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Promoting the synthesizer as its own instrument


humannoyed

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It seems a lot of what is discussed around here is digital pianos and romplers emulative qualities - that is, how well this or that keyboard does piano, rhodes, hammond, clav, brass, etc. I love reading many of you folks opinions on gear and this is helpful for any of us in the market for a new keyboard especially those of us who gig professionally and need a good representation of those instruments to cover parts in a working band.

 

But....this is also a community of synth lovers who are have affection (is that a strong enough word for some of you? :D ) for synths as their own unique instruments.

 

I was just curious for opinions of what more could perhaps be done collectively by the manufacturers working together instead of just competing with each othe to promote these type synths that are supposed to be appreciated for their unique qualities as opposed to their hammond or piano emulation.

.

What got me thinking of this were threads at the northernsound forums there where folks were discussing orchestra mock-ups of classical pieces. There was even a contest to demonstrate how realistic an orchestra library can sound in the hands of a talented person. I know this is a great exercise in expressive performing, but while reading the discussions extolling the realism as compared to an actual orchestra performing the work, I couldnt help but wonder about the artistic satisfaction of doing a realistic orchestra mockup compared to doing it uniquely with ones own designed sounds, or at least with combinations of synth and sampled sounds.

 

This got me thinking...what if synth manufacturers promoted a similar yearly contest? The contestants could all take the same piece of music (Well, maybe a choice of...say three) and do an original all synth rendition layering as many tracks as you wanted. Why, the winner could even be chosen by votes from this forum. A first place winner might win a SE Omega, Moog Voyager, DSI PEK, and Alesis Andromeda (being speculative of course for companies that might want to be involved - feel free to add your own ideas :) )

 

What about the companies donating some instruments and concert revenue to some colleges in exchange for helping to organize and promote a few electronic music concerts a year? Performers could be a famous electronic artist, the contest winners and perhaps someone from the school where the concert was being held.

 

I would love to attend some concerts of say...3 or 4 synth wizard musicians doing their own arrangements of some famous pieces through a great sound system. I

would think this type of promotion would do well to help enlighten young listeners to the possible uses of synthesizers that I think too many still see as just sonic toys.

 

Day

 

 

I was listening the space music program on public radio and realized that many pieces were some ethnic flute bathed in reverb backed by a floating synth pad - completely diatonic with little or no harmonic movement, no rhythmic interest, and no form....and I was thinking...this can only fuel hatred of synthesizers and electronic music. .

"It is a danger to create something and risk rejection. It is a greater danger to create nothing and allow mediocrity to rule."

"You owe it to us all to get on with what you're good at." W.H. Auden

 

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This kind of topic has been brought up here before. I agree that the synth world has been focused for quite a time on creating as authentic as possible patches of existing instruments (strings, brass, Hammond, etc.) and less on being able to build the sound from the ground up ala the original Minimoog and ARP 2600. I do believe though based on my recent run throughs at our local Sam Ash that the trend is turning back to the synth as a synth and not merely a replacement for other instruments. I think Korg and Roland each have a moderately-priced keyboard out now that is a true synth.

 

LIke it's been said here many times before, there ain't many Emersons, Wakemans or Moraz's around much anymore.

 

BD

1956 Hammond C3 with Leslie 122, Roland V-Combo, Trek II Preamp, Peavey KB 100, 1976 Natural Maple Rickenbacker 4001S bass

And yes folks, I do gig with a Casio WK 3700...So there!

 

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What bluesdisciple said!

 

I honestly believe that if you'd give the Beatles a pair of coconut shells and a whistle they'd come up with some wonderful song in short time. None of the instruments we cherish nowadays would have "happened" if they had not been picked up by talented composers.

 

The gift of the synthesizer (ultimate versatility) made it the instrument of choice for way too many untalented composers and ended up turned into a curse, to a point that many people still rate synthesizers as toys and not proper musical instruments.

