Deconstructing the Boards of Canada (BoC) Sound and Music

Boards of Canada is 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 think I have learned so far (I will continue to add to this page as I learn more).

Last updated: 20-August-2021.

It may seem a bit unorganized (it is), but this is a work in progress and as much of a reference for me as I hope it is for you. I just would like to share everything I learn with you in case you have the same interest. So excuse the disorganization and possible misinformation, please. Let me know if anything is wrong or if you want to add to it.

I talk a lot about replicating their music, but it is not that I want to replicate it and sell it (or even make it), but more so I can understand it. My aim here is not to make a BoC do-it-yourself guide, but because I like their music, I want to understand how they thought about it before they made it and what they did to make it. I would like to then take these gems of knowledge with me into my own music so I can have a flavor of theirs within mine while keeping mine unique. This is my goal.

661615

Click here for a great article about Boards of Canada that someone else wrote.

Click here for some TAL Sampler presets that sound like Boards of Canada.

Click here for synths that I think sound like Boards of Canada.

Click here for another great article that someone else wrote about emulating the synth sounds of Boards of Canada.

Concept Map of Boards of Canada’s Music

Technique

Notable Interview Quotes are here: https://bocpages.org/wiki/Notable_Interview_Quotes#Musical_Process

I’ve read that 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.

I also read that they are from the Pentland Hills, south of Edinburgh, Scotland in the UK. They mentioned that for Tomorrow’s Harvest they sketched out some of the tunes in New Zealand. Their studio in the UK is called Hexagon Sun and is rumored to be somewhere in the Pentland hills.

1f88ca2f

Here’s some important clues from and interview with Mike Sandison for the Tomorrow’s Harvest release:

“It’s different with every track. We often jam something down quickly and you tend to find those things are the ones with a great instant melody.

The challenge with this record was crafting the tunes into a specific style and time period we want to reference. In fact it’s not just the time period – we analyse the specific medium we’re going for too. In this case there’s a deliberate VHS video-nasty element throughout the record and to get there it wasn’t just a case of processing sounds through old media, which is a given with us anyway, but we even went to the extent of timing changes in the music and the composition of the pieces, in really specific ways to give an impression of something familiar from soundtrack work that was around 30 years ago. 

For example, I guess the timing of the whole intro section to the album, the neutral tension in the high strings hanging right at the start of the record, or that short glimmer of hope that takes over in New Seeds near the end of the track.

Those things hopefully imply a visual element. Some tracks deliberately finish earlier than you want them to, like actual cues in older soundtracks where they’ve been ripped out of much longer original masters that nobody ever gets to hear. (origin: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jun/06/boards-of-canada-become-more-nihilistic)

boardsofcanada

I’ve read that they place memory triggers in their music that evokes a feeling or mood. Some of these can be the old recordings or sounds they frequently sprinkle and interweave into their songs.

da5a4ef2c7d9a8e0209a5fca55180c34

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.

They were asked, “What Warp record had the biggest influence on you?” They answered, Polygon Window (Aphex Twin) – Surfing On Sine Waves. I first heard it at a bonfire in the hills – friends used to make us tapes before we knew what it was. We were Warp pirates – we probably did them out a lot of money before we started making money for them. “ source

You can hear a lot of sounds that are similar to Boards of Canada on the Polygon Window “Surfing on Sinewaves” tracks. Less so on the “Quoth” EP, but still the similarity is there.

Sandison comments on influences in an interview for their Tomorrow’s Harvest release: 

“There are quite a few influences on this record. (John) Carpenter is kind of an easy reference point for most people though I’d say the main ones would be Fabio Frizzi, John Harrison and Mark Isham.

We’re very much into grim 70’s and 80’s movie soundtracks so there are maybe nods to composers such as Stefano Mainetti, Riz Ortolani, Paul Giovanni, Wendy Carlos, even Michael Nyman.(origin: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jun/06/boards-of-canada-become-more-nihilistic)

url

They have said that they subtract a lot from their music. I think this means they start with something complex and then remove items to make it simpler. But, I could be wrong. I have found in trying to replicate their music that I first start with something complex but I always end with something very simple. For example, I may think there are more notes than there actually are and in subtracting some from my composition, I can come closer to replicating theirs. Or, I often start with a very complex synth setting but find later that I have subtracted almost all of the complexity out of it to get their sound.

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 an up-down type of palindromic progressions in them.

5cm6a0

Their song “Music is Math” may be spot-on according to a recent study: “Happy lyrics, a fast tempo of 150 beats per minute (the average pop song has a tempo of 116 beats per minute), and a major third musical key all help create music we perceive as brimming with positive emotion.” Their symbolism as previously mentioned may run to music as well.

“Math” in Gaelic Scottish means “good.” So, their song title “Music is Math” could translate in part to “Music is Good.”

Sound

They made their sounds using recording equipment such as 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.

Details of how they get their sound from an interview near time of release of The Campfire Headphase:

Philips EL 3300

In keeping with the in-and-out-of-consciousness, dreamlike quality of their music, Sandison and Eoin don’t write and record in any sort of linear fashion. Rather, at any given time, they have various song ideas gestating in their two primary studios. With three kits, Sandison’s studio is set up for drums, and Eoin’s live area caters to piano and vocals. Whether they’re working separately or together, getting ideas down is generally a result of recording extended jams to tape on anything from a Tascam MSR-16 reel-to-reel to an old Revox recorder to a Grundig machine to an ordinary cassette.

Tascam MSR 16

“We love these low-quality tape machines,” Eoin says. “The great thing with machines such as the Grundig is that it’s tragically bad. Whatever you record into it just doesn’t come out unscathed. There’s a ‘magic eye’ valve display on it, and when you hit the tape deck with the right volume, enough to fill out the magic eye, it’s at that exact sweet spot that it is saturating the tape. So if you then sample back the playback, it’s got a thousand years’ grain on it.

A Grundig TK5

“There’s a track called ‘’84 Pontiac Dream,’ which has this totally schmaltzy ’80s hotel vibe, all gold door handles and sports-car-commercial glitz, until it snaps out of the dream at the end and breaks down to a raw guitar weave in the rain,” Sandison says. “I’ve always been into the way that TV and film-score music from that era was pretty heavily synthesized yet still employed traditional instrumentation. You listen to it now, and it’s never perfect, because the tapes that exist now have been played so many times, they have become warped and distorted with age. So for us a lot of the time, we’re not trying to capture how perfect something might have been at its inception, but more how it would sound now after years of use. Of course, you can’t instantly make a song into something chronologically aged, so that’s where a lot of our work goes, into finding ways of artificially imprinting an aged, nostalgic feel.”

Revox Recorder

“One thing I particularly like to use is amplitude modulation combined with microtuned pitches,” Eoin reveals. “There are a lot of ways to do this — using compressors and filters and pitch modulators — but we do it differently every time. We even resample parts using cheap ghettoblasters or cassette decks with internal microphones. Sometimes, I might employ a series of ring modulators with very slow frequencies and modulate those frequencies with an LFO so that layers of the sound overlap each other randomly. Sometimes, I’ll hit a sound with way too much compression — when you get that fine line where it’s just kicking in, but it’s right on the threshold of the sound so that the compressor ends up spreading what I call ‘powder’ over the part so it sounds like it’s crumbling.”

