Bleeps and bloops
July 18, 2008 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Charles Cohen improvises on the very rare Buchla Music Easel synthesizer.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (19 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
This is really remarkable. I wish it was explained what he was plugging into the easel.
posted by boo_radley at 9:43 AM on July 18, 2008

I really like the music but the footage did nothing for me. Memo to filmmaker: Please do not use a Lensbaby again. Ever.
posted by ardgedee at 9:48 AM on July 18, 2008

The blue cards he's plugging into the Easel are stored program cards, which are essentially just blank circuit boards with patch points where you can solder in resistors equivalent to certain knob positions—an early form of "memory," albeit in a purely analog context.

I've played on the same bill as Charles at a few electronic music events (regrettably some year back, now), and being there and watching the intense bond and virtuosity he has with his instrument is amazing and inspirational. In fact, I've spent years rebuilding and rewiring and otherwise working on my own live rig to come up with something like the kind of tight human/machine connection that he has with that (somewhat modified) Music Easel. It's a great counter to the old argument about electronic music being inherently dehumanized, watching his fingers flutter like butterflies over that capacitance touch keyboard.

He plays frequently in the Mid-Atlantic region, and I'd advise anyone who loves electronic music to see him whenever they can.
posted by sonascope at 10:14 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I haven't gotten to play with Charles Cohen, but I have watched him perform solo several times and have been fortunate enough to speak with him about his art. It really is a treat to see him lose himself in what he's doing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:46 AM on July 18, 2008

What an amazing musician on an astounding instrument. And what a schmuck of a filmmaker. It's not about you, son.
posted by ulotrichous at 10:54 AM on July 18, 2008

I've had the immense pleasure of working with Don Buchla. He's an uncompromising, indomitable spirit who is still far ahead of his time. His instruments take sonic reality and music to places that most of us could never imagine.

What's special about Don is that he has given many of us an opportunity to create sonic palettes that we would never otherwise have known.

His instruments aren't for everyone, but for those that resonate with Don's approach to music, and instrument, he's a music god.
posted by MetaMan at 11:28 AM on July 18, 2008

This is fun stuff, I really like the idea of reconfiguring your instrument as part of the act of performing on it. Makes me want to order one of those DIY kit synths.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 11:37 AM on July 18, 2008

As much as I respect Bob Moog, which is bordering on worship, Don Buchla deserves a lot of credit as well for the early development of the synthesizer. Their early work was done independently with neither knowing of the other, and the reason for Moog's mainstream success and Buchla's relative obscurity is that Moog's focus was on a performance instrument that could be learned and played relatively easily by musicians with little additional training (and Wendy Carlos is largely responsible for helping in that regard), while Buchla wanted to create something entirely new and different and alien, with wacky, obscure control/playing methods like the capacitive touch surface and so forth. Moog's approach won out in the end, but Buchla deserves much respect as well.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:43 AM on July 18, 2008

BTW, if you even know what's going on in this post, you really should donate a couple bucks to the Bob Moog Foundation. It's not cancer research or anything, but it's a good cause that needs your help.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:46 AM on July 18, 2008

Nice find. This brings to mind Ned Lagin's Seastones - also featuring a Buchla.
posted by horsemuth at 12:31 PM on July 18, 2008

I've played with Charles Cohen on a couple of occasions and I have some good mp3's of this if anyone is interested (I'll have to get home to upload them).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:54 PM on July 18, 2008

I've had the immense pleasure of working with Don Buchla.

Yeah, me too. When we were hanging a grid of, I don't know, sixty speakers on suspension wires over the auditorium, he said, "We really shouldn't be doing this, I've done some experiments, and ten speakers is just as good."

Nice guy.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:30 PM on July 18, 2008

I'm going to chime in and agree with sonascope. I also had the pleasure to perform with Charles Cohen a number of times (and also a number of years back). He has a remarkable virtuosity (read: remarkable intimacy with his instrument), an he's a hell of a nice guy, as the saying goes.

Here's a link to his homepage. It looks like a few of those links might be dead, but it's worth looking around.
posted by eric1halfb at 1:38 PM on July 18, 2008

Shared a bill with Charles last year in Philly. Nice guy, if a little gear-y.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:42 PM on July 18, 2008

That was lovely. Tremendous musicality in that. Also, Buchla's always been the man for the real geeks. If only I could afford a 200e. Sigh...
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 12:12 AM on July 19, 2008

Many thanks for this post. I love that sound! The description of the random generator employed sounds awesome. I learned things from this I did not know, including the significance of "Silver Apples of the Moon", which I won on LP. I've always loved synth sounds. Makes me want to break out the Oberheim Matrix, and play.
posted by Goofyy at 12:19 AM on July 19, 2008

... the early development of the synthesizer. Their early work was done independently with neither knowing of the other ...

You mean "early development of the commercial synthesizer," right?

If you want alien sounds and unconventional control methods, there's plenty of wonderfully wacky and amazingly creative stuff built in the fifties and sixties, all over the place (not only in the US), but most people built stuff for themselves (or for specific "electro acoustic music" projects, as the "serious" side of synthesizers is called over here).

But Moog and Buchla deserves all the respect they can get, of course. And Cohen. Great post.
posted by effbot at 2:16 AM on July 19, 2008

I've played with Charles Cohen on a couple of occasions and I have some good mp3's of this if anyone is interested

hell yes

posted by kid ichorous at 6:17 AM on July 19, 2008

Whenever I see something shot with that fuzzy edge lens, I think of laundry detergent commercials from the late 90s.

Cool synth work, though.
posted by Dr-Baa at 9:46 AM on July 20, 2008

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