Lorde + Son Lux: Drum Weapons Of Choice

Lorde + Son Lux: Drum Weapons Of Choice

By James Thompson  |  12.09.2014

Lorde + Son Lux + The Conservatoire Collection + Samulnori Percussion

Not a combination that I’d have predicted might work musically, or even one that I could ever have conceived of.

But I guess that’s the world we live in today. Where any old maverick NY-based producer can collaborate with a crazy kiwi siren using nothing more than some early-renaissance skin drums and a Korean percussion ensemble.

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Ryan Lott / Son Lux emailed me with a niggly NI Service Center issue which we won’t go into here. I googled him, and found the Lorde track, Easy (Switch Screens)

It caught my ear because of its stripped down, angular yet tribal beat. I said to Ryan I liked it, and he told me it was done with Soniccouture’s Conservatoire Collection and Samulnori Perucssion kontakt instruments.

Ryan says: ” Lorde tracked her vocals over the instrumental of the original version of the song Easy, which is on my record Lanterns. Then I adapted the song in response, and I knew it needed to be meaner. Her attitude on it was incredible. She did almost all her own vocal production, creating double and triple layers that were pitched-down and crazy-sounding. I was so inspired by it, I did most of the new version in a single sitting in the tour van between Berlin and Köln back in January. It was actually between the first and second shows ever (I didn’t have a band until recently)! I love the dusty, primitive and simple quality of the percussion in the Conservatoire Collection, so I started there. Those sounds have a lot in common sonically with the skins in the Samulnori stuff. I hacked into Kontakt and messed a bit with the tuning of the individual drums get the right tonal quality. On one of the drums, I did some extreme pitch manipulation to double the sub kick in special moments.”

Hear it here :

Available as a single track on itunes

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Meet The Rabid Goats; Univox and Solovox

Meet The Rabid Goats; Univox and Solovox

By James Thompson  |  13.04.2014

Of all the instruments featured in The Attic, the Jennings Univox and the Hammond Solovox are by far the oldest and strangest.

Belonging to the same family as the seemingly better known Clavioline, the Univox ( and indeed Solovox), are designed to play what we would refer to today as ‘lead lines’ through an amplified speaker. Each of the units features some kind of real-time control,

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Of all the instruments featured in The Attic, the Jennings Univox and the Hammond Solovox are by far the oldest and strangest.

Belonging to the same family as the seemingly better known Clavioline, the Univox ( and indeed Solovox), are designed to play what we would refer to today as ‘lead lines’ through an amplified speaker. Each of the units features some kind of real-time control, in the form of a lever that can be controlled by the knee whilst playing the keyboard. In this manner, volume shaping and expression is added.

As I mentioned, it seems as though the three units may be inter-changable from a historical perspective. Although it is commonly held (by Wikipedia, for one), that famous records such as Del Shannon’s Runaway and Joe Meeks Telstar both feature the Clavioline, it is equally possible to find sources online that claim they were performed on the Univox or Solovox (although rarely the latter, it must be said). The fact that the three all look very similar makes it even harder to divine the truth. It seems as though each was simply the local version of a relatively common instrument of the time, that is : Solovox for USA/ Canada, Clavioline for France / Europe, and the Univox in the UK. All were produced from the late 1940s until mid to late 1950s.

Sampling Univox

I personally only have direct experience of the Univox – The Hammond Solovox sampled for The Attic project was sourced and recorded by Dan in Soniccouture Canada (They are reasonably common there, having been manufactured in Canada by the Northern Electric Company under license from Hammond). Working with the Univox confirmed what Adrian had told me – ‘it sounds like a rabid goat’. I had brieflywondered what could have prompted him to such an similie; until i switched it on, that is. It has an incredibly raw oscillator sound, the cabinet giving it its vicious edge, I assume.


univox-recording1-624x416There’s no way of knowing for sure, because there’s no line output. Although Adrian’s Univox was in pretty good working order, it seemed, on closer inspection, that many of the switches did very little, if anything at all, to alter the sound. For this reason, we decided to have the unit serviced, to see how much of it could be brought back to good order. Ben Rossborough, of Vintagesynths.co.uk took on the job, improving the response of many of the switches. The switches largely act as filters more than extra oscillator sources – they modify the timbre of the instrument in a fairly subtle way that seems at odds with the brash, unruly sound that tears out of the speaker. He was unable to add a line output, however – as an all-valve unit, he said that this was too dangerous to attempt – these units pre-dating any electrical safety regulations.