I discovered I can get that “powder” they speak of by overdriving a compressor, just as they describe. It is more of a saturation effect though, and you can get this via saturation plugins if you are careful and get the signal level right to the edge of crumbling, so to speak. See below video:

Although traditional effects aren’t generally in the formula — Boards of Canada does employ homemade items such as Eoin’s DIY Leslie effect, created by mounting a mic inside a rotating ice-cream tub — they do occasionally have their place.

“One of the things we’re often aiming at is an anechoic sound that gives the impression of being outdoors, so we use little or no reflection effects unless it’s for something specific,” Sandison says. “So if you want an outdoorsy but echoey sound, you should just make the low frequencies echo; that way, it resembles real outdoor environments.”

“We like to create full-sounding parts that appear to be from another record,” Sandison says. “So, sometimes, we go to great lengths working on complete pieces of vintage-sounding music with the sole intention of ripping a two-second chunk out of it to give the impression of it being a sample of something old. It takes ages, but it’s a good trick. So we sample them as though they really are someone else’s old record — we abuse the sound to make it really rough, maybe sampling it in at 8-bit, 22kHz or whatever. If it sounds like samples from old sources, it means we’re doing our job properly, because that’s the whole point.”
(source: https://www.emusician.com/gear/boards-of-canada )

I made a track and then practically destroyed it and used a tiny bit of it like they describe, a the very end of one of my tunes. You can hear it at about the one minute mark in “7895.” See below video:

“Whether they’re working separately or together, getting ideas down is generally a result of recording extended jams to tape on anything from a Tascam MSR-16 reel-to-reel to an old Revox recorder to a Grundig machine to an ordinary cassette. “ (source: Remix interview 2005)

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. Link: https://www.nfb.ca/playlists/pete-standing-alone-trilogy/viewing/standing_alone/

Analysis:
mic inside a rotating ice-cream tub = Goodhertz Trem Control or Phase Motion by Audiothing? I have used GoodHertz Trem Control effectively to get a ping-pong stereo effect. TAL-DUB-X is a good echo for this as well.

recording extended jams to tape on anything from a Tascam MSR-16 reel-to-reel to an old Revox recorder to a Grundig machine to an ordinary cassette. = Reels by Audiothing? Also add in here Vinyl Strip and Space Strip by Audiothing? Reels works well as does the Super VHS plugin by Baby Audio. Try also the Dyvision VHS effect as it works quite well.

resample parts using cheap ghettoblasters or cassette decks with internal microphones = I used Goodhertz Lossy to get this type of sound (experiment with their presets 3AM Supermarket and Ghost in the MP3, and change the parameters to suit you). Another outstanding one to get tape saturation is Toneboosters Reelbus.

a series of ring modulators with very slow frequencies = Frostbite by Audiothing or Crystallizer by Soundtoys? Maybe also Echobode by Sonic Charge? The InaGRM tools?

modulate those frequencies with an LFO so that layers of the sound overlap each other randomly = See this article in SOS–> Synthesis Techniques for Emulating Vintage Sounds . Xfer LFO is a good effect. Toneboosters VCF is also good.

make it really rough, maybe sampling it in at 8-bit, 22kHz = DAC by TAL (I find that I like the EMU II emulation at 27kHz and a moderate amount of jitter and a low input signal level. Lossy (see above), Vulf Compressor (up the phase amount to about 70 and you can get a good back and forth modulation of the sound), and WOWCtrl by Goodhertz.

if you want an outdoorsy but echoey sound, you should just make the low frequencies echo; that way, it resembles real outdoor environments.” = high cut to let the low frequencies echo using Goodhertz Megaverb; also use Goodhertz Tone Control (Alesis Midiverb simulation) and attenuate below 120Hz and above 6kHz. I just cut the highs with the filter in TAL Sampler or whatever synth I am using that has a built-in reverb – just take the highs down a bit and keep the low to mid frequencies. TAL-DUB-X has this ability also and is an echo unit, so probably works the best here.

way too much compression — when you get that fine line where it’s just kicking in, but it’s right on the threshold of the sound so that the compressor ends up spreading what I call ‘powder’ over the part so it sounds like it’s crumbling.” = first use TAL DAC and the EMU II preset and under-drive it as this will give a good sprinkle of noise, then use Goodhertz Vulf Compressor, or just add noise to your synths using Noize plugin from Denise Audio. These all work really well. You can also parallel (<100% on the slider) Goodhertz Lossy with a high threshold on the far right control (name escapes me right now) and when the signal drops below, it will put a powder on your sound, but only on a portion of it because you have the mix slider less than 100%.

amplitude modulation combined with microtuned pitches,” Eoin reveals. “There are a lot of ways to do this — using compressors and filters and pitch modulators = Crystallizer by Soundtoys for more dramatic effect, but using two Goodhertz Megaverb reverbs in series produces not only a great reverb effect, but also amplitude modulation, so try it for yourself to see. If that’s not getting it for you, try using some synth with in-built detuning such as TAL Sampler that has a controls page where you can detune it nicely. Also in TAL Sampler, I like to put a slow LFO routed onto the fine tuning of a channel or two as this makes them slowly drift in and out of tuning. Putting this on the panning can get you the back and forth ping-pong sound as well, so TAL Sampler can do it all in this case. Another useful tool is a phaser. I have found that it can create a great effect similar to the Boards of Canada sound. I use Sountoys Phase Mistress, but any could do.

I’ve made my TAL Sampler presets available and you can see the routings and tuning I use.

A Guide to Replicating BoC’s Process

Left side of below is what I think that they (Boards of Canada) do in hardware and analog methods. Right side is what I would do in a modern DAW and with plugins instead of hardware to replicate what they do. I could be wrong on some or all of this.

Summary:

  • Record all you do. Save these recordings to tape or make them seem like they have been saved on tape.
  • Pull out those pieces and sprinkle them throughout your songs.
  • Make a simple melody. Age it artificially and then use part of it in your next song as if you sampled someone else’s music, but it is really your own.
  • Master the art of artificially ageing the sounds and music you make. See examples above.
  • Reverse full tracks and mix them together with your forward played tracks.
  • Add voices and found sounds of all kinds.
  • Use analog synths. Over-amplify, saturate, over-compress, and distress them in every way possible. Re-sample them into a sampler for use in your music. Add noise to thicken and give them a realism that cannot be achieved otherwise (try Noize plugin by Denise Audio for example).
  • Layer a ton of stuff – some of which you cannot hear without headphones and a keen ear.
  • Subtract out what doesn’t work. Filter down the sounds that aren’t the focus to better make the leads stand out.
An example (above) of employing most of these processes results in a credible BoC-type sound.

Reversed Sounds and Tracks

Another technique that they use is to reverse parts or sometimes whole tracks. Geogaddi seems to work well playing the whole album backward. Maybe this is a whole overlooked aspect of their music. If you are trying to replicate the sound, but the sound is backward, you will naturally have a difficult time unless you also work with backward sounds.

