Morton Subotnick is an 84-year-old avant-garde composer whose pioneering electronic music, and approach to musicmaking, influenced the likes of Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, Four Tet, and countless techno artists. Subotnick helped Don Buchla design what was likely the first analog music synthesizer and used it to create his seminal psychedelic masterpiece, Silver Apples of the Moon (1967), the first electronic music work commissioned by a major record company, Nonesuch/Elektra. (Fan-made video below.) Just a few years before, Subotnick co-founded the iconic San Francisco Tape Music Center that became a creative home for Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich, and so many more incredible composers. And he's still making sounds. Now, Toronto's Waveshaper Media, the production company behind “I Dream Of Wires" and the forthcoming “Electronic Voyager" film about Bob Moog are working on a documentary about Subotnick. Support it on Indiegogo.
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In 1948, Robert Moog, age 14, was inspired by classical Theremin performer Clara Rockmore to build his own Theremin. Then in 1964 Moog designed a brand new kind of electronic instrument, a modular voltage-controlled synthesizer. That instrument and Moog's work since transformed the sound of modern music forever. To hear how, dive into this fantastic 10-hour Moog playlist:
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Moog just unveiled a new showcase of artists using their instruments. Sonic Origins starts things off with Russell E.L. Butler of Black Jeans, who thinks of the sounds "as an initiator of dialogue." Read the rest
If you dig Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein's fantastic synthy soundtrack to Stranger Things, you need to dive into the 1980s electronic soundtracks of John Carpenter. Yes, Carpenter directed classics like Halloween, The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13, and Escape from New York, but he also scored the films himself. In the video above, Reverb's Justin DeLay unpacks Carpenter's soundtrack sound.
Synthesizers used in the video: Ensoniq ESQ-1, Roland Juno 106, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, MiniMoog Model D, Ableton Live, Roland 606.
"The Synth Sounds of John Carpenter" (reverb.com)
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Austin band Survive's masterful synth soundtrack to Stranger Things is available now digitally and at your local independent music shop on vinyl! Meanwhile, the surviving members of Tangerine Dream, a primary influence on Survivor's Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, released their own covers of the Stranger Things score! Listen to them below. And here's a bit from an excellent interview that Billboard's Gil Kaufman conducted with Dixon and Stein:
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How did that main theme come to life?
It's an old demo Michael had, but it's nothing like what you hear... nowhere near as much of a piece of music as it is now. That was just some random thing that ended up in the library they had and when they found it they were like, 'what if this was the main title?' We thought it could be good, so we built it out. We've been wanting to get into music for TV and film for a long time, but we had no idea how. We've been passively creating libraries, weird droney noises... so we had this collection of songs that we were trying to figure out how present to people in film....
Without that previous (soundtrack) experience, how were you able to create music that spoke so deeply to the characters in the show?
They said our music was actually used to help cast the show. During the demo period they said, 'we know you can do dark and epic, but this is a show about a group of kids, so we need to show the producers that you can do the more lighthearted, sentimental stuff.' So a lot of the demos were like that.
's Pixel Synth
turns images into music, scanning across the pixels horizontally and interpreting brightness values as notes. The results are peculiar, obviously, but also strangely melodic. You can edit your image, too, or simply start with a blank canvas. Click "invert" for a synthesized moment of Hammer Horror. Advanced trippers can also edit the synth parameters and the drawing tool. Read the rest
The Moog Model 15 App runs on iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. It's $30 and judging by the track below, it's worth it!
The Moog Model 15 App is an iOS version of the iconic 1970’s instrument. It is designed to evoke the joyous experimentation and sonic bliss of it’s predecessor’s vintage hardware, the Moog Model 15 App meticulously recreates the look, feel, and sound of its highly expressive analog namesake.
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Three legendary synth musicians -- Morgio Zoroger, Xangelix and Carla Wendos -- competed in 1986 for the right to be anointed Lord of Synth.
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Tubesockor pokes away at three Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators to play the music from the 1987 Commodore 64 classic game Delta. The original game music is by Rob Hubbard, inspired by Philip Glass's "Koyaanisqatsi" and Pink Floyd's "On the Run." Clips from the game below! (Thanks, UPSO!)
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Meg Neal's guide to synthesizers gets right to the nitty gritty: how do they do that wonderful thing they do, which is make noise? It's a history lesson with benefits. Read the rest
The recent revival of all things '80s has spurred a newfound appreciation for the decade's signature sound, which was largely produced by the synthesizer. Until the late 1970s, synthesizers had been finicky and difficult instruments to play, but the Prophet-5 in 1978 and the Oberheim OB-Xa two years later changed all that. For example, the pop-synth riffs on Cars hits like "Let's Go" were produced by the Prophet-5, while everyone from Prince ("1999") to Eddie Van Halen ("Jump") ran their fingers across Oberheim keyboards.
To learn more about these instruments, I visited Lance Hill at his Vintage Synthesizer Museum in Oakland, California, and interviewed Dave Smith, who not only gave the world the Prophet-5 but also co-created MIDI, a file protocol that's so durable, it's been in 1.0 since its release in 1982.
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Still, advances technology were changing more than just music. South of San Francisco, the Silicon Valley that only a few years before had been dominated by the aerospace industry was suddenly poised to be a proving ground for what would become the personal-computer revolution. Among the region’s watershed moments was the first meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in March of 1975. Hosted in the garage of a programmer named Gordon French, the meeting was attended by a computer engineer named Steve Wozniak, who, with the marketing and sales support of his friend Steve Jobs, released the first Apple computer in the summer of 1976.
In short, the musical-synthesizer revolution was taking place at the exact same moment as the dawn of the personal computer.
The Ryhthmicon was the world's first drum machine, built in the 1930s by Leon Theremin (of Theremin fame) for avant grade composer Henry Cowell. Read the rest
The bespoke, designer Whaletone piano looks like the oceanic offspring of the 1969 Fender Rhodes Student Piano. Read the rest
Teenage Engineering, makers of the amazing $850 OP-1 synthesizer, have designed three nifty $59 pocket synths: the PO-12 "rhythm" drum machine, the PO-14 "sub" bass synth, and the PO-16 "factory" melody synth. The Verge has a first look.
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Despite their spartan design, the synths have a host of smart features that make these devices far more powerful than they might appear. Each device has two 3.5mm ports, which lets you output audio to a mixer as well as chain all three devices together, with a master unit setting the tempo and patterns for the other "slave" units to follow. Another low-tech (but no less useful) design decision is the small wire stand on the back that lets you prop up the devices for easy use on a table. Even the power source is clever — the PO series runs on two AAA batteries, something I haven’t used outside of remotes in years.
Psychedelic TV ad from 1972 for Wurlitzer's Orbit III organ: "It may just change your mind!" (via Weird Universe) Read the rest
In the studio with Reed Ghazala, "the father of circuit bending." Read the rest
Video for 20syl's "Kodama," directed by Matthieu Le Dude and 20syl. Read the rest