Pink Floyd's “Welcome to the Machine”
By Mitchell Sigman
Fri, 29 Apr 2011

0411_screenshotPerhaps unintentionally, Pink Floyd became one of the great innovators of the use of synths in rock. We dissected the frenetic instrumental “On the Run” from The Dark Side of the Moon way back in the April ’05 issue. This month, we’ll look at the throbbing intro of “Welcome to the Machine” from the album Wish You Were Here. Originally created using an EMS VCS3 synth, I made use of Xils Labs’ cool and quirky PolyKB virtual analog synth, a faithful representation of the extremely rare RSF PolyKobol.

Step 1.We’ll need two sawtooth wave oscillators tuned one octave apart and slightly detuned for fatness, so hit PolyKB’s Detune button. PolyKB’s unusual oscillators allow continuously variable waveforms; I set each waveform knob to between nine and ten o’clock to get standard saw waves. PolyKB also has an odd way of setting oscillator volume: Oscillator 1 has a pair of buttons (I lit up both for maximum volume) and oscillator 2 has a knob (I turned it all the way up).

Step 2. In addition to our grinding saw waves, we want a good deal of white noise in there. On PolyKB, press both White Noise buttons for maximum volume. On any other synth, turn the noise up to the same level as the oscillators.

Step 3. Moving on to the filter, set the cutoff to about 60% open (1,500Hz on PolyKB), and resonance to about 20%—just a little bit of wah.

Step 4. The volume envelope is a straight gate shape: attack at zero, decay at zero, sustain full up, and release at zero.

Step 5. The most important aspect of our sound is a trianglewave LFO slowly modulating the filter’s cutoff frequency. On PolyKB, set the LFO wave to triangle and rate to 9.10 (about 4Hz), dial the LFO1 knob in the Modulations section up to 22%, and click the VCF button to its right once, so that only the red (left) LED is lit. You may need to experiment with rate and depth on other synths.

Step 6.Now add a big, lo-fi spring reverb. I used the “LoFi Amp Middle B” setting in Apple Logic’s convolution plug-in, Space Designer.

So, welcome to the PolyKB machine. Try not to scare the neighbors with that big bass!

04-2011 Steal This Sound: Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" by KeyboardMag
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