Some examples:

Here’s an easy way to do it in your own music production:

Voices and Found Sounds

There is no doubt that they put a lot of sounds and voices speaking throughout several tracks.

Analog Synth to Tape

I think if I’ve missed one thing here it is the fact that the synths they used were analog with their own detuned variations in pitch, then they were recorded to tape and that tape has effects like wow and flutter on top of that original variation coming from the analog synth.

So, in the DAW, it makes more sense to use an analog synth fed into a tape effect.

Here in the video below I’m using Diva (digital, but analog-sounding synth), followed by Denise Bad Tape to get this analog-to-tape sound. I first show you the complete effect, then turn off the tape, then show where the trimmers are in Diva (detune amount and voice drift) and their effect. Then I play around with it after.

TBReelbus works very well at this also – see below:


Influences

Alan Clavier’s music is similar. Maybe he was an inspiration to Boards of Canada’s music style. Or maybe it is just that his music was a predecessor.

It is used in many of the old Parks Canada commercials:

One of their songs, “Buckie High,” refers to the intoxicating “high” gotten from a wine called “Buckfast” that is high in alcohol content. See an article here: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/buckfast-scotland  and the video below:

Hexagons are prevalent in their titles and images.

Hexagons

Samples

Boards of Canada sampled a lot of sounds to add layers and backgrounds to their music.

In interviews they said that they do things to their samples to age them artificially. They record on tapes and samplers, so maybe they do this multiple times to age them artificially.

Numbers stations are rumored to have been sampled but maybe these are faked by them to sound like numbers stations. The real ones are on a YouTube playlist below.

It has been said that a lot of their musical samples are not from synths but are snippets of sounds recorded on their portable recorders. They may be found sounds and not instruments at all.

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. One of their favorite samplers is the Akai S1000 samplers (as they said in an interview).

Here below is my collection of Boards of Canada related videos:

PBS shows such as Sesame Street are sampled. Also, samples from old TV commercials can sometimes be heard.

Who Sampled has a listing of samples with links to YouTube videos of the sampled: https://www.whosampled.com/Boards-of-Canada/

17206
80876

Song Structure

Main riffs and tunes are simple and are usually only 5-7 notes (at most) repeated over and over. They use simple chord progressions in groups of 5 instead of the usual 4 found in pop music, and melodies backed with lush sounds of ambient noise or more chords from vintage synths.

Also, they sometimes use a pattern of keys that are in a 4-3-1 structure. First note, then the second a half step down, then the third note two steps down (four half steps) from that.

I’ve also found they use passing notes on some songs, most-notably on Olson and Nothing is Real, where the beginnings of some of the notes are other, adjacent notes played briefly. This is a jazz technique.

An added fourth is noted, among other valuable insights, by this YouTube post:

Other insightful YouTube videos:

Dyads

Dyads feature prominently in BoC music. These are only two notes played at the same time and not full chords in the traditional sense. I find that when I play a perfect fifth or fourth interval, I can get the same type of sound from a synth as BoC did.

Suspended Chords, Perfect Fourths and Fifths

This post on Reddit has good insight into their music and mirrors exactly what I have experienced (I have bolded particular items that coincide with what I have found myself):

Boards of Canada from a music theory perspective

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why listening to BOC gives me the feeling that it does. Their sound totally changed my perspective on what music could be, and they’ve had a bigger impact on my musical taste than any other artist. It’s hard to pin down what it is they do exactly that’s so special–they aren’t the first to use analog recording equipment or old samples or a Roland SH-101, but somehow they manage to create these songs that hit you in this weird, unworldly way. After listening to them for a long time I am starting to understand why from a music theory perspective.

Let’s compare a top 40 hit or a typical techno song to a song like Alpha and Omega. Your typical pop song’s goal is to coddle you and give you what you want. It usually follows a diatonic chord structure (think the chords along any major scale), each section of the song is split up into satisfying, predictable chunks that follow a four bar phrase, and all of it leads up to a chorus and a catchy melody that’s supposed to make you feel good. All the chords of the song are centered around a “home”, the dominant chord in whatever key it is. In a very primal way this makes you feel safe. You know where the song is going and you know where its roots are planted. It’s music as comfort food.

Now let’s look Alpha and Omega. If we cut away all the effects, samples, drums, and backmasking, what your left with is a series of arpeggiated chords: G# sus4, G sus4, G minor 7, f# sus4, G# minor 7, (repeats).

The first thing you’ll notice is there are a lot of suspended chords. This means there’s missing pieces to the chord, and this drives your brain crazy. Normally these chords get resolved in pop music, but not as much in BoC. The effect is disorienting. The chords all run into each other with no real defined beginning or end (ironic) and there is no key center either. Add this to the fact that the chords are laid out in sets of 5 instead of 4, like you’re used to, and you start to feel even more lost. There’s no way to get your bearings.

This type of thing shows up a lot in BoC’s music. Pete Standing Alone uses alternating perfect 5ths that don’t resolve into a defined chord structure until the very end of the song. Twoism features warbly intervals of 5ths and 6ths with no key center. Palace Posy gives you the luxury of a bassline, but the supporting parts just highlight more 4ths and 5ths. Everything is left empty and aching for a resolve that usually doesn’t come until the end of the song, if at all.

BoC also uses a ton of tritones in their music. A tritone is the exact halfway point of an octave between a perfect 4th and a perfect 5th, an interval of 6 semitones. Think C to F#. When you play a tritone it makes you feel uneasy, especially when compared to the stability of a perfect 4th or 5th. A good example of this is the first chord in Happy Cycling. You can also hear a tritone in the chord structure of The Devil is in the Details, which is interesting since tritones used to be called diabolus in musica or “the devil in music”. An Eagle in Your Mind also uses tritones in its chord progressions. It makes your skin crawl when you hear it.

All of these elements together, combined with their style of production, make BoC’s music a little jarring. There’s something almost inhuman about it, like the music is completely impartial to your need for familiarity. Obviously BoC cares about their listeners, but I think the feeling they are trying to evoke is one similar to what you feel when you’re waaaay out in nature: that the universe is way bigger than you, and it doesn’t care. Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s harsh. But it just is. While everyone else in music seems to be trying to make themselves or their audience feel better about life or make some sense of everything, BoC leans into the feeling of being a small animal in a huge world. Their music reminds me of inanimate objects and landscapes. Like being around large buildings, or in the middle of the forest, or on a snowy mountain at sundown. It captures a feeling of loneliness and mystery that no other music can touch, and in that way, it reminds you of what it is we actually are down here on planet earth.

Summarizing, play the P5 (7 semitones) and P4 (5 semitones) intervals, tritones of (6 semitones) (also known as a P5 diminished or a P4 augmented). Use suspended chords, meaning that there is a portion either replaced by a major second (sus 2) or perfect fourth (sus 4).

