A tale of metallic sounds, PhasePlant, Monomachines and online listings

I’m primarily a software developer that’s been dipping my toes into production as a hobby and like to refer to myself as a technician that makes noise. I got into production by downloading DAWs and plugins from the internet, throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks, moving on to trying to recreate the music I listened to (which was mostly progressive house, future bass, dubstep, D&B and the likes) and eventually stumbled upon EPROM and Flume’s collab on Hi This Is Flume, Spring.

From there, I found Flume & EPROM’s remix of SOPHIE’s Is It Cold In The Water and when I found out that SOPHIE co-produced Voices, I decided that I needed to know more about her. (Also, Flume and EPROM led me into the world of Granular Synthesis). From there, I underwent a complete transformation in my musical tastes and finally found a direction in the kind of music I want to make.

Problem? It’s not trivial to reproduce SOPHIE’s sounds using plugins. I started by using Xfer’s Serum, finding that it didn’t have the effects I needed to make the textures that are distinctly SOPHIE and eventually stumbled on PhasePlant, which does the job (in that I can make rubbery, bubbly sounds and some cool mallets) but it was far from perfect.

Turns out, unlike most of the classics, a digital reproduction of the Monomachine isn’t available (or as far as I know for now, possible), only sample packs. So I decided to see if I could buy one.

HTIF, the album that took me into the rabbit hole, was released in 2019.

The Monomachine was discontinued in 2016. Damn.

So going to the used marketplace, I found some, none within affordable reach. eBay (US and UK), DesertCart, Reverb, Sweetwater, they listed various variants of the Monomachine, the SFX-6, SFX-60 and SFX-60+ MKII. Are these prices justifiable? How do I know that they work?

I do not know the differences between the three, I do know that the MKII supports importing WAV files and is more versatile along with some improvements to the design but it seems like I can’t find them anywhere.

And for the ones that can find, either are continents away (and the ~60-80% import tariffs here are no joke) or are too good to be true, even worse, some are listings that get your hopes up and then go “out of stock”. I’ve tried contacting music shops in my country (Elektron does not have any official retailers there, unfortunately), some official retailers and I got… zilch.

So, now what?

I was told the Digitone can do a close enough job. I might be able to get my hands on one but is it comparable to a Monomachine? Should I save up for Monomachine or get a Digitone? Is the >$2000 worth it for a Monomachine? Where do I even get one? I’ve never navigated the used marketplace for music gear before.

Is it possible to reproduce some of its metallic textures using plugins? I know it’s not perfect but I did get very close with PhasePlant and I can share them if anyone is interested. What synth would you recommend to achieve that “material-like” sound, sugary yet dark.

Thanks and any help would be appreciated! :slight_smile:

if you just want to make hyper pop style FM stuff you can get away with the digitone engine. in many ways it’s more versatile than the monomachine. I say this as someone who’s lucky enough to own both. When the monomachine hits a sweet spot it’s incredible but I can say you won’t be finding anything close to sophie out of the box. It’s more a testament to her abilities as a producer than anything.

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I’m sorry if I come off as lost or insensitive but I feel like I must ask, does the Digitone offer something that a plugin doesn’t (it seems FM driven and PhasePlant seems to be alright in that regard). As far as I know, the strengths of the Monomachine come from its multitudes of synthesis methods that have not (or cannot, for now) be replicated on a computer and the Digitone offers fewer synthesis methods.

And yes, what’s are a carpenter’s tools without the carpenter’s skill, to call her a competent producer would be underselling it :stuck_out_tongue:

I think the argument for the Digitone becomes in that case, the argument for any hardware. it’s a curated interface and limited set of controls. you don’t (I should say “I” don’t) get lost in the sauce just sculpting and sculpting and tweaking like you can in a daw. you get to the core of your sound very quickly. the beauty of digitone or other modern elektrons is also using overbridge so you can take the individual track streams into ableton and do all the external processing that most of the greats are actually doing. in addition to having daw automation lanes for the parameters.

Another hint to help you in your journey Monomachine’s FM engines are linear FM based not Phase Modulation like most software and DX7 style FM devices (digitone is PM based but has wavetable operators that ads some other character to it) You might look into building a small eurorack skiff with some wavetable and westcoast style voices (lots of Analog style FM and wave foldeing) with something like an expert sleepers device to process everything through the daw. this would give you plenty of options to create. For the price monomachines are going for you might as well look at eurorack :stuck_out_tongue:

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Honestly you’re way better sticking with software than Digitone if you’re aiming for Sophie sounds.