I took the Univox to Lodge Studios, Surrey for sampling – a local studio that has a very nice collection of mics with which to crowd the cabinet. When investigating the refurbished Univox at length in my own studio, it was clear that only 6 switches had any noticeable influence on the sound, so each of these settings were sampled with 3 round-robin passes each; the organic, fluctuating nature of the oscillator feeding into the cabinet warranted some variation in the samples. The vibrato switches would be modelled in Kontakt for more flexibility. During sampling one of the very loose keys completed lost its attachment, and kept triggering when it dropped. This was propped open with a wedge of paper.

Hammond Solovox

solovox-lgThe Solovox was a late addition to The Attic, which was originally going to be 9 instruments, not 10. But deep in the frozen colonial outpost of Canada, Dan was offered a curiosity by the name of a Hammond Solovox. We has been unaware of these instruments, but it soon transpired that it was, as i mentioned earlier in this piece, the transatlantic equivalent of the Jennings Univox that we had already recreated as a kontakt instrument. It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, since in the true spirit of The Attic, the Solovox could be acquired for only a few hundred dollars.

The Solovox is much less portable than the Univox – the speaker cabinet is larger, and made of solid wood. A fearsome array of valves (‘tubes’) are exposed on the back panel, as well as some WWII grade wiring.


The Solovox switches seem to vary more in function than on our Univox – here is a rundown of the switches and their functions :

  • BASS, TENOR, ALTO, SOPRANO These are the four main oscillators, which are basically the same waveform, but just in different octave registers.
  • MUTE Mute emphasizes odd harmonics over even harmonics, changing the timbre a little bit.
  • ATTACK Adjusts the speed of the attack, fast or slow.
  • VIBRATO Turns on or off vibrato. Vibrato still slightly audible when off.
  • DEEP, FIRST, SECOND, and BRILLIANT These are what Hammond calls the formant controls, essentially resonant filters in various bands. When the button is ON that band is enabled.

The Solovox has a much more ‘organ-like’ character than the Univox, the switches functioning more like traditional stops. Within The Attic collection of instruments it provides an interesting halfway point between the synths and the Philicorda transitor organ, with a much more aggressive tone than the latter.

Solovox speaker

Solovox speaker


Univox and Solovox are available as part of a collection of 10 analogue instruments for Kontakt Player as part of The Attic collection

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C418: Minecraft and the Mbira

C418: Minecraft and the Mbira

By James Thompson  |  11.09.2013

Recently, the sound of our Array Mbira instrument caught my ear. I had followed a link from Twitter to the Bandcamp page of C418, otherwise known as Daniel Rosenfeld. Playing one of Daniels tracks, Surface Pension, I loved the strong, individual use of the Mbira in the intro.

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And the way the Mbira drops in on Certitudes is fantastic :

In fact, listening to the tracks it seemed as though Array Mbira is one of the signature sounds of Minecraft, which is fantastic. So I read a little background on him, and was intrigued to discover that he had got his break writing music for a computer game when he was only 20 years old. Now he has thousands of followers and fans of his characterful, whimsical music.

Array mbira


So, I got in touch with Daniel to ask him how he got started in music..

I started out making music for myself and sharing whatever I created with close friends. Markus Persson, the original creator of Minecraft was one of those friends. When he asked me to create music for his game, Minecraft was merely a tech demo that had nothing but a flat surface you could place blocks upon. As I kinda had nothing better to do, I agreed on helping him out creating music, and sound. So essentially I created every song and almost every little sound effect heard in the game. And I still do, actually. Turns out the game is really popular and sells super well.

Where did you first hear about the Array Mbira virtual instrument?

I kinda learned about Soniccouture in general after I was allowed to play a pan drum for a short while. And there was really nothing about actual hangs in the sampling market, except for Soniccoutures library. I still use the hang library a lot. Mostly in the background as a kind of flavor to the overall sound.

After playing around with the pan library, I got into more and more of the instruments Soniccouture makes, and they’re really brilliant unique stuff. I absolutely love it so so much, haha. Like, the bowed piano, gamelan, music box and the crazy speak and spell library. I pretty much use a little bit of everything in all of my productions.

Oh, and Geosonics is gonna be super useful for some future Minecraft music, and I will use it a lot there.

Would you say Array Mbira is one of the signature sounds of Minecraft ? Could you point us at some of your favourite Array Mbira tracks?

I used the Array Mbira library very prominently for the soundtrack to the documentary about Minecraft. Something about the quality of the instrument kind of made me want to stretch its soundscape over the entire thing. Maybe to make it feel connected, of sorts. So no, I don’t use the Mbira as part of my individual sound, but it sounded so good to me that I decided to write an entire 90 minute soundtrack having it as a backing instrument.

…I think the stuff you make really makes my life easier, since I love to write unique music.

Another track which prominently features the mbira :
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Guy Sigsworths Magic Loop: Producing Alison Moyet

Guy Sigsworths Magic Loop: Producing Alison Moyet

By Soniccouture  |  05.07.2013

A few years ago (checks email : 2010, in fact), Madonna/Bjørk/Frou Frou/everyone producer Guy Sigsworth got in touch to tell us how useful he finds a certain loop from our Tremors collection :

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From: Guy Sigsworth <guysigsworth@notgivinghisemailaway.com>

Date: Sun, 19 Sep 2010 18:54:38 +0100
To: james thompson <jim@sc.com>
Subject: Hi from Guy

Hey James. I’m sure you’ll remember this loop from your “Tremors”
collection: 140-shambiling-hats

I put it into a track I was writing. Then I played it to Alison Moyet, and now it’s in one of her songs; then I played it to a new artist, Cass Lowe, and it’s in one of his songs too. It’s going viral!

So funny. It sounds so simple – like it’s just filtered white noise – but it’s got this peculiar character. I guess it’s really easy to fit behind just about anything and get an instant feeling of atmosphere. It’s like the modern, digital version of stylus surface noise. I may start trying to program my own versions of it, just for variety’s sake.

Well, as you may know, the album, The Minutes was recently released on Cooking Vinyl, and it was great to finally hear the track in question, Remind Yourself :

Guy also tells us that the harpsichord type sound in the song intro is in fact Soniccouture’s Plucked Piano instrument from Xtended Piano :

“It’s the thing most people think is a harpsichord, playing right across the song. It’s most audible above the fray towards the end of the track. Actually, the French harpsichord gets used quite a lot – often in places where people might not realise. It’s doubling all the big synth riffs in “Apple Kisses”, for instance. I often use Pianoteq’s harpsichords too, but they only do a single stop sound. If I want that big sound, of the 8′ and 4′ coupled together, the SC French harpsichord is the one. It’s huge.”

Guy is a long time Soniccouture user and supporter – in fact he was one of the people who first suggested we create an Ondes Martenot instrument, which we eventually did. He told us :

“I REALLY LIKE the SC instrument libraries because:

1. They’re really interesting, unusual colours. You keep finding exotic instruments and unfamiliar timbres which have been largely overlooked by other sample library makers.

2. You put them together into sensible, practical programmes; so you can just sit and compose with them; at a keyboard, and in C major if necessary. Obviously there’s a place for great atonal noise collections too. But when I buy an SC instrument, I’m not worried it won’t be able to adapt to play something tonal, melodic or chordal in an existing song arrangement, if that’s what I need it to do. Of course it’s more fun to compose something new, specifically for the SC sounds. But sometimes it has to fit into an existing project. And that’s never a problem.

2. They’re in tune. Nothing makes me more angry than buying an expensive sample library only to discover it’s going to sound terrible if you MIDI it up with, say, an FM8 playing at A440 in equal temperament. I never understand library makers who excuse bad intonation or a non-440 pitch centre on the basis that it’s more “real” or “vibey”. It’s really easy to make a 440 ET instrument play at 415 in Pythagorean using the Kontakt factory scripts. It’s a nightmare trying to do this in reverse, especially when you’re on a deadline to finish a song.

3. They’re reasonably consistent across the instrument. I don’t expect a sample collection to have the unwavering timbral uniformity of a digital synth. But it’s also annoying to find, say, all the middle c samples sounding kind of dead and broken. I’ve never had to adjust the key splits on any SC instrument. I can’t say that for other libraries I’ve bought.

By the way. I LOVE your Kontakt script collection. On “A Place To Stay” there’s an organ sample being detuned using that script of yours (can’t remember the name) that does Penderecki-style slow glissandos. I think you should make another script collection!”

And the magic noise loop ? It lives on :

” I’ve used that Tremors top loop again on a piece for Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir which is coming out this month. It’s only in the quiet bits. You can hear it clearly in the long form version, but it’s largely left out of the “radio edit” I’m afraid. It’ll be on the internet soon.”

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The Music and Sound Design of Breaking Bad – Dave Porter interview

The Music and Sound Design of Breaking Bad – Dave Porter interview

By Soniccouture  |  22.02.2013

Breaking Bad is one of the most acclaimed TV drama of recent years – Dan (a massive BB geek) spotted our Balinese Gamelan instruments in the soundtrack, and caught up with composer Dave Porter for a chat ..