Suspended Chords

Some suspended chord examples:

  1. Try playing Fsus4 chord in C by playing these notes: C-F-A#.
    An F chord would be C-F-A where A is the third (3 (or 4) semitones from the root is the third in any chord), so by changing that A to A# (a perfect 4th), you get an Fsus4 chord.
  2. Now try the Csus4 chord in C by playing these notes: C-F-G, or semitones (half-steps) of 0-5-7. C-E-G would be a C chord, with E being the third, so making it a perfect fourth (F) instead, you get the Csus4. If you wanted a Csus2, you would make that E a second interval which would be two semitones from the root C, and that would be D, so C-D-G is a Csus2 chord.

Below is a demonstration of three suspended chords played one after the other: Fsus4, Dsus4, and Esus4. They have the sound of “Cold Earth” by Boards of Canada. (JenPadAmbDr2-F-D-E-ch1-4-7keyC)

Suspended chords are used in some places in their music. Particularly the sus2 I can hear often (more so than the sus4).

Added Chords

Added chords are also used and sometimes played as separate notes to give that “something’s off” or “suspenseful” feeling.

  • In “Ready Let’s Go” from Geogaddi, the main melody are the notes of a C major chord (C-E-G) played with an added fourth (C-E-F-G).

Sixth Chords

Some sixth chord examples:

  • Try a sixth chord by playing a major chord and adding a key 9 half-steps from the root:
    C-E-G (C major) + add A (9 half steps up from C) = C-E-G-A = C6.

You can also try playing an interval or dyad (2 note chord) of a perfect fifth or perfect fourth. I also hear sometimes a diminished seventh or major sixth (9 semitones) in their music as a counterpoint to the normal fifths, and I hear this more than I do the tritone mentioned earlier.

(The note column in this chart only works if your root note is C, by the way.) 1-3-5 is a triad.

In the video below is another 6th chord example using C6, D6, then A6 in a progression.

C6, D6, and then A6 (below) major chords repeated.

Interestingly, these ideas are replicated in Aphex Twin’s music also. Take, for example, “Stone in Focus” that consists of a B-flat sus 2 chord played one note at a time. If you want to try playing it then play C, then F above it, then B-flat below. With an appropriate-sounding synth, it is spot on, but even without (like a piano) it still sounds right.

See the video below that is played with the actual sample from Stone in Focus. I sampled the original and then applied it to the correct keyboard positions for each note in order to understand the song structure.

Musictheory.net has a good lesson on intervals also.

Chords From Their Music

Another good way I’ve found that works to understand their music is by studying the chords. If you know the chords, then you have a way of knowing the music on a deeper level. Here I took their song, Left Side Drive, and played along with the chords of my own. Chordify has a good method that can help you figure out the chords in songs and I would recommend that site for anyone looking to learn chords.

I took the chords from their music and put them into Xfer Records Cthulhu and you can see how I did that as well as download the chord files for Cthulhu at this link (click here).

In every case, though, it is the simple melody repeated over and over with some chords or other melodies thrown in, that really captures the essence of their sound.

Reverb

Reverb from BoC are similar to other Warp artists of the era that use the Alesis reverbs, “MIDIVerb-II” and “Quadraverb.”

Alesis Midiverb-II was released in 1988 while the Alesis Quadraverb was released in 1989. These dates may be off, but we can say they were out sometime in the 1980’s and these things defined the sounds of the 1990’s.

What I find works best for simulating the Alesis reverbs are these:

  1. Goodhertz Megaverb – this one is the Alesis reverbs near exact. Put this on a synth and you can get a good Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, and Boards of Canada type of sound. Experimenting you can find a lot of the Warp sound.
  2. Audiority Xenoverb – this one is close to the Alesis reverbs also. The Flow algorithm works best but also the Formant is interesting. A great reverb for experimentation.

I notice that both the Alesis MIDIVerb-II and Quadraverb impart an almost “FM” quality to a synth. This is evident in these demo videos using the SH-101:

Other reverbs worth mentioning:

  • U-he Uhbik Effects – reverb, chorus, and other effects are included in this set of versatile and vintage-sounding effects.
  • TAL Effects – Reverb 4 and Chorus LX are particularly useful, but all of their effects are good.
  • Valhalla Effects – vintage reverb and shimmer are great reverb effects to use.
  • 112dB – Mikron products (all of them) are excellent and highly recommended.
  • Audiothing’s Fog Convolver is a convolution reverb effect that can be used to make alternative reverbs or natural-sounding ones.
724103

Pitch / Tuning

Old synthesizers were often a bit out of tune. This is what chorus is anyway – the slight detuning of instruments played in parallel. This out-of-tune effect is prevalent in Boards of Canada’s music.

When re-making Olson, I found that the tuning was quite low. I adjusted Diva’s tuning downward until I achieved the same sound.

Synthesizers with detuning and micro-tuning capabilities such as U-he’s Diva synth are well-suited to making the BoC sound. In addition to knobs for detuning, Diva has a micro-tuning capability and I’ve found this adds a nice variation to any music. The micro-tuning .tun files can be found inside Diva or elsewhere on the internet. It really sets apart the Diva synthesizer from many others and is a part of what allows Diva to surpass the others such as Sylenth1.

TAL Sampler is also a favorite because it is a sampler and it has the Akai S1000 emulation that BoC uses of the real hardware. It also now has microtuning capabilities.

Chorus and Delay

I think Satin can offer a lot of versatility in getting the BoC sound and this can be done in the delay section of Satin. I made some presets for getting that Boards of Canada sound out of chorus and reverb effects made using the tape delay in Satin.

Another thing to try with Satin is to have one instance running the chorus effect and put it on the drums. This gives a distinctly BoC-type of sound to the drums.

Keeping with the Satin chorus effect put it in first and then pan back and forth with another effect (not sure if Satin could do both but that would be cool). This is surely a BoC sound used often. I can usually use Satin on a channel as a chorus (Juno 60 Chorus setting works really well),

U-he’s suite of effects in Uhbik can also provide a lot of BoC-type of sounds. I like the reverb and chorus among others in this pack and it is well worth experimenting with.

112 dB has a great delay effect as well and makes some really outstanding products.

Tape and Sampler Effects

They use tape, for sure – they said so.

We drop a lot of our music down onto a Tascam 4-track that has a great saturating effect on the sound. Remix, 2002

Whether they’re working separately or together, getting ideas down is generally a result of recording extended jams to tape on anything from a Tascam MSR-16 reel-to-reel to an old Revox recorder to a Grundig machine to an ordinary cassette. Remix, 2005

” “We love these low-quality tape machines,” Eoin says. “The great thing with machines such as the Grundig is that it’s tragically bad. Whatever you record into it just doesn’t come out unscathed. There’s a ‘magic eye’ valve display on it, and when you hit the tape deck with the right volume, enough to fill out the magic eye, it’s at that exact sweet spot that it is saturating the tape. So if you then sample back the playback, it’s got a thousand years’ grain on it.” ” (source: Remix interview 2005)

Also, they use samplers.

