Just as there are classic guitar tones, certain synth sounds have passed into the public consciousness. MusicRadar celebrates some of the best-known synth moments in music history and reveals the tools and methods that were used to create them. You may not like some of these sounds, but you´ll almost certainly recognise them…
Pink Floyd - On the Run
All sequencing burbles and musique concrète, this synth workout is credited to the EMS VCS 3 on the liner notes for The Dark Side of the Moon, but it was actually made with the nearly identical Synthi AKS. The VCS 3 has no sequencer, y´see.
Aphex Twin - Windowlicker
It´s the worst kept secret in underground music. By now you probably know that a spectrographic analysis of the second of Windowlicker´s three tracks will reveal a portrait of Richard James himself! Indeed, the terrifically unmusical sound in question was created using U&I´s marvellous Metasynth.
Van Halen - Jump
It may have shocked and dismayed metal fans, but Eddie Van Halen´s instantly recognisable brassy, ballsy synth intro sent the band straight into the mainstream pop charts. It´s well known that it was played on Oberheim´s pricey OBXa.
How can a series of indecipherable electronic bleeps and belches say so much? Sound effects man Ben Burtt initially used a combination of ARP 2600 and his own voice to generate the lovable droid´s squeaks and squawks. In the later movies, a Kyma was brought in to recreate the classic sound for the modern age.
Daft Punk - Around the World
Is there a sound that defines Daft Punk? Well, vocoders, to be sure, along with, according to the band, every analogue synthesizer ever made. More specifically, they´re big fans of the Roland Juno 106, the ARP Odyssey and more than a few Minimoogs. Oh, and lots of compression.
Jazzy Jeff - Summertime
You know the riff: sliding, gliding analogue that soars ever higher and higher - the perfect sound to describe a hot, lazy summer´s day. So how did they do it? Well, they didn´t, actually. The sound was lifted from another balmy classic, Summer Madness by Kool and the Gang, who slathered the sound of the oh-so-desirable ARP 2600 all over it.
Harold Faltermeyer - Axel F
In 1984, it was nigh-on impossible to escape Faltermeyer´s instrumental ode to Eddie Murphy´s Beverly Hills Cop (though some of us certainly tried). This infectious electronic instrumental was recorded with a mere three synthesizers: a Roland JX-3P and Jupiter-8, and, of course, the ubiquitous Yamaha DX-7. In other words, it´s the epitome of the 80s!
Benny Benassi - Satisfaction
Saws, saws and more saws! Grab a simple sawtooth wave from any analogue subtractive synthesizer, sidechain compress the living daylights out of it and you´re pretty much there.
John Carpenter - Assault on Precinct 13
Could this be the single greatest example of synth music ever to grace a soundtrack? The massively influential title theme to John Carpenter´s gritty homage to Howard Hawks was written by the director himself, while Dan Wyman patched all of the sounds on a Moog Modular Series III. Check out Mark Shreeve´s masterful cover on his Assassin album for some more true grit.
Human Resource - Dominator
Dizzying, distorted and utterly, well, dominating, this sound rules the rave. Though a relatively recent phenomenon, the sound itself was originally a preset on the Roland Alpha Juno 1, circa 1986. Called ‘What The..?´, it was tucked away in the special effects patches.
It may be the single most recognisable sound effect on this (or any) planet: the grinding, groaning, wheezing sound that signals the arrival of that singular blue police phonebox. The noise itself, created in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, is often assumed to be a product of synthesis, but it was actually made by treating the sound of a key being scraped across a piano string!