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  • Thom Holmes

The French Love Their Synthesizers

My Book: Electronic and Experimental Music, sixth edition, Routledge 2020.

My Podcast: The Holmes Archive of Electronic Music



We were visiting Montreal before the pandemic. It was the dead of winter. It snowed every day. The sidewalks and the streets were generally un-shoveled. It was quiet. We choose to proceed on foot, the snow continually falling at all times of the time. We found several coffee shops that we could duck into between visits to shops, museums, and, of course, record stores. I always plan my visits to a city around opportunities to explore local vinyl record shops. Montreal was no different. I was anxious to explore what vintage records were for sale and pick up a few things for the archive. I discovered a seam of French- and French-Canadian recordings using synthesizers. As I entered each vinyl shop, I would generally explain to each proprietor what I was after, as I always do. Without fail, the gracious and welcoming Montrealers would lead me to the bins where I was most likely to find what I was looking for. I was in one shop, I think it was called Sound Central, where the manager of the store made a remark that has stuck with me. “Oh, the French, they love their synthesizers!”


And it’s true. From Jean Michel Jarre to any number of lesser known musicians, the 1970s were was time when the French loved their synthesizers. I’ve searched through the Archives to find specifically French-made music with synthesizers. Many of these artists are not generally known outside of France or Montreal. Most of these recordings are from the 1970s when analog synthesizers were widely used. Some are in the context of popular music, others in progressive rock and jazz, and still others in a rich vein of electronic music that bears no real resemblance to those other styles. Jean Michel Jarre is a great example. His music defies categorization; it can be experimental and popular, classical and jazz-like. But it’s electronic and like a few other artists of the 1970s, Jarre music was widely popular, so much so that he was able to play to sold out stadium-size crowds. With that in mind, I’m going to play the part of his album Oxygene that is not often heard. Most people remember the hypnotic synth rhythm from the piece. The three parts I’m going to play are less repetitive and perhaps not quite as memorable as that familiar synth riff. But it establishes the sound palette for that later part and is every bit as engaging.


Many of these recordings were found on that trip to Montreal but also in France while visiting over the years. I’ll be playing these works in chronological order to give you a sense of the evolution of synthesizers of the time, from monophonic to polyphonic and the ancillary keyboards for soloing and playing string sounds. Each of these recordings employs a unique set of instruments and I invite you to explore the playlist on the podcast website for the details.


Playlist

1. Roger Roger (Cecil Leuter), “Duetto (La Concierge Et Le Monsieur Du Premier)” and “Rondeau Cucu” from Musique Idiote (1970 Neuilly). I believe this is the first library music record that he composed for Moog Modular synthesizer. The tunes are pretty simple, either one track or two tracks recorded in a multitracked sequence. 1:33 and 1:41


2. Jean-Pierre Ferland, “It Ain't Fair” from ‎Jaune (1970 Barclay). This song has English lyrics on an album that includes tunes in both French and English. This album was recorded in Montreal during the early days of synthesizer use at Andre Perry’s studio. Perry’s uncredited Moog Modular synthesizer adds little touches throughout, especially on this song. Ferland was a widely popular French-Canadian singer/songwriter. 2:03


3. Heldon, “Zind” from Electronique Guerilla (1974 Disjuncta). Bass Guitar, Pierrot Roussel; Drums, Coco Roussel; Guitar, Alain Renaud; Piano, EMS VCS 3 Synthesizer, Patrick Gauthier; EMS VCS 3 Synthesizer, Georges Grumblatt; Vocals, Gilles Deleuze; Written by Richard Pinhas. 2:18


4. Heldon, “Back to Heldon” from Electronique Guerilla (1974 Disjuncta). Bass Guitar, Pierrot Roussel; Drums, Coco Roussel; Guitar, Alain Renaud; Piano, EMS VCS 3 Synthesizer, Patrick Gauthier; EMS VCS 3 Synthesizer, Georges Grumblatt; Vocals, Gilles Deleuze; Written by Richard Pinhas. 8:31


5. Heldon, “Ouais, Marchais, Mieux Qu'en 68 (Ex : Le Voyageur)” from Electronique Guerilla (1974 Disjuncta). Bass Guitar, Pierrot Roussel; Drums, Coco Roussel; Guitar, Alain Renaud; Piano, EMS VCS 3 Synthesizer, Patrick Gauthier; EMS VCS 3 Synthesizer, Georges Grumblatt; Vocals, Gilles Deleuze; Written by Richard Pinhas. 4:22


