Peter Zinovieff (1933 -2021 )

Peter Zinovieff, ca. 1969, with synthesizer equipment matching that shown in the block diagram image of an EMS, below.

This appears on what would have been the 90th birthday of Peter Zinovieff, (1933-01-26 – 2021-06-23) composer, hesitant engineer and reluctant synthesist.

There are some elements to Zinovieff’s life, that only happen because of his Russian aristocractic background. In 1960, Zinovieff married Victoria Heber-Percy (1943 – ). Her tiara was auctioned, to finance Zinovieff’s first computer. This was used to control an array of oscillators and amplifiers he had bought from an army surplus store. He claims that this was the first computer in the world in a private house. I am uncertain what benefits Heber-Percy got out of the sale of her tiara, but the marriage did not last.

Zinovieff closely followed some developments in computing related to sound generation. In particular this was happening at Bell Labs in New Jersey, where its owners had a vested interest in telephone research. There in 1957, Max Mathews (1926 – 2011) had written MUSIC, the first widely used program for sound generation. This had been further developed in the 1960s with new versions. In 1964, Jean-Claude Risset (1938 – 2016), had used MUSIC IV software to digitally recreate the sounds of brass instruments. He made digital recordings of trumpets and studied their timbral composition using pitch-synchronous spectrum analysis tools.

In 1963, David Alan Luce’s (1936 – 2017) doctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology implemented a pitch-synchronous approach to analysis/resynthesis of instrumental tones. Luce  joined Moog Music in 1972, where he developed a polyphonic synthesizer, the Polymoog. Later, he became head of engineering, then president of Moog in 1981. He became a co-owner in 1984. Moog Music closed in 1987.

In 1966–67, Zinovieff, Delia Derbyshire (1937 – 2001) and Brian Hodgson (1938 – ) ran Unit Delta Plus, creating electronic music. Its studio was built by Zinovieff in a shed at his house in Putney, Greater London. Unit Delta Plus had a short life, and was disbanded in 1967.

Zinovieff worked with a medical technician with electrical engineering skills, David Cockerell (? – ) and software engineer Peter Grogono (1944 – 2021) to develop an analogue–digital (hybrid) performance controller. Grogono was tasked with developing a new musical composition and sequencing language, MUSYS, that was to be easy to use (composer friendly) and efficient, and working within the limitations of two Digital Equipment PDP8/S and PDP8/L older and newer computers, respectively, named Sofka and Leo, after Zinovieff’s two first children. The system saved output data files to disk. A musical keyboard was added for input, as an afterthought.

Block diagram showing components of original EMS synthesizer. Source: musicainformatica.org

In the mid-1960s electronic components were expensive, and the equipment being made exceeded Zinovieff’s means. Thus, it was decided to sell some machines to finance further development costs. Zinovieff, Cockerell and composer Tristram Cary (1925 – 2008) founded Electronic Music Studios (EMS). It is likely that the name was selected for this enterprise prioritizing a studio making music, while ignoring a product manufacturer making synths. EMS created a commercial, miniaturised version of its studio as a modular, affordable synthesizer for the education market. A prototype called the Voltage Controlled Studio 1 (VCS1) was designed by David Cockerell, consisting of a two oscillator instrument built into a wooden rack unit, and built for the Australian composer Don Banks (1923 – 1990) for £50, after a lengthy pub conversation.

Some of this equipment was subsequently marketed as a synthesizer system using the EMS label. It was considerably more portable than the existing Moog system. Possibly because Robert Moog recognized the limitations of his synthesizers, he offered to sell out to EMS for one million dollars. Zinovieff turned down this offer.

The EMS Synthi 100 was a large analogue/digital hybrid synthesizer series, of which 30 were produced. The first unit was orriginally a custom order from Radio Belgrade for its Radio Belgrade Electronic Studio. This order was the result of contact between composer/ saxophonist Paul Pignon (1939 – ), then living in Belgrade, and Zinovieff. The synthesiser was designed by David Cockerell who documented it in detail in 1971. The cost at that time was £ 6 500.

While EMS lasted until 1979, its key personnel soon began leaving the company. Cockerell left in 1972 to join Electro-Harmonix to design effect pedals. Cary left in 1973 to become Professor of Electronic Music at the Royal College of Music and later Professor of Music at the University of Adelade. Grogono left in 1973 but continued working on the MUSYS programming language and further developed it into the Mouse language. He became a computer science professor at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

The main challenge for Zinovieff was his aristocratic origins, that prevented him from doing technical work. In 2019 he commented on EMS as a business: “It’s always been a problem with me because I don’t like synthesizers. So this side of EMS was never interesting to me, it was always the studio. The basic purpose of EMS was to finance the studio, but unfortunately that’s not what happened. EMS got bigger and bigger and we made more and more products and it took up more time. And instead of making money, it started to lose it. In the end, when EMS went bankrupt, it pulled the studio down.”

Zinovieff then closed the Putney studio, which was sold to the National Theatre. The equipment was put into storage, and later destroyed in a flood.

He then moved to the remote Scottish island of Raasay between 1975 and 1983. His cottage had no mains electricity supply, so synths were powered by wind generation that charged batteries.

He then move to Cambridge where, in the 1980s, he received two commissions from Clive Sinclair (1940 – 2021) including a piano-sampling project and consultations on sound support for the Sinclair QL personal computer, launched in 1984.

Zinovieff as Composer

In 1968, Zinovieff staged the world premiere of Partita for Unattended Computer, notable for being the first ever unaccompanied performance of live computer music, with no human performer involved, with the piece read from paper tape.

Later in 1968, as part of Cybernetic Serendipity, the first UK international exhibition devoted to the relationship between the arts and new technology, Zinovieff et al created a computer system, that could analyse a tune whistled by a visitor to the show and improvise upon it.

Zinovieff collaborated with Harrison Birtwistle (1934 – 2022) on Chronometer (1971–2) with recordings of Big Ben ticking, and Wells Cathedral clock chiming. Zinovieff claimed that in this project he had invented the technique of musical sampling.

The soundtrack for Sidney Lumet’s (1924 – 2011) film The Offence (1972) was composed by Birtwistle with electronic realization by Zinovieff.

Zinovieff also wrote the words for Birtwistle’s Nenia: The Death of Orpheus (1970) for soprano, 3 bass clarinets, crotales and piano. Here the electronic realization was by Barry Anderson (1935 – 1987). Zinovieff wrote the libretto for Birtwistle’s opera The Mask of Orpheus (1973-84).

He also worked with Hans Werner Henze (1926 – 2012) producing a tape in Tristan’s Folly in Tristan (1975).

Through an association with Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza (1964 – ), Zinovieff was able to create an audio work for a large-scale installation, The Morning Line by Matthew Ritchie (1964 – ), Bridges from Somewhere and Another to Somewhere Else (2011). Good Morning Ludwig (2012) followed.

Following these projects, Zinovieff’s compositions typically combined sounds from live instrumentation and field recordings and multi-channel performances.

He collaborated with Kazakhstani violinist Aisha Orazbayeva (1985 – ), composing two concertos for violin and electronics: OUR (2010) and Our Too (2014).

From 2011 he collaborated with Scottish poet, historian and broadcaster Katrina Porteous (1960 – ) to combine her poetry with soundscapes created by Zinovieff using sound sources related to physics and astronomy. This resulted in Horse (2011), then with the Planetarium at the Centre for Life, Newcastle upon Tyne, Edge (2013), Field (2015) and Sun (2016). Live visuals for these last works were created by planetarium supervisor Christopher Hudson.

A retrospective compilation of Zinovieff’s work in the EMS era was compiled by English musician Pete Kember/ Sonic Boom (1965 – ) and released in 2015.

Zinovieff collaborated with cellist Lucy Railton (? – ) on RFG (2016). An album version was released as RFG Inventions for Cello and Computer (2020).

Between the years 2013–2017, Zinovieff composed South Pacific Migration Party, based on from hydrophone recordings of blue whales recorded by British oceanographer Susannah Buchan off the coast of Chile. In was released on the record label The Association for Depth Sound Recordings in 2021.

Zinovieff’s final work was, Under The Ice (2021), a 30-minute piece based on recordings of Antarctic glaciers.

A Lifetime of Music

This post lists core sonic moments that are permanently branded/ etched into my brain about music that I have listened to. These are organized by the decade they became influential. Since it is based on memory, rather than written notes, there is no guarantee that this map corresponds to the terrain.

1950s

Tom Glazer (1914 – 2003): Building a City (1948)

This is the first song that I remember. It appeared on a 78 rpm record, that was played on a child’s record player in the 1950s. I am not sure exactly when. I had to listen to a YouTube presentation of it, to be sure it was the same song. Surprisingly, I reacted to the mention of an architect and a banker on the first version I heard. I then found out that these were added later. The original version is what I remember from my childhood.

Maria Straub (1838 – 1898), lyrics & Solomon Straub (1842 – 1899), composition: God Sees the Little Sparrow Fall (1874). Of the hymns I experienced at Sixth Avenue United Church in New Westminster, this is the one that had the greatest impact on me as a child. The starting point for this hymn is Matthew 10:29, which the Open English Bible (OEB) translates as: “Are not two sparrows sold for a one copper coin? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. [30] While as for you, even the hairs of your head are numbered.” These two verses are disturbing, because God’s role is portrayed as that of an accountant.

