The technology that really pushed electronics into the mainstream of music was the modular synth which appeared in the 1950s. Sure, you can go back before then (as far back as the late 1800s!) and find dermatrons and theremins and musical telegraphs and a myriad of other primitive electronic sound-gizmos, but for the most part they were gimmicky, hard to calibrate or downright difficult to play.
It is said that most of the technological advances that we see in the life of the everyman have come about as spinoffs of military applications. Even in the case of music there’s some truth in that statement…
In the UK in the late 1950s, electronic components from decommissioned wartime radar stations flowed out to the free market. Among these components were the oscillating crystals that are essential for analog sound synthesis. This glut of cheap postwar electronics spurred synthesizer development in the UK as it became affordable for individuals to obtain the parts they needed to generate and tinker with all sorts of mad crazy bloopy noises.
Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part IV) | download
Electronic Music Studios (London) built the VCS3 synth in 1969 and it featured on a myriad of albums by artists like The Who, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind and Jean-Michel Jarre. For more on EMS and other early pioneers of British sound techno-wizardry you ought hunt down the excellent documentary What the future Sounded Like (this is required viewing for those pursuing placement in the fleet’s electro-acoustic warfare school aboard the HMS Theremin once you complete basic training).
What the Future Sounded Like
Across the pond, however, we find the real giant of synthesizers: Bob Moog (rhymes with ‘vogue’ – who knew?). Bob Moog and his company, Moog Music, more or less singlehandedly revolutionized music in the last few decades of the 20th century, bringing synthesizers to the forefront of music.
Gershon Kingsley’s First Moog Quartet – Popcorn | download
Bob Moog’s last name is nearly synonymous with synthesizers. I can’t think of any other brand to have its name spangled across so many albums. In Viper Pilot’s personal hard-copy archives alone you’ll find Moog Power, Moog Indigo, The Moog Plays Switched-On Bacharach & The Moog Cookbook, but these are just a tiny portion of the sheer volume of Moog albums with Moog in the title, which is then turn is a tiny portion of all-Moog albums with any old collection of words in the title – like Wendy Carlos’ 1968 all-Moog classical eargasmic extravaganza Switched-On Bach, which spent 17 weeks in the top 40 (not bad for a classical album!).
Dick Hyman – The Moog and Me | download
Viper Pilot – U-Moog on MAARS | download
Seriously, I can probably fill a whole post with a list of Moog albums. Things got out of hand in the ’70s.
Moog: A Documentary Film
Pick up a handful of CDs in your music collection – odds are you’ll find a moog or a synth of some variety on each of them. Other than the guitar, there is no other instrument which has helped shape modern music.
PS: I’m never promising ‘such and such in next week’s episode’ again. Thanks to a misplaced sense of duty, I’ve felt compelled to deliver what I’d promised last post, in the process taking way longer than anticipated, in the process depriving you, gentle readers, of the backlog of shorter posts in the wings I could’ve spouted at you. Feh.