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 bright tonality.
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 LCD screen.)
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 we’d selected.
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 PPG decide!
Mitchell Sigman/Keyboard Magazine