We have five or six samplers, but my favorite by far is still the Akai S1000. It’s an old tank now, and the screen has faded so that I almost can’t read it, but I know it inside out. It’s the most spontaneous thing for making up little tunes. It adds something to the sound — maybe the lower bit depth has something to do with that. – Remix, 2002

Here is what I have found works so far:

XLN Audio’s RC-20 Retro Color works best for any and all tape and sampler effects, so I would recommend this one above all others.

  • “Great” tape effects:
    • TBReelbus – A very good tape effect. Try the preset Canadian Boards to get a great BoC emulation.
    • Reels – This reel-to-reel recorder simulation is based on the Saturn 402. It gives a great wobble effect to a synth when used as an effect in the synth chain. While not a Grudig or Tascam as BoC used, tape is tape in this sense and this gives you that old tape sound, so it works really well.
    • Wow Control – Can give a good emulation of a cassette, 7.5 ips reel-to-reel, and 15 ips reel-to-reel, as well as vinyl and others. I put it on my master. Settings are varied depending on the effect desired. It can provide some ping-pong of the stereo phase that is a BoC sound, but Trem Control and others may do this better. Can be CPU-intensive.
    • Dyvision VHS – This one is close to VHS sound and mimics the noise that comes from the old VHS players.
    • Wavesfactory Cassette – A great emulation of cassettes and a well-executed design.
    • Analog Pro – Gives excellent emulations of tape and samplers. Uses some CPU though.
    • Satin – It gives an authentic tape emulation with very little effort – it just doesn’t emulate “bad tape” very well. I have several presets for Satin to emulate good to decent tape:
  • “Good” tape effects:
    • Reaktor – For the effects chain, there are several free ensembles that will give excellent tape effects. While many of the ensembles are free to load into Reaktor, some do require the full version of Reaktor. Here is a list of what I have found work well, in order of effectiveness:
      • VHS
      • Tape Mate
      • Shortwave
      • Grungelator
      • EarSafe
    • Echomelt and VectoMelt – These products gives a good emulation of tape and have many options, but do not get the drop outs or noise like I like them so I don’t use them too much.
  • “Great” sampler effects:
    • TAL Sampler – This is not an effect, but is an instrument. However, running your sample into this will make it so much more BoC-like. So, I suggest you try it. I have made presets for it you can download.
    • DAC – This is a TAL plugin that emulates samplers and the Akai S1000 in particular that gives an accurate rendition of the Boards of Canada sound. But, try running the actual TAL Sampler first because it sounds much better than this effect alone. Also, this effect uses some CPU to excess at times.
    • Goodhertz Lossy – Emulates a lot of different types of dropouts and produces a lot of good effects – not only sampler effects.
  • “Good” sampler effects:
    • Decimort – Gives a good, but subtle, effect of many different types of samplers.

What I am doing now with the tape effects is in my master channel where I run two or more of them in series. This simulates having a recording of a recording as BoC is rumored to have done. In effect you get a wow and flutter effect on top of another and it produces a really good effect. I use, for example, Reels first then Wow Control. Ahead of these two, I place DAC, so I have a sampler feeding a reel-to reel deck that is feeding into another reel-to-reel deck.

What doesn’t work so well, for me:

  1. Decimort – I have tried with Decimort to get an S1000 sound because it is a signature sound of the Akai S1000 sampler that BoC used, but I have not been able to replicate it in Decimort.
  2. Izotope Vinyl – This is a free plugin from Izotope that can really get you close to that distressed vinyl sound of an old recording. By taking off the vinyl effects and leaving the wow effects in, it seems close but is far too regular (think warped spinning LP) to actually be of much use.
  3. Lossy – This one is more of a digital effect than analog, so it does not really replicate it very well.
  4. Convex – The “old tape” preset works flawlessly when the transport is not engaged. When the transport is engaged, it makes a whooping sound for some reason. If I can figure out why then I would put this one in the “Great” category.
dyv1

Beats

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.

Drums

They say “As for our percussion, it’s never just a drum machine or a sample, we put a lot of real live drumming or percussion in there, woven into the rhythm tracks, and it brings a bit of chaos into the sound that you just can’t achieve any other way.”

Drums are crunchy but not EDM-type. They have 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.

But, synthetic drums to sound a lot like the BoC drums also. A Synare 3 sounds a bit like their drums.

It is probably the pattern of the drums that make them interesting also. In addition to the groove that is obtainable only by a drummer or simulated using a drum machine with swing, like Nerve’s. I used one of the lazy drummer types of presets in Nerve’s “swing” setting and about a quarter turn.

They may be samples taken from other recordings. Check whosampled.com for a listing.

I do not hear a lot of layering on the drums. Not drums on top of drums. Rather I hear the drums ran through the Akai samplers (S1000 or S3200) they are reportedly using. They also supposedly may use a Roland VP9000 sampler, but it, like most other information, cannot be confirmed.

These samplers impart a noise and saturation. The drums seem to be samples of real drums. They are resampled into the Akai. I hear some clipping from the Akai. Also, I hear some desk distortion like from a Mackie console desk mixer. There is a warmth that the desk distortion gives it. It is from the 80’s or 90’s like the samplers.

The highs are warm in their music and this is likely a product of the normal analog equipment they undoubtedly used. You could use a saturation plugin on the high portion only. This could be Fabfilter Saturn or an equivalent that allows per-band saturation.

Possibly they also use tape for distortion, but the desk distortion and the Akai sampler distortion come through more. I used DAC on the various sampler settings, but in particular, the S1000 worked well.

Desk distortion can be had with the SoundToys Decapitator plugin. The “E” profile in Decapitator is modeled on a desk or console-type distortion. This does not impart much, though.

Here is what the drum pattern on this one looks like:

bocdrums1

Definitely, the pattern makes some sense and has the BoC vibe to it, but I tried other patterns and the drums still sound like BoC very well. So it is not the pattern that holds all of the magic. The drumkit itself has the right sounds.

I think the main point here is that these are real drum sounds and not from a drum machine. I believe most of what BoC does with drums is from real drums or sounds, and not programmed.

Here is what Nerve looks like:

bocdrums2

Believe it or not, I have had some success using Glitchmachines stunning plugins to achieve the Boards of Canada drum sounds. Their plugins are fantastic for mangling sounds and are wildly intimidating and complex. Rich effects from subtle to other-worldly can be made of the Glitchmachine plugins and are well-worth trying.

Sample Science used to make a drum machine called Pine Forest Drums and it aimed directly at recreating the Boards of Canada drum sounds. Fortunately, you can find it again after a long while being gone.

Finally, I’ve settled for now on using Sonic Charge’s Microtonic drum machine. It can make some beats that are very similar to Boards of Canada’s without much effort. They are not real drum sounds, but are synthesized so they are not accurate. But close is what is working for me now and it is good enough for my purposes.

I used Microtonic and an Eventide H3000 to get some delayed drum sounds like Whitewater. Some tweaking could make them closer to the real thing, but here is a start (see video):

Synthesizers

For a list of synthesizers that can make you sound like Boards of Canada, visit my other post that lists them all: Synth VST Plugins That Sound Like Boards of Canada

Boards of Canada’s synthesizers sound like vintage synths such as SH-101, Juno, etc. They mention a “secret weapon” but it is unknown.