1960s

At some point in the early 1960s, our household acquired a stereo record player which occupied a secluded place near the shuffleboard in the basement rec room. The record player could play LPs at 33 rpm, and singles at 45 rpm. It could not play 78s. I found its location to be a place of refuge.

The Highwaymen, a group of musicians with origins at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, whose album of the same name, was the first LP I remember owning. This was world famous for Michael [, Row the Boat Ashore]. They also made the first recording of Universal Soldier in 1963, on their March on Brothers album. It was written by Buffy Saint Marie. Part of my interest in this group came decades later, and relates to one of its founders, Dave Fisher (1940 – 2010), who graduated as an ethnomusicologist.

I also remember my father buying assorted LPs with traditional Scottish music, that I also listened to, sometimes even enthusiastically.

Surfing music, as performed by The Beach Boys and others. Unfortunately: Jan and Dean, were part of this repertoire until they recorded/ released Universal Coward in 1965; Dick Dale (1926 – 2014) and Misirlou, was not part of it, until much later in the 2010s.

The Animals, House of the Rising Sun (1964). I remember listening it for the first time sitting in the back of a Ford Econoline van, being transported to Hollyburn mountain to spend a weekend at a cabin with other scouts.

Other songs by English groups I remember well: The Zombies, She’s Not There (1964); The Yardbirds, For Your Love (1965); Herman’s Hermits, Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter (1965); The Troggs, Wild Thing (1966).

Listening to The Beatles, Paperback Writer (1966) for the first time, moments before hearing about the deaths of two fellow students.

After this event, my musical interests changed, becoming decisively more American. I remember listening to: Country Joe [McDonald] and the Fish; Jefferson Airplane; Janis Joplin; Quicksilver Messenger Service. These were all living in the Bay Area of California. The Byrds, living in Los Angeles, added Turn, Turn, Turn (1965).

Another important event occurred 1967-12-26 to 1968-01-01, when I attended the Cleveland Week of Process, as a representative of the Canadian Student Christian Movement, at this American University Christian Movement event. This, along with the political assassinations of John Kennedy (1917 – 1963), Martin Luther King, Jr (1929 – 1968) and others, ignited an interest in protest songs, especially as recorded by Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014), a Unitarian, Joan Baez (1941 – ) and Buffy Sainte-Marie (1941 – ). It would take some years until I found kindred spirits like Joe Hill (1879 – 1915).

Soon after, I became a Unitarian, and became interested in the music of Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945) and Edvard Grieg (1843 – 1907).

Not all musical choices are rational, including an enjoyment of Desmond Dekker (1941 – 2006) & The Aces, Israelites (1968).

1970s

In about 1970, I remember meeting a girl I had sat beside in the alto horn section of the New Westminster Junior Concert Band, some years earlier in the 1960s. We ended up drinking coffee at a cafe. She put a song on the jukebox, Play with Fire (1965), by the Rolling Stones, and asked me to listen very carefully to the lyrics. Over fifty years later, I am still trying to interpret her message. I have not seen her since.

Whenever, I think of the band, I also think of a trip to Ellensburg, Washington and a stopover in Seattle at the Green Onion cafe, which invariably brings to mind Booker T[aliafero Jones, (1944 – )] and the M.G.s, with their hit Green Onions (1962). Their Stax sound, named after their recording label, is noted for the interaction/ reverberation of the recording studio, the former Capitol Theater, in Memphis, Tennessee, with the musicians, to produce a deep bass and raw mid-range.

This was very different from the controlled sound produced by Roxy Music. Starting in 1972, all of their albums were purchased as LPs. At this point, I took an interest in art school musicians, where stagecraft/ theatre/ melodrama took precedence over any musical content.

Starting in the mid-1970s, I attempted to broadening my musical horizons with jazz. Influences included Django Reinhardt (1910 – 1953), Dizzy Gillespie (1917 – 1993), Miles Davis (1926 – 1991), Herbie Hancock (1940 – ) and Chic Corea (1941 – 1921). This, in part, was because many of the local Baha’is had an interest in jazz.

At about the same time musical tastes were being influenced by film. Notable examples include: Michelangelo Antonioni’s (1912 – 2007) Blowup (1966); the musical content of Putney Swope (1969); Issac Hayes (1942 – 2008) and his theme from Shaft (1971),

In 1978 I married Trish, who was an accomplished musician, singing as well as playing the piano and acoustic guitar. In 1979 we travelled to Europe together, taking with us recorders for entertainment. We returned to Vancouver in 1980-03, but departed permanently to Norway in 1980-08. All of our LPs was disposed of in 1980, prior to moving to Norway.

1980s & 1990s

From 1981, various classical music cassettes were purchased. In 1986, we purchased a used CD player. It allowed one to specify and play the first ten tracks. If one wanted to listen to, say, the twelfth track, one would have to specify track 10, then wait until the intervening tracks (10 & 11) were played. After this purchase, much of my musical listening involved CDs. Especially after 1987, Naxos CDs of classical music, were purchased at the rate of one per month. One important work was: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958): Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910). Works by modern British composers were listened to extensively.

1990s and 2000s

Continued investment in Naxos CDs, of classical music, but at a reduced frequency. The last CD was purchased in 2006. One important work from this time period was: Henryk Górecki (1933-2010): Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (1976). This was first heard in a documentary about a Ford rubber plantation in South America.

From about 2002, work started on digitizing CD content.

Works introduced to me by students included: Smells like Teen Spirit (1991) by Nirvana; Learning to Fly (1991) by Tom Petty (1950 – 2017) and the Heartbreakers; Zombie (1994) by the Cranberries; Tonight, Tonight (1995) by the Smashing Pumpkins, from the album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. In addition come assorted Finnish symphonic metal bands, such as Nightwish, and a somewhat more diverse list of Norwegian bands, of which the most interesting is Madrugada. In response, I introduced many of them to Mr Oizo = Quentin Dupieux (1974 – ), and Flat Beat (1999), featuring Flat Eric. For those interested, there is also a Flat Beat synth tutorial.

Work at Verdal prison brought me into closer contact with Goth, industrial and related music. In addition, there was considerable interest among inmates, both male and female, in various forms of metal and rock.

2010s

Second Flight (2011) by Approaching Nirvana, heard originally as background music on a long forgotten technical video.

My daughter, Shelagh, introduced me to the Lipdub concept in general, and a University of British Columbia lipdub production, soon after it was made in 2011. After failing to encourage students to produce a lipdub to promote their senior secondary school in Leksvik, by showing them several, including a favourite, Lipdub per la independeència de Catalunya (2010), I attempted to encourage them with something less ambitious, and with fewer people, by using Hideaway (2014) by Canadian Kiesza, born Kiesa Rae Ellestad (1989 – ) in Calgary, but of Norwegian ancestry, as inspiration.

2020s

Original works and covers by The Iron Cross, a Romanian band, including Fear of the Dark (2020).

YouTube provides a number of synth focused channels such as All My Friends Are Synths, the creative exploits of a slightly deranged Scotsman, Stephen Blythe, and Are Sound Electrik? with shockelectrik audio.

Lebanon-Hanover is more difficult to place musically. Larissa Georgiou = Larissa Iceglass (1988-08-24 – ) and William Morris = William Maybelline (1986-03-15 – ) a dark wave duo, founded in 2010 with roots in Switzerland, Berlin and Newcastle/ Sunderland.

Note: The writing of this weblog post was initially begun on 2021-03-27. It was again edited for publication on 2022-11-09, with additional materials added 2023-01-08.

Behringer

The Behringer Odessy synthesizer. Photo: Behringer.

When this weblog post was being planned, it was hard to decide if the focus should be on Swiss engineer Uli Behringer (1961 – ), or on the audio equipment company he founded. Currently the company is privately owned by his holding company, based in the Philippines, but with production facilities in Zhongshan, China. It will be both.

Did Uli Behringer have any options in life apart from becoming the founder of an audio electronics company? Much of his family were professional musicians. He started to learn piano at age four. At age five he assisted his father to built an organ with over 1000 pipes and integrated them into the family house. At age sixteen, he built his first synthesizer, the UB1.

Behringer, the company, was started in Germany in 1989. By 1990, it had moved to China, with products being made by subcontractors to reduce production costs. In 1997, Behringer himself moved to Hong Kong, in an effort to improve product quality. In 2002, the company completed a 110 000 m2 manufacturing complex in Zhongshan. Here, ten separate production locations form a vertically integrated, eight-building facility where 2.5 million products, including assorted electronic units, speakers, guitars and digital pianos are produced annually.

Synthesizers have been produced by Behringer since 2016. In Norway, there are 18 distinct Behringer desktop synthesizer models available, some with keyboards, some without. These are analogue instruments, meaning that they will produce sound through a headphone or speaker, without the use of additional equipment. Many of these are clones of earlier synthesizer products, whose intellectual properties (such as patents) have expired. There are also 63 different Eurorack components available.

A Behringer Deepmind 12, all the synth anyone could possibly want. Photo: Behringer.

