Boards of Canada are a personal favorite band of mine and I have studied their music with the aim of learning how they achieved their distinctive sound.
Here are what I have learned so far (I will continue to add to this page as I learn more).
It is incomplete as of now but wanted to get it out there before finishing.
Using these techniques shown below, I created this track:
They listen to their own music and sounds over and over again to get the feel of a tune before continuing with it. It has to hook them before they continue making a full song out of it.
They place memory triggers in their music that evoke a feeling or mood. Some of these can be the old recordings or sounds they frequently sprinkle and interweave into their songs.
They say they are not recreating a mood of what was but rather creating a fictitious history that brings out feelings. They incorporate sounds of what is influencing them at the time also.
Geodaddi had complex messages and symbolism in the music. Campfire Headphase was a guitar-based album. Tomorrow’s Harvest has been described as a palindrome because the songs can be reversed and sound good as well as having a up-down type of palindromic progressions in them.
They made their sounds using recording equipment such as old tape machines. The sounds are dirtied with noise and other artifacts of the recording process. The hiss, dropout, wow, and flutter of tape can be heard throughout their music in the leads and background sounds.
Old film and television clips can be heard sporadically in their songs creating an atmosphere. In many cases, this atmospheric sound is not just a track in the background but is attached to every note played as you can hear the background repeating with the successive notes. This is done by using a sampler and I verified that by using a sampler and it sounds the same. They said they spend a lot of time sampling sounds of music they play and other noises by using samplers.
PBS shows such as Sesame Street are sampled. Also, samples from old TV commercials can sometimes be heard.
Sounds are layered, meaning that there are multiple sounds on top of each other on a given track. This was done originally by recording on a tape player then recording the playback on another tape recorder, and repeating this process over and over.
The sounds are samples of actual sounds, then layered.
Drums are heavy and crunchy but not EDM-type. They are more of a chill-out type with a great groove feel. I sliced the drums out of some of their songs and replicated in my own style using Nerve. BoC uses real drums for a variability that they believe cannot be replicated with machines. Layering drum sounds may dirty them a bit and make sounds closer to theirs.
Main riffs and tunes are simple and are usually only 5-7 notes repeated over and over. They are simple chord progressions and melodies.
Chorus is used a lot.
Their sound is similar to old films by the National Film Board of Canada. Pete Standing Alone is the name of one of the films and the name of one of Boards of Canada’s songs. Alan Clavier’s music is similar.
Pitch seems to be detuned to A=432 Hz instead of the usual A=440. This is -32 cents detuning in FL Studio.
Beats per minute range from 70’s to low 100’s. 85 bpm = Dayvan Cowboy. 75 bpm = Left Side Drive. 105 bpm = Satellite Anthem Icarus. 74 bpm = 1969.
Synthesizer sounds like vintage synths such as SH-101, Juno, etc. They mention a “secret weapon” but it is unknown. Yamaha AN1X is used. Roland SH-101 is also used. The LuSH-101 virtual synth by D16 and the Bassline 101 by TAL are both virtual synth (vst) replicas of the SH-101. Diva by U-He and Serum by Xfer can also be used to recreate the synth sounds of BoC.
Tape-like distortions like digital noise (bit crushing), amp overdrive (tube), dual tracking, wow/flutter, and ambient room noise.
Intro, 2 bars, no drums. Lead synth melody then main melody 2+ bars with drums. Lead, drums, main melody, plus bass line follows. Some higher-pitched instruments added in sporadically. Usually about 4 main instruments at the most.
Simple melodies with few notes.
Go check these for more: