Latest:

9/2: Musician and producer Kelly Lee Owens answers some questions

8/5: James Murphy talks about his favorite synths, his first live gig and New York City. Read the interview here

8/3: The Synth History Podcast is out! Episode one is on electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos

7/3: Love Hultén makes retro futuristic inspired custom synthesizers. Read the interview and learn about his process.  

6/26: Synth History Vol. 3 is up on Spotify. Featuring DEVO, Yello, Afrika Bambaataa, Brian Eno, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Patrick Cowley and more.

Where did sampling originate?⁣

In music, sampling is the reuse of a portion of a sound recording in another recording.⁣ ⁣ The process of sampling emerged in the 1940s with “musique concrète”, developed by French composer Pierre Schaeffer. Musique Concrète was an experimental form of music created by recording sounds to tape, splicing them, and manipulating them to create “sound collages”- what Delia Derbyshire was doing over in the UK with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to create the original Doctor Who theme!⁣ ⁣ You could say that the Mellotron was one of the earliest samplers- an electro-mechanical musical instrument, played by pressing keys to trigger a length of magnetic tape against a capstan, which pulled it across a

Micor Coupland Digital Synthesizer [1978]⁣

Many vintage synths exist without having ever been mass produced. Take the space-age looking Con Brio ADS 100 & 200 for example, or George Mattson’s PMS Syntar. These synthesizers, the ones that solely made prototype status, are some of the most intriguing to me. Perhaps it’s their elusiveness that makes me want to know their story! The Coupland Digital Synthesizer falls into the category of synths that never were - commercially released that is. Like the machine itself, there aren’t even many photos of this synth floating out there. I did find an advertisement featured in Synapse Magazine - via the wonderful Retro Synth Ads blog. The ad features inventor Rick Coupland himself. The Coupland

Three Questions With Vince Clarke

Three Questions with musician and composer Vince Clarke (Erasure, Yazoo/Yaz, Depeche Mode). Synth History: Do you remember the first time you heard a song of yours on the radio? Vince: We (Depeche Mode) were driving through London, on our way to do our first UK TV show. It was in the afternoon and ’New Life’ came on the radio in the car. Quite honestly, we were amazed. Synth History: Do you think there is an audible difference between playing an older analog synth, versus a newer digital one? Vince: I think many of the newer digital synths sound cool but I personally prefer the sound/feel of analogue synths. Most of the keyboards and modules in my studio are analogue and each one has it’s ow

Sound Chips and Chiptune

Before you get your hopes up, the image below is a concept design made by Cem Tezcan of a Handheld Retro PC - Commodore HX-64.⁣ Just a concept, but cool nonetheless. You can check out more images here. ⁣Chiptune is synthesized electronic music made using programmable sound generator sound chips found in vintage arcade machines, computers and video game consoles.⁣ ⁣ Think of a sound chip as a little synth within your Game Boy or Commodore 64. A sound chip is an integrated circuit designed to produce sound. Since the 90s, the standard way to do this is through Pulse Code Modulation or PCM - a method used to digitally represent analog signals. ⁣ The Commodore 64 in particular used a sound chip

Three Questions With Rick Wakeman

Three questions with legendary composer and keyboardist for Yes, Rick Wakeman. Synth History: What is it that drew you to synthesizers? Rick: Probably hearing Switched-On Bach in 1968. I finally got to meet Wendy Carlos in 1980 in New York and she was really helpful in explaining which low frequencies worked for transferring onto film as I was recording The Burning soundtrack at the time. There was a modular Moog owned by Mike Vickers which was kept in Air Studios during 1971 and I used this on The Strawbs' From the Witchwood album on a couple of tracks ...And fell in love! I couldn’t afford a Moog and it was only after joining Yes in 1971 that I was able to get one, but even then the price

Moog Source [1981]

This particular Moog looks pretty different from other Moogs. Straight out of a 1970s sci-fi movie! ⁣ ⁣ One great example of the Moog Source’s sound can be found on New Order’s 1983 track “Blue Monday”. It serves as the ever-catchy throbbing bassline (which always gets stuck in my head). According to Devolution Accelerated, a Devo fansite, the Source was also used heavily on Devo’s 1982 record Oh, No! It's Devo. It was Mark Mothersbaugh's primary keyboard during the New Traditionalists tour.⁣ ⁣⁣ The Source was the first and only Moog synthesizer to feature a flat-panel membrane keyboard- a keyboard whose keys are not separate moving parts, but rather pressure pads. It was also Moog's first s

Three Questions With Oneohtrix Point Never

Three questions with musician, synthesizer enthusiast and composer, Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never. Synth History: Do you remember the first record that you felt in awe by?  Daniel: Return To Forever - Where Have I Known You Before (1973). I must have still been in elementary school. My dad had a bunch of fusion records dubbed onto tape and that particular one was my favorite. I didn’t know it then because I was so young, but it was my first exposure to instrumental music that wasn’t orchestral which seemed to tell a story. This is really on display on Song To The Pharaoh Kings, a 14 minute track that starts very minimally with hushed organ and lead synth that really goes places.

Three Questions with Suzanne Ciani

Three questions with legendary synthesizer pioneer and "Diva of the Diode", Suzanne Ciani. Synth History: What did you think the first time you saw and heard the Buchla? Suzanne: In my mind, my meeting with the Buchla was love at first sight. Without fully understanding what it would mean for me, I sensed a destiny, a promise, freedom. As a female composer in those days, about 1969, the future looked bleak; there were few openings and the assumption was that if you were a female composer, you would teach. Nothing against teaching, but that is not how I saw myself. The Buchla was off the conventional grid and I could compose and produce my music independently. The machine itself seemed human

Remembering Florian from Kraftwerk

Remembering the late Florian Schneider-Esleben today. Florian founded Kraftwerk alongside Ralf Hütter in 1970.⁣⁣ Florian started off playing the flute initially. He also played violin, guitar, and made (obvious) use of the synthesizer. He met Ralf a few years before Kraftwerk’s formation in 1968, at the Academy of Arts in Remscheid. They would eventually make improvisational music together before forming Kraftwerk.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Known as a sound perfectionist and dubbed a “sound fetishist” by Ralf Hütter, Florian found sound design extremely important. His use of the vocoder (i.e. Kraftwerk’s famous Robovox) was a key part of Kraftwerk’s sound, and in 1990, he even patented a “system for and method

Triadex Muse [1972]⁣

A sequencer-based synthesizer designed by Edward Fredkin - an early pioneer of digital physics - and Marvin Minsky - a cognitive scientist and author of several texts concerning AI and philosophy.⁣ They developed the synth at MIT. What an interesting looking machine! Looks like it could've come straight out of a 1970s retro futuristic sci-fi film. ⁣ According to an article on Edgadet, at the time of the Triadex Muse’s creation, Marvin Minsky was moonlighting on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, teaching Kubrick about Artificial Intelligence as he created Hal. One of the movie's characters from 2001, Victor Kaminski, was even named in Marvin Minsky's honor. ⁣ Designed to rep

Three Questions With Dave Smith

Three questions with legendary engineer and founder of Sequential, Dave Smith. Synth History: What initially drew you to developing synthesizers? Dave: There were a number of factors. I always banged around on the family piano, and added guitar during The Beatles and British invasion in the mid-60s.  I played in a couple bands during college days, playing guitar or bass. Meanwhile I was getting a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Cal Berkeley - the late 60s were interesting times there! After graduating, my first synth exposure was Switched On Bach, which of course was a huge breakthrough, musically and technically. Among many things, the album led me to a much wider

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