The first synths produced were a twelve voice Deepmind 12, a six voice Deepmind 6 that effectively imitate a Roland Juno-106. The Deepmind 12D is a simpler desktop version. In 2022, these cost about NOK 7 800, 5 500 and 6 850, respectively. While these models offer relatively good value for money, they are expensive as a first synthesizer, where a user will want to experiment in order to find something that suits her/his soul. Others disagree.

The next synth, the Neutron, provides a 56 point mini-jack patch bay. This is ideal for enthusiasts addicted to patch cables. For others, the appeal of the Neutron is its low price, currently NOK 3 355, and the fact that it is equipped with a clone of the synth on a chip technology used in the Curtis CEM3396 integrated circuit (IC). This IC was responsible for the main voltage controlled oscillator (VCO) used in many synths from the 1970s and 1980s including: the Oberheim OB-Xa, OB-Sx & OB-8; the Voyetra 8; the Roland SH-101, MC-202, Jupiter-6, and early model MKS-80; the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 Rev 3, Prophet-10, Prophet-600, Pro-One, and Prophet T8; Moog Memorymoog; Banana Polysynth; Crumar Spirit; Digisound 80 VCO modules; the Synton Syrinx; Steiner Parker EVI; and, Doepfer A-111-1 High End VCO. This allows the Neutron to recreate the sound of many of these former synths. Here is a video that shows the operational characteristics of the Behringer Neutron.

A Behringer Wasp Deluxe analogue synthesizer, launched in 2019. Photo: Behringer.

Electronic Dream Plant (EDP), an Oxfordshire, England based synth manufacturer, was started in 1977 by Adrian Wagner, a synthesist, and Chris Huggett (1949 – 2020), an electronics engineer. Huggett designed the Wasp, and EDP started selling it in 1978. In 2019, Behringer made a clone of the original Wasp, the Wasp Deluxe. The Wasp will appeal to those wanting to avoid patch cables. Once again, it includes a clone of the Curtis CEM3396 IC. It is also ideal as a starter synth. Here is a video that shows the operational characteristics of the Behringer Wasp Deluxe. When it first came out, the its price was NOK 3 400. Now it is a little over NOK 2 300.

A Behringer MS-1 analogue synthesizer. Photo: Behringer.

In most situations an open-source software/ app synth on a computer is a suitable substitute for an analogue synth, saving space and money. The challenge is the lack of a musical keyboard for input. On 2022-04-01, I took home a Behringer MS-1 RD in red, as my first analogue synth, their cheapest keyboard synth with 32 semi-weighted, full size keys. It cost NOK 3 600. Another characteristic of this synth, was that it was one of only two MS-1 synths available anywhere in Norway, the only other one was a MS-1 BU in blue, not my favourite colour. The purported reason for this was, once again, a chip shortage.

The other synth under consideration was a Behringer Odyssey, previously mentioned. It increases the number of keys to 37, is duophonic, but occupies considerably more desk real estate. It also costs almost NOK 5 000. While marginally more capable than a MS-1, the Odyssey would not be a stopping point, should my skills develop sufficiently.

At some point in the future, I might be tempted to supplement/ replace the MS-1 with a polyphonic synth with more keys and aftertouch = the ability of a keyboard to change tone (or other sound qualities) in response to velocity, pressure or other playing variations. The Behringer Deepmind 12, previously mentioned, offers more synth at a cheaper price than most other polyphonic analogue synths available. However, the design is dated and it is not on any future shopping list. The main reason is a three letter word, fan = a device that moves air, usually for cooling purposes. It also produces unwanted noise.

My current conclusion is that I have bought my first (and last) Behringer synth. However, they offer good value for money for any individual wanting to buy a first synth.

Mellotron

A Mellotron Mark II showing its features, with the right hand playing more instrumental sounds, while the left hand plays rhythmic accompaniments

Short Version

From about 1963 to 1980, a Mellotron was an electro-mechanical instrument that used recorded samples of orchestral instruments stored on special tape-recorder tapes to produce a variety of sounds, using a divided keyboard, with the right half playing the tune, while the left half offered more rhythmic support.

Most musicians in the 21st century, will have no need for a Mellotron, Its major use is to recreate – with precision – some of the orchestral sounds, used by groups from the mid 1960s and onward into the 1980s. One such group is the Moody Blues, where the Mellotron can be clearly heard throughout Love and Beauty (1967).

The Mellotron is available in obsolete versions, such as the one depicted in the photo above, in smaller, lighter more modern variants or as cards to be inserted into computers (both handmade in Sweden today), or as fully digital software apps, typically offering 8 or 18 voices.

For most people, modern keyboards will offer a range of orchestral voices that is gudenuf for home consumption, or even a gig. Enthusiastic admiration of a Mellotron is a clear indication of a person living in the past.

Long Version

To understand the development of the Mellotron, it helps to begin with the early evolution of drum machines.

The first drum machine was the Rhythmicon, designed by Leon Theremin (1896 – 1993) in 1932. Theoretically, it was versatile, but far too difficult to play, even for an experienced professional musician. It had been commissioned by the eccentric/ controversial composer/ pianist/ performer Henry Cowell (1897 – 1965), who quickly and quietly ignored it.

The next product was the Chamberlin Rhythmate. At some point towards the end of the 1940s Harry Chamberlin (? – 1967) started development. It took years. By 1957, a Model 100 Rhythmate, became the world’s first sampler, relying on tapes to reproduce recorded loops of drum patterns.

Chamberlin’s business model was disrupted by the 1959 Wurlitzer Sideman, that used a rotating disk to produce percussion sounds. This was a successful product, effectively eliminating the need for the Rythmate. Wurlitzer ceased production of the Sideman in 1969.

Thus, subsequent models of the Rythmate included keyboards, and extended the range of sounds produced, using a proprietary 3 track, 3/8” tape format. These enabled Harry Chamberlin to be the exclusive seller of the tapes, if only people would buy the machines!

New models regularly emerged. By the early 1960s, Chamberlin developed the Model 600 Music Master, that included two 35 note keyboards (G to F). The right-hand keyboard was used for the instrument sounds (flute, violins, etc ), while the left-hand one was used for the rhythmn accompaniments (Bossa Nova, Cha Cha Cha, Tango, etc).

In the early 1950’s, Harry Chamberlin hired former window washer Bill Fransen as a salesman. Unfortunately, while the instrument’s concept was appealing, its execution produced an unreliable machine, that was difficult to sell.

Fransen took two Chamberlins 600 Music Masters to England, looking for a manufacturer that would be able to supply 70 replay heads. In Birmingham, he engaged Bradmatic, who built the requested replay heads. After Fransen showed them the two Music Masters, they agreed to make a more reliable instrument, and to mass produce it. In 1963, this improved instrument became the Mellotron Mark 1. The designer of this instrument was Leslie Bradley (? – 1997). This electro-mechanical instrument was now much more than a drum machine, but far less than a synthesizer. It was approaching what people today refer to as a keyboard, but excessively heavy and large.

Using British funding, band leader Eric Robinson (1908 – 1974) set up Mellotronics Ltd in London, and recorded various instruments at IBC studios (International Broadcasting Company), which he owned with George Clouston, who worked for the BBC.

In 1965, the Graham Bond (1937 – 1974) Organisation was the first band/ musical group to use a Mellotron to record a single, Lease on Love, and an album, There’s a Bond Between Us.

A Mellotron was also used on Manfred Mann’s (1940 – ) single, Semi-Detached, Suburban Mr. James (1966).

The Beatles first discovered the Mellotron during a visit to IBC studios in London on 1965-08-09. John Lennon ordered a Mark II, which was delivered to him 1965-08-16. The most famous Beatles’ song using a Mellotron is Strawberry Fields for Ever (1967), where it substitutes for a flute.

In 1964, a Mark II model was produced. Mike Pinder (1941 – ) worked on quality control at Bradmatic for 18 months. Shortly after, he acquired a Mark II which became the musical foundation of The Moody Blues, a group he had just founded. Using a Mellotron, Love and Beauty (1967) became the group’s first hit. Because of his experience acquired at Bradmatic Ltd, Pinder was able to make technical improvements to his instrument. These included the replacement of accompaniment sounds on the left keyboard with additional instrument sounds, as typically provided only on the right keyboard, allowing it to have a total of 36 instruments.

The possibilities offered by the Mellotron attracted many musical groups: The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Pink Floyd and King Crimson. It was the first fully polyphonic instrument which allowed a faithful reproduction of other instruments including strings, brass, flute and vibraphone. There were other keyboard instruments available: electric organs (Hammond, Vox, Farfisa), acoustic and electric pianos (Rhodes, Wurlitzer) and monophonic synthesizers (Moog, ARP). However, these either could not offer the variety of sounds, or their learning curve was so steep, that it was not worth the effort.

In 1965, Harry Chamberlin travelled to Britain to visit Bradmatic. A financial arrangement was made with the Bradley brothers allowing them to continue manufacturing the Mellotron and to use the famous sound of strings (3 Violins), the only sound common to Mellotron and Chamberlin.

