Had the honor of asking pioneer and visionary, Carl Craig, three questions. Carl is an electronic music producer, DJ, Grammy-nominated composer, founder of the record label Planet E Communications, not to mention a leading figure in Detroit techno.
Synth History: What are some of your favorite synthesizers right now?
Carl: My all time favorite and go-to synths are simplest ones, like Roland SH101 (the original) and Sequential Circuits Pro 1. These are synths where the architecture is really easy to understand, and they have a very muscular sound that works well with things like guitar pedals. In terms of new synths, I own an OB 6 which is a great one, I also own a Prophet 6. We use the OB 6 with the synth ensemble. When I started the ensemble we bought 4 Prophet 6s, sold 2, and replaced them with OB 6s, and after having three years off during the pandemic while we were preparing for Carnegie Hall, I got to hear both side by side, being played by excellent jazz players. Where I thought the Prophet 6 was a bit weak before when I was just messing around with it in the studio, it turns out that in the right hands, it can be really strong.
Synth History: Can you recall one of your favorite memories in the recording studio?
Carl: Most of my music career I've had the luxury of having gear available in my own home. My fondest memories are when I lived in an apartment that overlooked the Detroit River, where on the other side of the river was Canada. On the Detroit side, there were warehouses that were set ablaze during Devil's Night, and it was amazing to look at this from the 9th floor. It was the most inspirational view that I've ever seen, because it made me think all about this dark, sci-fi future of desolation. I really wanted to make music for Blade Runner, and it was in keeping with that - that while what we had to look forward to visually might be destruction, it was the closest experience to Blade Runner I've ever had.
Synth History: What records inspired you the most growing up?
Carl: There really is no simple way to answer this! The obvious answer I suppose is all the European electronic music: Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, Human League... things that were produced by Trevor Horne... that stuff was really dominant in the pop world. Then you have things like Funkadelic, Bernie Worrell and the crew... Junie Morrison, Afrika Bambaataa, The Soulsonic Force. All of the rap music that was coming around at the time was synthesiser music, like I think Thomas Dolby had produced or had co-written Whodini. At the time, Black people were using synthesisers along with live instrumentation, while most European electronic musicians were focusing on the sequencer and drum sounds in addition to the synthesizers. How Prince used the synthesizer was a huge influence on me and a lot of other people in Detroit. Egyptian Lover, Nucleus, all the Black electro stuff that was coming out... Cybertron, Juan Atkins, and of course Derrick May with the records on his Transmat label. That really brought it close to home for me. May, Atkins and Kevin Saunderson are all from Detroit, and I started working with Derrick later on. So there was a lot of influence, I would definitely have to include Rick James as well, because he was funk and he was using synths. Honestly, anything that was funk - I was into it.
References: Synth History Exclusive. Photo credit: Carl Craig/Planet E.