Interviewer: What kind of special equipment do you use? I understand some of your machines are quite big. And you have something what you call ‘the SecretWeapon’.

BOC: “If I told you what the secret weapon is, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore. We have more than one really. We use a mixture of old and new equipment. We don’t have lots of synths, we use hi-fi gear and other tricks to achieve our sound.” Source

In the Societas x Tape, at one point there is a commercial segment for a Casiotone 202. Could this be one of the mysterious secret weapon synths?

If I look at a timeline, it helps to understand what synths they may have used and when they may have used them. The “secret weapon” synth could be in there somewhere:

But, this “secret weapon” may not be a synth at all. It could be a reverb or some other equipment. The Midiverb-II and Quadraverb both color the sound of synths like the SH-101 into sounding very “FM”-like with that tinny after sound reverberation. Not sure how to describe it better. But it could be an FM-type synth though and not just this reverb effect.

The Yamaha DX7 is an FM synth that lends itself well to making BoC-type sounds.

For more, see a history of the Crumar brand here.

Roland SH-101

Roland SH-101 is 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 can be used and is very effective and realistic. Serum by Xfer can also be used to recreate the synth sounds of BoC but is not very effective. The SH-101 straight out of the LuSH-101 does not sound like BoC.

Using the TAL Bassline 101 has a better effect and sounds similar to Boards of Canada. I can get exact sounds of BoC from the TAL Bassline 101 emulation of a Roland SH-101. I suggest if you concentrate efforts on any synth, it should be this one.

Here are some videos of the presets I made:

Boards of Canada’s Roygbiv Bass in TAL Bassline 101 from Lars Lentz Productions on Vimeo.

Boards of Canada’s Roygbiv Lead in TAL Bassline 101 from Lars Lentz Productions on Vimeo.

Find out more in the blog post I wrote about these.

Click here to download the owners manual for the SH-101: rolandsh-101ownersmanual

A Roland SH-101.

Yamaha CS-70M

The Yamaha CS-70M was said to be used on their Tomorrow’s Harvest release and was said by their label to be their “trademark” synth. KX PolyM CSE is an emulation of the CS-70M. It has 6 voices of polyphony – same as the Crumar Trilogy mentioned below. With two oscillators it has 12 VCOs total – also the same as the Crumar (see below). The CS-80 was an improved synth that came later and a good emulation can be the ME-80 plugin.

The CS-70m is mentioned by their music publisher. Click to enlarge. It was quickly taken down soon after this screenshot was taken.

The CS-70M definitely sounds like BoC also, and they had it written on the Warp site for Tomorrow’s Harvest promotion.

I hear auto panning on many tunes (very prevalent on Whitewater) and this leads me to believe it could be a synth with this auto panning available onboard.

It is also of a size that could be taken on a bus or bought on a bus and the price is too high at $8000 new or $4000 used. Size is 44x7x20 and 65 lbs. Source

They probably used this on tracks for Tomorrow’s Harvest.

Click here to download the Yamaha CS-70M Owners Manual.

cs70m

Crumar DS-2 (or Performer?)

Although it is only rumored to be used, a Crumar synth was identified as the synth they used in a concert by one guy who said their logo covered the Crumar logo. This synth was reportedly misidentified as a Yamaha CS-80 when in fact it may have been a Crumar.

“The synth used by BOC often mistaken for a CS80 is a Crumar with a BOC emblem covering the name of the synth on the back.” (source)

” When I saw them live they were playing most of their pads on what looked like a Crumar DS-2. I am 99% sure thats what it was but all the logos were covered up with BOC logos instead so it is possible I am mistaken.” (source)

The DS-2 would be small enough to be purchased on a bus as it was mentioned by the band themselves. Made in 1978, the DS-2 was polyphonic, and reasonably portable at 50 lbs. Source

But, so would the Crumar Performer – another polyphonic synth that was fairly portable and low-cost as it was also produced in the late 1970’s.

One of these may be the synth they purchased in 1988 although it could also just be the SH-101. They say they have many “secret weapons” and so it could be anything.

It is possible to recreate a lot of the BoC sound with these synths.

A Crumar DS-2. Secret weapon?

I tried out the Crumar synth emulation of the Crumar Trilogy (or similar, and more portable, Crumar Stratus) synth via Kontakt and it definitely has the BoC synth sound to it. So, I believe the Crumar synth could be a large part of the BoC sound or it is so similar to the CS-70M (see above) that it sounds like it. Either way, I would believe 6 voice polyphony and 2 oscillators are the correct assessment for the sound of BoC. The Crumar Stratus is the slimmed down version of the Trilogy.

vintage-synthesizer-1601944_1920

Many have speculated that BoC uses an Oberheim, and the Crumar Trilogy is said to be “the poor man’s Oberheim.” (source) This leads me to believe that it could indeed be a Crumar synth that is seen and used.

crumar trilogy

A Crumar Trilogy. Could it be one of BoCs synths?

Or, more likely, it could have been a Crumar Roady, Performer, or other similar synths in the Crumar lineup. I have tried the Crumar Roady and it sounds a bit like BoC.

Similar Synths

Many old synths can sound like BoC and here are a few:

Rhodes Chroma and Chroma Polaris

Hideaway Studio makes a good Kontakt version of the Rhodes Chroma.
Synth Magic makes an excellent Kontakt version of the Polaris.

Korg Poly 800

Yes, believe it or not, a Poly 800 can sound like Boards of Canada. While not the synth they used, it comes close.

Korg Arp Odyssey

Prophet 600

Also, not a BoC synth, but can sound a lot like one.

Yamaha CS-80

The Yamaha CS-80 does sound a lot like BoC too. I tried the emulation Esper Noir for Kontakt. Also, the ME-80 works great and does not rely on samples. It definitely has the Vangelis sound and can replicate the Bladerunner soundtrack near flawlessly. It is a CS-80 emulation. But the CS-80 is expensive and it is hard to believe that Boards of Canada had one of these.

Click here to download the Yamaha CS-80 Owners Manual.

A Yamaha CS-80.

Yamaha AN-1X

This one was rumored to be the “secret weapon” shown from the rear in a photo, but was refuted by someone who was actually at that concert. But, according to BoC pages and an interview, in 1988: Michael bought what he now describes as the band’s “secret weapon” synth from a friend for 100 pounds whilst travelling on a bus. Since the An-1X wasn’t invented until later, it cannot be an AN-1X.

an1x

A Yamaha AN1X.

Roland Juno 60

You can emulate a bit of BoC on other synths, but they are just not exactly the same. The TAL-U-NO-LX is a great approximation of the Juno 60 but it is just a bit off of what you hear on a BoC tune. The TAL name “U-NO” sounds like “Juno”, and “LX” is the Roman numeral for “60” – hence the “Juno60.”

Click here to download the Juno 60 Owners Manual.

roland_juno60_angle

A Roland Juno 60.

