Blog entry, Videos

Photosound experiment

Daphe Oram was a 20th century composer who experimented with her own method of sound synthesis back in the 1950s using images to generate tones. Lots of interesting facts here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oramics

I did a similar sort of experiment with a Bridget Riley picture - the x-axis is time, the y-axis is frequency. I think the resulting sound compliments the painting quite well actually!

Let me know if you agree...

Videos

Peculiar synth based sketch

What do we make of this? Plus points - pitch perfect 70's style mini-doc about an imagined synth-off between Vangelis, Moroder and Wendy Carlos.

Negative points - it's only very mildly amusing and goes on for ages. (Though I did like the line, 'Vangelis - a reclusive genius who's appeared in public only...never'.

A strangely niche sketch with an apparently large budget.

Think I prefered Synthesizer Patel from Look Around You!

Happy New Year!

Hi all,

I thought I'd write a quick blog post explaining more about the rationale for the selection of the synths. I've had some great conversations with customers about the poster and the reasons for stopping at 1995 and why some synths are on there and some aren't.

Great questions, and not ones I want to simply say 'my poster, my rules' (except a little bit ;-)

The original concept was to celebrate analogue and modular synths - my first (real) synth was a Moog Prodigy and I immediately fell in love with the sound world.  I already loved the electronic music of the time  - Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Jarre, Depeche Mode, Bilinski, et al - so that's not too big a surprise probably!

The original concept was to celebrate analogue and modular synths - my first (real) synth was a Moog Prodigy and I immediately fell in love with the sound world.  I already loved the electronic music of the time  - Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Jarre, Depeche Mode, Bilinski, et al - so that's not too big a surprise probably!

But I've loved analogue synths and sounds ever since and it occurred to me that it would be great to have a poster charting the progress from massive individual transistor based modulars, through the 70s and 80s analogue golden age, right up to the point where modern chips could model analogue circuits in software. An amazing story and symbolic of technological progress in our era.

So I started gathering data on all those synths, but I soon realised that I couldn't just do analogue. Partly because how purist should I be? Some synths with digital oscillators have analogue filters and are classics (eg, Alpha-Juno). Would seem a bit odd to exclude those.

And some digital synths are truly great as well - PPG's wavetable synthesis, the additive synths (Kawai K3) and some of the weird and wonderful ones..

And could I really exclude the revolutionary sound of FM? A synth poster without the Yamaha DX7 would be absurd.

And a poster with the DX7, but without the D50 and M1 would be hard to justify...

So, I ended up including pretty much every major synth ever made during that era - which is nearly 300!

But it was the ROMplers where it got tricky...it was important to have the early 'sample & synthesis' synths like D50, M1 and K1 on there, obviously, but it all gets a bit boring once you get to the Korg T1 and other run of the mill synths and workstations like that. Or rather - there are a lot of them, and that type of digital synth just doesn't excite me in the way analogue does. And I suspect that's true for a lot of synth fans!

The other difficult area was where to stop. I decided to complete the story with the Korg Prophecy and Yamaha AN1x as they were the ground breaking original analogue-circuit modelling synths. I was tempted to carry on with Access Virus, Nord Lead, Supernova....but I had to stop somewhere, and that was all getting a bit modern and far away from the original concept.

Given this is a synth poster, there are drum machines, samplers or FX units. Though it's a shame not to have Fairlight and Synclavier on there. I don't think there's a sheet of paper big enough to include those categories on there.

I also excluded most rackmount synths as they're often simply keyless versions of keyboard synths, and to be honest - a bit boring to look at.

Also part of the 'synth poster' rules was not to include electric organs, electric pianos, early pre-analogue electronic instruments. Most organs and pianos look very similar.  And although early 'synthesizers' like the Trautonium, the Oramic Machine and the Birotron (invented by Dave Biro - true!) are fascinating, they are out of scope for this - I want VCOs, Filters, ADSRs and LFOs!

I also mostly excluded synths with divide down architecture as they tended to be preset synths without 'synth-like' controls and again, tend not to be classics or that interesting. Same for string machines, though there are some honourable exceptions like the Eminent 310 used by Jarre for Equinoxe I and the preset Moog synth Polymoog used by Gary Numan on Cars.

Another large category that I haven't covered are the Soviet synths - there are vast numbers of them and I would need a poster double the size to do them justice, but I've popped couple on there by Polivoks as a gesture.

Finally, I'm aware that there are a number of quite obscure synths made by fairly obscure companies who produced a protoype or two and perhaps had a small commercial run or two, but have generally not included those, again on grounds of practicality of poster size, aesthetics and general familiarity.

So, I hope that explains why a synth or two may be missing, but hopefully have justified that in some way. Always happy to hear about obscure synths or other favourites. I'm sure the Synth Evolution poster won't be my last...watch this space!

Happy New Synthing Year!

Oli

 

 

Videos

Nice Minimoog mini-doc made by Moog Inc.

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)

Audio

Some recent BBC Synth clips...

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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)

Videos

EMS Synthi 100 - IN ACTION!

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.

https://www.facebook.com/BBCArchive/videos/482177565488612

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.

Gigs

Gig Review: Different Trains 1947

Different Trains 1947: Barbican
Sunday 1st October 2017

 

Different Trains

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. 

Gig review: Sparks, Sep 2017

Sparks: O2 Empire Shepherds Bush, London
Thurs 21st September 2017

Sparks.JPG

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.

Posters

Very nice electronic music poster: Electric Love Blueprint

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. 

Videos

More Vangelis - this time a long documentary type thing

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! 

Videos

The Devil's Work (aka Vangelis' synthesizer)

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."

See also:

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/electronic-music-instruments-electronic-music-production/926577-vangelis-his-weird-synthesizer.html

https://www.facebook.com/CopperLan/posts/548899521860518

 

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. 

Synth film - 'Bright Sparks'

Highly, highly recommend this documentary all about 10 of the most classic synths ever made:

http://brightsparks.movie/

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!

 

SpecDrums - audio unit

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.