Modular Diary – 018

In the liner notes to 20 Sytems Benge explains his initial aim of ‘letting the instruments speak for themselves’:

The original idea for 20 systems was to set these machines running and hear what they could do with no personal input at all. But none of these machines are capable of working on their own: a certain amount of input has been necessary to create something musical with them.

The balance between setting up generative situations and interacting with them.

Each track on 20 Systems was intended as a presentation of the ‘pure sound of the individual instrument’. Benge has since embarked on a series of albums each focussed
on a single synthesizer system. I’ve been listening to two of them lately, at first enjoying the clean abstraction of Abstraxa, created using the Buchla Electronic Music Box, and now slowly coming to consider the two long Serge tracks of Forms 6 – Works on Paper to be something of a masterpiece.

Modular Diary – 016

The ARP Odyssey marks is an interesting point in the development of sythesizers with some of the flexibility of the modular systems it grew out of and the fixity of a portable performance instrument that became the norm. I’ve been thinking about the development of synthesizers over the years – the gradual change from modular systems that lent themselves to ever-evolving textures to banks of presets and large libraries of relatively short sounds. The Art + Music + Technology episode with E-Mu’s Dave Rossum provides a good example of this arc – and the spiral back to the beginning that we’ve now reached.

Benge’s 20 Systems presents 20 pieces of music created with 20 different synthesizers, one from each year between 1968 and 1988. Starting with the Moog Modular 1968, moving through ARP, Serge, Roland, Oberheim, and Yamaha in the 70s, and ending with the Fairlight and Synclavier, amongst others, in the 80s. I was thrilled to receive the CD as a gift when it first came out nearly a decade ago, feeling that it nicely mirrored the first 20 years of my own life. It too provides a good trace – a journey in sound of the arc from evolving textures to precise presets.1

  1. See also Junkie XL’s historical overviews of his classic synth collection.