Although nothing sounds quite like the brittle, digital loveliness that comes out of a Monomachine which is part of Sophie’s distinctive sound, Sophie also used Serum, Logic ES2 and lots of other software synths.
It’s really about the programming more than anything else and while Elektron sequencers lend themselves nicely to intricate, dynamic sound design because of parameter locks it’s nothing that can’t be done in software with some patience.

Another thing worth noting is that Sophie used effects as part of the synthesis/sound design process. Short reverbs + delays and very wet choruses and flanges are an essential part of getting to some of those sounds.

I tried my luck with Serum and while I was able to get some of the more metallic sounds out of it, I found PhasePlant’s lack of LFO limitations and flanger automation processing useful in reproducing some sounds.

I even tried making an attempt at reproducing some sounds and made a track out of it for FORM’s ALL NIGHTER event and while the project file is lost to time and I’m on Linux for now (might not be making much music till I switch back to macOS), I did make some cool sounds and I’d like to know if I’m going in the right direction. I feel like software synths either are just the beginning or I’m just getting started to understand software synths in their depth.

The complete track is here but the relevant sounds are at 1:32 (bubbles) and 2:06 (rhythmic crickets) and 2:51 (somewhat different bubbles)…

I’ve made more sounds that feel like fins and chaos bubbles (here’s another one)… I’ve only been able to make bubbly sounds but I’ve wanted to make some of the sweeter, sugarier sounds along with mallets that sound similar yet different (for example, in her remix of FOREVER)

Well the SFX-6 is pretty much the same as the SFX-60 mki just with the keyboard.

Have you searched the forums already?

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Yeah, I always figured why some models were having large keyboards attached to them. I guess that makes sense.

Light Google searching and asking folks on Discord, yes. Searching Elektronauts thoroughly, nope.

I remember watching a remake of PONYBOY and being seriously impressed. I had no clue that it was made by the same person who did the FACESHOPPING remake with the Digitone. (Dwyer, they’re both amazing) until I was typing this post.

Watching PONYBOY’s remake without processing was interesting. Those sounds felt achievable using software I already have. I’ve tried experimenting with effect chains only to have my ears hurt so I figured I was doing it wrong and it’s all in the synthesis, post-processing being an afterthought

This is what I partially fear, that the Digitone won’t have the things that are needed to make that kind of sound and for me, it’ll be my first hardware synth and a large investment (considering I rarely save money to buy things, I either buy it or don’t, mostly don’t but this is something I care about)

Same fear as above. For me, hardware synths come into the question because it can make sounds that cannot be made (yet) in software, if it can then I’d go for the software option because you can’t drop software on the ground if you’re clumsy.

And while… I get that SOPHIE’s SOPHIE because she experimented and trying to emulate or build on top of her sound might not be in the spirit of that but we all need to start somewhere and quoting A G Cook, “Yes, I’ve got to admit. about 90, 95, 98 percent of my stuff is just wholesale ripped off this American composer called Conlon Nancarrow” (I earlier put in blanks, now removed, as I couldn’t get the name properly and didn’t want to misspell)

He’s referring to Conlon Nancarrow.

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I’ve been hearing and seeing stuff played on the M8 tracker that is phenomenal enough to make me not care so much about the Monomachine anymore. I know it’s not a replacement, but it’s like $2k cheaper, portable, and a sampler.

Edited the post to reflect that, thanks!

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i think Drambo on ios is the closest i’ve found to something approaching monomachine-ness. Very different sauce but similar flavor. Since its modular You could easily model the signal path after a monomachine track, plus have the perks of octa style scene slidin and many oscillator/filter/fx options

but nothing is really like a mono mk2+ tho

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Sophie’s newer work mostly uses plugins. Serum was her go-to. All the sounds you’re describing are possible in the realm of software, there is a certain texture to her earlier tracks, sure - but if you’re looking at her newer stuff it’s mostly just lots of synthesis knowledge and really good processing. I think there’s this misconception that the monomachine is responsible for her sound, rather than the other way around. You could argue it inspired the starting point but she expanded beyond it. All it comes down to is she was just incredibly good at what she does. As I said in another thread, don’t spend $2000 trying to sound like another artist. If you really want to do that she has a sample pack on splice.

