Synthesizer Development

Listen and address the questions below together for each piece. Draw your answers from what you hear, regardless of what other background you may know...

  1. Describe the qualities of sounds and arrangement you hear.  What kinds of physical controllers or interfaces might have produced the work, and what did you hear that made you think of them?
  2. Who might the possible listeners have been? In what ways would the piece have sounded "new" and/or "old" to them?


  • Used analog synthesizers as their sound source (but also required assembly with multitrack recording).
  • Were created within about a year of each other (1967-68).
  • Were created by formally-trained classical musicians who were using technology that was new to them.
Sound vs. Controllers sequencer? = rigidity
keyboard (familiarity)
rhythmic, less melodic
joysticks, touch
Old vs. New old music
new (?) timbre
demo for sales
classical fans + tech
new to general audience
soundtrack exposure

A:  Walter/Wendy Carlos

Switched-on Bach (1968)

Robert Moog, engineer + Wendy Carlos, performer

  • First 'modern' modular synthesizer, using voltage control
  • Conventional piano keyboard = Playability for more musicians
  • Monophonic

Moog Synthesizer

  • #10 on Billboard 200 chart
  • #1 on Billboard Classical chart for 3 years (!) 
  • Second classical record in history with 1 million sales
  • 3 Grammy awards
  • Brought electronic music into popular music and mainstream visibility
  • Launched Carlos' career (A Clockwork Orange), and many imitators

Huge Commercial Success

B:  Morton Subotnick

Silver Apples of the Moon (1967)

Don Buchla, engineer + Morton Subotnick, composer

  • Also a modular synthesizer using voltage control, but different synthesis approach than Moog
  • Joysticks, ribbon controllers, no traditional keyboard
  • Analog sequencer

Buchla Music Box

Joystick & Ribbon Controllers

Voltage-Controlled Sequencer (top)

excerpt from I Dream of Wires


The past is not a static list of names, dates, and events.  We are continually uncovering hidden work, and recognizing work that had been forgotten, de-valued, or suppressed.  This has proven to be especially true for electronic music history, which has benefitted from a number of re-discoveries in the last 20 years. 

Raymond Scott

After a successful career as a band leader, Scott used his considerable skill and money to build electronic instruments in his home lab that were years ahead of their time.  As early as the 50s, he built synths and sequencers, and used them to compose music for commercials and short films.  His early jazz compositions can be heard (uncredited) in Warner Bros. cartoons.

Bruce Haack

Haack was a First Nations (Native American) Canadian who remained a musical outsider his entire life.  His music spanned a huge range– from experimental proto-techno, to accompanying dance, to children's records.  He built many of his own instruments, demonstrated here in this rare appearance on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood from 1968.

BBC Radiophonic Workshop

A group of (usually uncredited) artists doing sound effects design and music for BBC radio and TV programs in the 1960-70s.

Daphne Oram

One of the founders of the Radiophonic Workshop, Oram stayed only 1 year before leaving to work on her unique Oramics visual synthesizer.

Delia Derbyshire

Derbyshire had a long and prolific career with the Workshop.  Her work is heard in the music and sound effects from the early years of the hit series Dr. Who.

Synthesizer Development

By Brian

Synthesizer Development

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