AMT (envelope amount) to around the 2 o'clock mark. Make sure keytracking is off and set the filter to the gentler sounding 2-pole position. The AMG EG (amp envelope) wants to be set with full sustain and a a fair bit of release, and the Filter EG below it wants to have a low sustain and long decay. From here go to the delay section and add some nice filtered delay to make the sound a little less dry.
I've then run the Minilogue into SoundToys Decapitator for some saturation and Valhalla VintageVerb for a big reverb sound. You can hear the patch with and without effects:
Native Instruments Monark
As the core synth sound is so simple, just two triangle waves, we can program it in many software synths. One of my favourites that I used in my 'Awake' tutorial is Native Instruments Monark, an emulation of the legendary Minimoog synthesizer. Monark is a powerful, great sounding synth, and is an ideal candidate for recreating the 'Division' lead. It is also favoured by Tycho's Scott Hansen, who has used it for live shows.
Set both Oscillator 1 and Oscillator 2 to triangle waves, then set the Range knobs to 8' and 4'. From here go the filter section and lower the filter cutoff to a little above 0, and raise the resonance a little. We'll use the filter envelope to add a little movement to the sound, so raise the Contour knob to over halfway and set envelope with a long decay (around the 5 mark) and low sustain. Try tweaking the filter section as it has a big effect on the sound, check the screenshot below for the exact settings that I found sounded best.
For those of you who don't have a Minilogue sitting around or a big plugin collection yet, a great free synth to use is TAL-NoiseMaker. Billed as an improved version of their earlier TAL-Elek7ro-II soft-synth, NoiseMaker is a powerful software synth with an easy-to-grasp layout and some nice built-in effects, including chorus and reverb. It's a great synth to learn beginner synthesis on and a suitable synth for many sounds.
Set OSC 1 to Pulse and OSC 2 to Triangle (no triangle waveform for OSC1 but Pulse wave sounds closest), then make sure OSC 1 Tune is set to 0 and OSC 2 Tune is set to 12 (an octave up). In the Master section set OSC 1 and OSC 2 to max and turn the SUB oscillator all the way down. From here click Synth 2 to open up the filter / envelope section and set Cutoff and Reso to about the 9 o'clock mark. Set Cont (control) to around 3 o'clock and set the envelope with a long decay and release and a low sustain. Add some release to the main ADSR, then add some reverb from the built-in effects section, found under Control.