 

If you read between the lines, we do it ourselves here, don't we? Don't you sometimes feel some scorn for synths as compared to "true" instruments like a Rhodes, Hammond or Clavinet?

"I'm ready to sing to the world. If you back me up". (Lennon to his bandmates, in an inspired definition of what it's all about).
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Originally posted by Andre Lower:

The gift of the synthesizer (ultimate versatility) made it the instrument of choice for way too many untalented composers and ended up turned into a curse, to a point that many people still rate synthesizers as toys and not proper musical instruments.

Hmm... I'm not sure the 'general public' is exactly aware of what's a synth and what's not. Sure, there are some forms of dance music that display very little musicianship... but then again, there is no shortage of p*ss-poor "guitar bands"...

 

Originally posted by Andre Lower:

If you read between the lines, we do it ourselves here, don't we? Don't you sometimes feel some scorn for synths as compared to "true" instruments like a Rhodes, Hammond or Clavinet?

I've seen that here. But for me:

 

http://www.synthmania.com/Synthesizers/Roland/D-50/Audio/Preset%20demos/Factory/61%20Staccato%20Heaven.mp3

 

...is more beautiful than those instruments.

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Originally posted by humannoyed:

It seems a lot of what is discussed around here is digital pianos and romplers emulative qualities - that is, how well this or that keyboard does piano, rhodes, hammond, clav, brass, etc. I love reading many of you folks opinions on gear and this is helpful for any of us in the market for a new keyboard especially those of us who gig professionally and need a good representation of those instruments to cover parts in a working band.

Well, depends on the type of music the band plays, doesn't it?

 

Originally posted by humannoyed:

But....this is also a community of synth lovers who are have affection (is that a strong enough word for some of you? [big Grin] ) for synths as their own unique instruments.

I'm a HUGE fan of 'purely synthetic' sounds... but where do you draw the line? Some of my favourite sounds are synth brass such as....

 

http://www.synthmania.com/Synthesizers/Roland/MKS-80/Audio%20Files/Factory%20patch%20examples/I-14.mp3

 

I've always thought of this sort of thing a 'synth brass' sound and not a 'bad imitation' of acoustic brass. Of course if you layer it with real brass (live or sampled) it's going to sound pretty good too...

 

 

Originally posted by humannoyed:

What got me thinking of this were threads at the northernsound forums there where folks were discussing orchestra mock-ups of classical pieces. There was even a contest to demonstrate how realistic an orchestra library can sound in the hands of a talented person. I know this is a great exercise in expressive performing, but while reading the discussions extolling the realism as compared to an actual orchestra performing the work, I couldnt help but wonder about the artistic satisfaction of doing a realistic orchestra mockup compared to doing it uniquely with ones own designed sounds, or at least with combinations of synth and sampled sounds.

I think it's kinda disappointing to just try and sound exactly like a REAL orchestra... especially since it probably won't sound as good. I think it's more interesting to do a sort of hybrid sound. For example, in this OASYS video, Jack Hotop demonstrates set-ups that include various acoustic samples and some wavesequencing. (3:30 and 4:50 in.)

 

 

http://www.clicklive.com/KorgUSA/sniffer/Jack_Hotop-1/platform.html

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Promoting the synthesizer ...

 

it can't be done by a company. It can only be done by the musician. Someone who has so much to say through their instrument, that the traditional way people think about the instrument is changed. Like Jimi did for the guitar, Paganini for the violin or Bela for the banjo.

 

That's the way it works, unfortunately. The public is waiting for us to show them that we have something. They always have.

 

Jerry

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I guarantee that if you listen to some tracks from the iTunes Top 100, you'll find quite a few features explicitly 'synth' sounds.

 

Of course the 'electronic' genres of music have no shortage of synth sounds, although unfortunately the postmodernists grabbed those genres and claimed them some years ago. (Sorry, but cool posturing isn't going to get material out there... MELODY is.) It doesn't help that synth-pop and many of the synth sounds were denounced... in fact, what's that I see here moaning yet again about the "Jump" sound the likes of which I haven't heard on any new record in, well, what, over 16 years at least?

