A powerful synth-driven piece of electronica

Photo Credit: Niko Hallikainen

Finnish studio innovators Pihka Is My Name release their latest single, “Forest Syntax,” blending Berlin’s house and techno vibes with the serene hum of Finnish woodlands. Inspired by the subtle communication of trees, this track offers an auditory journey fit for both the dance floor and meditative headphone sessions. The duo, composed of Henna Helasvuo and Lasse Turunen, merges analog synthesizers, hypnotic piano patterns, and crunchy drum machines.

Their sound is a unique blend of synthwave, house and downtempo. Think, Bonobo meets Justice. Their sound comes from their love of analogue synths – which is showcases in their youtube series. They’ve took the time to walk us through, how they created their new single “Forest Syntax”

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Main Synth: Minilogue XD

Our favorite synth is the original Minilogue – we’ve used it extensively in live and in studio. It’s great for both quick basic sounds and for complete freaking out, altough it does really benefit from some efx pedals. XD version, used here, has some great built-in efx, of which for us the shimmer reverb is the highlight.

We used the Minilogue XD for synth arpeggios on Forest Syntax (and we bring it for live gigs as well!). The first thing we always do is hit the “Load Panel” function, we never begin with a preset, as it can be very inspiration-killing to browse through sounds someone else made. Minilogue is especially good for designing your own sounds, it’s so easy and everything is right there on the front panel.

This synth is so good for happy accidents. Send MIDI from your DAW to the synth, and when recording its audio back to the DAW, perform with the knobs, octave and arpeggiator settings. Record a few passes, then edit the best bits into your production.

Plug-in #1: Softube American Class A

American Class A is a channel strip plug-in modeled after API consoles channel strips. We’ve never used an actual API console (we record thru an SSL), but boy this sounds good on a mix! It’s basically got everything you need on a channel: filters, gate, EQ, comp and saturation. Especially the saturation is a real better-maker.

We often have the American Class A on all our busses, since so great for summing when used gently. But it can also be found on individual instrument channels, when it might see some real heavy-handed (ab)use. It’s no problem to boost a murky-sounding track’s high frequencies by 12db here – it still doesn’t sound harsh. When using analogue equipment you sometimes need to apply this kind of heavy post-processing.

Channel strip plug-ins are great for cohesion in a mix, in spite of the genre you’re working on. They’ve got a sound of their own, and that sound really starts to shine through when using them on a lot of channels/busses. Channel strip plug-ins also make your mix session look less cluttered, because there are so many processors on a single plug-in.

Plug-in #2: iZotope RX 11

The best tool for cleaning up audio, for sure. The workflow can be a bit wonky (as we’re writing this, still no ARA support for Cubase!), but the results are so good it’s well worth your time. You can do little stuff like fixing disturbing mouth clicks from a vocal, or removing a good amount of noise from a bad recording. It’s also superb for creative uses.

We used RX 11’s Stem Separation for Forest Syntax. The track is based on a Covid-era synth jam of ours, which can be found on YouTube HERE. We only had the stereo file, including all drums, bass and synths. By separating the stems, we could use a lot of the original audio we really loved! We did try recreating those synth lines at first, but there was no beating the mood in the originals.

Of course high-quality stem separation like this can be good for a remixer of any genre, if you don’t happen to have stems at hand. Sure there will be some artefacts to the sound, but be sure to use those artefacts to your advantage. They can be made to sound cool.

Plug-in #3: Korg Opsix Native

FM Synth in an easy-to-understand package! This is just like the Opsix hardware synth, but in plug-in form. Really deep, but not horrible to use like the DX7. You could go full-on Brian Eno with this thing. 

We don’t often use synth plug-ins on Pihka tracks – most of our sounds are made with outboard gear. Except for the bass, where it’s good to have as much control as possible until the very last stages of production. For our 2023 record ‘Caller Unknown’ we used a lot of bass guitar (and samples of it), but this time we wanted a more synth-driven bass sound for that clubby feel. We really went deep into automating the synth to make it lively – we think there was something like 12 tracks of fine-tuned automation.

Just like with the Minilogue XD, we prefer not to use presets here… initialize the sound instead, and start from scratch to be inspired! Yes, FM can be daunting, but it’s so satisfying when you know your sound inside out. And if you at some point need to make a change to the sound, you know exactly where to go and make it.

Tip #1

Roll your own sounds! Browsing through presets gets you lost quickly.

Tip #2

Really get to know your synths before acquiring new ones. Easier said than done, but that’s your ticket to original sounds that are truly yours.

Tip #3

When shopping for a new synth, have a thorough think: for what purpose do you need the new synth? Can you learn some new way to use your old gear to achieve that purpose?

Tip #4

It’s great fun to shop for new instruments! Even if you don’t end up buying anything, those “synthfluencer” hype videos on YouTube always give you new ideas on how to use the gear/plug-ins you already have.

Tip #5

When songwriting, try not to think of a certain genre. So much generic music is released today – we want to hear something original.

The post HOW IT WAS MADE: PIHKA IS MY NAME – FOREST SYNTAX appeared first on Magnetic Magazine.