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 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 this space!

Happy New Synthing Year!





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.