Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's in a synth - Does Equipment Really Matter?

As my knowledge of various pieces of vintage synthesis gear grows (at least by reading about it), I have come to appreciate the classics. As there are classic songs, so there are classic pieces of equipment. I would have to place the Minimoog or perhaps Mellotron at the top of the list and if organs are also added the B3. Followed by others like the Prophet 5 and the ARP 2600 (a personal favorite of mine) and the ARP Odessey. Now one can argue that the gear does not make the musican and that is true but each of these synthesizers served a unique purpose.

First, the Minimoog was a dramatic scaling down from the Moog modular. But save Keith Emersons famous rig, modular monsters were something to fool around with in the studio. The Minimoog made things portable but it also did something else. Knobs moved from being the intellectual musing of sound designer steeped in voltages and waveforms, to become part of an instrument.

I posted this interview of Bob Moog by the Red Bull Academy:

Great inteview and what Bob clearly wanted to point out was the difference between a knob as a parameter in sound design and a knob that is part of an instrument. Every knob of the Minimoog was intended for performance.

Or who can forget Edgar Winters use of the ARP 2600 in his famous Frankenstein:

Synths like the Mellotron became almost the stuff of legends and rock grew up with these instruments. They are not just gear that can be interchanged, but sonic icons. There are so many wonderful examples and as you read a history of gear you also read a musical history book.

To does gear matter? Yes, it does. One last example. I recently listened to and reviewed Tara Busch's "Pilfeshire Lane". The equipment list including an "Optigan". It takes a real serious afficionato of fine synthesis gear to know what this is. The Otigan was a sucessor to the Mellotron, an instrument that in many ways is second to none in gear history and in many ways the first sampler. It used an optical technology to replace the tape reels of the Mellotron. One of the complaints about the Mellotron was that it was, and is, to say the least cumbersome. The "Mellotron Book" is a wonderful walk down a period of musical history long since past of the days of the mighty and quirky Mellotron from those who loved it to those who set it on fire and even through it down a flight of stairs. An instrument more loved and more hated than perhaps any. Loved if it worked and hated if it didn't especially during a gig.

Tara also uses apparently the only Melloman, a Mellotron upgrade using "Walkman's" of all things rather than the cumbersome and often faulty tape racks of the Mellotron. Also a rather unique instrument and apparently, according to Tara, the only one much like Winnie the Poos mythical tiger minus the tail (although there have been string reverbs made out of slinkies). Now the Optigan was perhaps more at home in, well, the home. It was much like the somewhat cheesy home organs of a time quickly disappearing, swallowed up by the likes of more sophisticated digital machines for the musically uninclined the can play a mean rhumba and also make the morning coffee. I personally prefer the Magnus Chord Organ. I almost bid for one of these on E-Bay:

You can't do any better than the wispy Italian reverie of Oh Solo Mio on the reeds of the Magnus.

Ha, you laugh but add some reverb and add a little flex capacitor work (or perhaps just Ableton Live time twisting) and you might have a few different sound. Perhaps, a new sound for a Logan's Run remake.

I degress.

Here is some info:

Now how can you beat this:

And perhaps, something just asking to be sent through a Moogerfooger or even Voyager filter. Ah, the problem with the youngins is that they can't think creatively. One to many purple MP3 players with Beyonce's declared marital status. Perhaps, just maybe, a few more Mellotrons or Otigan's or even the dreaded Magnus Chord organ for the pre-MP3 young ones, might be just the trick to teaching our young people that there is more to life than hip hop and yes, you may even learn to read music or at least those cheesy little chord charts. And for those who have listened to one to many Beyonce songs, yes, there are more than three notes in the musical scale. And for Britney fans, well, you can right lyrics that do more than repeat a word over and over again (and some that even make sense and have complete sentenced). My bad - oooh, see, even I can use modern lingo (although I don't text, hurts my thumbs and I need those to play music.)

Sorry for that divisive and cruel attack on pop Divas (appropriate bows in the direction of the appropriate record companies - or banks). I could be sued. Well, I guess I can always find a way to listen to Tara Busch in jail and remind myself that someone still has the creativity and artistry to make beautiful music with Moogerfoogers and Optigans. Or then again, what's in an equipment list?

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