Read: Synth Gods Book

 

Published by Backbeat Books, this handily covers
the synthesizer’s heyday but does tend to skimp on contemporary artists.

 

By Rev.
Keith A. Gordon

 

The synthesizer
as we know it today was designed and created by Dr. Robert Moog during the early
1950s, but it wasn’t until 1964 at an Audio Engineering Society convention that
the good doctor of engineering physics – a true brainiac degree if ever there
was one – would unveil the end result of almost a decade of work.

 

The first
analog synthesizer to use a keyboard as a controller, the original Moog synthesizer
was, at first, a bit of a curiosity because there was little existing framework
for the use of an electronic instrument at the time. The synthesizer was
introduced to the rock ‘n’ roll crowd at the 1967 Monterey International Pop
Festival, but it would be a year later when Wendy (then Walter) Carlos, an
early adopter of the Moog, released Switched
On Bach
, the first recording created entirely electronically with a
synthesizer, and one of the most commercially successful classical albums of
all time.

 

The success
of Switched On Bach in selling what
was essentially electronic music to the mainstream opened up the floodgates of
experimentation and innovation, especially among rock musicians. Keith Emerson,
while with British art-rock band the Nice, was one of the first artists to
adapt a Moog to his music, as was then session pro Rick Wakeman, later of Yes
and solo fame.

 

When Dr.
Moog introduced the Minimoog synthesizer in 1970 – a smaller, more
stage-friendly instrument for a live performance environment – the
synthesizer’s place in modern music was cast in cement. The popularity of the electronic
instrument fueled the early-1970s wave of Krautrock bands like Kraftwerk and
Tangerine Dream, and was the favored tool of keyboard wizards in prog-rock
bands like Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and many others. Dr. Moog would go on to
invent many innovations in electronic music, earning dozens of ground-breaking
patents, and while Moog would soon have competition from traditional keyboard
makers like Yamaha, the Moog name remains revered among musicians.

 

Keyboard magazine, a consumer publication targeting
musicians, has tracked the popularity and evolution of the synthesizer from the
very beginning, documenting the history of electronic music and its artists
since the 1970s. Keyboard Presents Synth
Gods
, compiled by the magazine’s former editor Ernie Rideout, is a
collection of interviews with various electronic-oriented musicians, some of
whom may not readily come to mind as “synth gods.” Culled from the
pages of the magazine, the interviews were written by regular contributors like
Robert L. Doerschuk, Greg Rule, Ken Hughes, and others.

 

 

Among the
20 artists featured in Keyboard Presents
Synth Gods
are those you might expect – Wendy Carlos, Brian Eno, Rick
Wakeman, Jan Hammer, Edgar Winter, etc – and some that might surprise you, such
as Prince, Bernie Worrell, and Joe Zawinul of jazz legends Weather Report.
These visionary musicians share their ideas and philosophies on electronic
music, some of them reveal their secrets in recording or performing, but all
have something interesting and informative to say about the synthesizer and the
instrument’s role in their art.

 

As is
typical with these sorts of compilations, some of the collected interviews are
more insightful and/or interesting than others, and Keyboard Presents Synth Gods is no different. The conversation with
keyboard wizard Richard Barbieri is a bit of a snore, while Wendy Carlos
seemingly talks forever. On the other hand, Brian Eno’s thoughts on electronic
instruments and their usage are quite fascinating, while French artist Jean
Michel Jarre provides plenty of food for thought with his ideas on the use of
electronic instrumentation in popular music. Joe Zawinul’s comments provide a
unique perspective, coming from the only jazz artist in the bunch.

 

While it
should be a given that Keyboard Presents
Synth Gods
is aimed at an audience with at least a passing familiarity with
the synthesizer and electronic instruments, I have a few minor cavils with the
book itself and not its editorial direction. The interview credited to Trent
Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is primarily with Charlie Clouser and Keith
Hillebrandt of that band. A fascinating conversation with Dr. Moog himself is
all too brief when, in my mind, it should be among the longest interviews in
the book…especially since Moog is an intelligent subject with an easy
conversational style and a heck of a lot of history on his side.

 

Finally,
the majority of the interviews are from the 1970s and ’80s…a watershed period
in the history of the synthesizer, to be sure, but not the end of innovation
with or interest in the instrument. Why no more recent interviews with
contemporary “synth gods” such as Transatlantic frontman and solo
artist Neal Morse, or former Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore (Chroma Key,
O.S.I.)? There are literally hundreds of prog-rock and metal bands doing new
things with synthesizers these days, and their voices should also be heard.

 

That being
said, Keyboard Presents Synth Gods is
nonetheless a quick and impressive read on the musical revolution created by
Dr. Robert Moog’s humble invention. I’d highly recommend the book for any fan
of, or for those with an interest in creating electronic music with the
now-ubiquitous synthesizer.

 

 

 

 

 

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