 

 

I suspect the image of the keyboardist is just too 'geeky'... but the flipside of this is, who's in control? No other player can do a full blown production on their own.

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dudeh-s.

 

Totally like. Strap on a SH-101 aiight, paint racing flames on it. Get a mullet, and then rock out fullcore hard.

 

I say we reinvent synth image.

 

Maybe there could be some awesome daft punk thing. Like pretending to be robots.

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I think Tusker is right, and it's also worth noticing that it's not a keyboard-specific problem: No other instrument has been "raised to the pantheon" since the ascendance of the electric guitar, which by the way coincided with a very rich period as far as composition goes (1960~1985). The fact that most other instruments already had a "name" to them long before that leaves synths alone in the unfortunate timeframe of having matured just when compositions were going downhill and thus missed the best chances of having been "adopted" by really good composers.

 

In other threads we have also discussed the fact that keyboard instruments are also lacking as far as visual performance appeal is concerned. Unlike singers and guitar players, keyboard (including synthesizer) players have to sweat nails before their contribution starts to get noticed by the crowd.

 

$0.02...

"I'm ready to sing to the world. If you back me up". (Lennon to his bandmates, in an inspired definition of what it's all about).
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BTW, in the 80's the record label 'Jive' had a sublabel called 'Jive Electro' which was for 'electronic music.' This guy was signed to them:

 

 

Hmm... power single? Power triple? Nice sounds off the Kurzweil though, he's now using a Modular Moog. This is exactly the 'geeky' keyboardist image, though... Jean Michel Jarre too?

 

The label Jive Electro was a financial failure and folded.

 

By the 1990's I guess the DJ culture thing took over and many (sequenced songs) were marketed as though the creation of music had something to do with mixing and turntables.

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Running the risk of being flamed, I'd dare adding that synths also took a lot of "friendly fire" from more traditional keyboard instruments players like piano and organ. They felt (and perhaps still feel) that their turf was being invaded and were quick to patronize the new toy.
"I'm ready to sing to the world. If you back me up". (Lennon to his bandmates, in an inspired definition of what it's all about).
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Originally posted by Andre Lower:

Running the risk of being flamed, I'd dare adding that synths also took a lot of "friendly fire" from more traditional keyboard instruments players like piano and organ. They felt (and perhaps still feel) that their turf was being invaded and were quick to patronize the new toy.

This might well be true and understandable but by now in the case of a patch like the "Jump" sound and other "super-80's" synth sounds they they (or at least people of their view) "won" years ago... it's now regarded as "cheesy." Of course other instruments may have "lost" too... although the piano is always around.

 

I suppose the last 'impressive' synth sound for leads/hooks is the Supersaw? Many of the others are now 'banned.'

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Perhaps the "demise" of these Jump-like sounds is related to the fact that nobody made a different/innovative use of them in a solid, good composition which could last in people's memories.

 

As Jerry (Tusker) reminds us from time to time, synth players could be more creative in the use of both the sounds themselves and the instrument's expression resources. We all know that synth horn patches lend themselves to much more than the ubiquitous stabs...

"I'm ready to sing to the world. If you back me up". (Lennon to his bandmates, in an inspired definition of what it's all about).
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Originally posted by soundscape:

Hmm... kinda funny that in one thread here we have a deuncation of the 'Jump' sound and in another the virtues of MKS-70, -80, Jupiter-6, etc. are extolled.

The answer is in the apparent contradiction.

 

Sounds are out. Expression is in. (Actually, expression has always been in.)

 

The MKS 80 is valued for its potential for expression. The Jump sound is passe because it is only capable of one expression (mostly). The MKS 80 is much larger than the jump sound. It's a universe of jump sounds.

