Donna Summer (1948 – 2012)

Possibly the most common photograph of Donna Summer used to promote her 1977 recording of I feel love. This photograph, without this text, but with track listings, participating musicians and other recording details, originally occupied the reverse of the I Remember Yesterday album sleeve. It has repeatedly been used in other contexts.

This post is being published just prior to the 10th anniversary of the death of Donna Summer, born LaDonna Gaines on 1948-12-31 in Boston, Massachusetts, and who died 2012-05-17 in Naples, Florida. It focuses on one track, I feel love (1977), but attempts to put this track into context. It was written by Summer, Giorgio Moroder (1940 – ) and Pete Bellotte (1943 – ). These two men produced much of Summer’s work throughout the 1970s at their recording studio, Musicland, in Munich, Germany.

At that time, disco, formerly discothèque, music was in vogue. Discothèques emerged in World War II Paris, as the playing of phonograph records at dance halls substituted for live musicians, increasingly unavailable due to the war. By the 1970s, this music had become formulaic, relying on a four-on-the-floor beat = a uniform 4/4 time, where a bass drum is struck on every beat, and a syncopated = off the main beat, baseline. In contrast with other popular genres, there was less emphasis on a lead guitar, and more emphasis on electronic keyboards, horns and strings. Musicland was particularly noted for its early use of synthesizers.

Starting in the 1950s, popular recorded music often involved a band of, typically, four musicians of which one was a lead singer, potentially the same person as the lead guitarist, and a single audio/ sound/ recording engineer working at a mixing console with the result fed into a multi-track tape recorder.

One significant step beyond this emerged in 1964, when Phil Spector (1939 – 2021) developed a wall of sound, which involved the use of multiple instruments to provide a richer sound, on the recordings. This was then edited down into a monophonic track. Yes, many musicians of the 1960s, were opposed to stereophonic recordings, claiming that it transferred too much audio control to the listener! In live performances, a wall of Marshall stacks, cabinets containing tube amplifiers and 4 x 300 mm speakers, became its own wall of rich sounds. Admittedly, these stacks in many cases violated norms/ laws/ regulations about noise, and may have contributed to the later hearing loss of people attending.

In the 1970s, disco intensified this layered approach, making separate recordings of the elements that would make up the final track. There were more musicians, and more recording staff involved in the process. It was often seen as a reaction to rock music which, in the 1960s, had risen to a dominating position.

I feel love, is the final track of Summer’s fifth album, I Remember Yesterday (1977), that provides 35m19s of music. That is, in most areas where the album was released. Some sources state that there were exceptions. The first track, the same as the album title, was intended to represent dance music from the 1940s. The second, Love’s Unkind, was inspired by the 1950s. The third, Back in Love, Again, mirrored the sound of the 1960s. The fourth track was a repeat of the first. On the reverse side, there were two disco songs, representing the 1970s, then a ballad. The album ends with a futuristic, I Feel Love.

Many people have argued that for Moroder and Bellotte, a song and a sound from tomorrow meant synthesizers and rhythm machines. Yet, that might be a simplification. There were many other workers on the track included: Robbie Wedel, with a background in electronics and composer Eberhard Schoener (1938 – ), both operated a Moog synth. At the time these were physically large, and fitted with large numbers of patch cables, that connected oscillators, voltage control units, triggers and an arpeggiator = sound generator.

A common approach to writing a song, is to perform it first on a keyboard with the composer also singing the lyrics, possibly just inside her/ his head. From that a more elaborate studio arrangement could be developed: in rock music using the band itself; in disco using studio musicians.

I Feel Love followed a different approach. Moroder and Bellotte worked initially on the song’s bassline. Wedel and engineer Jürgen Koppers (1941 – 2006) lay down a reference pulse put on track 16, of a 16-track tape recorder, that was used to synchronize the tracks as they were developed. This produced an exact timing reference. Only after this was done was the melody developed, resulting in the song sung by Donna Summer. She developed lyrics, and a melody that would complement the existing work on the track. I Feel Love is generally regarded as a difficult song to sing. This approach to developing music was later adopted by others working in the disco, EDM = electronic dance music, and techno genres.

One further notable characteristic of the song is the effective use of signal delays. The original bassline signal proceeds through the left speaker channel on time, but is almost imperceptibly delayed going through the right speaker. This required stereophonic sound, and listeners reacted positively to this.

Another innovation by Wedel was to make sound clips on the Moog, that create sounds resembling/ imitating a hi-hat or a snare drum. Unfortunately, not all the percussion effects could be produced by the Moog. It was difficult to produce the sound of a kick drum. Thus, a human, Keith Forsey (1948 – ), known for his precise timekeeping, was used to produce much of the percussion sounds. It was anything but a drum solo. Rather, each drum in the kit was recorded separately to produce a totally clean sound, preventing the bleeding of sounds that could potentially corrupt other sounds. Forsey has commented that this is an unnatural, counter-intuitive, frustrating way of playing: “Your body has to dance if you want the people to dance.”

I will end by stating that the original version of I Feel Love is not my favourite. I am more attracted to assorted other remixes. Patrick Cowley (1950 – 1982) has produced several remixes. Here is one that is 15 minutes long. Cowley is also notable for his Hi-NRG dance music compositions. These days, I am more attracted to the version of Belgian Moreno J(urgen), this one. In both cases the voice of Donna Summer still dominates.

For further insights into I Feel Love, people may want to begin with this article in Wikipedia.

Note: Upcoming weblog posts: on Saturday, 2022-05-21 there will be a post about World Goth Day #14, appearing one day before the event. Then, on Sunday, 2022-05-22 there will be a post about Otl Aicher (1922 – 2012), on the centenary of his birth. Both at 12:00 CEST (Central European Summer Time) = 10:00 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time, successor to Greenwich Mean Time).

Blade Runner

Poster for Blade Runner, the Director’s Cut (2007) depicting Los Angeles, after a nuclear attack in 2019. Here Deckard (protrayed by Harrison Ford) and Rachel (portrayed by Sean Young) are shown.

Part 1: For living humans

One of my fictional heroes is Angus MacGyver, portrayed by Richard Dean Anderson (1950 – ). I appreciate his non-violent problem solving that saturates the television series, that originally ran from 1985 to 1992, with specials beyond that. I have not watched any episodes of the 2016 restart. That appreciation, and my pacifist stance more generally, is undoubtedly related to viewing World War II, as the last major hot war, with the ideological aftermath resulting in a cold war. However, like many people, my values are being challenged with the Ukrainian reality of a Russian invasion.

In 1998, I attended a three-day seminar about violence in film. Each day, two separate movies were introduced, and we were asked to watch, reflect on and discuss these. Thus, in total, we examined six different films. None of these resembled anything like MacGyver, a fact I found disappointing. Rather, there was a focus on gratuitous violence, brutal acts lacking discernable literary, artistic, political or scientific value, according to one definition. While films from several different genres were presented, the organizers of the seminar were obviously very keen about science fiction.

I am not particularly interested in reading fantasy or science fiction. The outer edge of my comfort zone is found in magic realism. Part of the reason is that I have little interest in visiting other planets, or other times, when I have explored so little of this beautiful planet, in this modern, accessible age. However, there are some few science fiction films that attract me.

This weblog post builds on one of the films shown at this seminar. Three of the other ones were: A Clockwork Orange (1971), directed by Stanley Kubrick (1928 – 1999); Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), directed by James Cameron (1954 – ); and, The Eel (うなぎ, Unagi, 1997) directed by Shōhei Imamura (1926 – 2006). The other two films are forgotten. One of the main presenters at the seminar was Norwegian novelist, children’s book writer, screenwriter and film critic, Erlend Loe (1969 – ).

Twenty-four years after this seminar, Putin’s War is raging in Europe. Violence is no longer of theoretical interest. Many wonder how people can use art and other pastimes to address their concerns about war. One could ask which artistic genres are more/ most effective at suppressing violence, at the same time that they stop dictators from usurping the rights of others. Among the more popular of these flavours are: film, music, painting, theatre and writing fiction. Not everyone has elevated gaming into an art form, but it is also included, as have physical representations in the form of 3D models and costumes.

People approach culture in different ways. In this weblog post, variations on a single work will be used as an example. That work is Philip Kindred Dick’s (1928 – 1982) novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), set in San Francisco in 1992 or, in later editions of the book, 2021. It takes place after a nuclear war. Dick’s inspiration for writing this novel was Fear (1940), a psychological thriller/ horror short story, written by L. Ron Hubbard (1911 – 1986).