Bradmatic changed its name several times to successively become Bradmatic Productions, Mellotronics Manufacturing, Aldridge Electronics and finally Streetly Electronics. With the growing success of the Mellotron, Streetly marketed the Mellotron directly, then delegated it to Dallas Arbiter.

Because of the success of the Mellotron, the BBC asked Streetly Electronics to develop a Sound Effects Console (FX Console) Mark II version, whose technical specifications were adapted to the needs of the BBC. This involved the recording/ acquisition of 1260 sound effects to provide sound for radio and television broadcasts.

In 1968, a M300 version emerged, offering a single 52-note keyboard and eliminating amplification. Despite its scaled-down size, it was still a large and difficult instrument to transport. Some bad design decisions tarnished the model’s reputation, and only 52 copies were produced.

By 1970, a M400 became the first Mellotron that was (relatively) easy to transport. Its mechanics were simplified compared to previous models, allowing the use of interchangeable tape frames. Each tape had 3 tracks, with each frame holding a bank of 3 sounds. It was possible to order additional frames with other sounds. Many new recordings were made for the M400. It was Streetly Electronics’ biggest commercial success. Here is a video explaining how the M400 works.

From the end of the 60s, the Mellotron was used increasingly in progressive rock, by groups that include Genesis, Yes and King Crimson. It offered a polyphony, that was sometimes described as melancholic or bewitching.

In 1975, the Mark V arrived. It was, essentially, two M400s in a single box, but with the addition of a reverberation unit.

In the United States, the Mellotron was distributed from 1972 to 1976, by Dallas Arbiter, later, Dallas Music Industries (DMI). DMI’s bankruptcy resulted in Mellotronics transferred distribution rights to Sound Sales, which acquired the registered name Mellotron. This DMI bankruptcy also resulted in the closure of Mellotronics in Britain. Instruments made by Streetly Electronics, lost their right to use the Mellotron name, but used Novatron as a replacement name.

In 1981, the 4 Track is the first American Mellotron, manufactured by Sound Sales. In essence it is an M400, but is able to play 4 tracks on 1/4″ format tapes with an equalization for each track, volume and pan. This recording quality of the tapes was so poor that only five copies were made.

At the beginning of the 1980s, other, better samplers arrived on the market: notably, the Fairlight CMI, the Emulator I and the Mirage Ensoniq. Despite their technical innovations, these machines were expensive, and provide poor sound fidelity, that lasted only a few seconds. By the mid 1980s technological advances resulted in more efficient and less expensive machines, typically made in Japan by Akai and Roland.

At this point, the Mellotron is obsolete. Streetly Electronics ceases operations in 1986. Some years later, John Bradley, son of Mellotron designer, Leslie Bradley, and Martin Smith, founded Mellotron Archives UK. This becomes Streetly Electronics. It remodels, maintains and sells parts and bands/ tapes for all Mellotron models.

In 1989, David Kean purchased the bankrupt estate of Mellotron in the US and bought all remains of the associated UK companies. He resurrected the Mellotron brand. He was then joined by Markus Resch, an engineer. In 1990 they began making tapes, spare parts, and start building what would become the Mark VI Mellotron in 1999, described by its manufactures as: a newly manufactured, electronically and mechanically improved tape-replay instrument. Unfortunately, it also includes a tube pre-amp, which is a regressive measure.

About 1999, David Kean began divested himself of his interest in the Mellotron company, and moved his new project, the Audities Foundation to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Since 2001, the Mellotron company has been owned and operated by Markus Resch, in Sweden. It now produces both analog and digital instruments as well as apps under the brand Mellotron. In 2005, the Mellotron Mark VII was launched. Both the Mark VI and the Mark VII machines are still in production, although the Stockholm shop with its listening centre has closed.

Dale Evans (1912 – 2001)

Dale Evans on Buttermilk, Roy Rogers on Trigger.

In 2021, weblog posts were published about women songwriter-singers. Today, I would like to remember Dale Evans (1912-10-31 – 2001-02-07). She was a regular feature in my childhood as a television star of the Roy Rogers Show, which consisted of 100 episodes, originally shown from 1951 to 1957. Since, we only acquired a television in 1957, I must have watched these as re-runs. Set in and near a fictional Mineral City, Roy Rogers (1911 – 1998) appeared as a ranch owner, Dale Evans as the proprietress of the Eureka Café and Hotel. My personal favourite was Pat Brady (1914 – 1972), Roy’s sidekick and Dale’s cook. While there were animal stars such as Roy’s horse, Trigger, and dog, Bullet, as well as Dale’s horse, Buttermilk, it was Brady’s Jeep Nellybelle, that fascinated me most. The series included a mixture of 19th and 20th century technology.

Evans was born Frances Octavia Smith, but recorded as Lucille Wood Smith, in Uvalde, Texas. At the age of fourteen she eloped with her first husband, Thomas Frederick Fox in 1927, giving birth to a son, Tommy, at the age of fifteen in 1928 (?). It was a short lived marriage, ending in divorce in 1929. After this, she changed her name to Dale Evans. She then consecutively married and divorced two other husbands, in childless marriages: August Wayne Johns (married in 1929; divorced in 1935) and Robert Dale Butts (married in 1937; divorced in 1946).

Roy Rogers, who was born Leonard Franklin Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was first known as one of the founders of the Western/ country singing group, Sons of the Pioneers, founded in 1933, and continuing to the present, but with an evolving membership. Rogers also performed in over 100 films. The initial Roy Rogers Show, was for radio from 1944 to 1955.

His first marriage to Lucile Ascolese in 1933 was childless, ending with divorce in 1936. In his second marriage to Grace Arline Wilkins in 1936, he and his wife adopted a daughter, Cheryl, followed by two children of their own, Linda Lou and Roy Rogers, Jr. later known as Dusty. Arline, died from complications after Dusty’s birth, in 1946.

Evans and Rogers married in 1947. They had one child together, Robin Elizabeth, born in 1949, who died in 1951 (?), of complications of Down syndrome shortly before her second birthday. Evans wrote a bestselling Angel Unaware (1953), that influences public perceptions of children with developmental disabilities. Angel Unaware is written from Robin’s perspective of life as she looks down from heaven. She speaks to God about the mission of love she just completed on earth. The reader sees how she brought her parents closer to God and encouraged them to help other children in need. This book initiated a change in the way Americans treated children with special needs. Evans served as a role model for many parents.

Later, Evans and Rogers adopted Mary Little Doe (Dodie), of Native American heritage: John David (Sandy), a battered child from an orphanage in Kentucky; Marion (Mimi), a foster child from Scotland; and Debbie, a Korean War orphan whose father was a G.I. of Puerto Rican ancestry. In addition to Robin, two other children died tragically: Debbie, in a church bus accident when she was twelve, and Sandy of an accidental death while serving with the military in Germany.

Both Evans and Rogers were very public Christians and members of the Republican party, as were many of their contemporaries.

As a songwriter, Evans authored about 200 songs. Her most popular was the Roy Rogers television show theme song, Happy Trails, released in 1952. It is based on another song with the same name, and the first three notes, written in 1951 by Foy Willing (1914 – 1978). Quicksilver Messenger Service released an album called Happy Trails (1969), on which the song appears.

I have fond memories of Dale Evans as she appeared on television, but I have no intention of watching any reruns. It was hard enough making it through a slow paced Happy Trails theme song!

Note: At one time there was a Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, California. In 2003, it moved to Branson, Missouri. It closed in 2015.

Therevox

The Therevox ET-4.3 Synthesizer, Canadian made in Techumseh, Ontario. Photo: Therevox.

Inspired by the Ondes Martenot (1928) and the Electro-Theremin (1950), the Therevox ET-4 is controlled by moving a finger along a reference keyboard shaped to provide tactile feedback. Dual pressure sensitive intensity keys control the amplitude of the ET-4‘s two independent analogue oscillators. Combined with a low-pass filter, white noise generator and internal spring reverb the ET-4 is an expressive and versatile performance instrument.

Therevox began building custom instruments in 2004. Their first product was the ET-1, a modern version of an Electro-Theremin. The Electro-Theremin was designed by Paul Tanner (1917 – 2013). It was constructed by Bob Whitsell (1930 – 2009). Tanner then played the instrument. It can be heard on the theme song of My Favorite Martian (1963 – 1966) and The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations and I just wasn’t made for these times (both, 1966) .

In 2008 a limited edition of twelve updated ET-3‘s went to musicians and studios in North America and Europe.

In 2012 they released another continuous pitch analog instrument inspired by the Ondes Martenot and early analog synthesizers. This ET-4 is the current model.

  • The ET-4.1 is the standard model,
  • The ET-4.2 adds an effects loop and some other features
  • The ET-4.3 adds MIDI over USB output.

Every ET-4 is individually hand crafted in Tecumseh, Ontario, Canada, “using high quality components and select North American Walnut. With less than 20 made a year the Therevox ET4 is an exclusive instrument. All soldering, calibrating and assembling is also done in the Tecumseh workshop.”

The ET-4.1 is the standard model, the ET-4.2 adds an effects loop and other features and the ET-4.3 also adds MIDI over USB output.

The instruments are designed to be versatile and durable. It has been featured on several albums and film soundtracks. Composer Adam Taylor (1942 – ) used an ET-4.1 to compose the theme and incidental music for The Handmaid’s Tale.

