There was a magical time around the end of the 2000s, when electronica was finding its position among the backdrop of huge guitar bands in the pop arena: the perfect proving ground for new bands to create truly unique sounds from long-existing elements and conventions. Hot Chip and Phoenix had carved a groove for themselves and others through their rich vocal/synth arrangements where euphoric, almost balearic-style builds collided with live drums and something that had been out of focus for some time: the song. Synths were cool again, but so were live drums and guitars. Enter Passion Pit with their energetic, melodic and accessible sound. Fight music this was not, and in the months to come, their infectious, hands-in-the-air sound infiltrated the mainstream, and quickly spread worldwide. Numerous accolades followed, including plays on countless TV shows such as Skins, Ugly Betty and Gossip Girl, as well as on feature films and in video games. On the live circuit, they played Glastonbury in 2009 and toured with Muse in the USA in 2010.
Synths are front and centre of the mix for Passion Pit; something that founder/keys/lead vocalist Michael Angelakos is fervent about. He has a particular love for hardware synths, and credits them, not software instruments, for the fullness of the sound found on Passion Pit records. So when Novation's UltraNova came out, and with a new album in the making, he knew he had to have one. He considers Novation to be "part of the new league of hardware synthesizer producers", adding that "Novation has done a great job with the UltraNova."
Michael continues, "The engine is quicker than you might think, and the interface is customizable and easy to set to your technical specifications. The sound especially serves a very important role for me: I'm constantly looking for good digital synthesizers (not VSTs) to offset the analog weight in Passion Pit's music. I like FM, linear, and great digital synths, so when I learned that the UltraNova was a vocoder, I was eager to see how well it performs. With 70 or so oscillators and wavetables and easy-to-sculpt modifiers and modulation sources/destinations, the synth sounds warm and abrasive, personal, and not 'stock'.
"There are vocoders all over the new Passion Pit album, but you won't hear them the way most people expect to; at least not most of the time. Novation helped me to be hyper-specific: selecting whatever microphone I wanted, running through aggressive or subtle outboard compressors/limiters and looping blown-out samples from my computer. Then going in and tweaking the sound, which doesn't take long. Sometimes I'd layer multiple sounds that I thought were rather corny, but with a bit of post, the outcome was gorgeous. The Novation was just easy, and there are definitely places where, mixed or not, other vocoders couldn't cut through the mix — especially on more percussive tracks. This is a testament both to the engine and the synth itself. Post-UltraNova work is fun as well, as it's not fussy or temperamental like other older vocoders. It does really well with both in-the-box and out-of-the-box effects and manipulation.
"The vocoder was extraordinarily useful and the synth itself is really fun and accessible. I even used it as a controller at one point for my computer, bus-powered. But hopefully the wide spectrum of possibilities provided by Novation in regards to its vocoder will help people see that integrating such a vocoder into what we'd first perceive as just a 'digital synth' is connecting it to a greater production mentality. At such a great price, I'd be excited to hear people use vocoding to the greatest extent — it just baffles me how boring so many units have made it seem. Perhaps the UltraNova will change that and inspire some increased creativity in the vocoder world. Thanks, Novation!"