A. Written materials

The first cultural flavour looked at here involves written materials. The advantage of reading a novel or short story is that it invites readers to co-create using their imagination. One disadvantage, is that this co-creation involves abstract thinking. Another is that many people have dyslexia, and related conditions, that prevent their enjoyment of this approach.

Rather than just reading, a more productive approach is to reflect on the work in question, and to produce a new work based on it. This could be another novel or short story, but it could, just as easily, be a filmscript, a theatrical play, or a poem.

B. Audio

There are many people who prefer to listen to audio books/ podcasts, instead of reading. Hearing disabilities can also prevent people from using this approach. Searching for information about relevant versions of the novel on the internet, the first link I came across was a free audiobook. One advantage of an audio format, is that it allows both sound effects as well as music to be part of a product. Once again, it is possible for the average person to create their own audio products, if only for family and friends.

C. Film

Ridley Scott’s (1937 – ) dystopian, science fiction film, Blade Runner (1982) is the work being focused on in this weblog post. It was also one of the films focused on at the seminar on violence in film, in 1998. For me, it is especially appreciated for its inability to depict Los Angeles in 2019. In the film, flying cars (spinners) co-exist with pay phones. Even Chester Gould (1900 – 1985) was able to equip Dick Tracy with a personal device, the wrist radio, an icon that dates from 1946-01-13.

Seven different versions of Blade Runner have been released, many massaged primitively by Warner Bros, who were concerned about the film’s viability, when the initial release resulted in low attendance, and confused audiences. The Director’s Cut (2007) is regarded as the definitive edition.

The protagonist, Rick Deckard, portrayed by Harrison Ford (1942 – ), is a bounty hunter/ blade runner, adapt at killing escaped androids/ replicants. Deckard’s life, still portrayed by Ford, continues in the film sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (2017), directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve (1967 – ). The events of the original film and its sequel involve two different time periods separated by 30 fictional years and 35 real years. It is uncertain if Deckard is human, or a variant of something that he is hunting. Dick, Ford and Villeneuve say human, Scott says replicant. Villeneuve also adds, that the question is more important than the answer.

Rachael (Tyrell) was a Nexus-7 replicant, portrayed by Sean Young (1959 – ) in the original Blade Runner. In Blade Runner 2049, she was portrayed by body double Loren Peta (? – ) with Sean Young’s facial features de-aged and overlaid using computer graphics.

Today, everyone can be a film maker using an ever present cell phone to record audio and video, there are many free and open source apps that can be used to edit content, and there are many mechanisms that can be used to deliver such productions to a waiting audience, including Odysee, PeerTube and YouTube. I almost wrote a reminder to people to film in landscape format, but then wondered if that was just yet another indication that I was raised in a different millennium. Younger people might also prefer to view films on their cell phones, and appreciate a portrait format.

D. Theatre

Theatrical presentations can be developed from scratch, from novels and other written works including screenplays. They can also be inspired by almost anything. Street theatre involves a dramatic performance in some form of outdoor public space. Typically, the audience is unaware of the event, before it erupts before them.

E. Games

Westwood Studios was started by Brett Sperry (ca. 1960 – ) and Louis Castle (ca. 1960 – ) in 1985 in Los Vegas, Nevada. Their 1997 point and click game of Blade Runner, is a sidequel = side sequel. Many gamers prefer to use the Japanese term, gaiden (外伝, = outside legends). In both cases it refers to an original story running parallel to an established plot in a film or novel, sometimes interacting with it.

Computer games are regarded as the most profitable of the various entertainment industries. While estimates of revenue vary, assorted source provide the following values, in billions of dollars in 2020: games: $ 180, film $ 100, professional sports $ 75, music $ 23.

F. Physical representations

One very satisfying moment in my teaching career occurred when an entire class of metalworking students told me they had taken over a 3D printer, and were going to use it for the next week to make the components of a 3D model of a 4 cylinder internal combustion engine. When it was completed and assembled even the least mentally endowed of the students understood, in detail, how an engine worked.

I have encouraged many of my fashion obsessed female students to make their own clothing. Some few have even followed that advice.

In terms of Blade Runner, the design and construction of vehicle (spinner) models would undoubtedly appeal to many young males. Yet, I suspect that the design and construction of clothing appropriate for Los Angeles in 2049, would have greater appeal to many young females.

Getting rather conventional clothing items, such as T-shirts, with artwork featuring Saint Javelin, a female icon carrying a modern shoulder anti-tank weapon.

G. Painting

There are many derivative works of art that can be found that are based on Blade Runner. Any search engine will provide a list of them.

In my opinion, the one painting that best depicts the horrors of war is Pablo Picasso’s (1881 – 1973) Guernica (1937). It commemorates the 1937-04-26 bombing of the town of that name by the Nazi German Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion and the Fascist Italian Aviazione Legionaria, destroying the town and killing a disputed number of people, possibly up to 1 650.

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937)

H. Other activities

I would like to end this section by referring to Keri Smith (? – ), a Canadian conceptual artist. I know her best through one work, The Guerrilla Art Kit (2007). She has previously worked at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, in Vancouver. She is now on the advisory board of the Center for Artistic Activism, in New York city. Her main focus is on open works, a term invented by Umberto Eco (1932 – 2016), to describe pieces of art designed to be completed by the user. At 144 pages, The Guerrilla Art Kit, is sufficiently long. There is a section on etiquette, and another on tools. Much of it consists of 32 exercises, mostly fun yet provocative. Guerrilla gardening is one of my favourites, as is the portable idea dispenser.

Keri Smith, The Guerilla Art Kit (2007)

Part 2: For synthesizer fanchildren

One could argue, possibly even convincingly, that Part 2 is actually just flavour I. That is how it began, although flavours A to H were missing at the time. Re-reading the completed text, it was obvious that this section would appeal to about 1% of the intended audience, which would round off to about 0 readers. In addition, when written, it was based on the premise that a major manufacturer of synthesizers would make an inexpensive clone of the Yamaha CS-80. So far, this has not happened, and I have ended up buying an entirely different synthesizer.

Vangelis (born Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, 1943 – ) composed the film score for the original Blade Runner film, largely using a Yamaha CS-80 analogue synthesizer. The Icelandic composer Jóhann Gunnar Jóhannsson (1969 – 2018) was hired to make the music for the sequel. To my ears it sounds similar to the original, but it was removed from the project by Villeneuve. Here is a sample of Jóhannsson’s theme for the film. He was replaced by Benjamin Wallfische (1979 – ) and Hans Zimmer (1959 – ). Here is a sample of a theme by Wallfische and Zimmer.

The Yamaha CS-80 analog synthesizer was made from 1977 to 1980. Initially, it cost US$ 6 900. Today, a used one can cost over US$ 100 000. It supported true 8-voice polyphony, meaning that it could play multiple independent melody lines simultaneously. It came with two independent synthesizer layers per voice, each with its own set of front panel controls, in addition to a number of hardwired preset voice settings and four parametric settings stores based on banks of sub-miniature potentiometers. This contrasted with one of its main competitors, the Sequential Prophet 5, that used programmable digital presets, to achieve equivalent results.

The CS-80 excelled in live performance. Its layered keyboard was both velocity-sensitive (like a piano’s) and pressure-sensitive (known as after-touch) but unlike most modern keyboards the aftertouch could be applied to individual voices rather than in common, and a ribbon controller allowing for polyphonic pitch-bends and glissandos. This can be heard on the Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis, as well as the composer’s soundtrack for the film Chariots of Fire, and the bassline of Peter Howell’s interpretation of the 1980 theme tune to the BBC science fiction show Doctor Who.

Almost forty years ago, in a 1984 interview Vangelis described the CS-80 as: “The most important synthesizer in my career — and for me the best analogue synthesizer design there has ever been.”

The CS-80 is one of three instruments most frequently described as the pre-eminent polyphonic analog synthesizer. The other two are the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, and Oberheim OB-X.

There are two plug-in instrument software emulations of the CS-80 for usage in digital audio workstation, music sequencer, and other software which supports the plug-in formats that these instruments were implemented and released in: the Arturia CS-80 V, released in 2003, and the Memorymoon ME80 released in 2009.

