If you’re a regular “Steal This Sound” reader, you know that we’ve covered Mr. Dolby’s imaginative synth programming before—there’s
lots of great stuff there! This month, we’ll break down the beautiful chord pulses of “Cloudburst at Shingle Street” from his first full-length
album, The Golden Age of Wireless. We’ll use Native Instruments Massive, but other synths will work as long they include some “digital-sounding”
Step 1. Start with two oscillators an octave apart and detune
them about 15 cents for chorusing. I used the “Additiv 1” wave for both
oscillators to replicate the original track’s PPG digital synth. Set both
oscillators at equal volume.
Step 2. Using a lowpass filter, set the cutoff frequency at about
50%, then route an envelope to control the cutoff. Do this in Massive
by dragging the “1Env” icon to one of the empty squares beneath the
Cutoff knob. Set the modulation amount by command-clicking then
dragging—you’ll see a blue band around the Cutoff knob’s circumference.
Drag this band so it spans from 12 o’clock to about three o’clock.
Turn the resonance up to around 20%.
Step 3. Click the icon for envelope 1 (“1Env”), used to control
filter cutoff frequency. Set attack to zero, decay and level at 50%, and
release at 60%.
Step 4. Click the icon for envelope 4 (“4Env”), used to control
amplitude. Set attack to zero, decay and level at 40%, and release at 50%.
Step 5. Add effects. I used a fair amount of Massive’s “Chorus
Ensemble” followed by “Delay Synced.” Set the delay very wet, with a
lot of feedback—about a dozen audible repeats. Delay time should be
eighth-notes at about 143 bpm (around 210ms).
Step 6. Add a channel strip EQ in your DAW. This may or may
not be needed, but Massive’s “Additiv 1” oscillator wave needed more
piano-like resonance, so I boosted 5dB at 164Hz, and brightened it
with a high shelf of 10dB at 3,750Hz.
That should get you pretty close. Try different single-cycle digital waves
for different tones—that and the long, pulsing delay will inspire your
own tunes in no time!
Web Extra: Audio Examples and Programming Notes
02-2011 5 Ways To Play Like Thomas Dolby by KeyboardMag
cloudburst_all.mp3: here's a little demo of the complete patch playing the whole intro (which was a real pain to figure out by ear!). I added an Arturia Prophet-V playing the baseline.
cloudburst_one_osc.mp: this is oscillator one only using the "Additiv1" waveform.
cloudburst_two_osc.mp3: here we add a second oscillator also using the "Additiv1" waveform, but tuned up one octave and 15 cents.
cloudburst_filter.mp3: here I've enabled the filter. I'm just using one of Massive's two filters (set the "ser/par" slider all the way up for serial), set to "Lowpass4", a standard 24 db/oct slope.
cloudburst_amp.mp3: set the amp envelope for a quick plucked envelope by clicking "4 Env" and set as explained in magazine text. If you look at the "AMP" block at the top right of Massive, you'll see a little number 4 next to the pan knob. This indicates the envelope 4 is modulating the amplitude- this is a default modulation setting in Massive.
cloudburst_fx.mp3: I set the FX1 tab to "ChorusEnsemble", and the FX2 tab to "DelaySynced". Both left and right delay times are set to 1/8th notes. Song tempo is roughly 143 bpm, which equates to about 210ms of delay.