Korg Poly 800 and Korg Delta

The Korg synths sound a lot like Boards of Canada. The Poly800 and the Delta both can get you a BoC type of sound.

korg_poly800_angle

Korg’s Poly 800

delta

Korg’s Delta

Buchla 700

Some have said that a Buchla 700 could be the “secret weapon”, but it seems doubtful to me as there were only a few made or operational. But, maybe?

Oberheim Matrix 1000

Many have speculated about an Oberheim. The Matrix 1000 is an Oberheim with patches of Crumar, Korg, etc. in it.

The Oberheim Matrix 1000 can give you the sounds of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II, and does sound similar to some Boards of Canada tones.

Hollowsun has one of the best Oberheim Matrix 1000 Kontakt instruments in their M1000.

Karyani also has a great emulation of the Matrix 1000 in their Synths DX Kontakt instrument. This Kontakt instrument also has several other fantastic-sounding synths. TV Noir in this package is the Matrix 1000.

Evolution EVS-1

The FM tone from this synth has a distinct BoC sound quality to it. Also maybe the drums.

StrettEVS is a Kontakt library made from the EVS-1.

Korg Volca Keys, Volca Bass, Volca FM

These synths can sound a lot like Boards of Canada.

Odd Synths

Don’t rule out the odd synths sampled out there. There can be gems in those. Synth Magic made 8ObliqueS in a Kontakt synth, but is recently hard to find or impossible. Here below is a video still remaining demoing it:

TAL Sampler

This is a sampler and not really a synth, but it has controls laid out like a synth so it makes it easy to get a BoC sound out of it.

Free TAL presets for the above demo video can be found here: https://wordpress.com/post/larslentzaudio.wordpress.com/2180

Vinyl Strip by Audiothing can be used after Tal Sampler for more realism.

Because you can put samples into this TAL Sampler, and apply the same sampler jitter and noise as BoC had in their actual samplers, why not try this one?

The synth plugins I would recommend are: Synth VST Plugins That Sound Like Boards of Canada

Native Instruments / Izotope Products

In a 2001 interview with Mate Galic of Native Instruments, Boards of Canada was revealed to use Native Instruments products, but not specifically which one(s).

Various online sources indicate that good emulations of Boards of Canada can be made using the FM synthesis in the Native Instruments FM7 (or FM8 (new version)).

The Groove3 tutorial for FM8 has a section where you can make a Boards of Canada type of pad and bassline.

Boreal Network (Nicole Johnson) makes music eerily similar to Boards of Canada and has said in an interview that she uses the FM7.

The FM7 has been around since 2001 or 2002 as a software vst instrument. It is based on the hardware-version Yamaha DX7 released in 1983.

The new Native Instruments Lo-Fi Glow instrument works well at creating the old synth sounds:

Izotope’s Iris is a sampler-type of synth and makes good BoC sounds but with some effort:

Sonic Charge

Synplant by Sonic Charge does a fine job of simulating vintage synths. It has an organic feel to it,

Summary of Synthesis for Boards of Canada

  • Vintage Synthesizers
  • Low-rate free-running LFOs on Voices
  • Very Slow LFO Pitch Modulation (Tape-like)
  • Detuned Voices
  • Tape Saturation
  • Sampler Glitches and Ambience
  • Background Noise
  • Desk (Console) Distortion and Warmth

 

Synth Sound Reconstructions

I have attempted to recreate some of the BOC sounds on various plugin synths.

Here are some completed ones:

Roygbiv

Demonstration of Roygbiv Bass on TAL Bassline 101
Demonstration of Roygbiv Lead on TAL Bassline 101

Page with Roygbiv bass and lead detail (click here).

Roygbiv Bass Settings on TAL Bassline 101 (SH-101 Emulation)

To get the lead in Roygbiv on the Bassline 101, start with the bass shown above, then change the range to 2 instead of 16 where it is shown now. Add some portamento and decrease the noise. This is the lead on Roygbiv.

It makes perfect sense that this would be the lead settings because if you were playing it, you could just change one knob, basically, and get the lead part. Maybe that is how they played it originally.

Olson

I attempted to remake Olson using U-he’s Diva. It is not so close, but was important in learning how to program the Diva presets. I could probably have used a different synth and had better results, but here it is:

Demonstration of my remake of Olson.

I also figured out the notes for Olson, and have them available in a MIDI file with the Diva presets.

Synth Settings

Below you will find the settings I am currently experimenting with for each one.

Roygbiv Bass Settings on TAL U-NO-LX (Juno 60 Emulation)

Kaini Industries Lead on TAL Bassline 101 (SH-101 Emulation)

Turquoise Hexagon Sun Settings Juno 60

Turquoise Hexagon Sun Lead Settings on TAL U-NO-LX (Juno 60 Emulation).

These are approximate settings. These should be a starting point for experimentation.

il_570xN.1163524992_hnj9

Structure

Intro, 2 bars, no drums. Lead synth melody and then the 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. Repeat often.

pexels-photo-210804.jpeg

Deconstructing some of their songs, I find

  • Major
    • Aquarius – F, Major, 84 bpm
    • Dayvan Cowboy – E, Major
    • Fly in the Pool – G, Major, 70 bpm
    • Oirectine – A-flat, Major, 109 bpm
    • Sixtyniner – F, Major, 90 bpm
    • Skyliner – A-flat, Major, 97 bpm
    • The Devil Is In The Details – D-flat, Major, 105 bpm
  • Minor
    • 1969 – C-sharp, Minor, 73 bpm
    • 5-9-78 – B-flat, Minor, 105 bpm
    • Alpha and Omega – G-Sharp, Minor, 98 bpm
    • An Eagle In Your Mind – F-sharp, Minor, 98 bpm
    • Cold Earth – A, Minor, 67 bpm
    • Come to Dust – D-sharp, Minor, 60 bpm
    • Corsair – B-flat, Minor, 94 bpm
    • Happy Cycling – E, Minor, 100 bpm
    • Hey Saturday Sun – C-sharp, Minor, 124 bpm
    • In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country – A, Minor, 98 bpm
    • Music is Math – F-sharp, Minor, 101 bpm
    • New Seeds – B-flat, Minor, 112 bpm
    • Nothing Is Real – C, Minor, 90 bpm
  • Mixolydian
    • Julie and Candy – F, Mixolydian, 72 bpm
    • Roygbiv – A, Mixolydian, 84 bpm
  • Locrian
    • Everything You Do Is A Balloon – A, Locrian, 91 bpm
  • Lydian
    • Beware the Friendly Stranger – G-flat, Lydian, 157 bpm
    • Olson – E, Lydian, 108.6 bpm
  • Dorian
    • Sixtyniner – D, Dorian, 90 bpm
  • Unknown Mode (for now) – Estimations below. Most-likely correct at the top:
    • Left Side Drive – B, Minor?, 75 bpm
    • Buckie High – F sharp, unknown, 71 bpm
    • Satellite Anthem Icarus – D, unknown, 105 bpm
    • Amo Bishop Rodan – E, unknown, 143 bpm
    • Whitewater – C, unknown, 97 bpm

Their songs average 92 beats per minute (bpm). This is a region of the syncopation timescale that gives a groovy feel.