As previously noted, when this post was first being prepared, it was expected that Behringer would announce the production of an equivalent clone, the DS-80. It all began with a tweet on 2019-04-30. However, no product has appeared, yet. Indeed, there are comments that chip shortages are causing production delays and cancellations. This is especially affecting low-cost synths.

For those who prefer hardware synths, Studio Electronics announced their new Boomstar SE80 synthesizer in 2014, which includes a cloned filter section of the CS-80.

Since 2018, Deckard’s Dream Mk2 (DDRM2), an analogue polyphonic synthesizer clone of the CS-80, has been available in two versions, a standard build or as a kit from Black Corporation in Japan. Yes, the name, Deckard’s Dream, is taken from the protagonist in the Blade Runner films!

At the time of writing 2021-12-29, the price of the built version is US$ 3 749 including worldwide shipping. This is a rackmount synthesizer with CS-80 inspired architecture and features that supports polyphonic aftertouch using compatible third-party external keyboards.

A Black Corporation Deckard’s Dream Mk2 synthesizer suitable for installation in a rack. Photo: Black Corporation.

Black corporation informs potential buyers that the DDRM2 offers eight voices, each with two identical layered parts consisting of a 100% analog voltage controlled oscillator made with discrete waveshapers, analog lowpass and highpass filter (each with their own cutoff and resonance settings,) noise generator, unique multi-segment filter envelope, and VCA + ADSR envelope. Each layer also features its own independent programming section for musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) polyphonic expression (MPE) based velocity and polyphonic aftertouch control of its filter cutoff and amplifier settings.

DDRM2’s perfomance section features global pitch control with coarse & fine-tuning sliders, layer 2 detune slider, independent keyboard range control for each layer, mix balancing between layer 1 and layer 2, global filter cutoff and resonance offsets, and a global low frequency oscillator (LFO) to control both layers’ filter/pitch/amplifiers simultaneously.

DDRM2 also has a programming sections for global MPE-based control over LFO parameters + pitchbend, as well as global key tracking control over the filter and amplifier settings of both layers. There is a global portamento/glissando slider that operates on both layers simultaneously. As expected, DDRM2 has MIDI control, with an ability to store 128 presets per bank, across 10 banks.

If one is interested in impressing neighbours, then there is no substitute for the original Yamaha. The price of a used model is beyond the means of most mortals. If one is interested in making music, then there are numerous choices. One of these is a Yamaha Reface CS, a 37 key mini synth, based on the CS-80, launched in 2019. It costs about US$ 450. This is considerably cheaper than a DDRM2, which is also too expensive in relation to its value. Perhaps the cheapest hardware solution is an Arturia Microfreak connected to an outboard effects = FX unit like Bluesky. This can recreate all of the DDRM2 and CS sounds, for about US$ 300.

Other fanchildren will remind you that there is no need for a hardware synth, when a software synth will be able to provide the same level of utility.

Earth Day 2022

Blue Marble by NASA/Apollo 17 crew, either Harrison Schmitt (1935 – ) or Ron Evans (1933 – 1990), 1972-12-07.

The first Earth Day was held fifty-two years ago, on 1970-04-22. Officially, it includes events coordinated globally by EarthDay.org. Unofficially, anybody can do whatever they like. This year’s event happens on Friday, 2022-04-22, with an official theme: Invest In Our Planet. This weblog post is being published almost a week in advance, so that people will have some time to reflect on what they want to do.

When I visited the Earth Day website, to gain an understanding of what this year’s theme really means, I was underwhelmed. One section read: “The fashion industry is responsible for over 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions.  Sustainable Fashion refers to a clothing supply chain that is ecologically and socially responsible. Now is the opportunity to shift the industry and consumers away from the fast fashion model and toward sustainable practices in sourcing, production, distribution, marketing, and consumption.” Sadly, there is not much helpful detail. I am left wondering who, if anyone, is going to implement these sustainable practices? Who is going to do anything?

I am not impressed with the new European Union eco-labels for fabrics. From 2023 all clothes and shoes sold in the EU will include colour-coded labels informing customers about the products’ environmental impact. But the Make the Label Count campaign says the system of measurement developed in 2013 is misleading, outdated and not in line with the EU’s climate goals. Fossil fuel-derived fibres, such as polyester, will be certified as more environmentally friendly than natural fibres, such as wool and cotton. These will score red. Microplastic pollution, biodegradability and renewability are excluded from the assessment criteria. Thus, I will not pay attention to any of these labels.

Most of my clothing is made of natural materials, wool and cotton especially. I wear them for many years. For example, my spring and summer jacket was purchased in 2008. It should last the rest of my life. I wear my chinos until they wear out, and even then, they are transformed (through the miracle of a personal relationship with a textile craftsperson) into shorts. My shirts and underwear are cotton. Most of my shoes (4 pairs) are Allbirds, made of wool but with Sweetfoam soles made from sugarcane. This was the most ecological brand of shoes that I could find, that fit my feet, even if I would prefer them to offer a slightly wider variant.

75 Gigajoules

A Stanford University study has shown that the good life in terms of happiness involves the consumption of about 75 GJ of energy per person annually. Quoting from the abstract: “We analyze the maximum global performance of nine health, economic, and environmental metrics by country, determining which metrics increase with per capita energy use and which show thresholds or plateaus in maximum performance. Across the dataset, eight of nine metrics, including life expectancy, infant mortality, happiness, food supply, and access to basic sanitation services, improve steeply and then plateau at levels of average primary annual energy consumption between 10 and 75 GJ person−1 computed nationally (five metrics plateau between 10 and 30 GJ person−1). One notable exception is air quality (energy threshold of 125 GJ person−1 across 133 countries). Averaged across metrics, the 10 countries (with at least seven metrics) showing the best performance given their per capita primary energy use are Malta, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Albania, Iceland, Finland, Bangladesh, Norway, Morocco, and Denmark. If distributed equitably, today’s average global energy consumption of 79 GJ person−1 could, in principle, allow everyone on Earth to realize 95% or more of maximum performance across all metrics (and assuming no other limiting factors). Dozens of countries have average per capita energy use below this 79 GJ energy sufficiency threshold, highlighting the need to combat energy poverty.”

Personal efforts

In part because Earth Day begins and ends in words, I won’t be doing anything officially to support it, but here is a short list of my current personal priority issues for saving planet Earth from a 1.5 (or more likely 2.0) degree C increase in temperature, and a lower carbon footprint in the future.

Insulation

I am fortunate to live in a house that I own together with Patricia, and to have the ability to undertake improvements. Not everyone is in full control of their housing. Some people rent rather than own, others live in condominiums = self-owned apartments. Thus, many individuals and families are at the mercy of others, including home-owner associations. However, we do live in a cold climate, that requires heating. With the construction season started, this year’s highest priority task is to increase the thickness of insulation in the ceiling. We discovered shortly after moving into the house in 1989, that it was essentially uninsulated in the walls, but was insulated in the ceiling.

All of the walls have been upgraded to a minimum of 100 mm of insulation. Two of the four walls that meet the worst of arctic winds, have been upgraded further, so that most of the length of these walls now has 250 mm of insulation, although there are a few meters that have only 200 mm. This year the focus is on increasing ceiling insulation from 200 to 400 mm. Throughout the pandemic there has been a construction boom in Norway, resulting in product and labour shortages and increased prices. Fortunately, most of the material needed for this year’s improvements were purchased before 2020, and have waited patiently to be used.

The other task is to install a balanced ventilation/ heating/ cooling system that will recycle heat, but not air, and will be connected to an air-to-air heat pump that should reduce energy consumption further.

Transportation and Travel

This year could be the year that we transition from an internal compustion engined (ICE) vehicle to an electric vehicle (EV). But transportation involves much more than just owning a car. In terms of driving, I am thinking that we should not drive more than once a week to our municipal centre, Straumen (26 km, round trip) for grocery shopping. About once a month we could allow ourselves a trip to Steinkjer that offers a wider selection of products (an additional 40 km, round trip). There would be an annual visit to Trondheim (240 km, round trip). Some social visits could come in addition. Norwegian Friends of the Earth has been particularly concerned about the use of tires, and their contribution of plastics to the environment.

In terms of air travel, we would like to prioritize one more trip to British Columbia to celebrate Patricia’s sister’s 80th birthday, and one more trip to California, to visit our daughter. We have decided that we can visit much of the rest of the world through documentaries. However, it must be admitted that excursions into warmer parts of Europe during the winter, are appealing. However, trains can be used to get there!

Food

We continue to buy much of our dairy products and eggs from local farmers. This involves walking to the farms. While not vegetarians, we try to eat less meat. We also avoid almost all restaurant food, if only because of their excessive salt content.

Music

In many weblog posts in 2021, and even now in 2022, music has been a major theme. Here, I would like to address the carbon footprint of the music industry, assisted – in part – by a recent Guardian article, that stated that on Earth Day about 100 international, intergenerational and eclectic musicians will release material exclusively via Bandcamp (with the platform waiving its fees) and with the income generated being distributed among causes working at the frontlines of the climate emergency.

On EarthPercent’s website, a somewhat different story is told. They state that for every track sold, a minimum of £1.30/$1.30 goes to our grantmaking programme, after deducting only third-party platform fees and applicable taxes from the purchase price. No EarthPercent operating costs are deducted.

The two sources also disagree about how much philanthropic funding is directed towards the climate crisis. The Guardian states less than 3%, EarthPercent states less than 2%. Regardless, EarthPercent encourages all participants in the music industry to divert a small percentage of their income, to the most impactful climate causes/ projects/ charities selected by an independent expert advisory panel, with the financial goal of raising $100m by 2030.

I do not support the music industry, with the exception of including YouTube links to specific songs in weblog posts. At a personal level, my musical content was converted to audio files from CDs, at a time when it was legal to do so. This is what I play. I do not stream anything. I do not attend concerts. I do not buy new CDs. I do not buy vinyl. I am attempting to go one step further, making my own music, but this is a long and arduous process.

The industrial approach to music is easy for listeners. Pay a regular sum of money (or listen to some ads) and you will be able to listen to (some) music using a streaming service. Pay somewhat more, and you will be able to download it, more still and it will be provided on a CD or vinyl record. Pay something outrageous, and you will be able to attend a concert.

The focus of the music industry is on the promotion of specific groups and individuals, who may be no better or worse than many others. Industry players then attempt to control this music to maximize their return on investment from the production of: CDs, vinyl records, streamed content, concerts. At the same time, they promote the excessive, luxurious lifestyle, enjoyed by a few performers, which only creates more disparity in the world. This disparity leads to an overheating of the world, in part because it prevents the less privileged from making improvements to their lives, such as an ability to replace the burning of fossil fuels with greener substitutes.

Environmentally, music concerts are particularly bad. They not only involve the movement of a band, its roadies and its equipment, but up to tens of thousands of fans (as in enthusiastic people, not mechanical devices that blow air). All this movement creates a serious carbon footprint.

Personally, I am not convinced that kinetic dancefloors, that harness crowd energy, or travel advice apps, will cut carbon emissions significantly. Instead, if people need live entertainment, they should enjoy locally produced music, produced by local musicians, in local venues. Even better, if a person is interested in music, they can make it themselves!

There are many different approaches to music. Here in Inderøy, which is a microcosm of what is happening in Norway and developed countries more generally, there are many different choirs: some are just for men, or women, or children; some are mixed for all genders of adults; some focus on just part of the municipality, while others are for all of it.

There are marching bands with woodwinds, brass and percussion instruments, that will be playing at a wide variety of venues on two upcoming holidays, Labour day (2022-05-01) and Constitution day (2022-05-17). Some of these bands march, some don’t.

Traditional music, often involves the Hardingfele (Norwegian) or Hardanger fiddle (English), often considered Norway’s national musical instrument. It is similar to a violin, typically with eight strings (in contrast to four on a standard violin) and thinner wood. Four of the strings are strung and played like a violin, the remaining understrings, simply resonate. Traditional, and not-so traditional dance bands play music at local events for people who like to dance.

There are also a wide variety of smaller bands that practice together, playing mainly for themselves, or at a few local festivals or other events. Increasingly, they place their music on YouTube.

Yet, the most important group involves solo musicians, who sing or play for their own personal enjoyment. There is some form of music for almost everybody, and the carbon footprint of playing that music does not have to be very high!

Synclavier

A Synclavier II was introduced in 1980. Many claim its fame is due to its cost, which was originally between $200 000 – $300 000. The largest system built and sold by New England Digital Corporation cost $500 000

Dartmouth College deserves praise for its role in starting advanced technological companies in rural environments. One of the first of these was New England Digital Corporation (NED). The company began life in Hanover, New Hampshire (NH), population 9 119, in the 1980 census, then moved to Norwich, Vermont (VT), with a population then of 2 398, located 2.4 km north-east of Hanover, and later to White River Junction, VT, with a current population of 2 286, located 9 km south of Hanover.

A location with a small population can become world famous for its products, but those products have to be carefully selected. In addition, product design will probably need some input from external experts, rather than relying on the efforts of a single entrepreneur, working alone, in a remote area.

On almost every corporate website, and many others, there is a section titled, Our Story or About. The wording is interesting, because it is usually not called Our History, for that would imply some truthiness. With Our Story or About there is more wiggle room for wishful thinking, and self-aggrandizement, and less need for objective facts. On the Synclavier website, the role of external experts needed to make the Synclavier successful has been reduced/ wiggled away. Here, the focus will be on some of the experts that made Synclavier the success it was.

As a university, Dartmouth College, in Hanover, NH is notable for several reasons. It is a rural university, without urban distractions. In the 2021 US News university ranking, Dartmouth College is #13 nationally, and #226 in the world. In 2016, Thayer became the first US national research university with a graduating class of engineers that was over 50% female. In the 1960s, Dartmouth was world famous for its invention of the Basic programming language, released 1964-05-01. In 1978, it became world famous for its founding of the Thayer School of Engineering’s entrepreneurship program, at the Cook Engineering Design Center. At Cook, they solicit industry-sponsored projects for degree candidates to work on. Prior to this, in 1975, one of the first such project resulted in the Synclavier.

Without the support of Dartmouth’s faculty members, it is unlikely that the Synclavier would have existed. The Synclavier has its origins with Jon Appleton (1939 – 2022), a professor of digital electronics, and Frederick Johnson Hooven (1905 – 1985), a part-time professor of engineering. They worked with Dartmouth Thayer School of Engineering research professor Sydney Alonso (1936 – ) and Cameron Warner Jones (ca. 1955 – ), at the time an undergraduate student. These last two apparently met in the university computing centre. They discovered a common interest, that resulted in the Synclavier.

From 1957 to 1961 Appleton was a student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. During the 1962–1963 school year, he was a music teacher in Sedona, Arizona. From 1963–1966 he was a graduate student at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. During 1966–1968 he was hired by Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, to establish an electronic music studio. When the university officials reneged on their promise to develop this studio, Appleton resigned and accepted a position at Thayer school of engineering, at Dartmouth College. He took a leave of absence from Thayer in the mid-1970s to become the head of Elektronmusikstudion (EMS) = Centre for Swedish electroacoustic music and sound-art, established in 1964. It is run as an independent part of Musikverket = Swedish Performing Arts Agency. It is located in Stockholm, Sweden.

Hooven held thirty-eight U.S. patents and devised numerous other inventions that were not patented. His engineering career started before he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1927. In 1925, at DayFan Radio, he designed improved radio receivers. After graduation he worked for General Motors (GM) where he designed a brake shoe system used on all GM vehicles for twenty-five years.

From 1930 to 1931, Hooven designed automobile suspension systems at Dayton Rubber Company. During 1931 and 1932, he designed a blind aircraft landing system for the American Loth Company. In 1932 he independently produced the first successful high-fidelity crystal phonograph pickup. He worked as vice-president and chief engineer for Bendix’s Radio Products Division from 1935 to 1937, where he developed the first automatic steering system for unmanned flight. From 1937 to 1957, he was self-employed working on product research and development.

In 1957 Fred Hooven went to work for the Ford Motor Company where he supervised the design and development of assorted automobiles. When he left Ford in 1967 he once again become a consultant, but also an adjunct professor of engineering at Thayer, becoming a part-time professor in 1975. He remained in that capacity until his death in 1985.

Civilian inventions include the first radio compass (1936); an automobile ignition system (1948); the first heart-lung machine (1952); the Harris intertype digital electronic phototypesetter (1955); and a front-end drive system for automobiles (1962).

The Synclavier I was released at the end of 1977. It used FM synthesis, re-licensed from Yamaha, and was sold mostly to universities. The initial models used a computer with synthesis modules, later enhancements added a (musical) keyboard and a control panel.

The Synclavier II was released in 1980. Once again, external help was needed. Synthesist and music producer Denny Jaeger suggested that FM synthesis be extended to allow four simultaneous channels to be triggered with one key depression to allow a fuller synthesized sound. This became a key selling point of the model.

Alonso and Jones made significant contributions to the design. Alonso was awarded US Patent 4108035 for a musical note oscillator, in 1978; US Patent 4178822 for musical synthesis envelope control techniques, in 1979; US Patent 4279185 for Electronic music sampling techniques, in 1981; US Patent 4680479 for a method of and apparatus for providing pulse trains whose frequency is variable in small increments and whose period, at each frequency, is substantially constant from pulse to pulse, in 1987; and, US Patent 4726067 for a method of and apparatus for extending the useful dynamic range of digital-audio systems, in 1988. Jointly, they were awarded US Patent 4345500 for their high resolution musical note oscillator, in 1982; and, US Patent 4554855 for their partial timbre sound synthesis method, in 1985.

The original keyboard, referred to as the ORK, was nothing more than an on-off switch. A weighted velocity and pressure-sensitive keyboard, the VPK was licensed from Sequential Circuits. It was identical to that used on their Prophet-T8 synthesizer.

The main contribution made by Synclavier was the development of hardware cards that could be fitted into computers. This included cards for a real-time CPU, input and output, analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion (ADC/ DAC), as well as memory. All of these needed to be programmed to function.

As newer models emerged, Synclavier became less dependent on external consultants, Synclavier music workstations/ digital synthesizers/ polyphonic digital samplers were made from the late 1977 to 1993. Wikipedia provides an overview of these. In 1993 Synclavier went bankrupt, its intellectual property was taken over by a bank, then sold to a Canadian company, Airworks, which itself then foreclosed. This gave Jones the opportunity he needed to buy back critical assets and to restart Synclavier.

Jones pursued other interests than building synthesizers. His bachelor thesis is about an XPL Language Compiler, a simple, small, efficient dialect of the computing language PL/1. PL/1 had been developed by IBM in 1964 to replace Algol, Cobol and Fortran. A variant, Scientific XPL, was used on New England Digital’s ABLE series computers, for laboratory automation and computer networking, as well as controlling music synthesis hardware.

Between 1982 and 1984, Jones studied the double bass with Stuart Sankey at Indiana University, Jacobs School of Music, and was active with the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra.

His DSP (Digital Signal Processing) engine allowed C Code to run on Windows and MacOS. Moreover, side-by-side testing was carried out with original equipment to ensure the systems sounded identical. Arturia’s Synclavier V was released in its own right to widespread critical acclaim in May 2016. He also brought Synclavier V software synth to Arturia to be included in their V Collection plug-in suite.

In 2019, Jones released Synclavier Go!, an iOS version of the synthesizer, repurposing much of the original DSP engine so that it runs on an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. It provided over 1 000 preset timbres, 19 preset libraries and over 100 lossless-quality samples/ sound files. It supports portamento, arpeggiate, mono/poly triggering, and other keyboard modes.

Sources: Jon Appleton; Fred Hooven; Synclavier; Play Synthesizer.

Related

1: Of the readers receiving notifications of weblog posts, only one lives in New Hampshire, at Keene, located about 100 km south of the other NH and VT locations mentioned here. Before I was adopted as an infant, my original first name was Richard. I have good reason to believe that I was named after him. Hello, Dick!

2: My niece, Cally, is currently a student at Oakland University, the Michigan university that had originally hired Jon Appleton to start an electronic music studio. Hello, Cally!

3: On 2022-04-01, I acquired a new toy/ learning machine, a Behringer MS-1 monophonic analogue synth. At a price of NOK 3600/ US$ 400, it is only 0.2% of the cost of the cheapest original Synclaver!

Maddalena Casulana

Artemisia Gentileschi, St Cecilia Playing a Lute, circa 1610–1612, Spada Gallery, Rome.

Maddalena Casulana (c. 1544 – c. 1590) was an Italian composer, lutenist and singer of the late Renaissance, and the first female composer to have had a book of music printed/ published, in the history of western music. Between 1568 and 1583, three books of madrigals were published under her name, although only one of those has survived complete.

Madrigals are secular = non religious, in the vernacular = the daily language of the people living in a place, polyphonic = having several voices, through-composed = different music for each stanza of lyrics, and unaccompanied = no rhythmic or other instruments are used. While there can be two to eight voice, three to six are most common. Metre varies between two or three tercets = three lines of poetry in a stanza, followed by one or two couplets = two lines of poetry in a stanza = grouped set of lines.

To celebrate Women’s Day 2022, music ensemble Fieri Consort will perform newly rediscovered songs composed by Casulana, on BBC Radio 3. The Fieri Consort was founded in 2012 and initially consisted of young ensemble singers based in London. It is un-conducted, typically with one or two voices to a part.

The painting illustrating this post is by Artemisia Gentileschi, (1593 – c. 1656) titled St Cecilia Playing a Lute. It was made sometime in the period 1610–1612, and is currently in the collection of the Spada Gallery, Rome. She is considered among the most accomplished seventeenth-century painters, producing professional work by the age of fifteen. While St Cecilia Playing a Lute is associated with Casulana, the painter was born after the composer’s death.

Musicologist Laurie Stras, professor of music at the universities of Southampton and Huddersfield, has found the lost alto partbook of Casulana’s 1583 book of five-voice madrigals, so that 17 madrigals have been added to her surviving repertoire.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, vocal/ instrumental polyphonic music was handwritten/ printed using partbooks, a separate one for each part. Sometimes, one or more of these partbooks go missing. Here, it was the alto parts for these madrigals.

An article in the Guardian includes information about Stras’ detective work, in finding the missing partbook.

Wikipedia provides a number of interesting articles that provide insight into topics presented here. These include:

An article on Madrigals, with more detailed information about their history and evolution.

An article on Casulana provides biographical information, as well as more detailed musicological information, especially about her extant compositions. There are also links to musical scores.

An article on Artemisia Gentileschi also provides many examples of her artwork, in addition to biographical information about her.

Happy Women’s Day, 2022!

Clavioline

A Clavioline leaflet

The sound of a Clavioline cannot be said to have dominated popular music, but it could be heard on: Del Shannon’s (1934 – 1990) Runaway (1961); the Tornados/ Tornadoes instrumental Telstar (1962), if only from an imitation Univox, and not a real instrument; three of Sun Ra’s (1914 – 1993) albums, including The Magic City (1966); The Beatles’ Baby, You’re a Rich Man (1967). Fast forward to a new millenium, past several notable musicians, to Mike Oldfield (1953 – ), Return to Ommadawn (2017).

Hearing Telstar on a Clavioline can take less than 30 seconds.

The Clavioline is an electronic keyboard instrument, regarded as an immediate precursor of the analogue synthesizer. Constant Martin (1910 – 1995), a French radio technician/ electrical engineer, invented and developed it in 1947.

This was not his first electronic instrument. From 1932 to 1937 Martin developed an organ-like instrument, which used harmonium reeds. It was demonstrated in 1939. In 1943, he constructed another electronic organ that used independent oscillators and harmonic analyzers. In the 1950s, he used recently developed integrated circuits to improve organs and bells. In 1961, he used transistors to add harmonic effects to produce sounds that convincingly sound like a pipe organ. Martin pioneered, some would say revolutionized, the manufacture of electronic instruments. He was concerned about producing a variety of sounds, that could impact many musical genres.

The Clavioline consisted of two physically separate units: a keyboard and an amplifier with speaker. In addition to the 36 conventional, horizontal keys expected, the keyboard also used vertically mounted, front-facing switches (called stops) to alter the tone of the sound produced, along with a vibrato, that provided effects and was the instrument’s defining feature. The vacuum tube oscillator produced almost square waveforms, suitably altered using high-pass and low-pass filters, and the vibrato. After the electric signals were passed from the keyboard to the amplifier unit, the amplifier deliberately added distortion to create the instrument’s signature tones.

The Clavioline was covered by US Patent 2 563 477, filed 1948-05-01, issued 1951-08-07. Information about the invention, including circuit diagrams, can be found here. With his intellectual property protected, Martin , licensed production to others, rather than manufacturing it himself: Henri Selmer in France, who also produced and sold it in the United Kingdom; Gibson in the USA; and Jörgensen Electronic in Germany.

Underneath the keyboard there was a knee lever/ slider consisting of two protruding metal rods. Pushed to the left, this transposed the instrument down an octave, pushed to the right it transposed up an octave, giving the Clavioline a five-octave range.

