Did the creation of the synthesizer destroy the heart and soul of music in the past and music today? By observing its history, I attempt to find out.
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Genesis, Stevie Wonder, Timbaland and Wamdue Project all embrace different musical genres, but despite their contrasts in sound and image, they all adopt one key instrument of choice.
From progressive rock to R&B, R n B and dance, to pure pop, the synthesizer is a fundamental weapon of armoury. Since 1876, when Elisha Gray created the first electric synthesizer, no one expected such a widespread use of this technology thereafter.Â Â Nowadays, the Roland Juno-Stage and Fantom and the Oberheim OB12 models are the benchmark for success.With a dab hand producer to organise arrangements, a well marketed promotion for an album and an attractive frontman/woman image (hail Madonna, Ne-Yo and The Saturdays et al) it seems digital synthesis and its allure to mainstream music cannot go wrong. Â
ÂExplosion of the drum machine, sequencer, keyboard/synthesizer at the heart of electronic music which encompasses a plethora of genres has propelled many an artist to stardom.
However in its youth, the â€œsynthâ€ was frowned upon for what it may offer and what purists thought would eradicate the soul of music. By destroying the core elements of instrumentation and replacing it with a machine to graft the chords for you, some felt it defeated the object of musical experimentation and sanitised the sounds of drum rhythms, guitar riffs and piano melodies.Â Â But experimentation helped develop the synthesizer and electronic musicâ€™s status. Moving from usage in film and TV productions, to sparse experiments by Russian techno-wizards like Leon Theremin (creator of the Theremin in 1919, which is notably used as the haunting theme for ITVâ€™s Midsomer Murders) and for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop scores in the 1950s, gradually the synthesizer catapulted towards the mainstream.Â Â Delia Derbyshireâ€™s BBC Doctor Who theme was welcomed by science-fiction and musical geniuses alike. Pink Floyd and Yoko Ono (later married to Beatlesâ€™ musician John Lennon) were amongst the listeners and wanted to utilise and understand the synthesizer in its full capacity. But with little accessibility to what was then a rare machine, the synthesizer needed promotion. Â Although a far cry from euphoric string instrumentals and rasping â€œfour to the floorâ€ rhythms found in clubs belting out R n B and dance â€œclassicsâ€ and offering cheap sambuca shots today, electronics grew in popularity by the 1960s. Luckily, its franchise and mass-market appeal was enhanced through a skilful professor.Â Â Robert Moog, a modest American from Â Â Â
ÂThe widespread appeal of synthesis was welcomed across the globe and two contributory factors for the explosion were through German efficiency and Italian style. Deutschlandâ€™s birth of electronic group Kraftwerk and Girogio Moroderâ€™s swift production, opened up to a world only just coming to terms with the impact of electronics.Â Â Â Kraftwerkâ€™s minimalist approach in image and composition, which gave way to the album The Man Machine (1978) and Moroderâ€™s production of tracks including Donna Summer (I Feel Love), David Bowie (Cat People, Putting Out The Fire) and with the Human Leagueâ€™s Phil Oakey (Together In Electric Dreams) allowed synthesizers prominence in multi-genres. Â After punkâ€™s brief flirtation with musical audiences between 1976 and 1979, the former punks of Joy Division, The Psychedelic Furs and The Stranglers would evolve in to electronic rock, branded as â€œNew Waveâ€.Â Â Essentially synthesis had captured punkâ€™s core elements of angst, danger and delivering violent on-stage messages and began moulding it with elegant and lush melodies, which manufactured synthâ€™s greatest media created platform, â€œSynthpop.â€
ÂSo not only would pre-pubescent looking adults in pop groups including Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Erasure, New Order (formerly Joy Division) and the Pet Shop Boys etc, begin harnessing hooks and upbeat synth-licks with tales of love, woe and harsh realities of English life, but harder, more extreme forms of rock would too.Â Â Fleetwood Mac (Tango In The Night, 1987), Foreigner (Agent Provocateur, 1984), Starship (Knee Deep In The Hoopla, 1985) and Van Halen (1984) would surface from the 1980s with synth laden compositions, appealing to a mass audience with hit packed tunes in their albums in the shape of ballads or catchy pop tunes, masquerading as rock.Â Â Whilst back at the yanksâ€™ abode disco was in transition and growing in to hip hop music through Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, with break-dancing and baseball cap followers beginning to notice the synthesizerâ€™s infectious appeal. Reggaeâ€™s Aswad and UB40 would also pen their songs to machines and rack-up
ÂBut whether positive or negative, the synthesizer flourished during the 1990s. A media-hyped craze of techno (electronic dance music) was being devoured by teens on Top of The Pops and ecstasy popping louts with a penchant for a tune. Snapâ€™s Rhythm Is A Dancer,
But is the cult of the synthesizer set to end? After its fruitful history and its transition between genres and bands, its consistent development through management of image, style and machinery appears to continue to surprise. From rock to dance throughout its life, the â€œdaddyâ€ of keyboards is full of positives in its rhythms and partying, as it is in its crafted compositions which take forever to construct. Although the synthesizer has attracted a critical acclaim, most modern music would be severely hindered if it did not exist.Â Â But whether another instrument instead of the synthesizer would have monopolised music post 1960s is impossible to answer. However plenty of groups in the indie contingent and metal genres have survived without using mass electronics, including the Arctic Monkeys and The Darkness inÂ the current decade.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The synthesizerâ€™s importance is not redundant at all and has allowed many artists to demonstrate their capabilities through machinery and gain worldwide sales and chart hits, but whether another musical avenue will open remains to be seen.Â Â Whether it destroys the heart of music is purely down to the opinion of those which stand-off from its image and those who find it indispensable. It may have made other staple instruments lose their musical prowess and caused catchy three minute pop songs to gain momentum, but it has equally created a thankful nation who loves its beats and melodies. Â
What is for sure is that the synthesizer and electronic music will always remain controversial.