Michael Jacksons “Beat It” Gong

October 1, 2009
1009 Do It Sof Synths

[Click above for larger image.]

Continuing last month’s tribute to Michael Jackson, let’s recreate the instantly recognizable intro of “Beat It.” Back in ’82, Michael and producer Quincy Jones employed a dream team of keyboardists and synth programmers, including heavyweights Greg Phillinganes, Steve Porcaro (of Toto fame), and Michael Boddicker, who wrote last month that this was originally a factory demo sound, played by Tom Bähler, from a Synclavier. In addition to high-resolution sampling, the Synclavier had powerful additive and FM digital synthesis, plus multitrack sequencing. Fully-loaded systems could cost upwards of $200,000.

Not having a vintage Synclavier around, I let Waldorf Largo (reviewed last month) provide the metallic mayhem. You could also try other “digital-sounding” virtual synths such as the Prophet-VS mode of Arturia Prophet V, PPG Wave 2.V (part of Waldorf Edition, reviewed Dec. ’07), or Image-Line Ogun (reviewed Mar. ’09).

1. Start with an initialized patch. In Largo, just click the Edit button above the patch name and select “Init Program.”

2. Select an appropriate basic waveform. This is trial-and-error — you want it bright and rich, yet not too heavy on atonal high harmonics (check out my web audio examples for help). I chose the “Fuzz Wave” wavetable in Largo.

3. Largo’s PPG-style wavetable synthesis lets you sweep through waveforms, either manually or using a mod source, for tonal variation. I manually honed in on a variation by setting the wave number in the top corner of the wave form display to 60.

4. I selected the “Chorus 2” wavetable on oscillator 2, tuned one octave higher (with wave number 44), and used envelope 3 to modulate the wave number for timbral motion. Configure the mod routing by clicking the pop-up menu next to the word “Wave,” select “Env3,” and slide the slider up to a value of 50 — Largo displays parameters and associated values at the top of the window as you mouse over them. Click the Envelopes button and set Env3’s attack to 89, decay to 0, and sustain and release full up.

5. Experiment with the oscillator volumes in the mixer section; oscillator 1 gives more fundamental and oscillator 2 will give more movement and high end.

6. I decided to forgo filtering, but discovered that Largo’s filter drive still affects the sound, so crank that guy up to around 51. Bypass the actual filtering by pressing the round “power switch” at the left of the Filter section.

7. In the Envelopes section, set the amp envelope’s attack to 0, decay to 85, sustain to 28, and release to 100.

8. It’s still pretty bland — time for the mojo! Click the Common button. Set Unisono [sic.] to 6, detune to 18, and spread full up. Now we’re triggering six stereo detuned voices with every note. Yeah!

9. I used Largo’s high shelf EQ to kick up the high end a touch, and added some channel bus reverb using Audio Damage’s monster new reverb plug-in, EOS.

Now play the familiar note sequence: | G, G, E, E | G, G, D, D | in octaves, and you’ll be showin’ ’em how funky and strong is your fight!

Web Extra: Audio Examples

Here's some notes on this month's "Beat It" patch. Click the file names for audio.

osc_1_raw.mp3: This is just the simple "Fuzz Wave" wave playing from oscillator one with no effects.

: This is the "Chorus" wave from oscillator two. You can hear the wavetable sweep as a result of the Env3 mod routing.

unisono.mp3: This is both oscillators with the Unisono set to six voices in the Common section. This stacks things up and makes it big and stereo-ized.

full_intro.mp3: The entire complete patch with reverb.

If you're lucky enough to have Waldorf's Largo virtual synth, you can load the "Beat It" patch. Simply click on the File menu above the patch name display in Largo, and click "Load Program" (why can't they all be this easy?) Click here for my mirror site with the patch download!

Enjoy, and drop me a line of you have any questions!

Mitchell Sigman



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