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Soundtrack Synths: Get That Blockbuster Sound


Moog Minimoog Model-D 2022  · 

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Modern big-budget movie scores are full of synths, both hardware and soft. Read on to find out how to get the soundtrack synth sounds of Dune, Furiosa, Oppenheimer and more.

Soundtrack Synths

Synthesizers have been used in movie soundtracks as long as synths have been in existence. They used to be a way to inject some eerie sounds into a sci-fi soundscape or for a budget-conscious producer to get a full sound without paying for an orchestra. Nowadays, however, synthesizers are used throughout scores for movies of all kinds, with modern composers integrating them with more traditional orchestral and acoustic instruments.

Three of the biggest names in blockbuster soundtracks – Hans Zimmer, Tom Holkenberg and Ludwig Göransson – are all massive synthesizer fans. Here is a clutch of the synthesizers, both hard and soft, that they’ve used to score some of the biggest movies of the 21st century.

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer has single-handedly changed modern film scoring. Coming from a synth background (that’s him in the Buggles video in front of a wall of Moog modular, after all), he’s long integrated both hardware synths and VSTis into his scores. 

Soundtrack Synths: The Dark Night/The Dark Night Rises

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy was instrumental in changing the way that we think about superhero movies. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack was equally influential, marking a sea change in the way that blockbuster movies use music and sound.

u-he Zebra2 soundtrack synths
u-he Zebra2 · Source: u-he

Hans’ go-to synth for the movies was u-he’s Zebra. In an interview with KVR, he stated that Zebra was his favourite plugin. “The underlying quality of the sound is not going to let me down”, he said about Zebra. “The code in each module is really well written. The oscillators are great, and the circuits are great, and there’s one module that’s a bit dodgy, but they’re all of an equal quality”.

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In fact, he liked it so much, he had his own custom version made, ZebraHZ. It adds Diva‘s analogue modelled filters and a resonator module to the synth plus The Dark Zebra, a soundbank of over 400 patches from Hans and sound designer Howard Scarr. You can access it yourself if you own Zebra2.

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Soundtrack Synths: Blade Runner 2049

Yamaha’s CS-80 is one of the most famous soundtrack synths ever thanks to Vangelis’ masterful use of it in Blade Runner. When Denis Villeneuve tasked Hans with crafting the soundtrack for the sequel, Blade Runner 2049, Hans made sure to source an original CS-80 for the job.

Yamaha CS-80
Yamaha CS-80 · Source: Yamaha

Vintage CS-80s are notoriously expensive. If you’re looking to add some of that polyphonic soundtrack synth magic to your next Hollywood job, try Black Corporation’s Deckard’s Dream or one of the many software versions, like Arturia’s CS-80 V or GX-80 from Cherry Audio.

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Soundtrack Synths: Dune/Dune: Part Two

Denis returned to Hans for the music for his next big projects, Dune and Dune: Part Two. Acoustic and unusual instruments (many handmade) occupy much of the soundtracks for the two films. However, synth fan that he is, Hans was sure to include some purely electronic tones in his epic scores.

Synapse Audio Dune 3
Synapse Audio Dune 3 · Source: Robin Vincent

For the first Dune, one soft synth that he reportedly turned to was – yes, you guessed it – Dune 3 by Synapse Audio. Hans also recently released The Legend HZ, a six-oscillator polyphonic Minimoog emulation with Synapse. Epic soundtrack synth.

Expressive E Osmose
Expressive E Osmose · Source: Expressive E

For Dune: Part Two, Hans brought in the developers of the EaganMatrix along with Expressive E and its Osmose to add physical modelling elements to the soundscape. 

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Tom Holkenberg

Once known as Junkie XL, Tom Holkenberg has reinvented himself as one of the biggest composers in Hollywood. Being a former electronic music producer as well as a protege of Hans Zimmer himself, Tom has nothing but love for synthesizers. He may have sold off a lot of his older gear but that hasn’t stopped him from incorporating synthetic sounds in his scores.

Soundtrack Synths: Deadpool

The synth-heavy music for Deadpool includes an ARP 2600 clone, Yamaha DX5, Oberheim OB-Xa and Roland JD-800 and Jupiter-6. Is that a soundtrack synth list or Orbital’s live rig?

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Soundtrack Synths: Terminator: Dark Fate

For Terminator: Dark Fate (not one of the better Terminator movies, sure, but the soundtrack is worth a listen), Tom pulled out Xfer Records’ Serum. Not for wubs but for a nasty, tearing drone.

Xfer Records Serum
Xfer Records Serum · Source: Cymatics.fm

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Soundtrack Synths: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Although I loved Mad Max: Fury Road, I have to say I was a little disappointed by the lack of synths in the soundtrack (too much guitar for my taste). However, this year’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga definitely benefits from one of Tom’s recent purchases, a massive Buchla 200e set (as revealed in this story from Spitfire Audio). Hear it in “Darkest of Gods” (below).

A Buchla rig like Tom’s will probably cost more than your actual life is worth but there are a number of ways to bring the price down, including Eurorack modules from Tiptop Audio. There’s also Buchla’s own Music Easel.

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Ludwig Göransson

Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson is also on the rise, soundtracking everything from Oscar-loving Oppenheimer to Marvel movies. He’s best known for incorporating unusual instruments (such as the bass recorder in his score for The Mandalorian) but he’s also a synth guy, with his Eurorack rig often featured prominently in studio shots.

Soundtrack Synths: Black Panther

For Ludwig’s Marvel debut, Black Panther, he used many African-style instruments, including talking drums. He also employed electronic sounds. T’Challa’s theme features a number of talking drums layered subs from a Roland TR-808 to give it some weight for theatre sound systems. He used the 808 in Killmonger’s theme as well.

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Soundtrack Synths: Tenet

For his work for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, Ludwig apparently dialled in u-he’s Hive, a fantastic soft synth that’s light on the CPU.

u-he Hive 2.0
u-he Hive 2.0 · Source: u-he

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Soundtrack Synths: Oppenheimer

Ludwig’s biggest score to date has been Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s biopic about the father of the atomic bomb. While the score deftly employs a solo violin to represent the main character, he did make use of a Moog Minimoog Model D to double the strings throughout. “If it’s a string quartet playing a glissando with four different voices, you can play it live with the Moog synthesizer too”, he said in an interview with Sound On Sound. “I like how the performances are slightly different and how you can make it feel human but using the synthesizers as an orchestra.”

Minimoog Model D
Minimoog Model D · Source: Moog Music

To get your own Minimoog sound, there’s the 2022 Moog reissue if you can afford it. If not, there are many, many software versions, including the Hans-approved The Legend HZ as well as Universal Audio’s Moog Minimoog, which is one of the best-sounding emulations to my ears.

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John Smith

My John Smith is a seasoned technology writer with a passion for unraveling the complexities of the digital world. With a background in computer science and a keen interest in emerging trends, John has become a sought-after voice in translating intricate technological concepts into accessible and engaging articles.

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