The synthesizer is an instrument that has always fascinated me. Ever since I heard those impossibly low moans and bizarre spiral sounds Keith Emerson played on “Lucky Man,” I was hooked. The early '70s were a golden age for synths, at least for this faithful American Top 40 listener. We had “Frankenstein,” by The Edgar Winter Group, “Superstition,” by Stevie Wonder,” even “Autobahn” by Kraftwerk — which was the strangest one of all.
As I got a little older, and the use of synths expanded geometrically, it became apparent that they were much more than a novelty, and here to stay. For anyone as interested in this instrument as I am, reading the interviews collected in Synth Gods is a revelation. While much of this material originated in Keyboard magazine, these interviews are not filled with technical jargon at all. While there are a couple of references a non-musician may not be familiar with, the vast majority is easily understood by even a tin-ear such as myself.
Synth Gods is a collection of 20 interviews Keyboard magazine has published over the years. A plethora of musicians are featured, including Brian Eno, Trent Reznor, and Rick Wakeman among others. Synth builders and designers such as Richard Barbieri, and the legendary Dr. Robert A. Moog are spoken of as well.
Robert Moog is often considered the granddaddy of the modern synthesizer. He worked tirelessly to introduce his Minimoog into the mainstream in the late-'60s, early-'70s, and achieved unprecedented success. His achievements are comparable to what Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak would do for personal computers a few years later with their Apple II. Another mesmerizing story is that of Wendy Carlos, who in her previous life as Walter Carlos released probably the most significant synth album of all time, Switched On Bach.
Switched On Bach almost single-handedly revolutionized the public’s perception of synthesizers, but the story of the meticulous work it took to be realized has rarely been told. It was an unbelievably laborious process to create every note and nuance, bit by bit. In keeping with what makes these interviews of interest to the non-musician, Carlos also talks about her inherent stage-fright, which was a huge inhibiting factor in capitalizing on the success of the album with live appearances.