Regarding Synthesizers

Fat Benatar Keys Behind the Scenes

Recorded on January 6th, 2017

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This is all I got tonight. “You can feel it getting down to the wire”, and thus I’ve been cramming, trying to cement all these Pat/Fat Benatar songs between my head and fingers. I no longer require a binder of scribbled cheat-notes to play the chords in the songs. The notes are now in my brain. Just need this half-page index showing the key for each song and a map of which patches go with which song, and which parts come from the Alesis Micron, or the iPhone running Midiflow, NanoStudio and iGrand Piano. The wonders of MIDI.

Squirrels (Moog Mother-32 Doodles)

Recorded on September 20th, 2016

I had no ideas for what to write about, so I put down these tracks with the Moog. Only after I was done did I realize that it reminded me of some furry friends outside our window.

Don Buchla

Recorded on September 20th, 2016

BUCHLA documentary preview from Clarity Films.

Don Buchla died last week. The preview video above is from a documentary-in-progress from Clarity Films. His electronic instruments were similar to Moog and other modular synthesizers only in the fact that you patched things together. To look at the controls on a Buchla (which I’ve never done in real life) is to feel like you’ve never looked at a synthesizer before. I’m used to Moog-flavored subtractive synthesis, where I know what a four-pole voltage-controlled low-pass filter will do to a sawtooth waveform before I even reach for a knob. As wonderful as Moogs are, you just sort of know what ballpark you might end up in before you start experimenting.

Buchlas reflect the totally different approach of their creator. When I would read Keyboard magazine in the 80s and 90s, Buchla never got nearly the amount of space that Moog did. Hardly any of the musicians interviewed listed Buchla equipment in their arsenal, and when there was a historical mention of his instruments, they were usually presented as academic, hard to program, and “weird”. They were all that, and they were also like a continent waiting to be explored. After you listen to enough proficient players who use the 200e or the Music Easel, you understand the complexity and detail that his circuits could summon. And they thrived on not being bound to traditional equal-tempered keyboards.

Sounds Made with the Modular iOS App

Recorded on May 14th, 2016

Our iPad is too old to run the new Moog Model 15 app, so I made do with the old Modular app tonight. This is totally from scratch.

Moog 15 App; Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith on Buchla

Recorded on May 10th, 2016

I can’t believe I’ve lived to see the day when Moog would release the Model 15 app — a $30 download that can faithfully emulate most of what a full-on classic Moog 15 could do back in the day. I would buy it right now if we had an iPad that would run it. Playing with it on the iPhone seems like it would be a tease.

All that obsessing over YouTube demos of the Moog app led to a chance discovery of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, a master performer and composer on Buchla and other synthesizers. To hear those instruments in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing has finally brought me around to appreciate the legend of Buchla. There is truly so much more you can do with those complex oscillators and insane varieties of generators and modifiers, if you don’t go crazy first.