Synthesizer Demonstration Records, Part 1
My Podcast: The Holmes Archive of Electronic Music
Back in the day, when hardware synths were the thing, understanding just how they sounded was sometimes a real challenge. If you didn’t live in a major city like New York or Los Angeles that had music stores where you could go and get your hands on these instruments, you probably relied on magazines, such as Keyboard, to read-up on the latest designs and offerings. But to hear a synth in action, you either needed to find a musician who had a particular model or listen to a demonstration record. These recordings were often inserted inside a magazine, such as the flexidiscs that appeared with regularity in Keyboard magazine. Or, the manufacturers produced their own demo discs and made them available through the mail. In this episode, we will explore my Archive of electronic music for demo discs for everything from modular analog synths to foot petal effects, to digital synthesizers.
A common claim for the synthesizer was that it could create any sound that one could imagine or sounds that have never been heard before. These assertions are heard in many of these demos. This may have been technically true but making sounds with a synthesizer in those days turned out to be more difficult than it seemed. I don’t think this was because musicians lacked imagination. I think this was because the process of synthesis, from analog to digital, was much more difficult to master than these companies let on. The Moog Modular synthesizer did not originally even have an instruction manual. The musician was basically left to fend for themselves. It is no surprise, then, that these demo recordings often soft-pedal the difficulty of making a synthesizer work while playing up the variety of sounds and effects that could be achieved. Which is what makes most of these demos so charming.
So, officially, what is a demo record? It is a recording released on any medium, usually but not always vinyl, produced and released by the instrument manufacturer itself to promote their product.
For this episode, we will hear demo records for the following:
A demonstration, in French, of the monophonic organ called the Ondioline, which was particularly adept at imitating other instruments. We will hear a tutorial on analog synthesis prior to Moog from RCA for its one-off product, the RCA Music Synthesizer. Then we will hear a couple Moog recordings, one with music by Wendy Carlos, narrated by Ed Stokes that walks through the steps of voltage-controlled synthesis and then we will hear the innovative sounds of Chris Swansen, a musician with the Moog organization, which includes music he made with the Minimoog. Then we’ll hear a demo for the ElectroComp modular synth in 1972 and a rare early recording of the Yamaha Electone, an early pre-set instrument designed for performance that was operated more or less like an electronic organ.
1. Ondioline demonstration disc. Side 1 (circa 1955 Gaveau). With French narration, demonstrates how the Ondioline can imitate other instruments. This was a monophonic, electronic organ made famous by Jean Jacques Perrey. 7:07
2. RCA music synthesizer demonstration. Programmed by Dr. Harry F. Olsen, narrated by john Preston. Excerpts from side 1, “The Physical Characteristics Of Musical Sounds - Synthesis By Parts - Excerpts From Musical Selections” from The Sounds And Music Of The RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer (1955 RCA Victor Red Seal). Vinyl LP, Mono. This recording was widely distributed in the US, Canada, and Australia. My copy is an Australian copy. "On side 1 you will hear demonstrations of frequency, waveform, envelope, intensity, portamento and vibrato, synthesis by parts and excerpts from musical selections, all produced on the RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer. On side 2 you will hear complete selections produced on the RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer." 22:01
3. Moog 900 Series demonstration, side 1 Music by Wendy Carlos using the Moog Modular Synthesizer circa 1967, narrated by Ed Stokes - Electronic Music Systems (1969 R. A. Moog Company, Inc.). Vinyl, 10", Promo, Mono. This is from the second version of the release, after Wendy Carlos had released Switched-on Bach for which there are excerpts on the second side. The first edition was released in 1967 with the help of Carlos and this side remained as side 1 of this second release. This was a promotional disc for the Moog Modular Synthesizer. 8:59
4. Moog synthesizers, Chris Swansen and Jim Johnston, side 1 from “The Sound Of Moog (1971 Moog Music Inc.). Flexi-disc, 7", Promo, 33 ⅓ RPM. Moog played by Swansen, narrated by Johnston. This flexi-disc provided examples of the Minimoog, Moog Modular and ensemble work by Swansen. 6:37
5. ElectroComp synthesizer demonstration. “Fugue in G Minor” (Bach) and “Puerto Vallarta”from The Sound of E.M.L. Synthesizers (circa 1972 Electronic Music Laboratories Inc.). Flexi-disc, 7", 33 ⅓ RPM, Two Sided. Programmed and performed by W.M. Hartamon and P.J. Hartamon. Modular synthesizer circa 1972, probably including models 101 and 200. 9:47
6. Yamaha demonstration. Masa Matsuda, “In the World of Solitude” from International Electone Grand Prix Concours 1972 (1972 Yamaha). This is a rare album from 1972 featuring participants in the annual Electone performance competition sponsored, produced, and release on a double LP by Yamaha. This event took place at the Yamaha Music Camp in Nemu-no-Sato, Japan. Yamaha sponsored this camp around building enthusiasm and a repertory of artists who could play the Electone electronic synthesizer design for virtuosic keyboard performance. 7:25
Excerpts from the Moog 900, RCA Music Synthesizer, Sound of Moog, ARP family of instruments, E-mu Emulator, demonstration recordings.
Blue Marvin, “Release Time” from the album With Arp Sinthesyzer 2600 (1973 Joker). Blue Marvin is Alberto Baldan Bembo in this Italian release of ARP Odyssey tracks.