Connections:

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), written by Margret Atwood (1939 – ), is a futuristic dystopian novel set in a near-future patriarchal, totalitarian, theonomic Republic of Gilead, located somewhere in New England, where the federal United States government has been replaced. Some of the themes taken up in the novel are the subjugated of women and their loss of agency and individuality, the suppression of their reproductive rights, more specifically the subjection of fertile women to child-bearing slavery. More positively, the novel explores the various means by which women resist, attempting to gain individuality and independence.

The television series, based on the novel, consists of six series, developed from 2017. The last season will be shown in 2023. These were made in Toronto, and other locations in Ontario.

Atwood’s partner, from 1973 until his death, was Graham Gibson (1935 – 2019). Together, they had one daughter. Gibson was particularly noted for his interest in birds, having written The Bedside Book of Birds (2005) and The Bedside Book of Beasts (2009). He was a founder and chair of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory.

Tecumseh and Pelee Island are both locations in Essex County, Ontario. Windsor, where I originated, is also in Essex County, about 17 km from Tecumseh.

A. L. Lloyd (1908 – 1982)

Bert, Albert Lancaster Lloyd, was an English folk singer and collector of folk songs. He appears in this weblog post as a key figure in the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, especially with respect to protest songs. This weblog post is being published on the fortieth anniversary of his death, 2022-09-29.

At one level, The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (1959) is Bert’s claim to fame. Yet, I read into the title page, edited by R(alph) Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) with the assistance of (Bert) A. L. Lloyd. The two editors are not equals, especially in England, the arch class society, as lived in the 1950s. On Goodreads, the book has attracted two reviewers. Paul Bryant gives it five stars, but seems to think listing song titles constitutes a review. V gives it three stars, then writes, “Now all I need to do is find some friends to drink with[,] then sing these [in a] lout-ish manner. In all seriousness though, it’s well laid out with a large notes section.” V, at least, understands that songs have emotional content.

I have not prioritized purchasing this book, but own its replacement, The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (2012) by Steve Roud (1949 – ) and Julia Bishop (? – ). On Goodreads, Paul Bryant also gives this book five stars, then comments: “Folk music is a bitterly fought over territory. The original peasants who knew this folk stuff were located and taken into protective custody by some Victorian clerics and given the third degree until they sang like canaries. The clerics then deleted anything that looked like smut and published some of it for thrusting young schoolboys and schoolgirls to sing before they took jobs with the Foreign and Colonial Service and died of dysentery and malaria. Meanwhile some communists began to complain that all this folk was reactionary wimping about love and saucy milkmaids and lords and ladies with cranberries growing out of their brains, and pointed out that factory workers and miners had also made up folk about blacklegs getting their guts spilt. Then other communists, ones with typewriters, said that vicarfolk was all made up by Percy Grainger and Sabine Baring-Gould who used to beat each other’s bare flesh with glove puppets. Folk song? Au contraire, I think you mean fake song! they said. Then some people claiming to be Bob Dylan said that folk was still happening and they proved it too. Then some marketing departments decided it was a good label to stick on anyone who wasn’t actively taking heroin, because a label of folk guaranteed that an album would sell at least 23 copies. So people who once leaned against a pile of unsold Joan Baez albums while they were not waiting for their man were now called folk. It didn’t matter that they’d all written their own songs and played them on saxophones, it was folk if the marketing department said so.”

Kitchen scales do not decisively measure a quality difference between two books. Yet, quantitative measures impact one’s appreciation. The original book has 128 pages, while its replacement has 608. In the General Introduction of the replacement, Roud writes on the earlier work: “Vaughan Williams was one of the last survivors of the great days of the Edwardian folk-song collectors and the grand old man of the English musical establishment, although he died just before the project was completed. By contrast, Lloyd was a journalist and freelance writer who was one of the most vocal of the new Folk Revival activists, criticizing, questioning, and politically committed to spreading the word of folk song to the people.” (ix)

Dave Arthur’s (c1940 – ) book, Bert, the life and times of A. L. Lloyd (2012), provides insights into Lloyd’s life, in contrast to the Wikipedia article, that simply provides a summary. While the Wikipedia article about Bert can be read in a few minutes, it is Dave’s book that will provide a better understanding of his life and works.

Most of Bert’s family died early. In 1924, at the age of 16, after the death of his mother, and shortly before the death of his father, Bert was on his way to Australia on assisted passage, to find a new life as a farm labourer. Dave comments, “ … autodidacts like Bert are frequently such interesting people. Not bound by any ‘official’ canon or university reading list they are free to follow their noses and inclinations through half a millennium of printed books, and in the process explore bookish tributaries and bibliographic cul-de-sacs often missed by those more orthodox literary travellers who stick to the main routes.” (17) While accepting his fate as a farm labourer, he began to appreciate and collect Australian folk-songs. He also invested in HMV Plum Label (read: cheap) records, bought on speculation, to develop his musical understanding. He was not the typical sheep station hand. Immediately after the start of the Great Depression, in 1930, at the age of 21, Bert was back in England.

One of those insights provided by Dave about Bert is that Bert not always concerned about truthiness. For example, at times Bert described his father as a trawlerman = a type of deepwater, commercial fisherman. Dave mentions this, at the same time he presents evidence contesting it. Reading about it, I could not help thinking about a recent American president, an obsessed storyteller.

Libraries often devote large areas for the storage and presentation of literature, where truth is of secondary or lower importance. These collections are not referred to as lies, but as fiction. Individual books are often judged on their emotional appeal, not on how little they deviate from the truth. The same can be said about folk songs, and music more generally. People listen to music because of its emotional appeal, not its strict adherence to truth.

Sometimes, emotional content can be received negatively. In my lifetime, the song with the greatest negative impact is Vinger av stål = Wings of Steel, used by Braathens SAFE = South American and Far East Airlines, to celebrate their 50th anniversary, in 1996. It is so bad, that I cannot even find it on YouTube. I could relate to a song mentioning aluminum, titanium, carbon fibre, or even a more generic light-alloy wing. It is perhaps fitting that Braathens was out of business by the new millennium. For decades they had argued for increased competition in the European airline market. When that opportunity came, they found that they did not have the characteristics needed to succeed.

Bert was often described as a collector of folk songs. Yet, one must ask, what is a collector? Is it simply a synonym for historian? I think not. A collector has an emotional connection with the material being collected. The collection process often changes the content. Yet, the collector themselves may not appreciate how this works in practice.

Stephen Sedley (1939 – ) comments: “I think that both Bert [Lloyd] and Ewan [MacColl/ James Henry Miller (1915 – 1989), another folk singer and folk song collector,] were unnecessarily embarrassed about admitting that they were adding or improving when, of course, the whole folk process had always been a process of adding and improving.” (28)

Bert was soon a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. He developed a friendship with Arthur Leslie Morton (1903 – 1978), author of A People’s History of England (1938). My 1976 edition takes time to explain that the book originally stopped with the Spanish Civil War, while mine ends with the conclusion of World War II. In the previous century, politics was an import aspect of the folk music being collected.

One of my interests in life is a person’s relationship with technology. In his introduction, Dave describes some characteristics of Bert in terms of ca. 1972 audio equipment, a Swiss Revox reel-to-reel tape deck. At the time, this was the apex of amateur sound recording. The technological world fifty years ago was vastly different. Today, every hand-held device aka smartphone, has audio capabilities that only the finest (read: expensive) sound studios could offer in 1972.

Attitudes to audio recording collections have changed significantly from the mid-1950s to about 2 000. In this previous century, people often took pride in displaying their recorded music collections. These collections allowed visitors to see if there was any overlapping interest. If there was, it could become a topic of conversation.

In this previous century, many musical choices involve selecting an appropriate format. The 78 rpm record was launched in 1928; the 33 rpm 12″ LP in 1948; The 45 rpm 7″ disk in 1949; the compact cassette in 1963; and, the 8-track cartridge in 1964. Each of these increased the availability of popular music. Regardless of format, music consumption was limited by personal hardware and software investments. Even music from radio stations that became widespread in the 1920s and paid for by listening to advertisements, required investment in an AM radio. Wide-band FM radio offered high-fidelity broadcasting in 1933, but only became widespread after the introduction of FM stereo broadcasting in 1961. These formats continued to dominate music until the arrival of the 120 mm digital audio compact disk (CD) in 1982, which is forty years ago. In 1991, MP3, a coding format for digital audio developed largely by the Fraunhofer Society, an applied research institution, in Germany. This format was not tied to a physical device.

Neil Straus explains, that in 1995, material costs were 30 cents for the jewel case and 10 to 15 cents for the CD. Wholesale cost of CDs was $0.75 to $1.15, while the typical retail price of a prerecorded music CD was about $17. On average, a store received 35 % of the retail price, the record company 27 %, the musician 16 %, the manufacturer 13 %, and the distributor 9 %. Because of a perceived value increase, when 8-track cartridges, compact cassettes, and CDs were introduced, each was marketed at a higher price than the format they succeeded, even though the cost to produce the media was reduced. Apple marketed MP3s for $0.99, and albums for $9.99, because the incremental cost to produce an MP3 is negligible.

