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andre cholmondeley:

My love for synths...probably goes back 45 years or so. I was born in 1965 so I remember hearing things like sci-fi movie sounds, what represented flying saucers on TV etc 

Then later, early Bob Marley and loving all the sounds -- I had no idea some of that bass was synth. But the odd  synth sounds that were showing up in pop and funk music....I just loved the wiggly sounds but didn't know what it was -- it was all just "music". Later on you start seeing pictures of musicians and you realize sometimes there's a weird device that looks VERY complex, this isn't a guitar..

I'll have to keep searching my memory but I loved stuff with synths, I knew that. When I was around 11 or 12 Star Wars came out...and along with it the MECO "Star Wars Theme" ..I had that on cassette, and it's a full rendition of all the main themes...for a synth based ensemble. Around that time I heard "Flashlight" by P-Funk and again, along w the vocals.... the weird keyboard sounds were captivating. Stevie Wonder's "Songs In the Key of Life" was out around that time and again, some cool synth sounds...but not as cool as some of his early 70s hits. I probably thought the fat Moog stuff was....a bass guitar?

Right around then I got about a dozen albums gifted to me -- a friend had joined Columbia House Record Club -- and somehow had picked all albums he hated. It was great for me!!


So at age 12 or so, living in Brooklyn NY,  I got stuff by Nazareth, Chicago's Greatest Hits, Steve Miller Band, ELO and a bunch more. The Steve Miller album "Fly Like An Eagle" had this lonnng and very spacey synth intro on one track.....again no real sussing out of "what is that, technically", but I LOVED it, it seemed like you were floating in a cloud!

The ELO album, actually there were two, "New World Record" and what was their NEW one at that moment in time "Out Of The Blue"...again lots of huge synth sounds (and orchestral arrangements, heavy shit at that age..!). So I was hearing some cool stuff, along with voracious listening to AM radio, chock full of cool sounds.

Sometime a couple years later two major songs blew my mind -- the Sweet song "Love Is LIke Oxygen"...the long version.... and Styx "Come Sail Away"....both had extended versions that had those extreme, crazy analog synth experiments!! Right there in an am-radio hit!!! Sometimes you'd hear the long version.... that may have been FM at that point..? There was also Manfred Mann's take on the Springsteen song "Blinded By the Light"..they had that whole spacey middle section. Guitar solo..but the dreamy synth always beckoned. Or Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" with the hypnotic bass sequence, wow. Gary Wright - "Dream Weaver". trippy! Right there on the radio! What a time.

Note that I was JUST transitioning over to discovering FM.... so I was just about to hear stuff like The Who, "Baba O'Riley", "Won't Get Fooled Again"...which, along with basically every other Who radio hit -- were loaded with analog synth sounds, sample & hold etc.

As an aside, much later I'd decide that IMHO,  Pete Townshend holds the GOLD MEDAL in sneaking synth sounds into the top played classic rock charts.....Most people don't realize he is a bona fide synth head, has what was once (and possibly still is?) the largest synth collection in England -- in the late 60s/early 70s he would purchase every synth that came out and dive into the programming and technical side of it. If you ponder it -- the list of Who songs with a synth tag running all or most of the way thru is incredible:

Baba O'Riley

Won't get Fooled Again

The Relay

Lots of Quadrophenia

Who Are You


You Better You Bet

Endless Wire (opening track?)

Join Together

Going Mobile

Sister Disco

Eminence Front

...and a bunch of the Pete solo stuff.

But , I digress......

Another VERY important album would be Jeff Beck Wired, which I bought because of the super cool cover artaround 1981 (age 16). At  mall in Wilmington Delaware, my dad let me pick out a cassette or two. I had heard of this guy but...wow. Still a mindnumbing album, and the Jan Hammer Moog stuff on there... is STILL a completely great starting point for anyone asking: "OK, what can a basic, stalwart analog monosynth do that's badass?"

