Three questions with legends and founding members of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys.
Synth History: Do you remember the first time you heard a synth in a song and what inspired you to include them in your music?
Andy McCluskey: It must be the amazing theme tune to BBC TV's Doctor Who series, created by Ron Grainer and produced by Delia Derbyshire at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, created in 1963. Very early and totally stunning. It was not until I heard Autobahn by Kraftwerk in 1975 that I even thought about the possibility of doing electronic music myself. I liked anything that was unusual but still musical.
Paul Humphreys: I have an elder brother and when he left home and went to University, he left most of his extensive record collection behind, plus he used to bring me interesting records when he came home to visit. He introduced me to a 1974 record called Phaedra by Tangerine Dream. I put it on and was blown away by the noises and sequencers on it, it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Soon after, of course, Autobahn was on the radio, which really was the first day of the rest of my life. It was, as I saw it then anyway, Tangerine Dream but with succinct melodies, structure and simplicity. Then together with Andy, we dived completely into the world of Kraftwerk, discovering their even earlier works like Ralf & Florian, pre-Kraftwerk, then discovered Neu! and La Düsseldorf. Both Andy and I saw it as the sound of the future. Synthesizers had appeared and allowed an entire new pallet of sounds with seemingly endless possibilities. The obvious next step for us was to ‘dare’ each other to attempt to make our own version of 'the sound of the future’.
Synth History: What are some of your favorite synthesizers of all time?
Andy McCluskey: We used lots of cheap but wonderful Korg and Roland monophonic synths for all of our early songs that had the distinctive synth melodies. We usually triple-tracked them hand played and slightly detuned to get that wide, harmonic, analog sound. I still have a soft spot for them but now prefer the soft synth plug-ins in my Protools.
Paul Humphreys: In terms of synthesizers, the first few albums were made almost entirely using a Korg Micro-Preset, Korg MS-20, Roland SH-01 and SH-2 and a Prophet 5. That was pretty much it. Adding a Mellotron, essentially a mechanical sampler, to these during the making of Architecture & Morality. As new technology appeared we always embraced it and in 1982 we discovered the incredible world of sampling when the first Emulator I emerged. That instrument alone inspired our Dazzle Ships album. Basically, 'new toys’ always provided new sonic and creative possibilities for Andy and myself. To this day, I still look for new synths, but now mainly in the virtual world of soft synths.
Synth History: How have changes in technology and the music industry influenced your work?
Andy McCluskey: Paul and I now work ‘completely in the box’ on the Protools in our computers. We have twinned set ups so that we can send complete song files and they open on both systems. It is so different to when we started in the mid 70s, with an upside down bass guitar, Paul's weird noise machines made of circuits and parts cannibalized from his Auntie's radios and a borrowed WEM Copicat delay machine, and an old tape machine that we recorded backing tracks onto and played along with because no-one else liked our music.
Paul Humphreys: The technology of today would have been completely incomprehensible and unimaginable to the Andy and Paul of the mid-70s. As I eluded to in a previous question, the release of new technologies has always influenced our songwriting, a whole new pallet of sounds and sonic possibilities has always been a massive source of inspiration. Fast forward to the technologies of today, Andy and I call it ‘the tyranny of choice’ now. With absolutely endless possibilities, you really have to rely on all of your experience as songwriters and programmers in order to self-edit and self-limit your pallet of sounds and synthesizers at any one time, or you can simply disappear in a world of endless choices and possibilities; forgetting that your primary goal is exactly the same primary goal as it was when we first started out with hardly any technology at our disposal; which was to write a sonically interesting and entertaining piece of music that has a good melody, interesting concept, good lyrics, and bears many repeated listens.
OMD's Bauhaus Staircase is out now.
Synth History Exclusive. Photo Mirrorpix.