6. Philippe Grancher, “Birds, Birds” from 3000 Miles Away (1975 PÔLE 0014). Composed, Arranged by, Piano, Electric Piano, Synthesizer (String Ensemble), Mellotron, Organ, Effects, Philippe Grancher; Synthesizer, Jean-Louis Rizet; Bass, Gérard Bouquin; Drums – Pascal X; Electric Guitar, Arnaud Chevalier. 8:27


7. Henri Roger, “‎Asyle Cosmique” from Images...(1975 Pôle Records). Composed and performed by, instruments, Mini Korg Synthesizer, Elka Rhapsodie, Yamaha YC 45 D organ, Electric Guitar, Henri Roger. 10:25


8. Michel Madore, "Stanley” from Le Komuso À Cordes (1976 Barclay). Another product of Montreal. Guitar, Keyboards, Synthesizer, Piano, Cimbalom [Cymbalom], Ocarina, Producer, Arranged By, Written-By, Michel Madore; Drums, Tubular Bells, Gong, Percussion, Mathieu Léger; Electric Bass, Contrabass, Errol Walters; Electric Piano, Piano, Phillippe Beck; Saxophone, Synthesizer, Ocarina, Percussion, Arranged By, Ron Proby. 3:52


9. Space Art, “Psychosomatique,” from Trip In The Center Head (1977 IF Records). Music by Dominique Perrier, Roger Rizzitelli playing the following Instruments: Polymoog, Minimoog, Hammond Organ, Fender Piano, Piano, Drums, Clavinette, Arp Odyssey, Eminent, Violon électrique Flanger, Guitare électrique, Vibraphone, Bell-Trees, Gong, Timbales, Grosse caisse symphonique, Korg, Mellotron. 10:38


10.Jean Michel Jarre, "Oxygène Parts 1, 2, 3” from Oxygène (1977 Polydor). Composed By, Producer, ARP Odyssey synthesizer, EMS A.K.S. and V.C.S. 3 Synthesizers, R.M.I. Harmonic synthesizer, Farfisa organ, Eminent organ, Mellotron, Rhythmin' Computer, Jean-Michel Jarre. 18:41


11.Clearlight, “Spirale D'Amour” from Visions (1978 Polydor). Arranged by Clearlight, Cyrille Verdeaux; Bass, Philippe Melkonian; Drums, Percussion, Jacky Bouladoux; Electric Bottleneck Guitar Cosmique, Christian Boule; Flute, Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Didier Malherbe; Grand Piano, ARP Odyssey Synthesizer, Gong, produced by Cyrille Verdeaux; Synth Programmed by Francis Mandin; Minimoog Synthesizer, Luc Plouton; Violin, Bass Violin, Didier Lockwood. 7:33


12.Richard Pinhas, “Iceland Parts 1 and 2” from Iceland (1979 Polydor). Composed By, Performed By, Electronics, Guitar, Richard Pinhas. Pinhas was also a member of Heldon, whose music combined rock and electronic. 10:43


13.Tai Phong, “Thirteenth Space” from Last Flight (1979 Warner Brothers). Piano, (Acoustic, Electric), Synthesizer, Celesta, written by Pascal Wuthrich and Michaël Jones; Drums, Stephan Caussarieu; Engineer, Khanh; Guitar, Bass, Vocals, Michaël Jones. 4:56


14.Tai Phong, “Last Flight” from Last Flight (1979 Warner Brothers). Piano (Acoustic, Electric), Moog Synthesizer. EML synthesizer, Pascal Wuthrich; Vocals, Electric Guitar, and written by, Khanh; Drums, Stephan Caussarieu; Engineer, Khanh; Guitar, Bass, Vocals, Michaël Jones. 9:58


15. Szajner, “Brute Reason” from Brute Reason (1983 Island). Composed By electronics, keyboards, Bernard Szajner; Bass, Felipe Maujardo; Drums, Kirt Rust. Guitar, Xavier Geronimi; Saxophone, Schroeder; Vocals, Percussion, Joji Hirota. Szajner is also the man who invented the laser harp, used by Jarre in performance. 5:18


Background music:

  • Space Art, “Speedway,” from Trip In The Center Head (1977 IF Records). Music by Dominique Perrier, Roger Rizzitelli playing the following Instruments: Polymoog, Minimoog, Hammond Organ, Fender Piano, Piano, Drums, Clavinette, Arp Odyssey, Eminent, Violon électrique Flanger, Guitare électrique, Vibraphone, Bell-Trees, Gong, Timbales, Grosse caisse symphonique, Korg, Mellotron. 2:54

  • Szajner, “Without Leaving” from Brute Reason (1983 Island). Composed By electronics, keyboards, Bernard Szajner; Bass, Felipe Maujardo; Drums, Kirt Rust. 3:46




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