Synth Britannia

Damn, my private obsession going public! How annoying…bugger off, everyone else, synths are my thing.


Still, it should be fun and I’m looking forward to it.

Here are my predictions:

[ ] It will be mainly talking heads reminiscing about the early 80s. Only some of these will actually be musicians. One of them will be Paul Morley (who I dig, actually)

Most were musicians, actually and instead of music journalist Paul Morley like I’d thought, they had music journalist Simon Reynolds.

[ ] Rick Wakeman gives an amusing anecdote about how he bought a MiniMoog from another musician who thought it was broken cos it only played ‘one note at a time’ (it’s a monophonic synth)

No Rick Wakeman.

[ ] Amused, but ultimately disparaging references to the dinosaur prog-rockers who used massive modular synths in the mid 70’s and made music that ‘wasn’t popular’ (though it actually was at the time.)

Yes. A couple of shots of Keith Emerson in ‘King Arthur’ regalia in front of a wall of synth. making the point that synths at this point were too expensive for mere mortals to buy. Which was true enough.

[ ] How the pop-charts were turned ‘upside down’ by Depeche Mode using synths (also: Gary Numan, Human League, OMD (hopefully!, Yazoo (urgh), Soft Cell) The whole programme will actually just focus on these types of groups as if that’s the only music ever made with synthesizers.

Yes. This was the entire thrust of the programme. But it was done well, with lots of the actual people who were there using the first synths, etc.

[ ] How synths are more punk than punk (‘easier’ to play)

Ha, yes! I must have remembered this point from Simon Reynolds’ excellent book: Rip it up and start again.

[ ] There will be no mention of the synth heroes of the late 70s and early 80s who inspired me when I was 8 and who are now tragically unhip: Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Tomita, Wendy/Walter Carlos, Marek Bilinski, et al.

I thought I was going to be wrong on this one as they started with Wendy Carlos’ music for A Clockwork Orange and I got quite excited, but no mention of any of the above for the rest of it. I’m sure all those Depeche Mode and OMD guys listened to this stuff, and they’re just pretending they didn’t cos it sounds unfashionable to say anything other than Kraftwerk these days. Tangerine Dream got the briefest of mentions.

[ ] There will be no interesting history of electronic instruments: ondes martenot (unless they get Radiohead’s Greenwood on), theremin, musique concrete

Yup, no history.

[ ] Beatles might get a mention. Nope.

[ ] KRAFTWERK BETTER GET A MENTION. How awesome if they actually got an interview with Ralf or Florian. Doubt it though.

Bloody hell, an actual interview with Florian! Well done!

[ ] There will be no mentions of: VCA, VCF, LFOs, Modulation, Filter, Resonance, Oscillators, keyboard tracking, sample rate, digital vs analogue.


[ ] There will be amused references to how the early synths were ‘supposed to sound like real instruments’ – cue rubbish trumpet sound, and how realistic they are today

Not really.

Bring on the (synthesized) noise!

Yeeah, it was a fun programme, but too much about bands we are too familiar with. Would have been interesting to go beyond the obvious big bands – the League, Kraftwerk, Mode, OMD, etc and see what else was going on at the time. I would have liked it a bit geekier as well, more interviews with synth designers talking about filters and stuff.

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