Though Thomas Dolby’s 1982 smash
“She Blinded Me With Science” was a
synth tour de force, those who dug deeper
into Dolby’s album The Golden Age of
Wireless discovered darker and more serious
work, floating in dreamy analog synthscapes,
electronic drum thwacks, and
percussive, harmonically-rich digital synth
punctuation. Dolby’s use of German PPG
synths remains an inspiring example of the
uniquely hard, grungy sound of these early
digital monsters. Though PPG was best
known for the Wave 2.2 and 2.3 models,
Dolby used an earlier PPG 340 Wave Computer
and 380 Event Generator. This was a
rare and finicky keyboard/rack/computer
setup originally designed for space-rockers
Tangerine Dream. Not only did it incorporate
PPG’s distinctive digital wavetable synthesis,
but the Event Generator was a digital
sequencer that Dolby used to trigger drums.
Here we’ll use Waldorf’s PPG Wave 2.V
plug-in to replicate the digital bass patch
made famous in the song “Windpower.” If
you don’t have Wave 2.V, you can experiment
with other wavetable-style soft synths,
or get Wave 2.V as part of the Waldorf Edition
package — it streets for a very affordable
$100 these days.
1. The most important factor is selecting
the correct wavetable. On PPG synths
as well as most Waldorf instruments, a
wavetable contains 63 waves. You can
play just one wave, or use envelopes or
LFOs to sweep through the wavetable,
creating the PPG’s trademark timbral
motion. Wavetables are selected in
Wave 2.V by clicking the Digi button on
the right; I chose wavetable 13 for its
2. Next we’ll set the filter. This patch uses
filter modulation from Envelope 1 to
make the sound start bright and quickly
get darker. Turn the cutoff and emphasis
knobs down to about 4. Beneath the
filter, turn the Env1 VCF knob to 37 —
this lets Envelope 1 affect the filter cutoff.
Now set ADSR Envelope 1’s attack
to zero, decay to 30, sustain to 16, and
release to about 19. (Hovering over
knobs shows control values on the faux
3. ADSR Envelope 2 controls volume. Set
its controls the same as ADSR 1, and
dial the Env2 VCA knob in the Modifiers
Control section all the way up. This
affects how much influence the
envelope has on volume.
4. Though Wave 2.V isn’t a multi-oscillator
synth in the traditional sense, you select
a main wave and a secondary wave
from the master wavetable using the
Osc and Sub Waves knobs in the
Modifiers section. I set the Osc waves
to zero (the first wave in the table) and
the Sub wave to 48. Experiment with
these for lots of timbral flavors!
5. Now to match the “Windpower”
tremolo. I used some LFO modulation
routed to the filter. Enable filter mod
routing by clicking the Mod button on
the right, and set Mod>Filter to on.
Click Mod again to get back. In the Low
Freq Osc section on the left, set Delay
at zero, Waveshape to triangle, and
Rate at 16. Now turn the mod wheel at
the left of the keyboard up to 14.
6. Now for the signature sound. In the
Modifiers Control section, set the Env1
Waves knob to 21. This makes
Envelope 1 sweep through the waves
in the wavetable, beginning at the wave
7. For a little widening, insert a quick
stereo delay on the PPG’s instrument
channel in your DAW.
Here are some notes on the Thomas Dolby "Windpower" patch I created with the Waldorf PPG Wave 2.V virtual instrument. You can get this either in the Waldorf Edition package, or with Novation's Excite Pack that comes with most of their controllers these days (and also includes the D-Pole Filter and Attack drum synth).
"wave.mp3"- This is the raw sound of the wavetable with the filter wide open. Specifically, it's wavetable 13 (selected by clicking the white DIGI button and scrolling through the wavetables), then selecting osc wave 5 and SUB wave 38 in the MODIFIERS section.
"wave_filt.mp3"- This is with the filter engaged. I have envelope one controlling the cutoff frequency for bright attack that quickly grows darker.
"wave_filtswp.mp3"- I turned up the ENV1 WAVES knob in the MODIFIERS CONTROL section a bit to sweep the waves in the wavetable for some timbral change. I'm using it pretty subtly, but you can really get crazy with it when cranked up.
"wave_filtswp_trem.mp3" Here I've applied LFO modulation to the filter to recreated the pulsing effect. Enable this by clicking the white MOD button and setting MOD>FILTER to on. You'll need to turn up the mod wheel a bit hear the effect. Speed is adjusted from the "front panel" with the RATE knob in the LOW FREQ OSCILLATOR section.
"wave_filtswp_trem_del.mp3" I inserted a Sample Delay plug into the channel in Logic for stereoization. This a mono>stereo effect that lets you set the delay length in samples for each side (i.e. short delays) I have it set to about 1100 samples on one side and 1500 on the other. You could also use a chorus if you like, but I frequently use delays like this because they don't mess with the pitch of a sound.
"windpower_01.aupreset" This is the preset for Waldorf Wave 2.V, usable for the Mac AU version. Click here for my mirror directory, from which you can download it. The path is Library>Audio>Presets>Waldorf>Wave 2.V
That’s it. Switch off the mind and let the
Mitchell Sigman/Keyboard Magazine