 

But the synthesizer will not be taken seriously as an instrument for having a universe of sounds. It will be taken seriously when somebody uses those sounds to express a meaning that is universal, captivating and imaginative.

 

Jerry

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Originally posted by Tusker:

Originally posted by soundscape:

Hmm... kinda funny that in one thread here we have a deuncation of the 'Jump' sound and in another the virtues of MKS-70, -80, Jupiter-6, etc. are extolled.

The answer is in the apparent contradiction.

 

Sounds are out. Expression is in. (Actually, expression has always been in.)

Hmm... depends on what you mean by 'expressive' I suppose but those analog sounds are quite expressive and deep.

 

 

Originally posted by Tusker:

The MKS 80 is valued for its potential for expression. The Jump sound is passe because it is only capable of one expression (mostly). The MKS 80 is much larger than the jump sound. It's a universe of jump sounds.

Exactly, the 'Jump' sound itself is only ONE example of synth-brass. It's actually far from the 'best' synth brass... Often synth brass is better if you layer it with a sample of acoustic brass or if you even have a (live) acoustic brass section. But... I have the idea when someone criticizes the 'Jump' sound it's as though they are criticizing ALL the synth-brass sounds...
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Originally posted by Andre Lower:

Perhaps the "demise" of these Jump-like sounds is related to the fact that nobody made a different/innovative use of them in a solid, good composition which could last in people's memories.

There were tons of synth horn parts that were fantastic, actually...

 

'Jump' IS a memorable track though, right?

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Originally posted by Tusker:

The MKS 80 is valued for its potential for expression. The Jump sound is passe because it is only capable of one expression (mostly).

Well... is the range any wider with the "Supersaw" leads? Access fairly recently introduced the "Hypersaw" so I'm sure that sound is still popular in trance, ever since the JP-8000.
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Originally posted by soundscape:

There were tons of synth horn parts that were fantastic, actually...
...in songs that were not. Or that for some reason did not "make it", while many "guitar songs" did. If you discount personal taste you'll get what I mean.

 

Originally posted by soundscape:

'Jump' IS a memorable track though, right?
Yes it was, but that one is also a beehive because it became the symbol of the time when one of the current guitar heroes "switched to the dark side of the force" abandoning his guitar for a synthesizer. Eddie took fire both from guitar players and keyboard players.

 

I like the track though. Perhaps things would be different if he had pushed longer in this direction and had managed to nail five or six other hit songs with original keyboard parts on them. Harder said than done, anyway.

"I'm ready to sing to the world. If you back me up". (Lennon to his bandmates, in an inspired definition of what it's all about).
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Originally posted by Andre Lower:

Running the risk of being flamed, I'd dare adding that synths also took a lot of "friendly fire" from more traditional keyboard instruments players like piano and organ. They felt (and perhaps still feel) that their turf was being invaded and were quick to patronize the new toy.

This is something I've heard before from a few people I've met over the last two years or so. They feel some of the technology of the current synths makes it too easy and isn't a credit to people who can really play.

Begin the day with a friendly voice A companion, unobtrusive

- Rush

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Originally posted by soundscape:

Originally posted by Tusker:

Originally posted by soundscape:

Hmm... kinda funny that in one thread here we have a deuncation of the 'Jump' sound and in another the virtues of MKS-70, -80, Jupiter-6, etc. are extolled.

The answer is in the apparent contradiction.

 

Sounds are out. Expression is in. (Actually, expression has always been in.)

Hmm... depends on what you mean by 'expressive' I suppose but those analog sounds are quite expressive and deep.

I think it's legitimate to try to define the term. Let me try an analogy. I think a person is an expressive speaker when they are effective at communicating an idea or emotion. Also when they are good at communicating a range of ideas and emotions.