A Selmer Auditorium = Gibson Standard model provided a five-octave range with 18 stops. These were named 1 to 9, plus O, A, B, V and P, along with four vibrato switches: I, II, III and Amplitude.

A Selmer and Gibson Concert model provided 22 stops. These four additional stops were used to provide greater flexibility. These activated octave dividers that produced a tone one octave (Sub I) and two octaves (Sub II) below the unmodified voice. A Reverb Concert model was also produced for a short period that added a spring reverberator.

 Number stopsLetter stopsVibratoAmplitudeRange
Alto Saxophone2 3IIOffM
Arabian Flute1 4 8IOffH
Bagpipe1 4 8 or 1 9IOffM or H
Banjo3 4B PM
Bass Saxophone4IIIOffL
Bass Violin1VIOffL
Bassoon3 7L
Violoncello1VIIOffL
Church Organ A4 6L or M
Church Organ B4 9L or M
Church Organ C6L or M
Cornet6IOffM
Electric Guitar4PIIOffM
English Horn2 3BM
Harpsichord3 5 6 8PH
Horn2 3IIIOnL
FifeB OH
Flute3 4 5IOffH
French Horn3L
Harpsichord3 5 6 8PM or H
Hawaiian Guitar1 4 6PIIOnM
Hunting Horn3IIIOnL
Mandolin3 6 8PH
Musical Saw3BIIOnH
Muted Gypsy Violin1OIIOnM
Oboe1 4 8IOffM
Orch Horn3IIOffL or M
Piccolo1 4 0IIOffH
Reed-PipeBH
Tenor Saxophone4IIIOffL
Theatre Organ4IIIOnM or H
Trombone3IIOffL
TrumpetIIOffM or H
Viola1O or VIIOnH
Violin1O or VIIOnH
Clavioline Tone3 4 6IIIOnM
Vox Celesta4 5 6IIIOnM
Zither1 4 6PIIIOnM
Selmer published the above list of the switches/ stops that needed to be activated to imitate various instruments.

Harald Bode (1909 – 1987) created a six-octave model using octave transposition, that was made by Jörgensen.

As a monophonic instrument, the Clavioline met with initial success. It also inspired imitation. In England, the Jennings Organ Company produced the Univox, their first successful product with a self-powered electronic keyboard. In Japan, Ace Tone’s first prototype, the Canary S-2, launched in 1962, was based on the Clavioline. However, the Clavioline was unable to compete, when polyphonic synthesizers were introduced.

In 1959, Maxfield Crook (1936 – 2020) modified a Clavioline to create the Musitron, made from assorted discarded electronic components sourced from television sets, amplifiers, reel-to-reel tape machines and household appliances. Because most of its components came from previously patented products, the Musitron was unpatentable. Crook first used it for recording at Berry Gordy’s Detroit studio on an unreleased version of Bumble Boogie. Later, it became world famous, for its performance on Del Shannon’s Runaway (1961).

Much of the information about the Clavioline was provided by Gordon Reid, in an article published in 2007. It also has photographs illustrating the technical details.

Electronic Musicians

Louis & Bebe Barron | Forbidden Planet (Soundtrack ...
Bebe (1925 – 2008) and Louis (1920 – 1989) Barron were credited with the first entirely electronic film score for Forbidden Planet (1956). Norbert Wierner’s Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1948), played an important role in the development of the Barrons’ composition. Cybernetics proposes that certain natural laws of behaviour apply to some complex electronic machines, as well as animals.

Sisters with Transistors is a 1h25m38s video about electronic music’s female pioneers. It begins with an assertion that the history of women has been a history of silence. Undoubtedly, an old male is not the best person to comment on this or on any of the challenges female composers/ musicians faced. However, there are similarities with pop art, where female painters, the initial innovators of the art form, were removed from its history, to be replaced by second-wave male copyists, who had the right connections.

These pop artists include: Dorothy Grebenak (1913 – 1990), Corita Kent (1918 – 1986), Elaine Sturtevant (1924 – 2014), Rosalyn Drexler (1926 – ), Marisol = Maria Sol Escobar (1930 – 2016), Marjorie Strider (1931 – 2014) who is my favourite, Idelle Weber (1932 – 2020), Kiki Kogelnik (1935 – 1997), Evelyne Axell (1935 – 1972), Pauline Boty (1938 – 1966) and Marta Minujín (1943 – ).

I suspect a similar situation may very well be the case with these female electronic music pioneers. Once again, one has to ask how much credit men are taking for creative work undertaken by women?

Two of the composers in this film have been featured in previous weblog posts that promote female composers/ musicians/ songwriters/ singers. These are Pauline Oliveros and Delia Derbyshire. Sisters with Transistors also provides insights into other female composers/ experimenters/ musicians who use audio technology to liberate humankind from traditional instruments and to transform how music is produced.

Keyboard instruments are versatile. A single player can play up to ten notes simultaneously on, say, a piano. With foot pedals and stops, organ players can produce even more. However, a synthesizer offers even greater capabilities, particularly in terms of its ability to construct tones that defy the physical limitations of acoustic instruments. Thus, a synth based composer/ musician has an ability to create a personal sonic universe, then shape the music allowed within it.

The video is particularly useful in presenting a new history of electronic music. That is, it examines visionary women whose radical experimentations with machines redefined the boundaries of music. These women include: Clara Rockmore (1911 – 1998), Bebe Barron (1925 – 2008), Daphne Oram (1925 – 2003), Éliane Radigue (1932 – ), Pauline Oliveros (1932 – 2016), Delia Derbyshire (1937 – 2001), Maryanne Amacher (1938 – 2009), Laurie Spiegel (1945 – ) and Suzanne Ciani (1946 – ).

Two minutes into the video viewers are told it is 1974-04-30. Suzanne Ciani, is speaking. She describes the Buchla synth she will be playing a concert on, then says: “I think they are sensual. May I have a cigarette?” One is immediately taken back into a time period when smoking was an acceptable activity. It was an era when pants/ trousers were not fully acceptable as female attire, when women were expected to give up their identity and assume that of their husbands.

Assignment #1: What collective noun would readers prefer to be used to describe multiple synths? For example, one has a choir of angels, a bunch of bananas, a deck of cards and a cluster of diamonds. Some suggestions are provided, towards the bottom of this post.

The appeal of a synth

As one of the film’s subjects, Laurie Spiegel explains: “We women were especially drawn to electronic music when the possibility of a woman composing was in itself controversial. Electronics let us make music that could be heard by others without having to be taken seriously by the male dominated Establishment.”

As promotional materials for the video express it, within the wider social, political and cultural context of the 20th century, “the documentary reveals a unique emancipation struggle, restoring the central role of women in the history of music and society at large.”

With Laurie Anderson (1947 – ) as narrator, the video examines the evolution of electronic music: how new devices opened music to the entire field of sound, how electronic music not only changed the modes of production but the very terms of musical thought.

There is little point in discussing the details of this documentary further, without the reader/ listener/ viewer having an opportunity to hear and see it. Thus, readers are encouraged to find the video, enjoy it and reflect on it.

Assignment #1 (revisited)

Collective noun suggestions for synths, include 1) general terms for musical groups: band, choir, combo, ensemble, orchestra; 2) quantity related: duo, trio, quartets, quintets, sextets, septets, octets; 3) computer related: cluster, network.

Interested readers may also want to read: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2021/apr/23/sisters-with-transistors-film-electronic-musics-forgotten-pioneers-clara-rockmore

This post was originally scheduled to be published 2021-08-07 at 12:00, but was postponed to allow for further reflection.

Parker Fly

Parker Fly Electric Guitar at the Smithsonian Institution. Photo: Smithsonian Institution

The Parker Fly was designed by Ken Parker (1952 – ) and Larry Fishman (1954 – ), and first made in 1993 at a factory in Wilmington, Massachusetts. The instrument’s appeal has to do with its 1) lightness (2 kg) achieved by using composite materials; 2) resonance, largely due to the use of wood; and, 3) multiple pickups – magnetic and piezoelectric – increasing the range of tones available.

