28 December 2009

A Brief History of SynthPop in a Nutshell.

The Telharmonium

The first synthesizer ever, built in 1895 by American Thaddeus Cahill, weighed over 200 tons, used the telephone network for amplification and worked on mechanical motors. Cahill called this machine the Telharmonium and marketed it to Hotel owners. He put on well-publicized demonstrations of its use in which a musician (much like an organist in a movie house) would play enjoyable music that filled the entire hotel. However the $200,000 price tag prevented the machine from catching on and in 1950 the last remaining Telharmonium was dismantled and thrown into the Hudson River.

Technical Manifesto of Futurist Music

In 1911 the Italian composer Balilla Pratella wrote the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Music which insisted music must represent "the spirit of crowds, of great industrial complexes, of trains, of ocean liners, of battle fleets, of automobiles and airplanes." He also wrote that music must add the cacophony of the industrialized urban landscape ("the machine and the victorious realm of electricity") to the musical language. Italian Futurists went on to invent music machines like the Howler and the Burster in an attempt make these sounds.
                                                                                                 CHICORY TIP's single "son of my father" is considered                                                                                                   the first SynthPop hit, as it went to 1 in the UK in 1972.
The MiniMoog
Not long after the final Telharmonium found its way to the bottom of the Hudson River a Cornell graduate and theremin kit salesman named Bob Moog developed a synthesizer that would come to be called the MiniMoog.


The Beatles, fascinated by Stockhausen, set up a label in which to manifest albums that documented their sonic electronic synth experiments. John Lennon had already entered the bizarre electronic noise landscape with the 8 minute "Revolution 9" that appeared on the White Album. The Beatles also were among the first to put the MiniMoog to use when they included it on "Here Comes the Sun" and "Because" from their Abbey Road disc. But in 1969 George (Electronic Sound) and John (Unfinished Music No.2) both released entire Synth/Electronic albums on their Zapple label.

A Clockwork Orange

Musician Walter Carlos (who had a sex change operation in 1972 and was renamed Wendy Carlos) had worked with Bob Moog creating synth music throughout the 60s. Then in 1969 Carlos recorded an album of synthesized songs by Bach called Switched-On Bach. Carlos went on to also record the music for the brilliant soundtrack for Stanley Kubricks film A Clockwork Orange.


Tangerine Dream are considered to be the first all-synth Rock band, known for performing LSD-influenced concerts in thousand seat cathedrals.  They would be on the first wave of the German KrautRock genre of the early 70s.
Kraftwerk would be the best and most popular of the KrautRock bands. Their two seminal albums Autobahn and Trans-Europe Express set the stage for the SynthRock/NewWave/Post Punk/Dance Pop explosion of the 80s that was so well documented on early Mtv.

The 80s

yazoo photo: Upstairs at Eric's Yazoo-Upstairs-At-Erics.jpg
There's really nothing else very interesting about SynthRock unless you are into big hair, make-up and nursery rhymes put to synthesizers. Eventually synth rock became asinine ambient rock and post-Rock. During its heyday, however, there were a few SynthRock acts of note, including: Gary Numan, Flock of Seagulls, Heaven 17, Vince Clark (of Depeche Mode, Yaz, and Erasure), Orchestral Manuevers in the Dark, Devo, the Eurythmics and the Frenchman Jean Michel Jarre, not to mention the rash of the SynthPop-romantiCouples that included the Eurythmics, Berlin and Missing Persons and the Human League.

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