 

Ditto for the synth. Effectiveness and range are useful ideas. A synth brass patch becomes expressive when a range of ideas and emotions can be communicated. From my perspective, a single sound typically cannot be expressive. It has no range. So I can't judge if a sound is expressive merely by whether it is effective at expressing a single idea or emotion. Expression is a larger thing than that.

 

The reduction of synthesis to sounds is one of the reasons for a lack of expression in synthesis. People chase sounds instead of expression and wonder why they fall short musically. It's why Brian Eno can turn out better music with a single, slightly grungy DX7 than many people can with a room full of pristine plugins. Thanks for reading my rant.

 

Jerry

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To me there are two aspects to expressiveness of the sound itself; firstly, does can it change character in response to input; secondly, does it have 'depth' to it? Of course a good analog synth has absolutely no problem with the latter, as the sound is rich and has constant 'movement' to it.

 

This all gets a better difficult in the sense that some some instruments have more 'range' than others; more or less by definition a punchy brass section (synth or acoustic) is good for the high points and tiring to listen to non-stop. (This is where effective arrangement to achieve clarity with the appropriate use of different timbres is key.)

 

Originally posted by Tusker:

The reduction of synthesis to sounds is one of the reasons for a lack of expression in synthesis. People chase sounds instead of expression and wonder why they fall short musically.

I definitely agree. The first priority should always be a great piece of music effectively played. A great piece of music is still a great piece of music played on a Casio home keyboard. Of course, you may find certain instruments/sounds better inspire or enable the creation of good music...
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Originally posted by Silver Dragon Sound:

Originally posted by Andre Lower:

Running the risk of being flamed, I'd dare adding that synths also took a lot of "friendly fire" from more traditional keyboard instruments players like piano and organ. They felt (and perhaps still feel) that their turf was being invaded and were quick to patronize the new toy.

This is something I've heard before from a few people I've met over the last two years or so. They feel some of the technology of the current synths makes it too easy and isn't a credit to people who can really play.
This sort of view is crazy... if you want to create/play professional-quality music, no technology will do all the work for you. Take the above Jack Hotop video... he uses Karma, but it sounds good because he can play and knows how to use it and layer it with other stuff!

 

In fact I think many would be surprised if they actually tried to create a heavily sequenced piece of dance music, quickly realizing they have no clue where to begin.

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Sounds are out. Expression is in. (Actually, expression has always been in.)

 

Jerry

Vangellis would agree. He was a huge fan of the CS-80 because of its expressive capbility and control options. Aftertouch is fantastic for expresiveness. Didn't the GX-1 have "side-to-side" control options on the uppermost manual?
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I had a fiddle teacher once who said, when we were talking about the exorbitant $1,000 price tag on a particular bow, that what makes a fiddle player a great fiddle player isn't as much the price or quality of the bow as it is the hand that uses it.

 

Kinda works for synths (and pianos, organs, guitars, etc.) huh? A great musician can make a kiddie toy piano sound unbelievable and the most expensive Korg can sound like junk in the hands of far lesser musicians.

 

Just my $.02

 

BD

1956 Hammond C3 with Leslie 122, Roland V-Combo, Trek II Preamp, Peavey KB 100, 1976 Natural Maple Rickenbacker 4001S bass

And yes folks, I do gig with a Casio WK 3700...So there!

 

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Originally posted by bluesdisciple:

I had a fiddle teacher once who said, when we were talking about the exorbitant $1,000 price tag on a particular bow, that what makes a fiddle player a great fiddle player isn't as much the price or quality of the bow as it is the hand that uses it.

 

Kinda works for synths (and pianos, organs, guitars, etc.) huh? A great musician can make a kiddie toy piano sound unbelievable and the most expensive Korg can sound like junk in the hands of far lesser musicians.

I'd liken it more to the "expensive multigym" or "gym membership" syndrome, when someone buys expensive gear or joins a gym in order to "GET FIT," when the first priority for them is to get into a routine of exercising, overcome the interia, and get the basic knowledge needed to work out effectively. A good start for some people is just going for a walk every day.