In terms of digital downloads, in 1997-09, Birmingham, England Duran Duran’s Electric Barbarella became the first paid downloaded digital single, following released Boston, Massachusetts Aerosmith’s Head First that was available without charge.

Musical preferences are often based on two principles: repetition and containment. Repetition allows songs/ tracks grow on people over time. Radio playlists reinforced repetition. Eager listeners would be exposed to multiple plays a day, for at least a week. It offers opportunity for new songs to ingratiate themselves.

Containment allows songs/ tracks to be closely associated with specific, other songs/ tracks. From my childhood onward, music has typically been contained/ bundled in an album format.

What is the 2022 replacement for a music collection? One answer could be Spotify, the proprietary Swedish audio streaming services founded 2006-04-23 by Daniel Ek (1983 – ) and Martin Lorentzon (1969 – ). Some users describe streaming services as a faucet/ tap/ spigot. One turns it on, and music comes out.

One challenge with streaming is that it eliminates, or at least reduces, repetition. There is so much choice available, that music is dismissed without given something a second chance. There is little opportunity to hear a track repeated.

Streaming replaces the album bundle/ container with the track, more specifically, one type of track labelled liked songs. There is no need for any form of continuity between any two liked songs. This makes the development of any emotional attachment between tracks difficult, if not nebulous.

Unfortunately, streaming can be an uncomfortable experience. Many have commented that accessing an infinite amount of music feels inappropriate. There seem to be two challenges, possibly related to our biological nature. First, there should be quantitative limitations placed on any collection. Yes, there should be some finite, max size. Second, content should be appropriately bundled.

Bert produced a large number of albums, that united the content. For example, The Iron Muse (A Panorama of Industrial Folk Song), is the title of two Topic Records albums. The first, an LP released in 1963, followed by a CD released in 1993. Topic Records is a British folk music label, that began as an offshoot of the Workers’ Music Association in 1939, making it the oldest independent record label in the world.

Some people may appreciate this streamed approach to music, but dislike how it is manifest on Spotify, or similar services. For those who appreciate their music direct from the spigot, but dislike the streaming provider, Navidrome could be a solution. It is a simple music library, that self-hosts an open source streaming service that uses a home server and a virtual private network (VPN) on a phone. It can stream from any location, across various devices. Physically, it is a box that plugs into a router. It holds everything from Bandcamp purchases to ripped CD tracks. Users of Navidrome often comment about moving away from Big Streaming to a broader movement that incorporates small-scale tech projects and open-source services that are not resource- or energy-intensive.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when I first became a consumer of music, there was only a limited selection available. That selection was limited by recording studios, to ensure their investments produced an adequate economic return. Then, radio stations limited their play lists. After all, the purpose of a radio station is not to provide listeners with free music, but to sell advertisements. Those who were actually interested in music, typically invested in vinyl records.

Approaches to finding new music in the 2020s typically involves the internet. Online music store Bandcamp provides revenue to many musicians, taking a smaller cut of sales compared with streaming services. The Bandcamp Daily blog is a useful tool to find interesting music.

Sometimes, other living human beings can provide new musical insights. Even if musical tastes differ, people can provide musical insights unavailable from an algorithm. While it might not be the best approach to start a conversation with a complete stranger, one can continue a conversation by asking a person to disclose their most interesting musical experience this week, possibly after divulging one’s own experience.

Local record stores don’t seem to exist here in Norway any more. Some white ware stores seem to have a small selection. Fortunately, there are a few used stores that do seem to offer a selection of used records. In Inderøy, we have Kjæringa me’ Straumen that has many musical gems in different formats, including CDs and LPs.

Other sources for music can be radio stations, local and physical or distant and online. They range from the ultra professional, to amateur. Univerisity/ college/ school stations may appeal to younger people, but there are also stations that are run be retired persons, that target music of specific genres and eras.

DIY! Hardware suitable for the recording and editing of vocal music can be acquired for less than NOK 1 000/ US$ 100. Almost everything can be made using open source software, and a few hardware components such as a basic microphone (suggestion, Behringer XM8500) on an old but quiet laptop. This is goodenuf quality! In many cases, especially in terms of folk music, there should be no copyright issues, especially if distribution is limited to family and friends.

Notes

A minor character in this weblog post is Stephen Sedley. He lists carpentry, music, changing the world as his recreations. Novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan (1948- ) is more enthusiastic about Sedley’s literary merits, commenting on Ashes and Sparks: Essays on Law and Justice (2011) “you could have no interest in the law and read his book for pure intellectual delight, for the exquisite, finely balanced prose, the prickly humor, the knack of artful quotation and an astonishing historical grasp.” Since about 2003, Sedley has been known, especially, for his Laws of Documents, to be read as humour:

  1. Documents may be assembled in any order, provided it is not chronological, numerical or alphabetical.
  2. Documents shall in no circumstances be paginated continuously.
  3. No two copies of any bundle shall have the same pagination.
  4. Every document shall carry at least 3 numbers in different places.
  5. Any important documents shall be omitted.
  6. At least 10 per cent of the documents shall appear more than once in the bundle.
  7. As many photocopies as practicable shall be illegible, truncated or cropped.
  8. Significant passages shall be marked with a highlighter which goes black when photocopied.
  9. (a) At least 80 per cent of the documents shall be irrelevant. (b) Counsel shall refer in Court to no more than 5 per cent of the documents, but these may include as many irrelevant ones as counsel or solicitor deems appropriate.
  10. Only one side of any double-sided document shall be reproduced.
  11. Transcriptions of manuscript documents and translations of foreign documents shall bear as little relation as reasonably practicable to the original.
  12. Documents shall be held together, in the absolute discretion of the solicitor assembling them, by: a steel pin sharp enough to injure the reader; a staple too short to penetrate the full thickness of the bundle; tape binding so stitched that the bundle cannot be fully opened; or a ring or arch-binder, so damaged that the arcs do not meet.

In Norway, the government switched off analog radio signals in 2017. It was the first country in the world to end FM consumer radio transmissions. Millions of old radios were made obsolete, while consumers were encouraged to purchase new DAB+ radios. Here at Cliff Cottage, we have a DAB+ radio, bought specifically for use during emergencies. If we remember, it is tested annually, then put away until the next year.

The English translation of the name of Kjæringa me’ Straumen, would be something like, the woman with the tide. It comes from Kjerringa mot strømmen which expresses the opposite, the woman against the tide. Originally, this was the title of a Norwegian folk tale published by Asbjørnsen and Moe in 1871. Kjæringa is the Trøndersk dialect pronunciation and spelling, of a term variously translated as woman, wife or (especially in other dialects) hag. In Trøndelag, the term is viewed positively. Straumen is the name of our village, but means the same thing as strømmen = tidal current.

Eurorack

For people living – possibly even born – in the 21st century, Eurorack is a major approach to acquiring an affordable synthesizer. It is not a specific instrument, but a modular synthesizer format originally specified in 1996 by Doepfer Musikelektronik. It has since grown in popularity, and as of 2018 has become the dominant hardware modular synthesizer format, with over 5000 modules available from more than 270 different manufacturers.

Stated another way: If you, as a synthesizer playing person, want to base your synthesizer on modular components, there is no point in acquiring anything that isn’t Eurorack compatible; If you are a synthesizer module manufacturer, there is no point in offering modules that aren’t Eurorack compatible. Eurorack is the unavoidable standard, the intersection between module consumers and producers. Here, in this weblog post, the Eurorack specifications will be examined in some detail.

The mechanical specification for the Eurorack are derived from Eurocard, but with additional power supply and bus board specifications. The power supply is currently specified as A-100 PSU3, updated in 2015. Many cases adhere to the A-100 PSU2 specification, this allow modules to fit into existing (read: used) rack cases.

The Doepfer bus board allows for a maximum of 14 modules to be plugged in. A standard Doepfer case, either rackmount or portable, consists of two rows of 84hp, 6U high, that contain one PSU and two bus boards.

A Doepfer A-100 modular synthesizer, with two modules from Analogue Solutions, and the remainder from Doepfer. Photo: Nina Richards, 2011-12-02.

Doepfer-style bus boards are circuit boards. An alternative to these is a flying bus board. These have similar connections but use a flexible ribbon. This is often preferred, as mounting circuit boards can sometimes prove difficult.

The modules themselves have to meet Eurocard specifications for printed circuit board (PCB) cards that can be plugged together into a standard chassis which, in turn, can be mounted in a 19-inch rack. The chassis consists of slotted card guides top and bottom, into which cards are slid so they stand on end. The spine of each card has one or more connectors which plug into mating connectors on a backplane at the rear of the chassis.

Module height was three rack units (3U) and the width was measured in the Eurocard-specific Horizontal Pitch (hp) standard, where 1hp equals 0.2 inches, or 5.08 mm. The modules were largely low-cost, compact, and had some components on their boards that were socketed instead of soldered down, so the user could, for example, upgrade to a better op-amp IC.

An unpopulated Doepfer LC6 Eurorack case, with power bus. Photo: Ashley Pomeroy, 2020-12-31.