As far as the song structure, I am not sure what each song follows, but I would say it is more of an AAA, AABA, but each with a C or D on the end as the outro. The outros are generally way different in many cases. In some, there is just fading off of the main tune, but in most, there is a completely different tune at the very end of each song.

I have found that a pattern pervades a lot of their early work and that is a 4-3-1 pattern: The fourth, then third, then root. Or, the fourth, then a half step down, then a third down (4 halves (semitones)). Or, on a keyboard, start at F, then a half-step would be one note down, E, then four down from that, C. Red Moss has a pattern of this kind. (The song Red Moss may be named after the raised bog on the edge of the Pentland Hills.

To get the exact notes and tones of many Boards of Canada songs, I have found a technique that works very well:

Getting the BoC Tones and Making Synth Presets:

  1. I get a synth sound that is close to the tone of the song I am trying to replicate. This usually means using the U-he Diva synth that is so versatile at replicating the Boards of Canada sounds. Others I use are the TAL-U-NO-LX, TAL-Bassline-101, and TAL-MOD.
  2. I play the BoC tune in Edison (FL Studio) and loop in on a specific note. I can usually find this note on my MIDI keyboard so I play it and then tune the synth (usually Diva) to match it exactly. To get an exact match, I often have to de-tune the synth until I get the resonance with the tone of the song.
  3. I save the presets so I can come back to them later for more tuning, use, or to give away.

Getting the BoC Notes

  1. Once I have a tone that is close (see above), I pull the song piece into Edison and dump to piano roll as notes. This usually gives a mess, but from this you can get an idea of the correct notes.
  2. I play those notes and see if I can get close while looping the BoC song in Edison to compare.
  3. Also, I put an instance of the Fabfilter Pro-Q EQ after Edison and play the BoC song into the EQ. This EQ has a piano icon on the bottom left that replaces the frequency scale across the bottom with a piano and notes. I watch where the peaks are during the notes playing by BoC, and take note of them. Then I try playing those on the MIDI keyboard to compare.

Doing these things over and over and over, I can eventually come to something that is nearly exactly what Boards of Canada is playing in their music.

Music

Most of Boards of Canada’s music is released in a conventional way and you can find it on Amazon or wherever. However, some are not as easy to find. These are the more difficult ones to find and links where you can download them:

A Few Old Tunes

Available here: https://rareboc.ax.lt/ These are mp3 files separated by song titles.

Old Tunes (Vol 2)

Available here: https://rareboc.ax.lt/ These are mp3 files separated by song titles.

35 Random Tracks

Available here: https://rareboc.ax.lt/ These are mp3 files separated by song titles.

BoC Maxima

Available here: http://rareboc.ax.lt/bocmaxima-betacordremaster.zip These are flac format and separated by song titles.

Miscellaneous Tracks

Available here: https://rareboc.ax.lt/ These are mp3 files separated by song titles.

Popularity

Here is what Last.fm shows as the most popular songs:

7d
at

Here is what Reddit shows are most popular:

Similar Artists

Bibio (Stephen Wilkinson):
Works with guitar and other stringed instruments in a similar style to BoC. Thanked Marcus Eoin in the liner notes for Fi album. Reportedly he consulted Marcus for techniques of production. Fi preceded The Campfire Headphase, which also uses stringed instruments.

Cialyn – Turjan Aylan (Alain Pachins) and Aylahn (a separate project):
From Lille France. He uses Korg Volca Keys, Korg Volca Bass, Korg Minilogue, Korg MS-20, Korg M50, Korg VolcaBeats. It proves the Korg products can sound a lot like Boards of Canada. Also the Oberheim SEM is a favorite. ARP Odyssey, Waldorf-Streichfett. Technics M6 Stereo Cassette Deck is also used.

Cravogoid – a duo from Europe

Casino vs. Japan – from Wisconsin, USA

Faex Optim (Wesley MacDonald):
From Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Uses NI Massive.

Freesha – a duo from California, USA

Synima – from Florida (USA)

4T Thieves (Nik Racine):
From the UK. Runs the Kahvi Collective. He uses the BT Phobos software synth by Spitfire Audio and also the Clavia Nord Lead A1 hardware synthesizer. Also uses the “Roland JD800 and the amazing Nord Lead A1.” (source: https://www.cyclicdefrost.com/2019/01/nik-kahvi-collective-kahvi-and-idm-in-general-has-always-and-will-always-be-a-niche-label-and-genre-interview-by-paranoid/ )

PBS’73 (Elijah Franks):
From Austin, TX, USA. Uses Roland SH-01.

Lone (Matt Cutler):
From Nottingham, England, UK. Lemurian is exemplary of the BoC sound. Runs Magicwire Records on Bandcamp.

christ. (Christopher Horne):
From Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. He was once a member of Boards of Canada.

Com Truise – Airwaves (Seth Haley):

Tycho (Scott Hansen):

Boreal Network (Nicole Johnson):
From Minnesota originally and moved in Seattle at some point. Uses the NI FM7 synth extensively.

“My go-to synth is Native Instruments’ fm7. It took me years to get to this point, but I can take apart the whole synthesis process on that synth, and filter it and distort it, and then filter the distortion. It’s a process of just kicking layers of effects over and over. And at some point I listen to it and I think, man, that is destroyed, that just sounds like nothing like it did in the beginning. Perfect.” (source: “In Living Memory,” The Wire, Bites, May 2016 Issue 387, pg. 14)

Cities of Earth (Michael David King)

Wonderphase

Clocolan (Emlyn Ellis Addison):

Curious Inversions (now Abdicant):
Boston, USA
Uses U-He Bazille.

Bocuma (Martin Millar):
From Ireland.

Blurred faces of children in an Ontario Ministry of Health commercial from 1980’s VHS tape.

References

Go check these for more:

http://www.factmag.com/2012/05/20/the-essential-boards-of-canada/

http://www.factmag.com/2013/06/12/boards-of-canada-reveal-studio-processes-behind-tomorrows-harvest-hint-at-collection-of-early-material/

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jun/06/boards-of-canada-become-more-nihilistic

http://www.clashmusic.com/features/archive-piece-boards-of-canada

http://www.clashmusic.com/news/boards-of-canada-mystery-deepens

https://theknow.denverpost.com/2013/06/11/boards-of-canada-everything-you-need-to-know/70469/

http://blog.nfb.ca/blog/2013/09/23/music-has-the-right-to-children-sound/

http://www.clashmusic.com/features/archive-piece-boards-of-canada

https://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=6635418

http://bocpages.org/wiki/Equipment

http://www.vintagesynth.com/roland/sh101.php

http://www.vintagesynth.com/yamaha/an1x.php

http://whosampled.com

https://web.archive.org/web/20061208052517/http://fredd-e.narfum.org/boc/discog/#warp10

INTERVIEWS LISTED BY ALBUM

I’ve found these interviews with Boards of Canada to be interesting with respect to their music-making techniques and processes:

Music Has The Rights To Children

In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country

Geogaddi

The Campfire Headphase

Tomorrow’s Children

BOc260413
Blurred faces of children in an Ontario Ministry of Health commercial from 1980’s VHS tape.