In an ideal world, I would have discovered the Parker Fly on my own. This is not an ideal world, and so I am indebted to Brad Laesser (1947 – ) for introducing me to it. Without him, I probably would have found inspiration in some other electric guitar. Perhaps, it would have been an off-the-shelf Fender Telecaster from 1949, or even a Stratocaster from 1954, possibly Tom Morello’s (1964 – ) modified version, Arm the Homeless. But it would not have been Kurt Cobain’s (1967 – 1994) Jag-Stang, that combined a Fender Jaguar with a Fender Mustang. Gibson holds absolutely no appeal. Thus, it would never have been a Les Paul and especially not a Flying V. Even an ESP Explorer leaves me numb. It would not have been anything referred to as acoustic. I may not know much about Guitars, but this does not stop me from forming prejudices!

In addition to Laesser, my insights into guitars come from one other major source, Chris Buck. Unfortunately, there are (at least) two guitarists with that name, including a country and western player from Vancouver, born as far as I can discover ca. 2001, world famous in Cloverdale for Giddy Up. However, the one I am referring to is Welsh, from Cardiff, born on 1991-01-05. He provides insights into guitars on his YouTube channel, Friday Fretworks. If you search the channel, you may even see that he has influenced my opinion about the Flying V guitar, and other technical aspects of guitar playing.

Ken Parker

Ken Parker is responsible for everything on a Parker Fly, but the pickups on the instrument. The success of the Fly is its carbon fibre/ glass/ epoxy exoskeleton about 1 mm thick. This provided sufficient rigidity and strength to the instrument body, neck and fretboard. Initially Parker experimented with hardwoods, but these proved too difficult to work and resulted in an unsatisfactory product.

Parker studied furniture making at Goddard College, in Plainfield, Vermont. He then worked for two years in a grandfather-clock factory in Rochester, New York. This experience is one source of his appreciation of arcane machinery. In 1979 he took a job as a guitar repairman at Stuyvesant Music, in New York City. Here he met an increasing number of improperly constructed guitars.

In an interview with Burkhard Bilger, appearing in the New Yorker in 2007-05-14, he states, “The Seventies were the Dark Ages, I don’t know of any analogue in American manufacturing where quality went so low.”

As a toolmaker, Parker mills most of his own metal parts, and invents devices to speed construction. He regards his guitar construction activities as toolmaking for musicians.

Lutes were most popular instruments of the renaissance. They were teardrop shaped, with fifteen or more strings, headstocks with ebony veneering, perpendicular to the neck. With bodies held together with parchment, they were made of paper thin wood. Yet, their construction was the result of an equation, where a miniscule instrument had to fill a room with sound. To get that volume and projection one had to make them light. Thus, the lute became Parker’s inspiration for a guitar.

This approach increased the sustain, and gave the instrument the added benefit of a smaller, lighter, more efficient body. The composite exoskeleton was critical to the success of the design.

Parker does not regard a guitar as a difficult instrument to make. Yet, for him, it has to be strong, to withstand string tension. It is also dependent on the wood resonating well, which means it has to be thin. With magnetic pickups and amplification, a guitar cannot be allowed to resonate too much. Leo Fender (1909 – 1991) solved this by giving guitars solid bodies, in the late 1940s.

The Fly body has a wooden core, covered with carbon fibre for stiffness. The neck is more like an insect’s exoskeleton. This approach provides a neck that is thin, allowing it to be played comfortably, but it is also light and stiff, preventing it from bending. This contrasts with conventional guitar necks, made out of hardwood, but with a steel rod acting as a spine.

The body’s wooden core varied with the model. It could be made out of poplar (Populus alba), Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), mahogany (Swietenia ssp.), or big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum). Most necks were made of basswood (Tilia americana), although some models also used mahogany.

In 2002-10, Parker began to make Fly bass guitars, these were available with 4 or 5 strings. It had a more complex body made from 21 pieces of Sitka spruce sandwiched between maple veneer on the front and back. The headstock was made of curly maple. The neck consisted originally of 15 layers of laminated mahogany but was later changed to a solid mahogany.

Larry Fishman

Larry Fishman (1954 – ) studied and trained as a cellist and bass player, and played professionally in New England orchestras and jazz bands. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, jazz bass players were having difficulties amplifying acoustic basses to match the sound levels of electric pianos and guitars. The solution for many was to use an electric bass. This did not appeal to Fishman.

Fortunately, he also had a background in materials science and mechanical engineering as well as a basement machine shop, that allowed Fishman to analyse existing devices that could be fitted onto an acoustic bass, and to experiment with design modifications until an acoustic bass pickup emerged from his efforts that “took it to the next level.”

In 1981, Fishman started a company, Fishman Transducers, and began producing a range of acoustic pickups. This work has resulted in him being granted more than forty patents. It also allowed him to build up a company that employs engineers, machinists and other production staff,

In an interview, Fishman explained his:

1) design philosophy. “The driving factor for design engineering is just a love for the exciting discoveries that you make when you dive into a new arena of some product or idea you have, and you have no idea how to do it. You get some hints, you get some techniques and tricks that you’ve pulled together over the years.”

2) opinion of acoustic guitars. “[W]e’re wanting to enhance that beautiful voice of acoustic instruments, instruments that feel alive in the hand. It’s much more personal than a piano. A guitar you have on your lap. You can feel the vibrations in the neck. You’re touching the strings. You’re not hitting a note, a hammer or something on a guitar. So, you’re really attached to it. The pursuit is to enhance that experience so that the technical aspects of what you bring to the design, never, ever get in the way of that organic feeling that you have when you’re just playing the instrument without the additional electronics.”

3) on music and engineering: “Engineering by itself will not produce inspiring beautiful products. Musical intuition by itself will not produce complete engineering designs…. So you have to have a real strong material sense, a real strong engineering background, and really strong musical sense to put it all together so that it works.”

The main advantage of this engineered approach was that the guitar was maintenance friendly, but not maintenance free.

Beyond the Parker Fly

In 2022, it is 29 years since the Parker Fly came into production. In 2003 Parker sold the company to Washburn Guitars, part of Washburn International. Even before this, Washburn International had agreed to acquire distributor U.S. Music Corporation (USM), in what amounted to a reverse merger. After this, most Parker Fly guitars were manufactured abroad. In mid-2009, U.S. Music was purchased by Jam Industries of Montreal, Canada.

In 2010, a MaxxFly model replaced the original Fly. It had a modified headstock, which allowed it to be hung from a standard guitar wall hanger, a more ergonomic, some would say traditional, top horn, standard pickup cavities, 22 frets (instead of 24) and a thicker, heavier body. The new owners ended Fly production in 2016.

If someone is interested in acquiring a Parker Fly today they have three choices.

First, they can buy a used instrument. Many guitar players prefer old guitars. They seem to find satisfaction in older instruments, that is largely a function of age. They often claim that time transforms a guitar’s materials: Wood stiffens and becomes more resonant; pickup magnets weaken, rust and in the process produce deeper and mellower tones; neck and body, bridge and fretboard mould themselves together.

Second, they can make themselves a copy using subtractive techniques, much like the original Fly was made.

The Fly Clone Project claims that it began to address the need for Parker Fly guitar replacement parts and services. It has been in operation since 2018. However, there is nothing in its description to prevent it from making new Parker Fly clones. More suspicious minds could conclude that this is its real purpose, but are afraid of retaliation from trademark holders. The project envisions four phases:

1. modelling/ sourcing every component on the original guitar including bridge, electronic, fastening components with CAD models, to allow part fabrication using 3D-printing and machining methods. are

2. determining how best to make the cloned parts available.

3. creating advanced and specialized tooling for specific Fly components, including the fretboards and stainless steel frets.

4. adapting existing parts for new functionality and operation, as well as experiments that lead to new innovations.

Depending on their skills there are concerns that this second approach may result in an inferior product. A common complaint is that the quality of wood has deteriorated over the years. Then again, there are technological advances occurring continuously, so it might result in a superior product. One approach would be to use a CNC mill to sculp the body, then to reinforce it with carbon fibre and resin. Today, there would be no need to use fibreglass in addition.

For the body, Picea sitchensis, as it is available from many local sources throughout the world. For example, the species is endemic throughout Cascadia, it was introduced into much of northern and western Europe, including Norway in the early 1900s, where it now occupies an estimated 500 square kilometers of land, spread along the coast. However, in Norway it is considered a high-risk invasive species. Environmental factors aside, it offers a high strength-to-weight ratio and its regular, knot-free rings make it an excellent conductor of sound.

If sustainable materials is a goal, there are many products available that are suitable to make a neck. In Europe it could be constructed out of Tilia cordata, the European equivalent of the Eastern North American, Tilia americana.