A later Beck album (the next one?) was There and Back, and had EVEN more cool synth stuff on it, I remmeber just digging those sounds...synth were futuristic, space travel came to mind, robots, knobs, technology!! I was a young science nerd so it all clicked, along with just loving drums and guitars and all the DNA of rock n roll, and what I was slowly getting into "fusion", tho I had no label for it yet...


Jump ahead, I'm now a young musician in the early 80s, and everyone is throwing away analog synths. Of course NO ONE had any idea that we should buy up every one of those then make a fortune later...

But my first couple of synths, were incredible :

KORG POLY-800: analog synth under digital control It was probably DCOs but analog filters (I have to look this up and edit). This was a great synth and I discovered a lot of cool ideas with it, and it was right when I was figuring out how to record at home -- I had my late stepfather's reel -to -reel, plus linking up two cassette decks had been sorted out. This synth had some kind of arpeggiator IIRC, so I would lay down faux Tangerine Dream ideas. Must try to find these tapes.......

Radio Shack MG-1 (??): analog monosynth which as you may know was made for them by Moog, basically it's the same as the.....

MOOG Rogue: classic, unsung analog monosynth. I made a lot of weird noise on it but hadn;t really grasped synthesis concepts at all by this point. I kep it for several years, had various keyboard players in a couple of my bands use it cos I loved the soun...at one point Bob Moog himself signed it, then when I was broke (as these things happen), I sold it on ebay around 2008? 2011? I was tasteful and didn't exploit the fact that Bob had signed it, he was alive when I sold it tho. So now I'm extra sorry I didn't keep it.

SEQUENTIALS CIRCUITS SixTrak: I purchased this one as well as the Moog from my pal Mark Dobry, who was a major mentor and guru to this early musician!! I bought a great bass from him that I recorded on a punk/art rock album with, and also had a great guitar loaner along the way that was crucial to my young years learning guitar (still learning). But what an incredible synth!! SC is the company that did the Prohet 5 and 10, and of course (at the time of this writing, 2016) is now known by the founder's name DAVE SMITH, and he still does synths (after a long hiatus).

But the SixTrak...was another analog synth with digital memory -- so one could make WILD sounds yet save them. This synth, probably the first one where I grasped some concepts about the filters, octave ranges, the various oscillator wave qualities, the amplitude envelope, etc. Used this one a lot onstage..... and during this time period I was in the first couple bands...and usually there was a synth present! I know I dug hearing synths along with the usual gtr/bass/drums/ voices, and in one band (Rhythm Method) I know I dragged a drum machine into the mix and we used that on a song, as well as my first (!!) time played keys live, I used the Poly 800 onstage on a tune called OMNIPRESENCE. But the SixTrak saw a lot of stage time too...including later on with the weird duo I had with my dear departed partner Cheri Jiosne, called JFK's LSD UFO.

KORG MonoPoly: I got this beast..FREE one time around 1998?? It was BROKEN and sitting in the basement of a music store. Suffice to say the fix was pretty simple - I had someone knowledgable take it apart and voila -- one of the great synths was alive and well. Sadly, I really needed some guitar gear around then -- gigging a lot on guitar -- and I traded this and the SixTrak for a Marshall stack. Stupid move, as they always are later on!! It was a pretty good Marshall but not top of the line -- and either solid state or solid front end with tube power. Either way...easy to replicate , which the synth have not been!!

KORG Poly61: Their last synth without MIDI....more details as I remember, But it was analog filters, DCOs..?

ROLAND D-50 ????: I gotta look up the correct name. Good wavetable workhorse but I sadly really never dug in deep enough. Stupid. You always lose the ones you love.

<more coming soon here...1980s thru 2000s!!>

1983 will always be remmebered , for me personally, as a massive year for getting into a whole new level of music. I stumbled across a show on WNYC in NYC (duh) called "New Sounds". This is still on in 2016 (!!) and the host John Schaefer (sp?) would play the most incredible and eclectic stuff....from ambient synth stuff, to minimalist classics from Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Steve Reich etc. Wordl music -- from every continent, truly a massive education started to unfodl here. 