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Breaking Bad - DanCongratulations on being a part of what is probably one of the best TV dramas we’ve ever seen. It must be wonderful to be part of such a strong team. Can you take us through a typical episode’s production process? How long does it take?

Thank you very much – I’m glad that you’re enjoying it. I am fortunate to get to work with such an amazingly talented group of people. In terms of our production process, we usually mix a show every week. I get the episode roughly two weeks before that, so I’m working on two at a time. The cycle starts with a spotting meeting in the editing room, which generally includes Vince Gilligan (creator and executive producer), the writer(s) of the episode, the picture editor, our sound and dialogue team, our post-production supervisor, our music supervisor, our music editor, and me. We painstakingly go through the entire episode, which is usually complete at that point, and talk about the sound and music for every scene. We discuss where music should be, and equally importantly, where it should not. And if there is going to be music, what it should achieve and whether it should be score or source. To me, this meeting is the most important step in the process.

After that, I spend a few days writing cues in my studio. I deliver them to Vince as QuickTime movies, and he gives me feedback. I spend a day or so polishing things up and then it’s time to repeat the cycle with the next spotting session. While writing for the next episode, I’ll also be mixing each of my cues from the previous one again from the ground up to prepare them for the mix stage. In addition, I always attend the final mix playback for each episode.

You obviously use a lot of unusual sounds in Breaking Bad. Are you making a deliberate effort to avoid scoring for traditional instruments?

Yes. Although I am classically trained, I knew from my first viewing of the pilot episode that a traditional score would be the wrong choice for Breaking Bad. Nothing about the show is expected, and I felt that the score needed to reflect that. There have been only a handful of times that I’ve incorporated a traditional western orchestral instrument, and when I have, it’s been processed into something quite different.

We noticed the Soniccouture Balinese Gamelan in Breaking Bad season 4. Are there any other Soniccouture instruments you’ve used?

Yes, since the beginning I’ve employed a lot of Asian instruments as a backdrop for Walt, because it seems so unexpected and out of place in Albuquerque. (And Walt, of course, is usually way out of his comfort zone.) I’ve also used the Soniccouture Omnichord samples and DDR Toy Piano. And since I’m always looking for new and interesting ways of performing the show’s theme for the end credits each week, I’ve been eyeing the Ondes Martenot instrument… maybe in season 5!

Balinese Gamelan

There’s a certain vagueness to the Breaking Bad scores that seems to blur the line between music and sound design. We assume this is intentional. What kind of sounds are you drawn to?

It is definitely intentional. The score grows organically out of the natural sound, and vice versa, to create a seamless audio backdrop. To this end I often request snippets from the production sound (such as clocks, locusts, and lab equipment noises) to use as fodder for sound design that I include in my scores. I also create my own samples using audio I capture with a small field recorder.

The only music that seems to stay the same each episode is that short Dobro sting under the title. Did you play that yourself?

I write a new score for the end credits each week, so yes, the show’s opening theme is the only constant. While I sketched out the original resonator guitar part using samples, the final version was performed by a professional guitarist because I’m a pretty poor player. It’s something I’m working on though!

While you obviously use a lot of samplers and technology to create sounds; is there some amount of the soundtrack that is acoustic? If so, about how often do you go acoustic? What kind of instruments? And do you process the acoustic instruments as well?

A lot of the score for Breaking Bad begins its life as “acoustic” in the sense that it was recorded with a microphone, but absolutely everything that gets recorded for the show is later processed. And when I do use something from a sample library, it usually gets treated, too. I try to record as many live performances as our budget and timeframe allow, which includes recording sessions that I do during the off-season to build up my arsenal of ideas. For example, prior to last season I recorded an expert on early winds and reeds that I knew would come in handy, as well as an amazing Quena (Andean flute) player that I felt would be useful for Gus. I also record myself a lot—whether I’m simply banging on kitchen or garden tools or playing one of the instruments that I own. For example, the instrument that always accompanies Walt when he dons his “Heisenberg” hat is a Japanese koto, which I play, record, and then process. I also have large libraries of recordings of my vintage synthesizers… I spend‘spare’ time tweaking and programming them while the DAW records everything, and then I extract the best bits for later use. By the time I am mixing a cue I’ve printed everything— even software synths— because I’m likely to end up processing it anyhow and I never want to get caught going back to a session from a few years back and realizing that some softsynth that is now in version 7 doesn’t remember a patch from version 2.

Do you have a musical education, or are you self taught?

I started classical piano at age 5, and I studied composition and orchestration at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. My knowledge of synthesizers and recording techniques is largely self-taught, although I was fortunate to study under composers who were forward thinking and open to incorporating those kinds of tools.