Third, additive processes can also be used to make guitars. Because materials would deviate totally from those used on the Fly, this would not be a clone.

One design for a new guitar appeared on Kickstarter for funding. Previously, I have criticized a person without the necessary technical skills attempting to attract financing, without knowing how to engineer the product. Here, it is someone with technical skills, but lacking an understanding of marketing/ sales/ public relations. The result in both cases was a failure to finance projects. In this second case, that person received less than 0.3% of his funding goal, despite writing that his “beautifully designed electric guitar [is] crafted with cutting edge eco-friendly materials, built to play as good as it looks.”

The first challenge with his approach was that he makes disparaging comments about wood, alienating potential purchasers who react positively to wood as a sustainable material. He then refers to PA-12, a granular form of nylon, as an eco-friendly material. However, he did not produce any supporting documentation in his product advertisement supporting this contention.

This approach, using selective laser sintering (SLS) equipment and additive processes based on PA-12 or related materials, holds considerable appeal.

The major problem with this product was its price. He was expecting people to pay £620 = US$ 803 = CA$ 1 058 = NOK 7 327 just for guitar body parts, unassembled; £850 = US$ 1 100 = CA$ 1 450 = NOK 10 045 for body and other parts, unassembled; or £2 300 = US$ 2 980 = CA$ 3 936 = NOK 27 180 for an assembled guitar. These products were available only in a single colour, grey. A purchase requires a supporter to take a chance on an unknown, and untried product, in a potentially unwanted colour. This is not going to happen.

Despite this, some inspiration for experimentation with guitars comes from Jack White/ John Anthony Gillis (1975 – ). His 1964 JB Hutto model Airline guitar, was cheap and made of fibreglass. White chose it primarily to demonstrate that one didn’t need an expensive guitar to produce an acceptable or even great sound. The guitar was made by Valco, and distributed through Montgomery Ward department stores. White modified his guitar, but only slightly to improve its sound quality.

In a perfect world, I should be able to push a button starting computer numerical control (CNC) equipment for subtractive processes, wait a couple of hours and have a clone of a Parker Fly emerge. What I am currently missing apart from the production equipment and machining ability, is a 3D model of the Parker Fly guitar. Then again, I have not acquired any wood or other materials, or any other components. This is not a promising start.

Christine Welch: A tidbit

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Christine Welch

One Comment: Christine Isobella Welch (1988-12-28 – ) is a Mandarin speaking, American singer-songwriter. She studied Chinese as a student at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, (near Chicago) graduating in 2010. She then travelled to Kaohsiung Taiwan as a Fulbright English teaching assistant for one year in 2011. She was then accepted into the National Taiwan Normal University Chinese Literature Masters Program where she wrote a thesis in Chinese on representations of Taiwanese aborigine women, especially shamanesses, in 17th century travel journals, both Chinese and European. At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she continued her research on travel, gender, and Daoist tropes, especially how these combine at the mythos of the Immortal Isle of Penglai. One Million Possibilities = 一百萬個可能, was recorded in 2013, but became a sensation on the Chinese video platform Douyin in 2018.

One Quotation: “I’ve never written a song in English. I just feel like Chinese is a very poetic language.”

One Track: One Million Possibilities.

One conclusion: This is the last of a series of weblog posts about women musicians who wrote their own songs and/ or composed their own music. Previous musicians were: Joan Baez, Buffy Saint-Marie, Mari Boine, Anouk, Bebe Rexha, Pauline Oliveros, Aurora, Kate Bush, Pussy Riot, Dolores O’Riordan, Clarice Falcão and Zahara.

One confession: At the beginning there was an attempt to find one significant singer/ songwriter born in each of the twelve months, and one (or two) each in the decades of the twentieth century. In addition, there was an attempt to find people from different parts of the world. However, I soon noticed that the average age of the musicians did not match the living population. Thus, I reached out for assistance to find younger musicians. Bebe Rexha was suggested by a close relative who, at the time, was under 40! I did receive more suggestions than were used. The only exception to including people by birthdate was Pussy Riot. It was plotted in where there was a vacant space.

Other music related weblog posts. In 2021: The Charm of Soft Synths; Shaped by Music with First Aid Kit, and many other groups some of which I am trying to forget existed; Andrei Cerbu’s Garage; Music for the People; Delia Derbyshire (1937 – 2001) and Cover.

Here are some people who were considered, but not included:

Abida Parveen (1954-02-20 – ) is a Pakistani singer, composer and musician of Sufi music, as well as a painter. I discovered that she was a little too entrepreneurial for my tastes, and – apparently – actively removes YouTube videos, so there was a constant need to update links.

Jane Siberry neé Stewart, born in Toronto, Canada (1955-10-12) is perhaps the person I regret the most about not including. She is a singer-songwriter, known for Mimi on the Beach, I Muse Aloud, and Calling All Angels. She is perhaps best remembered for performing the theme song of the Canadian comedy television series Maniac Mansion, although it was written by Lou Natale (1950-01-05 – ). Her quotation would have been: “I started out in music, but switched to sciences when I realised how much more interesting it was to study than music. I would leave the classes ecstatic about tiny things.” Here, One More Colour is sung in two versions, one by herself, for people who like cows, and one by Sarah Polley (1979-01-08 – ) in Armenian-Canadian Atom Egoyan’s (Born in Cairo, Egypt 1960-07-19 – ), 1997 film adaptation of Russell Banks’ 1991 novel, The Sweet Hereafter. The book is set in upstate New York, but based on a real 1989-09-21 Alton, Texas bus accident. Much of the film was shot in Merritt and Spences Bridge in British Columbia, but the story is also a metaphor for the Armenian Genocide, where the guilty fail to accept responsibility for their actions.

Kari Bremnes (1956-12-05 – ) is a Norwegian singer and songwriter. She earned an MA in language, literature, history and theatre studies from the University of Oslo, worked as a journalist for several years before working as a musician full-time. In 1987 she received the Spellemannprisen = Norwegian Musician award, for the recording Mitt ville hjerte = My Wild Heart, and in 1991 for the recording Spor = Traces. In 2001, she and her two brothers, Lars Bremnes and Ola Bremnes, received the prize for the recording Soløye = Eye of the Sun.

Siouxsie Sioux, born Susan Janet Ballion in London, England (1957-05-27 – ) is a singer, songwriter, musician and record producer, best known as the lead singer of Siouxsie and the Banshees (1976–1996). In an interview with Paul Morley she stated, “Damaged lives, damaged souls, damaged relationships. Most of the damage I sing about first happened when I was younger and I am still feeding off it and working it out. Early experiences are what create a lifetime of damage. The songs you write can help you fix the damage.”

Björk Guðmundsdóttir, born in Reykjavik, Iceland (1965-11-21 – ), is a singer, songwriter, composer, record producer and actress, with an eclectic musical style, incorporating classical, electronic dance music, contemporary popular, jazz, experimental, trip hop (an unrecognizable fusion of hip hop and electronica), plus an assortment of other genres that could be categorized as alternative or perhaps even avant-garde.

Lizzo (1988-04-27 – ) born Melissa Viviane Jefferson, in Detroit, Michigan, before moving to Houston, Texas, before moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a singer, rapper, songwriter and flutist. Early in her career she released two studio albums: Lizzobangers (2013) and Big Grrrl Small World (2015). Her inclusion was suggested by my daughter, Shelagh, along with the track Skin (2015).

In 2022, expect a post about assorted women electronic musicians, Donna Summer, Dale Evans, and other posts about six different synthesizers (so far), another about autotune and even one about a guitar!

Zahara: A tidbit

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Singer and Poet Zahara in Nairobi, Kenya 2013-06-02 Photo: David Mugo/Reidarmax

Bulelwa Mkutukana, stage name Zahara = blooming flower. Born in East London, South Africa (1987-11-09 – ).

One Track: Loliwe The name refers to the train that brought workers back home after many years of working in Johannesburg, where they often had other families.

One Quotation: In an interview, Zahara described this first album as a metaphor. “It’s like … just pick yourself up. No matter who’s your father or who’s your mother … I believe that you’re not a mistake.”

One Comment: Zahara is a South African singer-songwriter and poet who sings in Xhosa and English. She started to sing at the age of six. Zahara released her debut album Loliwe in 2011 which sold over 100 000 copies in South Africa. Her debut single, Loliwe, featured here, currently has had over 1.8 million views on YouTube.