Had the honor of asking musician and producer Chrome Sparks a some questions. Read what some of his favorite synths are down below.
Synth History: What initially drew you to synthesizers?
Jeremy: It was probably the Simian Mobile Disco album, 'Attack Decay Sustain Release' that first got me interested in synthesis... everything about it seemed so mysterious. Later down the road, the idea of controlling a sound-- or in the case of many analog synths, literally shaping the electricity from the socket to a speaker, was super enticing to me. Felt like some sort of wizardry.
Synth History: Do you remember your first synth?
Jeremy: Absolutely, I still use it a lot. Directly after finishing my last day of high school, I went to my first band practice with this party-rock band. The leader of the group was a tall, long haired man named Sneaky Mike who generally wore only tights, a wrestling belt, and a headband. He had a Juno-60 that I used a bit with the group, then took to college because Sneaky Mike is an angel sent from heaven. The Juno really shaped how I feel sound on a synth should be presented- how you can see every aspect of the sound laid out in front of you. The only menus I want to see say 'Antipasto'... keep that shit away from my musical instruments.
Synth History: Out of the synths you currently own- which are your favorites?
Jeremy: I got a Korg MS-20 Mk1 last year, and we're having an absolutely fantastic time getting to know each other. Those filters!! My number one has got to be my old Minimoog Model D. It just has this inherent musicality to how the envelopes and filters operate-- it's quite difficult to make it sound bad, and fairly easy to make it sound outrageously good. Beyond that and the Juno-60 and my Oberheim OB-Xa get the most use. The OB-Xa that I have used to belong to Philip Glass and would go on tour with the Glass Ensemble, so it has a heavy magic in it. Even though it's known for Van Halen's 'Jump' and lots of Prince organ sounds, pads can get incredibly deep and warm. The ability to detune the 2 oscillators is something that sets it apart from the Juno and opens up a whole new wobbly world. Mine's actually messed up at the moment and needs some work done- the LFO is at an audio frequency, so I can add some really nice fizz to the warm pads by essentially using FM on the filter with some resonance turned up. Not in a rush to get that fixed...
Synth History: I got a chance to watch your Moog Live Session, which was great. I love the aesthetic of your studio- including your houseplants. The combination of plants and synths always remind me of Mort Garson's 1976 record Plantasia in a way. How does the general vibe of your studio influence your work?
Jeremy: A classic! It's super important to me to be comfortable and feel inspired in a space in which I'm making music. Who doesn't want to be in a lovely zone? There seems to be an eternal symbiosis between plants and synthesizers, the organic and the inorganic, each alive in their own ways. It's also as simple as the fact that they're beautiful and make me happy, they're rewarding when I care for them and they don't die, and they make me feel more connected to the natural world-- all things that keep gas in the creative tank, and oxygen in the lungs.
Synth History: Do you think software emulators do a good job at replicating synthesizers and analog effects?
Jeremy: I think they do a very good job, but the things that draw me to analog synths and effects are more than the sounds. It's the tactile aspects, it's the history, it's the visceral joy of turning an old knob and having that action directly influence an electrical signal. Even if software emulators sounded BETTER than analog synths, they wouldn't light up my frontal cortex in the same way that an aesthetically pleasing, retro futuristic hunk of wood and metal does. My synthesizers look at me in the studio. They keep me on task and in check. They watch over me. They connect me to a past that I never knew but that I long for, and a future that I'm attempting to create.
Synth History: Do you have a recently acquired production tip, or "trick of the trade" you are willing to share with up and coming producers?
Jeremy: Here's a few random tidbits- Use a very short sound as your sidechain signal instead of the kick. Pitch shift recorded parts by a 5 or 7 steps and reverse them to find new melodies. Put saturation/distortion after a reverb. Copy audio clips and paste them into the wrong tracks to see how different they sound. Experiment, experiment, experiment!
Synth History: What were some of your favorite movies and records as a teenager?
Jeremy: Bibio was a huge influence- the album Ambivalence Avenue specifically. The Eraser by Thom Yorke. Caribou's Andorra. Anything Beach House. There was a period of time in high school when I could only listen to Parliament and Funkadelic, everything else seemed so bland and lame. Also I have to mention my introduction to dance music and how powerful that was- Daft Punk, Justice, and everything that was going on with Ed Banger and Kitsuné back around '05-'07.
As far as movies are concerned, my teenage taste was fairly basic for a weed smoking teen- a mixture of Wes Anderson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Austin Powers, Almost Famous, and stoner favorites like Requiem for a Dream. I think I had about 3 pre-teen birthday parties in a row that involved watching Dude Where's My Car.
Synth History: What hardware synth would you recommend for someone just starting out?
Jeremy: I'm not too knowledgeable on modern synths, but the Korg Minilogue is definitely a great value for some wonderful sounds. If you can throw down a few more bucks, the Moog Grandmother will get you a more old school design and sound. On the cheaper end, I once played with a friend's Yamaha Reface CS and it was quite fun. Something worth mentioning though is that all of my earliest music was made with free softsynths, and now I see reddit threads of people trying to figure out what vintage synths were used to make those sounds! These instruments are incredibly fun, inspiring, and some of my favorite tools to create music, but are by no means necessary to create electronic music. Use what's at your disposal, limitations breed the best creativity.
References: Photo credit Zac Farro, Retro Synth Ads scans, Korg Minilogue SOS.