Some of what makes Boards of Canada’s songs (or for that matter, any artist’s songs) interesting for me are the chords. If you know the chords, you can get a feel for how to make your own song sound similar or “in the flavor of” so to speak. From the chords, you can often get a melody you like by building off of them or playing along with them. You can even arpeggiate them.
I took the chords from Boards of Canada songs and put them into Xfer Records Cthulhu. From Cthulhu, you can make variations, add low notes, and change to major/minor/suspended. This gives a lot of inspiring chord progressions from some of my favorite Boards of Canada songs. I put them into a zip file of chord presets that you can use in Cthulhu for yourself (see below).
The description below details how I put the Boards of Canada song chords into Cthulhu. For the presets themselves, skip to the bottom of the page.
I set up Cthulhu to output to channel 21 (or any channel) and I set a piano also on the same channel for input (I used Pianoteq but anything would do – just so you can hear the chords).
Processing Each Song’s Chords Into Cthulhu
I opened the MIDI file of a song’s chords in the piano roll and then articulated the notes so there were gaps between them. Cthulhu needs gaps between these so it can know how to learn the chords.
In Cthulhu, I used only the chords section and chose an init preset. Then, I played a single note where I wanted the chords to start. This was C3 for me, in the middle of the keyboard.
Next, I clicked “learn” in Cthulhu and immediately pushed the play transport in my DAW so that the chords would be played in the piano roll.
Cthulhu then starts learning each chord played and assigns each chord to a successive note of the Cthulhu piano. You can see the orange line above each one that is assigned.
When the chords have all been played in the piano roll, I stop the DAW transport from playing and click again on Cthulhu’s learn button to turn it off.
At this point, the chords for the MIDI song are in Cthulhu and you can play them by playing single notes.
I went one step more in Cthulhu and selected menu, transform, populate empty slots with variations. This way every note on the keyboard plays a chord or variation from the song.
- Hints for do-it-yourself-ers:
- As long as the notes in the piano roll are articulated enough (far enough apart), you can run the tempo higher whilst recording these into Cthulhu. I set my tempo to 140 bpm to speed things along.
- Do not forget to push the root key (in my case C3) of your choice before clicking the learn button on Cthulhu.
- Don’t forget to unclick the learn button on Cthulhu after playing the chords into it, otherwise, it will keep recording everything.
- Using the transform menu functions in Cthulhu is rewarding – you can get a lot of interesting new chords by trying the sustained ones, all major, all minor, and adding low root notes for bass.
- Repeated chords are not recorded by Cthulhu, so do not worry if the piano roll plays on or repeats because nothing additional will be recorded.
Here below are the presets that I made. You can put them into Cthulhu by copying them into the Xfer Cthulhu chord presets folder.
I zipped them so just unzip and place them in the folder for chord presets and then they will be usable.
1/20/21: Now updated with additional chord presets for BoC remixes like Clouddead’s Dead Dogs Two and Why’s Good Friday.
If you use these chords with the right synth, you can get a good Boards of Canada chord sound. The Beach at Redpoint is mostly chords repeated as are some of the others (Echus, etc.). Here’s an example using TAL Sampler: