— Oscar Wilde
Sometime over a year ago I somewhere read about a thing called a microKORG. I do not remember where I came across it. An ad in a magazine? A reference in a music review? A suggestion from Amazon? I truly do not know. What I do know is that I saw the word vocoder, and I thought, "ELO!".
So, of course, I bought one.
Now, I had nothing to connect it to (aside from a pair of headphones). I had no songs brewing in my head that might be in need of vocoder-treated vocals. And, perhaps most significantly, I had no knowledge whatsoever of what to do with a synthesizer.
I still don't. Sure, I noodle around with it every now and then, enjoy the surprising results of turning this knob and pushing that button, but for the most part, all of the various controls and myriad possibilities of the thing remain a mystery to me. I finally decided that I should do something about that. Being me, the thing that I decided to do was read a book. Since synthesizers are kind of old, I decided to read a kind of old book, and I ultimately arrived at Synthesizer Basics as a place to start.
The initial entries, with a bit of history and basic "what is synthesis?" stuff, were interesting. I'm getting into the more technical articles now, and so far they, too, seem worthwhile. And articles they are, for this book is "Compiled from the pages of Keyboard Magazine", as the cover tells me. Looking at that phrase every time that I pick it up, enjoying the articles that I'm reading, I started to wonder if Keyboard Magazine was still around.
Turning to the Web, I found that, indeed, Keyboard Magazine is still around—and the current issue? It's the Synth Issue!
So, synthesizers. What do they mean to me? They have been so much of a presence in my life that I'm not sure that I gave them a whole lot of thought until recently. I've been a fan of science fiction movies and TV all my life, so I've never been a stranger to some of the more unusual sounds that synthesizers can produce. In the 80s I was very much a musical Anglophile, so I'm well acquainted with some of the smoother, more pop aspects of synths, as well as some more experimental musical uses.
Roxy Music, Electric Light Orchestra, Gary Numan, Cabaret Voltaire, Heaven 17, Front 242, Orgy, Sigur Ros, Owen Pallett...when am I not listening to synthesizers? In fact, synthesizers are so much a part of the musical world these days that I mostly don't notice them, specifically as such. And that's okay. Some of the more extreme "wow listen to what I can do with this thing!" sorts of tracks are fun, but so are pieces where the synth is just another instrument adding its voice(s) to the beautiful whole.
Reading about waveforms and filters and envelops is exciting my desire to experiment with my microKORG. I'm sure that I'll make some exquisitely strange sounds with it. The thing that will make me really happy, though, is when I manage to make music with it.