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Synth Sense


five stars pick their fave sounds

Vince Clarke, Jon Lord, Steve Levine, Bill Nelson, John Foxx... five heroes of the keyboard nominate their favourite synth tracks and sounds

Vince Clarke

OMD "Almost" (1980)
THE NORMAL "Warm Leatherette" (1979)
LAURIE ANDERSON "O Superman" (1982)
LEVEL 42 "Standing In The Light" (1983)

John Foxx

ENO "Becalmed" (1975)
DAVID BOWIE "Heroes" (1977)
KRAFTWERK "Neon Lights" (1980)
DONNA SUMMER "I Feel Love" (1977)

Steve Levine

HUMAN LEAGUE "Don't You Want Me" (1981)
NEW ORDER "Blue Monday" (1983)
D TRAIN "You're The One For Me" (1982)
SAILOR "Glass Of Champagne" (1975)
DEPECHE MODE "People Are People" (1984)

Jon Lord

JAN HAMMER "Manic Depression" (1980)
WALTER CARLOS "Clockwork Orange" (1972)
STEVIE WONDER "Village Ghetto Land" (1981)
JON LORD "Bach On To This" (1983)
YES "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" (1983)

Bill Nelson

TOMITA "Arabesque No 1" (1974)
YMO "Graduated Grey" (1981)
RIUCHI SAKAMOTO "Merry Xmas Mr Lawrence"
MILES DAVIS "Code MD" (1984)
ART OF NOISE "Moments In Love" (1983)


"I like the lead line of this mainly because I can actually play it." VC


"This is from the 'Snowflakes Are Dancing' LP by Tomita — there's a kind of human whistle sound and some bell sounds that are very good, all done on the Moog modular system, and definitely pre-digital! This was the first time I'd been made aware how musical synthesisers could be, as opposed to just squeaks and squawks." BN


"I have to include one of my own because it's one I'm particularly pleased with, and it took me weeks. It's off my solo album, 'Before I Forget'. It's the Fugue In D Minor from the famous Toccata & Fugue, scored for drums (Simon Philips), bass (Neil Murray), and about six or seven Moog synths. It's something I'd always wanted to do, and I'm proud of it." JL


"From 'Another Green World'. This works perfectly as an emotive sound, you do actually feel becalmed. It's simple, built-up textures — multitracking a Minimoog I think, but a beautiful job which doesn't end up feeling at all contrived." JF


"I don't like anything New Order have done apart from this track — this is excellent. The instruments they use have enabled them to be much better than they are. It's very little more than a drum machine pattern and a programmed bass, plus an infectious melody: simple stuff, a tiny phrase on a Prophet and 'aaaah aaaah' on an Emulator, and yet it's an excellent record which I think will probably turn out to be their finest hour." SL


"This was sensational, some incredibly inventive use of early synthesisers, pre-polyphony I would think. I think it deserves a star rating just for the amount of work it must have involved — just keeping track of what was going on must have been a major operation then. He was the first person to make me realise the potential of the synthesiser." JL

"This is played by Robert Irving III, who I'm not familiar with apart from this. But it has some nice Prophet brass, used in block chords for punctuation — very bright and hard, and good against the up-front, aggressive trumpet of Miles Davis." BN


"One of the first monster hit records with a Linn drum on it; the Linn drum changed the face of modern music. In combination with all the synths on it, I have to vote for it. I think this record more than any other brought home to a lot of people that you didn't have to be a very good musician to have a hit record — the playing here is dead simple. An excellent pop song coupled with a completely synthetic arrangement." SL


"I worked on this as a tape operator at CBS studio 2. Back in 1975 it was unusual in that everything was synths except the real drums. There is an ARP 2600 for the bass, and then Odysseys, Solinas, and a modified Nickelodeon. The Nickelodeon was miked up like a piano, but it also had the electronics of an ARP Odyssey on top, linked to a piano 'strip' pickup and a voltage converter, so you could mix synth sounds into it." SL


"There's a wonderful breathy trumpet effect on this track from YMO's 'Technodelic' LP, almost like the trumpet player Jon Hassell, lots of harmonic overtones that seem to be more in the region of noise than pitch at times." BN


"One of my favourite combinations, guitar and synth: here a delicate yet distorted guitar with repeat echoes mixed with Eno's synths. It's difficult to tell which is which at times as each surfaces and submerges. I should think this is a Minimoog, he used that a lot at the time. Eno was always keen to do songs that only had two chords, so I think Bowie pushed him into putting a third chord on this one." JF