 

Similarly someone just starting out dabbling could be fine with a cheap Casio. Maybe get a somewhat better controller or one with weighted-action in time. (OK, so that's a mid-priced Casio?) But if you are Jordan Rudess then you do want the Kurzweil and the Korg OASYS, and with good reason. It is not for nothing that for centuries people have been trying to build the finest instruments including super-impressive organs and buildings with great acoustics to house them.

 

In another forum I once got fed up with endless 'equipment' discussions and said that they could probably get most of the sounds they want out of any Yamaha XG synth. But in this forum I think there is a focus on the musical side of things as well.

 

Actually those equipment discussions are a bit sad because it suggests that, not only don't they know much about music, they also don't know too much about programming and don't really have the curiosity as to why one synth sounds a certain way, even if they may never find out. It becomes a sort of stupid 'Nike vs. Adidas' or 'BMW vs. Audi' talk.

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Originally posted by Andre Lower:

Originally posted by soundscape:

There were tons of synth horn parts that were fantastic, actually...

...in songs that were not. Or that for some reason did not "make it", while many "guitar songs" did. If you discount personal taste you'll get what I mean.
For sure, some weren't good songs. But some were extremely well written songs that would work without any synths to speak of... and that is regardless of personal taste.

 

 

Originally posted by soundscape:

'Jump' IS a memorable track though, right?

Yes it was, but that one is also a beehive because it became the symbol of the time when one of the current guitar heroes "switched to the dark side of the force" abandoning his guitar for a synthesizer. Eddie took fire both from guitar players and keyboard players. [/qb]It may have been understandable at the time, but this is 22 years later, and the issues that face music today are so different. I'm guessing it was under fire precisely because it showed just how powerful and effective a synth sound, with a memorable hook, could be. I'm dumbfounded that any keyboardist should be denouncing a synth sound taking the spotlight on a track.

 

 

Originally posted by soundscape:

I like the track though. Perhaps things would be different if he had pushed longer in this direction and had managed to nail five or six other hit songs with original keyboard parts on them. Harder said than done, anyway.

I think the lesson with "Jump" is how an apparently simple part can be so effective. On the other hand... although I like it it's not really a great song, it's boring to listen to again after a few times. Whether or not Van Halen could have done really effective songs, I don't know, but for sure there's lots of room for many interesting keyboard parts beyond that one.
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Originally posted by soundscape:

I'm dumbfounded that any keyboardist should be denouncing a synth sound taking the spotlight on a track.

I'm not. In principle I can see why it's benefit to synthesis is dubious. It's certainly playing second fiddle, even in that song. In taste, it sounds decent to me. Rich and sweet. I like Obies.

 

Synthesis hasn't found it's voice yet. As it matures, it will laugh at earlier icons of synth expression (Jump, Lucky man, Tom Sawyers sweep) in order to grow. I do't particularly care for too much deconstruction of the past. But it appears to be the prevailing cycle of thought in synth-thinking.

 

Jerry

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Originally posted by humannoyed:

 

I would love to attend some concerts of say...3 or 4 synth wizard musicians doing their own arrangements of some famous pieces through a great sound system.

 

The first time I ever heard a synth live was the Gershwin Kingsley Moog Quartet. This was the early 1970s. Imagine four highly proficient keyboardists each playing a Moog modular synth. In each corner of the mid-sized auditorium are pairs of Bose 801s. There is a sound man directing traffic (really almost unheard of at that time). Much of the repertoire is Bach as Switched on Bach is still the rage. Filter sweeps criss-crossing the auditorium. The first part of an invention moves from front to back as it moves around the auditorium followed by the second part moving along the same path.

 

What an incredible introduction to synthesizers. Sadly, for me it has largely been down hill from there. Sure I've witnessed some synth geniuses live, Zawinul and Hammer for example. But nothing has match the overall presentation that I witnessed that night.

 

Busch.

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