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Cubase: Stranger Things Synths With Retrologue 2

Steinberg Cubase Tips & Techniques By John Walden
Published December 2022

Retrologue’s oscillator and filter options provide plenty of scope for creating analogue‑style lead sounds.Retrologue’s oscillator and filter options provide plenty of scope for creating analogue‑style lead sounds.

Create retro sci‑fi soundtracks with Cubase’s Retrologue 2.

The use of songs by Metallica and Kate Bush may well have stolen the musical headlines for season 3 of Stranger Things, but the underlying synth‑based score remains hugely important to the show’s iconic retro sci‑fi ’80s vibe. In our March 2017 interview, composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein explained the influence of the likes of Jean‑Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter and Giorgio Moroder, and how the pair made use of their impressive collection of (mainly vintage) analogue synths.

For these sorts of sounds, it makes sense to start with the sine, saw or square oscillator waveforms typically used in vintage hardware synths.

If the idea of creating a similar sound in software appeals, the Retrologue 2 synth bundled with Cubase Pro and Artist (it can be bought separately too) can get you pretty close. For these sorts of sounds, it makes sense to start with the sine, saw or square oscillator waveforms typically used in vintage hardware synths, but that 2017 interview offered some other helpful pointers. These include: not being afraid to let the mix get a bit ‘murky’; using low cutoff frequencies (particularly for bass sounds) so things don’t get too ‘growly’; using EQ to keep high‑end fizz at bay; keeping filter resonance modest; using analogue‑style delay to add texture; and detuning notes to provide an unsettling or random dimension.

The score uses synth sounds in various roles, but in this workshop we’ll explore three prominent examples: arpeggiated leads, evolving pads and dark bass tones.

Repeat After Me

The first screen is a good, simple starting point for the kind of arpeggiated lead used in the Stranger Things theme tune. A pair of oscillators, both based on single saw waves, are set an octave apart for a slightly fatter sound. In the Voice panel, Mono mode is switched on and a very short Glide time provides a slight sense of pitch‑sliding between notes. In the Main section, the most important thing is a very low (not zero) Rnd Pitch setting, giving the pitch of each note a very small random offset.

Retrologue’s arpeggiator page makes those Stranger Things melodic lines easy to experiment with.Retrologue’s arpeggiator page makes those Stranger Things melodic lines easy to experiment with.

In the Filter section, note the low values of the 12dB/octave low‑pass filter’s Resonance and Cutoff. The Filter envelope is given only a modest amount of velocity response (as is the Amplifier envelope; lots of...

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