Lots of nice archive footage and pics in here, including an interview with Bill Hemsath, the engineer who built the original. Most interesting fact: he puts the unique sound of the Minimoog down to the fact that a miscalculation by a colleague caused the filter to be overdriven by 10-15% and that he avoid the 'horrible sounding' integrated chips of the day, and used discrete transistors instead. (I guess that would also make them easier to maintain to this day than other manufacturer's machines, such as the notoriously hard to keep going Oberheims that used ex-military chips which are completely unavailable these days)
Peter Zinovieff of EMS talking about the VSC3: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05m93vw
Hannah Peel talks about EDP Wasp: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05m93sx
Article about women and synths: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2GfqNLhxxrsQf67K36sVg8F/is-the-synth-the-ultimate-feminist-instrument?
(not sure about the clickbait title - the article doesn't make any actual references to feminism. It's just an article about female synth players. Why would a synth be a feminist instrument? Doesn't really make any sense. Anyway, the link to Eliane Radigue is well worth a listen)
Nice archive film here of Roger Limb of the BBC Radiophonic workshop giving an introduction to synthesis using an Electonic Music Studio (EMS) Synthi 100 - a huge 12 oscillator machine five foot wide and five foot high.
Sorry it's a Facebook link - couldn't find the video existing outside of it.
There's some nice sounds in it though - lovely filters and I enjoyed his detuned harmonics and calm 70s presenation style.
Different Trains 1947: Barbican
Sunday 1st October 2017
This began with a film featuring the composers enjoying their jolly to India. I’m not sure this did much to endear the artists to the audience if I’m perfectly honest, and when it finished, there was a kind of silence before a bit of clapping, suggestive of a kind of, ‘er, are we supposed to applaud that?’
Anyway, onto the piece. Each composer contributed a movement. 1) Actress, 2) Sandunes 3) Jack Bennet.
Of the three, Sandunes piece was the standout. It was the most easily relatable to the compositional concept of Steve Reich’s original. There were minimalistic riffs on synths and percussive type sounds, and vocal loops relating to trains. What lifted it even further was the extraordinary drumming by Jivraj Singh. He punctuated the melodic elements with panache, and kept up a constant groove which sometimes wasn’t even audible, but visual (he moved like a writhing snake!), and sometimes burst into dramatic staccato and sometimes hushed into a quiet intensity. It was basically great.
Part three was the next most successful, though not wildly interesting. It started with time-stretched vocals and moved into a section when Jivraj (hi again!) drummed along to the sound of a steam train. I could see the intent - it’s quite fun to hear drumming done in time with a steam train. But it was sort of not that successful, because a the train started slow as if pulling out of a station, and then as it speeded up, Jivraj kept pace, but he ultimately couldn’t go as fast as a real steam train would, because it would have been about 300bpm. So the recording just slowed down again. So no sense of momentum was really built up. I think I would have let the train go full speed and halved or even quartered the drumming tempo. Overall though, it was kind of interesting.
Part one. Well, not sure what happened here, there were technical issues at the start, which meant I was never quite sure if the piece was sounding as it should have done. It did sound a bit unfinished. General electronic LFO noises were accompanied by the singing of Priya Purushothaman. A very good Indian singer. But I wasn’t really sure what the point was. Seemed to be, ‘here’s some generic electronic type noise, here’s a traditional Indian singer, let’s just put one on top of the other’. I couldn’t really determine much interaction or conversation going between the two elements. In the end I just shut my eyes and let the piece waft over me, which was pleasant enough.
The other oddity was that the second two pieces had an accompanying film, but the first piece didn’t. That was weird - did they run out of time to make a third piece? To be honest, the films were just the usual looped bits of archival film in triptych (yes mirror images on the outer two panels), which gets pretty boring pretty quickly. Especially as they were really short and too grainy to make out the interesting detail that one would have liked.
As to the larger point of it all - trying to commemorate the partition of India in 1947, I don’t think that theme came across particularly well in any of the pieces. I certainly didn’t ‘learn’ anything about that event (of which I am mostly ignorant, I’m afraid to say). Perhaps the second part with it’s violent drumming and insistent loops were closest to approximating something like a response to those events.
So, overall|: an interesting, partially successful evening (from a musical perspective). Main outcome: I definitely want to find out more about Sandunes’ music.
Sparks: O2 Empire Shepherds Bush, London
Thurs 21st September 2017
Arrived a bit late for this one - partway through the set, but caught enough to have a good time.
Sparks are a fascinating band - they've been around for nearly 50 years having formed in 1968. An extraordinary feat in itself. And yet they've never really fit neatly into a pigeon-hole. Yes, they're part-glam, part-rock opera, part-Kurt Well, part-college rock humour, but then they've also worked with Giorgo Moroder and many others. A unique band in many ways.
