Tyler, the Creator ‘IGOR'S THEME’ Synth Breakdown
Continuing with my exploration of Tyler, the Creator's synth sounds, I’m looking at IGOR’s opening track, IGOR’S THEME. The track opens with 22 seconds of sustained synth-bass, features some classic samples, and ends with an extended synth solo. In this article, I’ll dissect each synth sound one-by-one, and show you how to recreate them all in the free softsynth PG-8X by ML-VST. This synth is a tribute to the Roland JP-8X, a synth that Tyler has in his studio that was likely used a lot on IGOR, along with his Roland Juno. The JX-8P has a few features that the Juno doesn’t, such as cross modulation, a second DCO, and an extra envelope. These extra features are important to the IGOR’S THEME sounds.
For the drums in IGOR’S THEME, Tyler sampled the song Attention by Bob Welch with Head West, released in 1970. The drum break starts at the 23-second mark:
The drum sample is fantastic, and the background shouts add atmosphere to the drum groove. The break’s tempo is between 79 and 80 bpm, and much of the groove is off-the-grid, meaning snares hit slightly before or after the beat.
Tyler isn’t the first one to sample the Attention break; it’s previously been used by artists such a UNKLE, Gorillaz, Mac Miller, and of course, John Cena.
IGOR’S THEME opens the album with 22 seconds of sustained synth bass to set the tone for the rest of the album.
The sound no doubt came from Tyler’s Roland JX-8P; I tried to create the sound on my Juno but without the cross-mod/ring-mod and the 2nd oscillator, I couldn’t quite get it to sound right. The patch can easily be created in the free PG-8X software synth, which is a tribute to the JX-8P. From the initial setting, set DCO-1’s waveform to the narrow square wave, and set DCO-2’s range to 16’. Set Cross Mod to 3, which sets DCO-2 to be ring-modulated with DCO-1, and then raise the volume of DCO-2 in the mixer section. You may need to lower the VCA level to prevent the sound from clipping on the way out of the synth.
You want to put the synth into unison mode, which will set all of it’s voices to double the same note, effectively making the patch monophonic and much thicker sounding. In PG-8X, you set full unison mode by pressing the Mono button in the key mode section at the top of the interface until it’s yellow. In the VCF section, lower the cutoff frequency to 94 to remove some of the harshness from the high-end, then set the Chorus effect to mode 1 to add some stereo width to the patch.
The bass in IGOR’S THEME also sounds like it was layered with a sub-bass track, to create a thicker low end. I used Ableton Live’s Bass synth (from the Max for Live Essentials) set to double the MIDI notes an octave below the PG-8X bass track. For the sub-bass patch, I used only the sine oscillator, set Sub Tone to 10%, Analog to 50%, turned on Sub Thru, and raised the amp envelope’s sustain to 100%.
The thin synth chords that come in at the same time as Tyler’s verse vocals are also a likely candidate for the JX-8P. The patch uses thin waveforms, filtering of both the treble and bass frequencies, along with the chorus effect to create a patch that can sit at the back of a mix and provide the chords in the background.
To create the patch in PG-8X, use narrow pulse-waves for both DCO’s, and set cross-mod to 2, which will set DCO-2 to be hard-synced and ring-modulated with DCO-1, creating a buzzy sound. Lower the cutoff frequency to 81 and boost resonance to 17, which will help remove some of the high-end from the patch. Also raise the HPF switch to 2, which will remove the bass from the patch, helping it mix nicely with the synth bass. Make sure the sustain is at the maximum setting and turn the chorus effect to mode 2 to finish the patch.
The simple descending organ line that plays at 2:09 has a similar tone to an electric organ, and is an easy patch to program on the Juno/JX synths. From the initial setting in PG-8X, lower the cutoff frequency fader to 61, turn envelope 2’s sustain to maximum, and turn chorus to mode 2. A saturation effect will help bring this simple patch to life!
For the bridge plucks at 2:21, the patch is a low pitched sawtooth waveform with a square-wave two octaves higher. Set DCO-1’s range switch to 2’ and the waveform to square, and leave DCO-2’s settings the same as the initial setting. In the mixer section, set DCO-1 to 54 and DCO-2 to maximum volume. To create the plucking effect, lower the cutoff down to 0 and set the Env fader below it to 80. Now envelope 1 will control the filter, while envelope 2 controls the volume. To create the pluck timing, set envelope 1’s attack to 11, decay to 49, sustain to 74 and release to 75. Leave the chorus off for this patch, for a dry sound.
To create the synth patch used in IGOR’S THEME’s extended synth solo, use a single sawtooth waveform run through the chorus effect on mode 1 as a starting point. We need to add some vibrato, as well as a quick filter attack, both of which are important parts of the lead synth sound on IGOR’S THEME. For the vibrato, raise the LFO fader in the DCO-1 section to 4, and then set the rate in the LFO section to a fast 87. For the filter attack, set the filter cutoff to 0, envelope amount to 10, and then set envelope 1’s attack to 17. Run the patch through some saturation to bring it to life, I used Soundtoys Decapitator for the example.
For the first half of the solo section, the bass is slightly more subdued, which can be achieved by lowering the volume or slightly closing the filter. For the second half, the bass comes to life, being driven through a fuzz pedal to create a heavy bass guitar style sound. Tyler may have run the synth through a fuzz pedal to create this sound, and fuzz is all over IGOR. For the recreation, I used Ableton’s versatile Pedal effect on the fuzz setting.
Putting It All Together
As with I THINK, there isn’t a huge amount of mix-magic happening on IGOR’S THEME, many of the sounds naturally fit together well, and Tyler has built the song around the Attention break in such a way that everything fits nicely around the groove.
The scat sample at the beginning of the bridge section is either sampled from Dâm-Funk’s Scat'in, or Tyler’s using the Omnisphere patch Jazz Stacks Dow Falls. I don’t have Omnisphere so I sampled Scat'in in Ableton Sampler and added some delay and reverb effects. The scat part in the original track also has some creative use of panning, with each note being placed somewhere different in the stereo fields.
You can find all the PG-8X patches created in this article as a free download below. I also have an extended preset pack for PG-8X with all original sounds, which is available as a free download, so be sure to check that out too!
If you want to dig deeper into the sounds of IGOR’S THEME, check out my Patreon page to get access to the MIDI files, multitrack stems, and Ableton Project from this recreation of IGOR’S THEME.