Videos, Blog entry, Reviews

The Divine Comedy's Synth Song

I see the Divine Comedy have a written a silly song listing out a whole load of synthesizer names:

Not entirely sure what to make of it. My main thoughts are:

  • All synths namechecked are on the Synth Poster except for some of the post-90’s workstations like the Korg Triton (cos they’re kinda boring)

  • Musically it’s a bit of one-shot novelty song. All the silly kind of sounds that people used to think that the word ‘synthesizer’ represented and thus feels a bit dated. Perhaps that was the idea. Dunno. I don’t think it’s going on any of my Spotify playlists…

Let me know what you think of it!

Videos, Reviews

Carl Craig @ The Barbican, 6th April

Billed as the Carl Craig Synthesizer Ensemble, I was not too disappointed with the set up - four keyboard players and piano. Carl was very chatty this evening and said that the synths in use were three Dave Smith Prophet 6’s and a Dave Smith Oberheim OB6. So, very definitely part of the current wave of sexy new analogue synths.

Before I review the gig, I know you synth fans will want to hear the jam session at the end where each keyboard player did a little solo in a very classic keyboard player style. Unfortunately missed the first guy, but got the other three and the pianist (Kelvin Sholar). Sorry about the visuals, I wasn’t really paying that much attention, more listening to the grooves!

The gig itself was very enjoyable; it’s always a bit weird hearing dance music in a classical music venue - it never quite feels right. Though the nature of tonight’s music was much more on the epic and symphonic scale - from the album Versus - so was less about the dance and more about the journey of the tracks. What also helped was the large back projection of Detroit cityscapes.

The visuals were immediately compelling - an orange circle with a black cross on it filled the screen at the start - an already pleasing geometric image. Then as the camera (drone!) rose up, it was revealed to be the top of some weird chimney in the middle of a Detroit intersection, with roads going everywhere, strange pedestrian raised tunnels and curves, and geometry everywhere. A very arresting and exciting sequence.

In fact nearly all the images of Detroit were epic and grand in some way - focussing largely on the tall buildings in what I assume is central Detroit. Craig was clearly trying to present a view of Detroit other than the ‘apocalypse porn’ we often see of the decaying buildings there, following the collapse of the car industry. And judging from what he himself said, he is definitely proud of his home town and wants to try and change the standard narrative we have.

And I think that worked. The music fit the visuals perfectly; frequently starting from a small repetitive phrases before building into huge, overwhelming climaxes, it felt to me  (nearly) like a Koyaanisqatsi for the 21st Century. The pieces started at night, moved from dawn and daytime before returning to sunset and night.

I think that feeling would have been intensified had Carl not done so much talking in-between tracks, but it was actually quite nice to go to an electronic music gig and hear something about the motive for writing the music, and some reminisces about previous times in London, etc.

And then to round things off, we had the jam / solo session as embedded above. And why not - after quite an intense hour of music it was fun to let off a bit of steam and enjoy a bit of unpretentious synth noodling!





Exploring dorian mode

Brief video exploring the character of the dorian mode by playing some dorian melodies first in dorian and then in the natural minor.

The dorian mode differs from the natural minor only by one note, so was interested to see how changing that note affected the character of the melodies. In dorian, the 6th note is major, whereas the natural minor's 6th is minor.

A lot of the songs written in dorian seem to exploit this characteristic. Possibly also because the major 6th gives you a major dominant (V) chord in the scale, which otherwise would be minor.

Videos, Blog entry

Me demostrating the Prodigy used a Korg DS-8

Quick video on me comparing the synth stab on The Prodigy's 'No Good (Start the Dance)' and patch 68 on the Korg DS-8. I'm pretty sure that's the sound they used - perhaps a couple of minor parameter tweaks (there are two 'timbral' slders on the front panel that could well have been altered).

See what you think:

If it's not the DS-8 (and I think it is), then the quality of the sound suggests that it could be another FM synth, like DX7, etc.

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:

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...


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!


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)


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.

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.


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! 


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 (, 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:


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.