Good melodies and wryly amusing lyrics are their staples, along with Ron's deadpan Hitler-mistachioed presence. (The highlight was Ron suddenly breaking character and doing a mad loping shuffle dance during the breakdown of 'Number One in Heaven'. Genius)
Songs on their new album fit into their general oeuvre with great titles like, 'Apart from that, how did you like the play Mrs Lincoln?' and 'Scandinavian Design'.
These new tracks were interspersed amongst the classics like, 'Number one in heaven', 'This town ain't big enough for the both of us', and my current favourite, 'My baby's driving me home'.
So - great back catalogue, great stage presence and an enthusiastic crowd of fans made for a genuinely enjoyable, unpretentious and feel good evening.
Also Vince Clark demonstrating his system. For some reason playing drums using a string sound to record with. Surely he didn't always do that..
Follow the link below to see a very nice poster charting the history of electronic music. The twist is that it's presented as an electronic circuit board, making it super attractive to look at.
I'm not sure if the electronic components in any way relate to the bands who have been assigned resistors, capacitors, etc, but I think it would be even better if it did. Kraftwerk should naturally be shown as a power-cell, for example...
Anyway, click the image below to see the full poster on the www.wearedorothy.com website, where you can purchase a copy.
On a bit of a Vangelis research tip at the moment. I've been listening to his music all my life, but never knew very much about him. Always seemed very mysterious and from another planet, seemingly never giving interviews and so forth.
On the other hand, that's probably because the internet didn't exist then, and as it turns out, he's been in the public eye giving lots of interviews over the years.
Lots of interesting stuff in this and plenty of epic synths and Mr V playing 'em!
What in all that’s holy is this machine Vangelis is using in this video? At 4 secs in – the rotating one-arm bandit thing with heretical symbols on it. What on earth is it?
I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s quite bizarre!
Update: a knowledgeable keyboard playing friend of mine has pointed me in the direction of the answer to this...unsurprisingly, it's a weird custom thing:
"The user with the nickname "Red Baron" who uploaded this video in Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/80936319), wrote the following interesting comments:
1) All these white boxes are a custom MIDI system made by YES Audio under the orders of Vangelis and especially for his playing needs. The big terminal white boxes write on the back side "YES AUDIO, CUSTOM DESIGN FOR VANGELIS". This custom setup is connected to various synths, mainly racks. Also he uses 17 foot pedals, 16 volume and one sustain pedal as you see in the video. All this system help him to play live without the need of overdubs and sequencers. In fact, Vangelis compose/arrange/play and record at the same time! Its a unique technique and he is using it at least the last 25 years, this MIDI system is already in use since early/middle 90s.
2) Its obvious that this guy is genius. :-) I can't think any other keyboardist in any genre that he can play like Vangelis. What Vangelis can arrange, play and record in 5 minutes, the rest of keyboardists need few hours or more to do the same thing with all these DAWs and record methods they use. What Vangelis plays the most of the times, the result is a ready to release music work without the need of overdubs or post production. The whole system is connected to few RADAR hard recording systems, whatever he plays is always recorded. He uses Mackie consoles to connect his synths from his main setup and in his studio the main final console is a Euphonix System 5-B. You can see it in the video infront him."
Which is all very well, but he funny thing is that for all that system’s complexity and sophistication, I find the noodly orchestral stuff he actually plays with it very uninteresting.
I much prefer it when people (and Vangelis) use synths as synths rather than as orchestral emulation machines. Even if the emulation is very close to the sound of the ‘real thing’. But that’s the point: why try and sound ‘really similar’ to an orchestra when you could sound ‘completely original’ by exploring sound itself?
Perhaps he does that as well…damn.
Great little clip of Peter Howell explaining how he produced his version of the Dr Who theme using an Arp Odyssey and Yamaha CS-80. This is in the late, great BBC Radiophonic Workshop, of course.
Highly, highly recommend this documentary all about 10 of the most classic synths ever made:
Great interviews with the inventors and users of these instruments.
Not only that, but a great album was created with each track showcasing each synth featured in the film. It's the complete package!
I was desperate to own SpecDrums as a child of the 80s, but never did.
Now I can! http://www.samplescience.ca/2016/01/specdrums.html
Check out the fun retro demo song - you couldn't really write any other of sort of track to go with those sounds really.
Features Arp 2600, VSC 3 and many other of his beautiful, classic synthesizers.
Beautiful. Incidentally Equinoxe IV was the track that made me want to be a composer. So look out for the Eminent 310 in this video...