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 (opens in new tab) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (opens in new tab) on the duplicate channel, and select Simple Delay. Set time to 60ms, with the Wet/Dry mix on full. Lower the delay channel.