Pandora – The Synths and Sounds
Pandora is, in many ways, an ode to the synthesizer. Big pads, sweeping changes and big strikes! Its all there out front and center or hidden in the underbelly of the mixes. This is a journey into the sounds that defined Pandora’s overall musical flavour and for our debut, guitar took a backseat to the piano’s and synths. This partly fits into the overall science fiction theme of the album, but also where our writing approach was at the time.
Home Sweet Home – There have been many versions of this track, each one progressively less synthy than the one that proceeded it and as one of the few exceptions on the album, this track was initially written from the 7-string guitar part that picks its way through the chords during the verses. The very first synth flavour comes from the intro lead melody at 0:11. It has a dash of portamento which means that each note glides into the next. The next little snippet comes in at 1:20 which was inspired by the bass part written by our original bassist Dave Hopkinson. A little bit of a prelude of what is to come later in the album with the sweeping change of tone.
Let Me In – From time to time when recording you stumble across a mistake of some kind that actually WORKS, you look at each other and say ‘oooooh we should keep that’. The introduction to this song was one of those moments, whilst recording a guitar part being plugged directly into the computer (no amp), Gary turned on his hard drive. It makes this odd start up sound and somehow the sound of it was being picked up through my guitar, loved it so we used it! This track as whole contains a ridiculous amounts of synths and swells backing up the driving part on electric piano. Also it is in the introduction of my latest acquisition at the time, the Waldorf Blofeld. It’s a very deep, if somewhat confusing, piece of kit that is capable of some incredible expressive sounds. My favourite is the ‘arpeggio’ that starts on the 3rd verse at 4:22, it gently rises and falls giving an almost uncomfortable edge to the song. We also see the return of the portamento (gliding) synth on the melodies in the chorus that is a little quote to the first song Home Sweet Home. Finally there is the introduction to the ‘power’ synth that is a stock sound in the Nord Stage called ‘Vangelic Blade’ (love this sound!) which reoccurs a few times on the album.
Soul – After the full sound of the previous track it was important that the ears are given a little rest, enter ‘Soul’. The synths are used very sparingly here to allow piano, acoustic and drums to breathe. We get a variation on the Home Sweet Home synth melody played at half speed with a different tone followed by a synth swell which then leads to sampled instruments on the Nord Stage keyboard, harps, gentle brass then another portamento melody starting at 1:44. We then begin to add waves and swells towards the middle of the song and reprise the ‘Vangelic Blade’ briefly before an outro which returns to guitars / piano sounds.
The Speech – Predominantly a piano based piece, there is a subtle ‘telephone’ synth in the background. This was from a recording made improvising on the Nord Lead 2x which we lifted and put into the background the add a slightly menacing tone. The piano comes to a halt towards the end and a rumbling tone appears to solidify the darker tone of the message of the narrative.
The Hard Decision – We begin with a bouncing arpeggio generated on the Nord Stage 2, using the ‘Vangelic Blade’ pad and merging two different arpeggio patterns together to give a drive to the song. We have synth basses behind the main bass guitar, and pads accompanying the intro verse. This song is largely synth driven which alludes to the first appearance of the Pandora character within the story itself fighting with the natural instruments of her creator.
One of my favourite parts on the album is the outro of this song which contains a half speed, calmed down version of the main intro arpeggio, which progessively ‘opens’ throughout the section until it has reached its climax and the song comes to a close.
Without Them – The synth makes a cameo appearance in this song. The bridge section after the second verse that appears at 1:18. This was created in one of our few experiments with the dreaded MIDI! (Midi is basically electronic sheet music that tells an instrument what and how to play, but it is temperamental if you don’t fully understand it like us!). I played the piano part first sending a MIDI recording so that it could be fed back into my synths. We kept the highest notes and removed the rest of the piano notes and took 2 synth sounds and placed them left and right in the mix so you get this accompaniment to the piano part.
Tides of Midnight – A retro synth sound that mimics a ‘wave’ sound begins the track followed by a mirror of electric piano and grand piano for the main verse sections of the song. At 0:39 there is a little shimmer followed by a rising swell which takes us into the chorus. For the second time on the album a little synth bass to sit under the bass parts accompanied by some swells in the background. After introducing the synths they now appear on prior to the next verse as textures and melodies. The most fun here is sample that comes in for the final chorus, just before Adam’s guitar solo, which is a Sitar sound played on notes that I’m pretty sure a Sitar isn’t designed for… Low and crunchy.
Faith – An odd piano sound that has been manipulated to ‘ping’ is joined by a low rumble and sparkle part before the character opens the door to the church. All the sounds here are samples, choir and strings with a piano part. Would have been cool to use an actual choir but I don’t think we could have afforded it! Then we get a little bit of the Waldorf Blofeld to give us some movement and swells to end.
The Algorhythm – One of only two tracks to be driven by the acoustic guitar. The synth part through the verses matches the bass guitar part to link the two conflicting rhythms together. Once we leave the verse around 1:25 a pad introduces the lead synth which has a very fast LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) which in essence is used here for movement and general oddness. This is followed by a rising bass synth sound which makes a ‘shimmer’ when you let go of the notes allowing for expression, it was used in the outro to the Hard Decision too. Very fond of that sound!
Weight of the World – The intro synth to this song was changed very late in the day, never quite happy with the original sound I spent some time crafting its replacement. It’s very much a case of recreating the almost brassy pads that 80’s songs did so well, done on the Nord Lead 2x it fails to let me down! Then we get a combination of the Lead 2x / Stage keyboards to create the rest of the synths in the track, basic pads and lead sounds. The highlights for me being the post guitar solo melody that leads the chords into the last verse and the final moment with the low rumble that rises to a dead stop to close the song.
The End – The acoustic provides the anchor of this song and all over instrumental parts play support to its chord progression. Piano’s / organs and clean guitar are the feature of this song with the only exception being some orchestral parts during the heavy interlude section. We get a very subtle rising texture during the second verse on synth, just as a reminder!
The Door – A song all about the synth, the intro melody leads into a pad and a nice crackle bass that swells to accompany the sample string sounds that play the bass notes alongside. The only song on the album (apart from the piano outro of the album) to feature no Bass guitar at all. This also features the only ‘out front’ synth solo (5:36 onwards) on the album, which is odd considering how much the synth features but we usually default to the guitar for solo duties. Again this song features the ‘Vangelic Blade’ pad and as a lead sound a few times. Most notably the outro which is dual piano / blade played as one instrument which gives body to the middle of the audio mix, whilst arpeggio guitars shimmer to end.
Breathe Out – This song doesn’t have synth right??… just play it through. The synth gets the last word!
Pandora was the time when I was enjoying for the first time creating synth sounds with my 3 keyboards and these really inspired me to make sounds that I liked hearing, but also experimenting when I had no idea what the result would be. Expect more of the synthesizer in the near future…
Keyboard Instruments –
Nord Stage 2 – Pianos / Samples / Synths
Nord Lead 2x – Syntheseizer
Waldorf Blofeld – Synthesizer
To finish with, a pure electronic piece that came as an experiment after Pandora was finished. Everything on here is played live with one keyboard (Nord Lead 2X, if you haven’t guessed – its my favourite one!) and its the closest I’ve ever got to ambient electronica music…
I hope you have enjoyed this tour of the electronic side of We Are Kin.