But always -- the synth stuff - this is where I first heard Amon Duul, Steve Roach, Klaus Schulze, Cluster, Kitaro, Vangelis, Moebius, and deep tracks by people I had heard a tiny bit -- Brian Eno, ROGER Eno, Jean Michel Jarre, 


Jumping up a couple years...I was so excited when in the 90s there was a brand new synth revolution. Bands like Ozric Tentacles, then Chemical Brothers, The Orb, Prodigy, and later Squarepusher really blew the roof off for me. But during that time I would buy all the British magazines and try to keep up with what was happening -- a lot of it was softsynths...My computers at the time were always 2nd hand and not clever enough to run the current stuff... But I followed along anxiously, and really it was cool since I had hardware galore... 

It was also awesome when an old hero of mine Jeff Beck, suddenly put out two albums that were TOTALLY techno/drum n bass oriented, with his wild ass guitar seamlessly worked in. But -- not that crazy -- when you consider his above-mentioned seminal synth albums. Plus in interviews he said he was excited by stuff like Prodigy etc that was blwoing up in his native England. So it all made total sense - and I still think that era of his is underappreciated. Go watch his live band around 1999. Insane.


Random Current synth collection as of this writing (JULY 2016) is:


Eurorack Modular system including:

Pittsburgh System 10.1

MakeNoise MMG, TelHarmonic, Brains, 

Expert Sleepers Disting

STG .MIX, Noise/S&H module

Asst'd other modules

Alesis NanoSynth

Bleep Labs Nebulophone

Roland SH-32

Roland GR-55 (guitar synth and modeling device. brilliant)

Roland VG-99 (technically NOT a synth but always lumped in there so let's make it worse)

Yamaha QY-10 (brilliant synth and sequencer)

Yamaha ...?? Little General MIDI synth

Ensoniq Mirage (technically not a synth but sampler....but, same family)

E-Mu World

E-Mu Proteus One

Kawai K1-R

Moog MF-104 ??? Ring Mod ( technically just a COMPONENT of synthesis but since it's Moog I'll list it)

Simmons -- brain (what is the number..?) - one of the classic Simmons brains. fantastic glitch machine

Stylophone (yes a copy of the famous little stylus-operated synth so beloved & used by David Bowie)


I put quotes around these words 'hardware' and 'software'..... I find them arbitrary because....if hardware runs software,..... what is it counted as then?? And -- what is a logic circuit..if not software incarnate in circuitry?? Any logic circuit, in a way, is performing computer actions, i.e. software. What's firmware other than an attempt to define this borderline? I'm puzzled when peopel feel the need to get militant and defensive about these lines..in what is ALL machines in the end. And once they have logic chips in them...they are digital in nature at least in part.

Anyway -- having said that - I completely love and embrace the softsynth revoltion as well -- I can't keep up and really only have dabbled. Although in my day job as a tech of varying sorts -- I have spent many years on tour with one of the giants of synth music and programming, Eddie Jobson, and running his rig has meant I've learned a TON about Mainstage, and synth pliug ins and packages like Native Instruments Reactor, Komplete, B4 etc, Omnisphere, all the Arturia soft synths etc.

I use a lot of iOS stuff in studio and onstage, including:

iVCS3 -- yes the EMS, brilliant legendary synth. Man I want a "real" one someday. Incredible app tho

Moog - Animoog - just a stellar development by Moog. It always amazes. I am terrified of how great their new Model 15 app is....just scared.

Propellerheads  -Figure.

Korg - Gadget

John Cage Prepared Piano

DM1 drum machine

SEM Oberheim (??)

Arturia MiniMoog sim.

iDensity (actually an incredible tape studio simulator. Musique concrete device of dreamlike proportions...)

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