Nathan Thompson, writing as nonlinearcircuits, has posted 33 laser-cut Eurorack cases, plus rails and some other components on Thingverse. Most of the cases date from 2015 and 2016.

Modules connect to a bus board using a 10-to-16 or 16-to-16 pin cable, depending on module design. These 16 pins are arranged in pairs and carry the following signals, from top to bottom: Gate, CV, +5V, +12V, GND, and -12V. The bottom 10 pins do most of the work, providing + and -12V to power the modules. The top two pins are for Doepfer’s optional internal CV and Gate routing. The +5V rail is used on some modules that require more power.

Plugging modules in, is not always as simple as it seems. Experienced Eurorack users will rigorously check connections before powering up, no matter how long they’ve been working with the system. Typically, the red stripe on the ribbon cable connecting the modules to the bus board must line up with -12V. This should be labeled on the module, and is always labeled on the bus board. Plugging a module incorrectly may have expensive ramifications.

A-100 PSU2 provides 1200 mA = milliamps of current to both the +12V and -12V rails. This has to be compared with the power drawn by a module. This has to be less than what the PSU specifies. The A-100 PSU3 also provides +5 V of power.

With the classic Doepfer case, a user would need to consume less than 1 200 mA on both rails. Modules should be almost evenly split between the two bus boards. If a module requires +5V, most manufacturers, including Doepfer as of 2015, either a PSU3 has to be used, or an adapter, which takes current from the +12V rail. The amperage required on the +5V rail will be subtracted from that available current on the +12V rail. The power specifications in Eurorack are not technically standardized, but most follow the Doepfer standard.

Perhaps the most important consideration, but one that may be difficult to answer for someone new to synthesizers and/ or Eurorack, is deciding on the type of rig to make.

Some people refer to a classic analogue synth, a rig capable of generating its own waveforms with wave-shaping tools to add character including textures and timbres to the generated signal. Another approach is to build an effects rack that processes sound generating elsewhere. These can be monophonic, stereo or polyphonic. Below this, one can build a drum machine that is focused on rhythm, rather than more tonal qualities.

One major advantage of Eurorack is its modular nature, allowing an opportunity to add and delete modules. To construct a self-contained instrument one needs: an oscillator, a filter, a voltage controlled amplifier (VCA), two envelope generators, one for the filter and another for the VCA, an effects unit, a mixer and/ or an output module.

Beginners are often encouraged to choose an analogue oscillator. These are easy to find and use, while still offering opportunities for creative expression.

Voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) generate waveforms—sine, triangle, sawtooth, ramp or square waves— that are slightly unstable, with fluctuations in pitch and timbre as the voltage changes over time, this gives the oscillator a unique character.

Filters impact sounds the most. For better or worse, many modern synths use filters with characteristics that emulate those found on specific vintage synthesizers.

Robert Moog’s (1934 – 2005) lasting impact on synthesizers, starts with his dictate of 1 V per octave. Increasing the voltage going into a VCO by 1 volt raises its pitch by one octave. To understand this, consider a piano and how it is tuned. Convention dictates that middle C is referred to as C4. Tuning is based on A4, two white keys below, or to the left of, middle C. A4 has a standard frequency of 440 Hz. For convenience, it will be assumed that this is produced by a VCO signal of 4V. Thus, the relationship between note, voltage and frequency can be expressed by: A0 = 0V = 27,5 Hz; A1 = 1V = 55 Hz; A2 = 2V = 110 Hz; A3 = 3V = 220 Hz; A4 = 4V = 440 Hz; A5 = 5V = 880 Hz; A6 = 6V = 1 760 Hz; A7 = 7V = 3 520 Hz; A8 = 8V = 7 040 Hz. Note: Not all VCOs are turned to A in this fashion. As can be seen, above, this results in an exponential relationship between voltage and frequency, as each change in octave requires an additional doubling or halving in frequency. An accurate reproduction of this exponential curve in modules is difficult in analogue synthesizers because temperature changes and the ageing of electronic components, often referred to as tracking errors, can impact pitch.

An aside: Many Japanese synthesizers, such as those made by Yamaha or Korg, use a system where voltage is proportional to frequency. If A1 = 1 V, then 2A = 2 V, 3A = 4 V, 4A = 8 V. In other words, it takes a doubling or halving of the voltage to result in an octave change.

There are three basic approaches to acquiring modules that can be used with Eurorack. These are 1) assembled systems; 2) DIY from kits; 3) DIY from components. All three of these approaches will be discussed below.

Assembled Systems

Moog in the late 1960s released synthesizer modules Ic, IIc and IIIc followed by the Ip, IIp and IIIp These were followed in the early 1970s by System 10, 12, 15, 35 and 55. These were all extremely expensive, based on a discrete transistor designs. The separate modules – such as oscillators, amplifiers, envelope generators, filters, noise generators, ring modulators, triggers and mixers – were connected using patch cords, which also enabled them to control each other. This produced a distinctive sound that made its way into many contemporary recordings. Production of all these except system 15, 35 and 55 modules had stopped by 1973. These last three lasted until 1981. Moog released new versions of some of these since 2014, but these typically cost US$ 35 000.

The patents and other rights to Moog’s modular circuits expired in the 1990s. With the expiration of these rights, other manufacturers have been able to offer sound clones of these modules, many in the Eurorack format. Since 2020, Behringer has been one of these.

The Behringer 960 Sequential Controller Photo: Behringer

The Behringer 960 sequencer controller replicates the operation of System 55 but using modern components, and built so that can fit in a standard Eurorack case. It is also affordable, at about NOK 1 600.

DIY from kits

Dreadbox Dysphonia Eurorack synth module Photo: Dreadbox

For slightly more money, about NOK 2 200, one could also buy a Dreadbox Dysphonia, that was offered as a kit in 2021-11. As with many kits, it was made as a single run. Once the kits from that batch are sold, no additional kits will be made. Dreadbox describes this as buy now or cry later. On 2022-01-19, one was being offered for sale for NOK 4 000. Despite the hype, one can usually expect something similar being offered in the future, but there will be differences, sometimes even improvements.

The main advantage of this kit is that It could be used as a stand-alone desktop synthesizer, or be fitted into a Eurorack. To facilitate both purposes, It comes with a USB to Eurorack power converter. This type of kit is claimed to be well suited for inexperienced DIY construction. Instructions are typically easy to understand, and solder together!

The Dysphonia consists of 13 individual sections that offer an affordable, compact, modular patch system, if one is prepared to build the system from parts. It consists of a single analogue oscillator comes with 4 waveforms that you can patch independently through 3 VCAs = voltage controlled amplifiers, and a 3 channel mixer before being subjected to a 24dB 4-pole lowpass filter and 12dB 2-pole multimode filter. The low pass filter can also self-oscillate to provide additional tones. In addition to an analogue LFO = low frequency oscillator ad envelope, there is a digital modulator providing 4 different modes with low frequency oscillator (LFO), Envelope, Random and CC = continuous control, a MIDI = musical instrument digital interface message capable of transmitting a range of values, usually 0-127. These are commonly used for controlling volume (#7), pan (#10), data slider position (#6), mod wheel (#1) and other variable parameters. This can enhance music, but an over-use of these messages can result in MIDI log-jam, where the amount of data sent exceeds the supported bandwidth. There is also a MIDI-to-CV = control voltage, module which provides analogue to digital and digital to analogue conversions, allowing the module to intereact with a keyboard, computer, phone or almost any other device. There is also a Hybrid Echo module.

DIY from components

One useful source of updated electronic information comes from Elektor magazine. A green subscription provides everything digitally, including back issues. Elektor publishes electronic projects, background articles and designs aimed at engineers, enthusiasts, students and others. It also sells printed circuit boards (PCBs), kits and modules. PCB design work is usually available without charge from their website. Microcontroller and/or computer based projects normally come with program source code and other necessary files.

This is also a good source of synth designs that take advantage of modern electronic components with methodologies that are suitable for hobbyists.

Gear Acquisition Syndrome

One of the major challenges with Eurorack, is that it encourages the acquisition of excessive amounts of gear. Gear acquisition syndrome (GAS) is a real psychological challenge, satirically documented by Steely Dan guitarist Walter Becker (1950 – 2017) in a 1994-04 Guitar Player magazine article (p. 15), where G originally stood for guitar. Because the many providers of Eurorack offer a wide variety of relatively low-cost components, often with specific but limited characteristics, it is tempting to buy just one more! Some people realize compulsive shopping should be resisted. Those who need the advice, will probably not follow it.

The seven key stages of GAS are discussed in a 2022-08-18 Music Radar article. These are: dissatisfaction, desire, ‘research’, the purchase, guilt, acceptance and relapse. Relapse, this last “cruellest stage of GAS can hit anywhere between a year to eighteen months after the purchase, although the time passed invariably depends on the amount of cash spent and the amount of meals you’ve had to eat from a tin as a consequence.” Once again, the article refers specifically to guitars, but also applies to synths, and by extension Eurorack modules.

Another weblog post tentatively titled DIY Synths and currently scheduled for publication 2023-03-25, contains more detailed information about synth circuits, especially from kits.

