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It’s hard to imagine what the evolution of the synthesizer would have been without Leon Theremin.

For one, it was Theremin’s invention that first captivated Robert Moog. Theremin kits were Dr. Moog’s first product and many would say, his first electronic instrumental love. That impact was significant, too, on a whole generation – actually, even my own father made building a kit Theremin one of his early experiences with electronics.

The fall of the Soviet Union still has ripples felt in the electronic music world today. And surely there’s no more poignant moment in the intertwining of post-Cold War history with musical invention as Leon Theremin’s 1991 visit to the USA – at 95 years of age.

Robert Moog wrote up that experience for Keyboard Magazine (USA), along with writer Olivia Mattis. Much of the history will be familiar, but it’s moving to read about the event.

The gathering with Lev Sergeyevich Termen may have been the single greatest convergence of the 20th century’s electronic inventors ever – John Chowning (CCRMA, FM synthesis), Don Buchla, Roger Linn, Bob Moog, Tom Oberheim, Max Mathews, and Dave Smith were all there. (It’s also remarkable to think how much Chowning, Linn, Oberheim, and Smith continue to contribute as teachers and inventors today, not to mention the ongoing contributions of Moog, Buchla, and Theremin instruments.)

And of course, because of history (hello, KGB), these inventors had never really had the opportunity to meet face to face. They had “met” through their instruments. Moog and Mattis also write eloquently of ghostly guests: Continue reading »

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Panasonic, the company that still owns the Technics name, is engineering what it says is an all-new direct drive turntable.

And it certainly looks beautiful. Looks are all we get, as a prototype shown at Berlin’s IFA electronics show is just a futuristic aluminum slab with a platter on it. But as far as aesthetics, the company isn’t messing around: this thing looks like something you’d find in the listening lounge of a flying saucer.

Also interesting: just as Pioneer has done with their (excellent, by the way) new turntables, with the Technics model there’s a whole lot of new engineering. Japan seems to prefer doing that to simply reissuing the legendary Technics 1200 – and in the case of the Pioneer model, at least, the results work.

But, while DJs ears ring the moment they hear Technics (okay, DJs’ ears are generally ringing all the time), that doesn’t necessarily mean this is really DJ news.

Continue reading »

Floating Points – Silhouettes (official video) from floating points on Vimeo.

Two videos for us today transport us to other imagined worlds.

‘Silhouettes’ from Floating Points is already lush and fantastic, synths crooning atop buttery strings and vocals, cinematic extravagance for a new generation. It’s sexy stuff.

And for the video, Barcelona-based experimental filmmakers Pablo Barquín, Junior Martínez, Nathan Grimes, and Anna Diaz Ortuño make some optical fireworks in the form of some seriously sophisticated light painting. At one point in the video the camera pulls back on the rig, and you see that, while the process goes digital, it begins with painstaking real-for-real photography. What they’ve done is transport nature to the photo rig rather than the other way around, apparently lending a higher degree of control.

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Details: Continue reading »

Teletype Studies Part 1 from tehn on Vimeo.

We have inherited from the last century a whole language built from the archaic details of office machines.

And we use all of these for music. We patch together telephone cords between modules, via the tactile interface once used to connect calls. We type on keyboards and point with devices like mice. We have grids of pixels, constructions that once plotted the trajectory of missiles before they were repurposed for simply games about missiles (and email, and Facebook, and everything else). We use code, and language, and turn dials, and press light-up buttons.

What’s beautiful about the work of Brain Crabtree (tehn) on monome is the way in which all of this is reduced to its barest elements, like poetry. Continue reading »

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If you love the smell of solder as much as you love patching sounds together, this may be for you.*

Bastl Instruments, the boutique Czech electronic instrument maker, tell us they’ve finished the much-requested kit versions of their modular lineup. They’re not any different from the other modules, apart from you solder them together yourself. Now, of course, that means you can make them not work. But the Bastl crew, innovative as always, have a solution there – a 25€ paid service with the cheeky name “Come to Daddy” lets you pay to have them work it out for you if you break things. Just don’t let the unfinished kit collect dust: the service offers free shipping only for the first 30 days after purchase. Correction: I accidentally wrote the service itself expires after 30 days; it doesn’t. But don’t put off assembly! Do it! Continue reading »

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Put some actual “computer-controlled” in the 303.

The folks at British maker Kenton have a way of churning out little boxes that do things people need. MIDI Thru, check. Connecting those USB gizmos that lack MIDI, check. Plugging MIDI to your modular, roger.

So, to that, add a single box that translates MIDI to DIN Sync (sync24) – and back again.

DIN Sync, as developed by Roland, is suddenly news again because of a rekindled interest in vintage gear. If you want to synchronize a TR-808 or a TB-303, DIN Sync is what you need.

The Kenton D-SYNC isn’t the first converter box, but I suspect that like some of the other Kenton boxes I mentioned, it’ll win points for its simplicity. If all you want to do is hook your 303 or 808 up to your rig, and get it clocking off MIDI signals – or, in the other direction, sync some MIDI device to DIN – this focuses on that task.

dsync Continue reading »

In our last episode of “watching things on the Internet instead of doing real work,” we were enjoying a full-length 90s electronic music documentary and a bunch of music videos.

Well, here we are at yet another weekend. And hopefully we can give you some video watching pleasure yet again, in those moments when you aren’t, well, hopefully, making music.

Leading the pack is a 1986 story from Chicago TV news back when house music was in its early days, as spotted by Dancing Astronauts. And it’s an astounding document, featuring Danny “Sweet-D” Wilson, Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, Steve “Silk” Hurley, and Keith Nunnally. Two big takeaways. One, it’s interesting to note that London was already catching onto house even when these artists were relatively obscure in sweet home Chicago. Europe and the UK, always ahead of American audiences when it comes to American music – note the British announced proudly wearing an enormous American flag shirt.

Two, it’s fantastic to see this stuff being made live. Why that shouldn’t be more commonplace in 2015, I have no idea. Steve Hurly and Jackmaster Funk constructing a track is inspiring and fresh nearly two decades later.

But there’s more, of course. With no particular theme, here’s a bunch of documentary stuff to queue up.

If you’d rather go to pioneering electronic composition in place of 80s dance music, here are two documentaries on the incomparable Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, via OpenCulture (which just happened to pop into my inbox today): Continue reading »