Can you give us a geeky list of some of your favourite bits of technology (hardware or software) ?

I use a mix of old and new hardware and software. While I sometimes use software synthesizers, the vast majority is still hardware because I find they sound better and they’re more inspiring creatively. On the flip side, I use software extensively for samples and all manner of digital processing, because nothing can match it for power and creative options. On the software side I spend a lot of time with Kontakt, and have a small army of plug-ins for distortion, bit-crushing, and compression. In terms of hardware outboard I still use a Lexicon PCM-42 delay— mine has been modified with a reverse switch and extra delay time—and I’ve got a great old Korg gated spring reverb. My synthesizer collection has gotten quite large. Some favorites that have seen action recently on Breaking Bad include my ARP 2600, Oberheim Matrix-12 and Ob-Mx, Roland MKS-80, Sequential Prophet VS, and a Voyetra-8.

Is Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad’s creator, writer, director) heavily involved in the soundtrack production process? Does he have strong opinions about what kind of music is used ?

Vince is involved in every aspect of the show, including the music. While he isn’t likely to make specific musical recommendations, he is keenly aware of what works and what doesn’t, and always has his eyes on the big picture. He listens to and incorporates everyone’s ideas, and when it comes time to make the tough decisions, he is decisive. Honestly, some of the toughest music related decisions on Breaking Bad come down to a great piece of score or source versus no music at all… because the scripts and performances in the show are already so strong.

In season 2, there’s a Spanish song that refers to “Heisenberg”. Were you involved in the writing and/or production of that song ? (It’s a brilliant band, btw, but we don’t speak Spanish.)

That’s “Negro Y Azul: The Ballad of Heisenberg.” This was an instance where nothing would do but an authentic band that was devoted to the art of creating Narcocorrido, which are Mexican drug ballads. (These are real and controversial songs that are often commissioned by drug lords to celebrate their success.) Our music supervisor, Thomas Golubic, found the band (Los Cuates De Sinaloa) and oversaw them as they wrote the song based on lyrics written (in English) by Vince Gilligan. I got to sit back and enjoy that one from the back of the room!

I do, however, enjoy the occasional departure from my usual score duties. I got to write a humorous thrash-metal track for Jesse’s fictional band, I’ve scored a number of Saul’s hilarious tv commercials, written music for video games which appear in the show, and even created some of the cell phone rings, including the memorable one that is used as Hank’s ringtone for when Marie is calling in episode 306 “Sunset.” I love these challenges, because unlike the score—which has a macro focus—these moments are often plot devices written into the script that have an immediate effect.

Is it slightly confusing to work on a show where the characters are so complex? It seems there’s no good guys or bad guys.

That is definitely the most challenging aspect of scoring the show. I work hard not to let the music lean too obviously toward either heroic or villainous, as there is no such thing on Breaking Bad.

There’s an interesting aspect to Walt’s character development through the 4 seasons we’ve seen so far. In the beginning we sympathize with Walt, but as the series progresses his character seems to turn (as the show’s title suggests). Is this evolution of his character something you can portray with the music? Is Walt becoming the bad guy?

Walt’s journey and descent is the spine of the show. Over the course of several seasons he has gone places that seemed unimaginable at the outset. What is most fascinating to me, and I try to always remember as I’m writing the score, is that how far one is willing to sympathize with Walt reflects entirely back on the viewer. There are people who were horrified by his behavior in the very first season. There are others who will defend him no matter what he does. In this way, Breaking Bad demands that you notice your own reaction to the story you are witnessing. And to me, musically speaking, that means that I will never highlight one specific moment as a “Breaking Bad” moment… because it’s been a gradual evolution (or devolution) over the course of the series, and everyone’s perception of the tipping point is different. One example is the moment in season 4 when Walt is in the airport parking lot after the demise of Gus. On another show, that would have been a classic musical moment… but ultimately, we went entirely without music and just had him listening to the news on the radio… because any music that you put in that moment would tilt the audience’s reaction one way or another, and Vince very much wanted it to be ambiguous. After all, you could easily argue that the lesser man had just won.

On the other hand, Jesse’s character remains slightly innocent, we always kind of feel for him. How does that influence the music used in his scenes?

I think it is fair to say that Jesse is the moral center of the show, or as close to one that Breaking Bad is going to have. To that end, yes, there is always a touch more warmth when I’m writing for Jesse, and musically his evolution has been a few steps behind Walt’s. Jesse certainly had made many poor decisions, but he is also the victim of some dreadful ones made by Walt. I’m excited to see where they will all end up at the show’s conclusion!

For more info, visit Dave’s Facebook page :


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