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The 40 greatest synth sounds of all time, No 34: Herbie Hancock - Rockit

Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock’s Rockit fused elements of synthesised electronic music, sampling and live percussion, alongside hip-hop influences, to create a truly fresh sound for the time.

Produced by Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn (also then known as Material), Rockit was based on a simple backbeat from the then-new Oberheim DMX drum machine, accompanied by a Fairlight CMI-sampled Led Zeppelin guitar stab and the main lead line, which was played by Hancock using a Rhodes Chroma synth. 

The finishing touches were the live percussion, and scratches laid down by New York DJ Grand Mixer DXT.

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Rockit was a big hit, winning a Grammy Award in 1983 as well as five MTV Video Music awards.

The haunting melody from the intro was made using the Roland System 700, with the sound having a thin, crushed tone that borders on the futuristic. We’ll be creating our own spin on this sound using ThornCM, included with every issue of Computer Music.

Herbie Hancock Synth Sounds

(Image credit: AudioThing)

Step 1: The Rhodes Chroma on the original sound had up to 16 voices, so we’ll increase ThornCM’s maximum voices to 16. Choose a sawtooth waveform for Osc 1. Increase the Unison amount to 8, then Detune the voices against each other by 14, creating a bigger-sounding tone.

Herbie Hancock Synth Sounds

(Image credit: AudioThing)

Step 2: We’ll use Osc 2 to add extra depth. Switch it on, then choose the Pulse 01 waveform. As with the first osc, increase the Unison amount to 8, with the Detuning set to 10; you’ll hear the sound take on a richer, rounder tone. Raise the Amp Env Attack to 10% to round it off.

Herbie Hancock Synth Sounds

(Image credit: AudioThing)

Step 3: Low-pass filtering takes the shrill edge off, so switch on the Fat LP12 filter, and reduce Cutoff to 10kHz. Increase the Filter Res to 10% to make the sound a little more ringy, then increase the Drive amount to around 5dB to make up the gain reduction from applying the filter.

Herbie Hancock Synth Sounds

(Image credit: AudioThing)

Step 4: Create a panned slap delay. Duplicate the synth channel, then pan the original left, with the duplicate panned an opposing amount right. Load HY-FX CM on the duplicate channel, and select Simple Delay. Set time to 60ms, with the Wet/Dry mix on full. Lower the delay channel.

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