Monday, April 14, 2014

Sound Punks

Would the "80s" music sound--not hair metal, but syth-pop--have developed without integrated circuits? Can you get the 80s synth sound from solid state components?

After much listening and research, I think probably so.

Robert Moog is probably best known for his development of modular sound synthesizers, but he also codified a method of generating sound electronically and patented several electronic devices including high and low pass filters.

Moog was one of those guys who didn't take what already existed and make it something different, he built a whole new musical realm from scratch. He systematized the electronic production of sounds into a set of functions, then designed standardized modules that could replicate each function using analog circuitry and a 1 volt to 1 octave scale. Each module stood alone but had multiple inputs and outputs that connected to other modules with patch cables (much like old telephone switchboards). Each module controlled different aspects of the sound such as the frequency (pitch), attenuation (volume), and cutoff frequency (timbre). The central module was the voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) that generated a signal that could vary from sine, square and sawtooth waveforms. The VCO's output could then be modified by the other modules. The whole setup could be controlled by pretty much any sort of device, including a timed sequencer, a ribbon controller, or even a white noise generator. Most users preferred a piano keyboard interface.

Moog's close collaboration with Wendy Carlos, led her to construct a high-fidelity eight-track tape recorder from old studio equipment that she used in conjunction with a Moog synthesizer setup to produce her 1968 album Switched On Bach, which became one of the highest-selling classical music recordings ever released.

Brandenburgisches Konzert Nr. 3 in G-Dur, 1. Satz (Moog)

Carlos went on to use Moog systems to score soundtracks for A Clockwork Orange and Tron.

You can find an exceptional documentary about Moog here: Inventor of the Synthesizer Documentary ~ Moog: A Film by Hans Fjellestad

Despite the wide availability of cheap manufactured synthesizers and easy to assemble IC synth kits, people still hand-build analog synthesizers today, and the analog synthesizer database offers details on a plethora of them:

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