NAMM , the big music equipment show in Los Angeles, featured a remarkable retro trend in synthesizers this year. The legendary synth company Sequential Circuits is back with a Prophet 6! Oberheim is back. Korg is making updated versions of the ultra-cool ARP Odyssey synth from the 70s. In fact, because the ARP designs are effectively public domain, anyone can make an Odyssey, so Behringer is also talking about making their own cheaper version. The really big news though was is that Moog is restarting production of their massive modular synthesizers from the early 70s albeit at matchingly massive prices.
If you've got 20,000 to 30,000 bucks burning a hole in your pocket, you might consider purchasing the world's first electronic music synthesizer: the Helmholtz, which is up for auction.
Synergy is the name of the project that composer/engineer Larry Fast gave to his series of space rock albums, based on his groundbreaking synthesizer work, and beginning with 1975's Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra. [more inside]
808 State is an English electronic group that formed in 1987, and take their name from the Roland TR-808 drum machine and their shared state of mind. As a trio, they produced their iconic track, Pacific, which fused influences of house music, jazz fusion and exotica. The group changed membership a bit over the years, but one way or another 808 State have released six albums* to date, and a number of singles, EPs, and promotional discs. 808state.com has a ton of information, including an extensive visual discography, a list of other productions and remixes, and over a gig of demos, live tracks, and other non-album audio to download. Given the group's 27 year-long history, there's a lot more to see and hear. [more inside]
Musician Charles Cohen (previously) hosts a workshop at Berlin's Schneidersladen, demonstrating the use of the rare and recently re-released Buchla Music Easel
Moogfest is in full swing in Asheville, NC, and Moog Music just unveiled a faithful reproduction of Keith Emerson's original Moog Modular system. Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Lucky Man (SLYT) was one of the first professional recordings to feature a Moog synth. Apparently playing both the original and the facsimile simultaneously is a pretty orgasmic experience.
Whether taking all mankind close to the edge with his keyboard contributions to every punk's favorite prog-rock band Yes, or going it solo (in fully sequined gown) with all Six Wives of Henry VIII all the way to the center of the earth, or perhaps with figure skating Knights of the Round Table, or composing the score for Ken Russell's Liztomania (and "acting" in it), or doing definitive session work for the likes of David Bowie, Black Sabbath, etc, or candidly singing the praises of Christianity and/or Freemasonry ... [more inside]
Their hearts are not hearts, but clockwork springs. Their lungs are not lungs, but leather bellows. They are: Jack Donovan's Princely Toys [more inside]
"The Synth Kit that just hit the market originated a year ago, at a TED conference where Bdeir and comedian/musician Reggie Watts met backstage after giving talks, and started discussing the idea of littleBits musical instruments."
"Gentlemen: I have a story that may be of interest to you. It is not widely known who invented the circuitry concept for the automatic sequential performance of musical pitches - now well known as a sequencer. I, however, do know who the inventor was - for it was I who first conceived and built the sequencer." This is the opening to an undated, unaddressed letter, found in Raymond Scott's personal papers (yes, the same fellow whose kooky soundtracks scored everything from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies to Ren & Stimpy, The Simpson, and Animaniacs). You can read the rest of Scott's letter, along with Bob Moog's recollections of visiting Raymond's electronics laboratory in the mid-1950s. Or you could jump ahead to the mid-1960s, when Jim Henson was in his late 20s to early 30s, and he was working on a variety of odd projects after a successful run with Sam and Friends, but before he it it big with Sesame Street. It was at this point that he teamed up with Scott on a few short, experimental films. [more inside]
Every now and then it's just good for the soul to hear a nice, filtery, fat and squelchy analog modular synthesizer, don'tcha think? Let's drop in on David Baron, then, who's been kind enough to offer us a taste of several of the finest modular machines ever made, in his Tour Of The Universe - Analog Modular Synthesizer Journey. [more inside]
Celebrating the memory of beloved synth pioneer Bob Moog and commemorating his birthday, Google's home page (currently in Australia, live in the US tomorrow) is a fully working, multi-trackable Moog synthesizer. Share your masterpiece!
Wendy Carlos is best known for Switched-On Bach, the best-selling album that popularized the Moog synthesizer, and the soundtracks for A Clockwork Orange and Tron. But what she calls her "most important album" is the 1986 recording Beauty in the Beast, whose experiments with instrumentation, tonality, and scaling are described in these two PDF reproductions of contemporary articles from Keyboard magazine. [more inside]
When not terrorizing Mr Bond, from the late 1970s until 1994, Mike Mangino and Chris Shepard were in a basement full of musical toys, novelty space microphones, a TR-606, and a SH-09 in Piscataway, NJ recording cassettes as the band Smersh. In 1981 Smersh released their first cassette under their own label of Atlas King. They never rehearsed, they couldn't read music, and they never played live, and they contributed to far too many compilations throughout the known world. In the early eighties they established a unique sound that is known and loved, combining cheap electronics and wild guitar sounds with distorted vocals. By trading cassettes they garnered international acclaim leading to releases on dozens of other labels. [more inside]
In 1978 a tiny English company called Electronic Dream Plant produced their first product, the EDP Wasp synthesizer, the first of a short-lived range of creepy-crawly-named devices. In the golden age of big wooden and metal synths the wasp was made of plastic, battery-powered, with a built-in speaker, a keyboard with no moving parts, and used a brilliantly minimalist CMOS circuit design (in fact, people are still copying the Wasp filter circuit). It was the first analog synth to be truly affordable. The Wasp's accessibility, unique sound and portability saw it quickly used by musicians ranging from buskers to rock stars. [more inside]
"Daphne Oram was the first woman to direct an electronic music studio, the first woman to set up a personal studio and the first woman to design and construct an electronic musical instrument." [previously: 1, 2, 3] [more inside]
The Realistic MG-1 Synthesizer with 'polyphony', built by Moog Music in 1981 for the home market and sold through Radio Shack stores for $499. Despite its toy-like appearance, its tones are quite serviceable. Sound demos: Classic Moog filter tones. 1 2. A thorough demonstration of each knob, switch and slider, 1 2 3 4 5, filtering audio, and with a sequencer.
The creator of the PSynth app for iPhone explains the basics of software synthesizers in a series of articles on Dr. Dobbs. Creating Oscillators. The Synthesizer Core. The final article promises delays and phasers. The source code is java so the example synth is easily extendable.
A tour inside a Hammond Solovox circa 1940s, a monophonic synth/organ and "a scaled down mono version of the 170-tube 500-some-pound Hammond Novacord", by Bob Weigel. via
Why Cecco Beppe Does Not Die (Scratch 'n' Sniff Edition), a reenactment of the lost 1916 Futurist film Vita Futurista by the neutered cat responsible for the sleeper hit Valentine for Perfect Strangers (DLYT)
Earlier this year, the BBC's Arena produced and aired an excellent documentary on Brian Eno entitled "Another Green World" containing "a series of conversations on science, art, systems analysis, producing and cybernetics". [more inside]
Dan McPharlin is an Australian artist who creates fantastic landscapes that seem more likely to come from sci-fi novels from decades past than an artist who who gives away his music for donations (YT sample). McPharlin also made a series of miniature analog synthesizers that were featured on album art for Steve Jansen's album Slope (YT sample), as well as Moog Acid by Jean-Jacques Perrey & Luke Vibert (YT sample). Currently, McPharlin's website only has an 18 page portfolio in PDF form and an email address, but his Flickr collection is a sight to behold. Even his house looks like something from a 1970s photo shoot. [more inside]
Pocket music apps are letting composers and artists create music anywhere - and they're developing fast. [more inside]
The Silver Dream Machine: The synthesizer that accidentally changed the world.
The Humanthesizer. Calvin Harris is promoting his new single by using a type of skin-safe conductive ink to "play" his song with the assistance of, ah, several assistants. [more inside]
"The StringStation introduces a fresh and inventive playing surface allowing one musician to play in real time on an instrument that offers thunderous bass, compelling rhythm, 3-D orchestration and melody. It uses new ways to approach groups of strings that find amazing intertwined performance techniques. It opens and lays out new paths to evolve tactile music composition skills." It's the baby of engineer/inventor Jim Bartz, who is on a mission to bring his invention into the musical mainstream. Start your exploration of what the StringStation can do with this video of Bartz playing his prototype model (actual performance comes in at 2:25). [more inside]
Terry Riley celebrates the 45th anniversary of his groundbreaking composition, In C. A major work in the history of minimalist music, In C has an incredibly flexible score and performance guidelines, which have inspired many musicians to make their own versions, including a French guitar quintet, a traditional Chinese orchestra, a keyboard ensemble, an all-synthesizer group, CalArts Music students, French-Canadian hippies, a Danish vocal and percussion ensemble, another percussion ensemble, Japanese acidheads, a "laptop orchestra", the Bang on a Can Orchestra, and a rock "orchestration" by the Styrenes. No two versions can sound exactly the same, but it's still an open question how they will compare to the performance of In C at its Carnegie Hall debut next month. No recording of the original 1964 performance has ever been publicly released, but some eyewitness accounts can be found here.