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Her newer stuff (like stuff from the HEAVEN set) seems attainable but for some reason I’ve still had a huge interest in stuff from the PRODUCT days (Get Higher and Hard in particular), even her unreleased tracks like DRY (which is now released as METAL though I still prefer DRY), Ultraviolet Love, Kitty Kat and Burn Rubber. I heard them and thought “I could do this in software” and for some reason while I was close, it wasn’t there.

I remember playing around with her Splice sample pack and then trying to emulate the sound using Serum and either making the same bubbly sound that I’ve always made or making my ears hurt due to harsh postprocessing.

If I had to take a purely software approach, what would be a good place to start? I’ve tried just diving into it with trial and error but I’ve been stuck making the same kind of bubbles or weird resonant FM sounds.

For some reason, the Splice pack didn’t do it for me and I started sampling portions of OOEPUI, used fan packs and got close but then the track didn’t feel like it was “mine”, it felt like I cheated by using what in my head was a Lego kit, so I discarded those projects because they felt phony (even if in hindsight deleting products as a knee-jerk reaction is a bad idea).

I want to start by making sounds like her and use that as a starting point to make my own and there was only so much I could do by manipulating samples from that pack (though this may just because I’m a beginning in sample manipulation)

I’d recommend getting extremely comfortable with FM synthesis, learning how things like phase and delay affect a signal, as well as doing a lot of research into drum synthesis. A trademark of her sound that carried from the monomachine is the fact that each track is monophonic. As a result a lot of her sounds fall into this strange hybrid realm of melodic and percussive. You can get really close to her stuff by making some standard percussive sounds in FM, messing with the parameters a bit to get it further from reality, and processing it a bunch. The aspect that I think her use of gear shows the most in is more her arrangement/sequencing/utility of the sounds she makes, and less the synthesis of the actual sounds. If by any chance you use ableton, I’d challenge yourself to make a drum rack, load each pad with operator, and create an entire song, just in drum rack with sounds you synthesize using FM. This will teach you so much more than any piece of gear will; and will give you a bit of insight into the philosophy of her arrangements.

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Operator is spooky. Wish me luck! Thanks for the advice :slight_smile:

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FM can be intimidating at first, but it’s easier than it looks! Think less of it in terms of ratio and all that and more in terms of what the envelopes are doing, and how each operator makes up a mechanical “part” of a sound. Once you got that down I promise the rest will come naturally.

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Also, if you want some synthesis tutorials to look at, check out some of the more popular neuro bass tutorial youtubers. It’s not really my genre per se, and it’s a different sound than Sophie’s, but for whatever reason neuro guys make amazing synthesis tutorials for FM. If you search “FM drum synthesis” on YouTube you’ll get plenty of results, mostly from neuro producers, and while the sounds they’re making might not be what you’re looking for, they’ll teach you the skills you need to get to that point.

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This is a great point.

Even as far back as* the interview she did with Elektron (which I can’t find online anymore) she said she was mostly using the MM for sketching out ideas that would later get fully realised in software.

MM was obviously important to her (she continued to use it in live sets) but you’re probably best getting deep into software synthesis.

Remember that SOPHIE spent decades honing her sound and was regarded as one of the best sound designers around, you can’t expect to get to her level after a few months.

*when the PRODUCT singles were being released

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I did not know that, it’s news to me. For most artists I always have some sort of tutorial guide to start off with but SOPHIE’s sound design has little to no tutorials that don’t involve the sample pack or the generic bubble sound.

It’s quite a steep target but I want to be able to capture the vibe of her sound and I’ve had success in doing so for other artists (back when I was big into future bass, riddim and progressive house) but SOPHIE has been… different.

It’s a bit naive to expect overnight mastery but I was hoping to at least come close so I’d have motivation to improve on it (and eventually make my own iterations of it). For me, if I don’t reach there then I immediately get discouraged and don’t try again for months in a row.

Same thing with granular synthesis, I’d pour in days and when I didn’t get the sound I was looking for, I’d stop using it altogether due to discouragement. It’s fatiguing and demoralizing so how does one go around that?