"I think this was the point where synthesisers crossed over into pop music. I believe all the 'sequencing' on this was done manually on an ARP Odyssey, which is a fantastic piece of work. Giorgio Moroder must have put hours and hours into it, there were no real sequencers then. It's slightly phased, too — it moves in and out of the stereo in a very 3D kind of way, it's actually wonderfully organised. Moroder never seemed to get this simplicity and clarity again." JF


"One of the best synthesiser players, Jan Hammer, an absolute artist of the instrument. I could pick almost anything he's ever done, but on this he actually makes a Minimoog, I think, sound just like Hendrix' guitar. Uncanny. He must have worked like a slave to synthesise the sounds, and then observed the guitarist so accurately to repeat it on keyboard. Remarkable — it's always something that's made me very annoyed! I'd love to meet him. It'd be: 'Hello Jan, how are you, how'd you get the sound on Manic Depression?'" JL


"The title track has a nice rich string sound, but all of the sounds are very well dovetailed together to create a very melancholy sound. I think Sakamoto was using a combination of DXs, Emulator and Prophets on this — I know he experimented with the Fairlight way back but wasn't too happy with it." BN


"This is quite a contrast to the other Art of Noise stuff, much gentler. It's almost an ambient piece. What I particularly like is the sound like the vocal on Laurie Anderson's 'O Superman', that 'ah-ah-ah' bit, which I imagine they've sampled here on the Fairlight. But they've also used a good orchestral sound behind it which complements it so well — it's one of those sounds that you can't quite figure out how it's done or where it's coming from. Disembodied." BN


"The epitome of what Kraftwerk do. Their genius lies in making obvious sounds with hardly any treatment sound good, very little reverb or anything. They represent minimilisation at its best, everything stripped off except the basic skeleton that makes the track work. Its elegance, to me, is that everything that is there is perfectly appropriate to the track, which takes a great deal of skill." JF


"This is the best use of vocoder I've ever heard anywhere, I think Laurie Anderson uses a SVC-350. Emotional vocoding. Wonderful." VC


"A good song to start with, but I'm not sure whether the synthesiser work on it is accented by the production or the guy who played the synth. But it's quite spectacular, on Fairlight I believe. Wonderful explosions of sound out of a dry sort of echo — when it happens, it's a shock, which is nice to hear. The guitar also sounds like it might have been patched into a synthesiser." JL


"A superb record — the song's all right, I suppose, but the arrangement of the backing track is fantastic. They told me that 99% of it was Synclavier. Most of the sounds were their own samples, bits of old metal, tin cans and so on, but then they sent the sounds out to the studio and miked them up. I reckon the production and arrangement made it the huge hit it was. The second I heard it I loved it, which is rare these days — I wanted to hear it again straight away!" SL


"I like the whole of this album. It combines mean synth sounds and conventional instruments in really good songs. 'Hot Water' is brilliant, too." VC


"The bass sound is excellent, probably Synclavier mixing piano, bass and maybe some others, a beautiful sound that whacks out in discos. The rest of the track I think has been done by sampling sections of it and sequencing it back together: the vocals, all the drum sounds, everything but the strings probably. I think the whole thing's reassembled from a live performance, then put in sync using a Synclavier and code. Quite an ingenious way of doing it, really, because it makes it sound as if it's a spontaneous rock track, but if you analyse it you realise that some sections do repeat." JF

"The bass sounds here are pretty unusual, Fairlighty or Synclaviery, or something. It's almost as unusual as the fact that they use a Fender bass to try and pass it off on Top Of The Pops. Well hard." VC


"Delightfully played string sound, I think on a Polymoog, or that's what I've been told. He played the part like a string orchestra and it sounds so good. It's so easy to get string sounds sounding like a horrible mash, especially if you use those old string machines. This, however, is superb." JL


"The whole of 'Warm Leatherette' was done on a Korg 700S — great sounds, great records." VC


"It's all synths, mainly Linn drum and Prophets, plus I think a Moog for bass, and was responsible for a hell of a lot of disco records — the riffs on it have been nicked by everybody. Very little of it was programmed, apparently, most of it was played, which is incredible when you hear such tight little riffs." SL

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One Two Testing - Copyright: IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.


One Two Testing - Nov 1984

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Synth Sense

Feature by Tony Bacon

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