The Hammond Novachord: Introduced in 1939, it was the world's first subtractive synthesis synthesizer and built with all the cutting edge technology of the time: 169 vacuum tubes, 12 oscillators, 60 frequency dividers, 60 band pass filters, 72 VCA's, and weighing in at 500 pounds. You've likely heard it in dozens of films and TV shows from the 1940's to 1960's. Crazy enough to restore one? If it sounds like this, why not?
The Tone Generation is a radio series by Ian Helliwell 'looking at different themes or composers in the era of analogue tape and early synthesizer technology'. The original globe-trotting series: Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, USA, Canada, Rest of World. Bonus programmes: Expo 58, The RCA Synthesizer. All links are to MP3 files, except the first one. Alternatively, you can slurp down the lot in one go by subscribing to the podcast feed.
It seems almost incredible that Ursula Bogner's musical talents should have remained undiscovered until now.
In the wide world of synthesizer guitars, the Synthaxe may well be the choicest both in its aesthetics and its raw awesomeness could. John Hollis tells us what we're missing. Some guy demonstrates it. Allan Holdsworth whips it out in concert. Also, a music video from Lee Ritenour's Synthaxe-heavy Earth Run album.
Matmos provides a song-by-song exposition of their synth-only* album Supreme Balloon, including explicit pics of the gear they used. Highlights include the Electronic Valve Instrument, the Coupigny, & everything else.
*Mostly - all sound sources were synths, some software controllers were used.
*Mostly - all sound sources were synths, some software controllers were used.
In 1975, armed with a big pile of 8-track car stereos and a whole lot of moxie, Dave Biro set out to change the sound of rock music. He failed spectacularly. This is the fascinating and tragic story of one of the rarest instruments in rock music- The Birotron. [more inside]
Hear them all...... The most famous version of the early synthesizer hit "Popcorn" was played in 1972 by a studio group called Hot Butter, led by legendary session musician Stan Free. Few people know that the song was actually written by electronic music pioneer Gershon Kingsley. If you'd like to hear excerpts of Kingsley's original version, along with scores of cover versions, here ya go.
Music Porn - Synthesizer sex.
An old dog learns new tricks The venerable Atari 2600 may no longer be at the forefront of high-end gaming, but that won't keep it down for long. Its new career? Drum & Bass synthesizer(warning: ugly, ugly site), complete with MIDI.
Doktor Future's modular synthesizer has been set up to send a real audio stream, 24/7. The analog modular synthesizer will be running a quadraphonic aleatoric patch that will change from day to day. (via Matrixsynth)
Have you ever seen a synth and said "Man, what this needs is cartoon eyes?" A bit similar to the Buchla Box or theremin in that they don't have a keyboard to control the sounds -- it's probably closest to the Booper, invented by The Weatherman from Negativland (or, well, Circuit Bending), the Thingamagoop is a photosynthesizer... which means it basically uses light sensors to generate sounds. The signal's run through a couple oscillators and, well, it comes out as somethin' that's pretty dang awesome. I'm on the fence on pickin' this one up. On one hand, it's a really neat toy that makes noise... on the other hand, um.... um.... I dunno. It's not made of candy?
"The Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee is a [computer] keyboard MIDI controller of my own invention based on changes of pitch, rather than fixed pitches. This scheme gives the performer the ability to perform extremely quick, rhapsodical lines." Perfect for the music nerd on your Christmas list. Complete with "instructional" video (53MB .mov) and mp3s. I'm on a Mac so I can't try out the freeware version.
Building a Better Way: Music from the 1974 Chevrolet Announcement Film • "An interesting look at some of the musical trends from the early 70s. A little Isaac Hayes, a little John Denver, some Allman Brothers and a few sounds from that new-fangled instrument, the synthesizer."
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