Autotune

Autotune is to vocal music, what synthesizers are to instrumental music. Both push the boundaries of what is possible. Some people appreciate these possibilities, others don’t. In this weblog post, autotune will refer to a generic concept. Auto-tune is the name of a commercial product from Antares Audio Technologies, that has a dominant market share. It was invented and developed by Harold (Andy) Hildebrand (1950 – ) from 1996 and on.

After earning a Ph.D in electrical engineering, Hildebrand’s career involved working with geophysics and seismic data for Exxon. At one point, Exxon faced a dilemma. They were approaching the end of a seven-year Alaskan pipeline timeline, and needed to get oil flowing through the line in time, or lose a half-billion dollar tax write-off. Hildebrand was charged with fixing faulty seismic monitoring instrumentation, a task that involved advanced mathematics. The project ended successfully, from Exxon’s perspective.

In 1979, Hildebrand left Exxon for a startup, Landmark Graphics, which constructed a workstation for the creation of 3-D seismic maps. Landmark was bought out by Halliburton in 1989 for an alleged $525 million, and Hildebrand retired before the age of forty, a wealthy man.

As a youth, Hildebrand had worked as a musician, playing the flute. With his new found freedom, he decided to study composing. In this, he often used sampling synthesizers. From there it was a short way to developing Auto-tune, where his mathematical capabilities and musical interest proved to be a useful combination. A Wikipedia article provides further details.

One of the first singers to use auto-tune was Cher (1946 – ) on Believe (1998). A remastered version dates from 2021. The music video, from 1999, was made by Nigel Dick (1953 – ).

Believe was recorded at Metro Productions’ Dreamhouse Studio, located in Kingston upon Thames, England. Mark Taylor (1963 – ) and Brian Rawlings (1961 – ) produced the track using a Cubase VST Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), built into a Power Macintosh G3 computer. Instruments include a rack-based Clavia Nord and Oberheim Matrix 1000 synthesizers. Vocals were recorded on three TASCAM DA-88 digital audio recorders, with a Neumann U67 microphone

Despite initial claims that the vocal effects came from a vocoder, a device invented at Bell Labs by Homer Dudley (1896 – 1980) in 1938, that analyzes then synthesizes/ transforms human voice signals using compression, multiplexing = takes several signals and combines them into one, and encryption, it wasn’t used.

Auto-Tune pitch-correction software was actually used, but with extreme settings to create unnaturally rapid corrections, to remove portamento, the natural slide between pitches in singing. Later, it was widely imitated, becoming known as the Cher effect.

One of the complaints about both autotuning and synthesizers is that they are artificial. If by artificial one means electronic, one could question what part of the contemporary audio/ music recording industry isn’t artificial? In the past forty years I have listened to very few tracks that have an analogue component, as found on vinyl records or magnetic tapes. Today, almost everything musical becomes a digitized electrical signal. Voices and acoustic instruments use microphones to capture sounds. Electric guitars and related instruments use pickups. Both convert electrical signals to digital signals in an audio interface, which could be a stand alone unit outside or a hardware or software unit inside a computer. Synthesizers and other keyboard instruments, with variations, may simply send Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data even more directly to a DAW.

Opinions are divided about Auto-tune. Time Magazine named it one of the 50 worst inventions. Dan Fletcher, wrote on 2010-05- 27: “It’s a technology that can make bad singers sound good and really bad singers … sound like robots.”

I disagree with Time. There is no reason why people should have to rely on their natural voices to produce music. It is like insisting people walk in order to move from place to place. People embrace technological improvements. Bicycles are a good example of how low cost technology can improve transport speed while reducing energy consumption. Think of autotune as technology providing a bicycle advantage for singers.

Correction. Advanced mathematics can be difficult. 1989 – 1950 is not 29, but 39. Thus, the age of Hildebrand’s retirement age has been corrected to under forty, from under thirty.

The Charm of Roxy Music

These are the Roxy Music sleeves. The first, top left, was released fifty years ago 1972-06-16.

This weblog post is being published on the fiftieth anniversary of Roxy Music‘s debut album, Roxy Music, released 1972-06-16. Wikipedia comments, “The opening track, “Re-Make/Re-Model”, has been labelled a postmodernist pastiche, featuring solos by each member of the band echoing various touchstones of Western music[.]”

It was Andrea, my boss, who introduced me to Roxy Music, at a party, in early 1973.

Bryan Ferry (1945 – ) lead singer of Roxy Music, had his origins in County Durham, at Washington. The world may never have heard of him if he had not lost his job as a ceramics teacher at a girls’ school, 1970-11, for playing too much music in the classroom. This encouraged him to start his own band, despite a lack of musical talent. Fortunately, he cooperated with others who did have talent.

Membership in the band was fluid for the first few years of its existence, but had stabilized by the time the first album was made with Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno (1948 – ), Andy Mackay (1946- ), Phil Manzanera (1951 – ), Paul Thompson (1951 – ) and Graham Simpson (1943 – 2012). Other musicians participated on some tracks.

One vague comment I remember hearing about Roxy Music, was that it was sax driven. This is undoubtedly a minority view. If one looks at almost any Roxy Music album sleeve, Avalon excepted, one will discover supporting evidence that it was sex driven. For those still in denial, sax probably refers to Andy Mackay, who played oboe and saxophone in the band. He was also the owner of a synth, an Electronic Music Studios (EMS) Voltage Controlled Studio, version #3 (VCS3).

The band’s greatest non-musician was Brian Eno, who was initially engaged as a technical advisor. His duties included operating the synthesizer and a Revox reel-to-reel tape machine. What impressed me the most, was Eno’s use of the EMS synth. My opinion, was that at least initially, Roxy Music was synth driven. It became less so, as Eno’s influence waned, and Ferry’s waxed, unfortunately.

The band signed with EG Mangement. However, since the music proposed for the first album was unexceptional, they almost rejected it. What changed their mind was the sleeve artwork. This debut album sleeve featured Kari-Ann Muller (1947 – ), who was born in Cornwall. The artwork also involved fashion designer Antony Price (1945 – ), photographer Karl Stoecker, art director Nicholas Deville (1944 – ) and a public relations specialist Simon Puxley. Prior to this, Muller appeared in an episode of the German detective series Der Kommissar, Keiner hörte den Schuß (1969). Subsequently, Brian Duffy (1933 – 2010) photographed her, with legs and much of her torso airbrushed away, for the 1973 Pirelli calendar. She also appeared in a film, The Bitch (1979), along side Chris Jagger (1947 – ), with whom she is married.

There is an eclecticism in the music, with a lot of it having movie references, in the same way that Roxy itself relates to movie theatres. 2HB was a tribute to Humphrey Bogart (1899 – 1957), with the line “Here’s looking at you, kid” taken from Casablanca (1942). Chance Meeting references David Lean’s (1908 – 1991) Brief Encounter (1945). The Bob refers to the Battle of Britain (1968), with sound effects simulating gunfire.

The second album, For Your Pleasure (1973), shows Amanda Lear (1939 – ) walking her panther. These early sleeves actually folded out, so that the back turns out to be the left of a photograph, with Brian Ferry posing as the chauffeur of a purple Cadillac.

Stranded (1973), the third album, featured Marilyn Cole (1949 – ), the January 1972 Playmate of the Month, and 1973 Playmate of the Year. By this time Eno was no longer with the band. Eddie Jobson (1955 – ) was classically trained and an accomplished musician. He played keyboard and electric violin.

Country Life (1974) showed Constanze Karoli and Eveline Grunwald, two German women Ferry had allegedly met in a bar in Portugal, where Ferry had retreated to write lyrics for the album. They are said to have helped him translate a portion of the song Bitter-Sweet into German. This is probably the most controversial Roxy Music album sleeve, for the US market the album was issued with foliage but without models.

At the left of the bottom row is the cover for Siren (1975), that used Jerry Hall (1956 – ) to attract (male) purchasers. I confess to have purchased all five of these albums as LPs, disposing of them in the summer of 1980 before moving to Norway.

By the time Manifesto (1979) appeared, Roxy Music had lost much of its charm. The band consisted of Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay, and Thompson, along with Paul Carrack (1951 – , keyboards), Alan Spenner (1948 – 1991, bass), and Gary Tibbs (1958 – , bass). The album was not a success, critically or popularly. The sleeve seems to be a party scene, with no specific individual model in focus. Flesh & Blood (1980) had Peter Saville (1955 – ) responsible for the cover’s conception, but was photographed by Neil Kirk. The two models on the front sleeve (shown) are Aimee Stephenson (front) and Shelley Mann (behind). A third model, Roslyn Bolton, was shown on the back of the sleeve.

The final album Avalon (1982) featured a smoother sound. It was the band’s most successful studio album. The album sleeve has a photo of Bryan Ferry’s future wife, Lucy Helmore (1959 – 2018). This is undoubtedly the least sensual of all the sleeves. Surprisingly, this allowed listeners to focus more on the music, which received the best critical reviews of all the albums.

Roxy Music was a designer band, creating a specific style that dictated/ dominated their stage presence, music videos, album and single sleeve designs, as well as promotional materials including posters, handbills, cards and badges. One might even want to conclude that even the music, was designed rather than composed, arranged, performed and engineered. I no longer listen to Roxy Music, but I do listen to the music of Brian Eno.