Retrotechtacular: Discovering Electronic Music


We take it for granted today that a lot of the music we hear includes synthesized instruments and sounds. But looking all the way back to 1983 for this Discovering Electronic Music video series provides a glimpse of the humble beginnings of the technology. The first five minutes of part one may annoy your aurally, but it’s worth it as that’s the point at which we get into sound generation using equipment like that seen above. All three parts in the series are embedded below; about twenty minutes of video in total.

Mixer boards and other control interfaces used today still have a large area of real estate devoted to knobs and adjustments. But they also include a ton of software processing options which weren’t available until computers became both affordable and ubiquitous. What’s shown in the video is a set of hardware interfaces that process signals from oscillators or alter recorded sound. We’ve spent a lot of time marveling about software defined radio and how it’s making RF hacking accessible to the masses. But who here hasn’t done at least a bit of tinkering in electronic music using any of the myriad of audio software? Would you have done that if you needed to build your own envelope and filter circuitry?

[Thanks David]


  1. Simon says:

    also a very cool documentary: “The alchemists of sound” about the BBC radiophonic workshop:

  2. medix says:

    This about sums it up:

    • noouch says:

      Herbie makes an excellent point in that bit at the end: no matter how tricked out your synthesizer may be, it’s still a tool, and up to you to use it to breathe life into your work. This is something the self-proclaimed musicians in the video series above seem to have lost somewhere along the endless path of technical noodling. The funk will prevail.

    • Note the Apple II just above the keyboard in that video. The Fairlight CMI was a dual-processor 6800 machine; the Apple was a 6502.

    • Blue Footed Booby says:

      Just because it’s not funky doesn’t mean it’s lifeless. Also, not everyone likes funk.

  3. zuul says:

    this also

  4. whats wrong with HaD Theme??

  5. Eirinn says:

    Whoah, white background and white text in articles and comments, is this just me?

  6. BJW says:

    How is the IE compatibility view test going on your side?

  7. geekmaster says:
  8. aztraph says:

    we sure have come a long way, the sampling rate beck then really sucked.

  9. soup says:

    Don’t forget Raymond Scott and his Electronium. One of the first synths..

  10. goodjob says:

    To answer the question posed at the end of the article, “Heck, yes!” In elementary school, I wanted to be a scientist. I was well into that mindset until I heard “Switched On Bach” by Walter Carlos in the 10th grade. I became obsessed with electronic music from that point on, and began cobbling together parts to build my own gear. During the seventies, I built several analog synthesizers from parts bought from PAIA, circuits from Electronotes. When everything started to go digital, I started studying computers, and became immersed in them instead. However, I still feel incomplete unless I have a musical keyboard in the house. I still idolize Herbie Hancock Thanks for the flashback!

  11. Go Herbie brings back memories. Man ahead of his time. Loved his sounds.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 96,449 other followers