The Wire: The birth of the synthesizer and new ways of thinking about sound

Scientists like Helmholtz and Hertz explored the electrical essence of sound waves. Inventors like Canadian physicist Hugh LeCaine and Russian spy Leon Theremin extended that exploration to a new breed of electronic instruments. But it wasn't until Bob Moog came along and invented the synthesizer that the sound of electricity started to become a household sound in the music of rock bands. Featuring one of the final interviews conducted with Bob Moog before he died in 2005.
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Listen to the full episode54:00

Scientists like Helmholtz and Hertz explored the electrical essence of sound waves. Inventors like Canadian physicist Hugh LeCaine and Russian spy Leon Theremin extended that exploration to a new breed of electronic instruments. But it wasn't until Bob Moog came along and invented the synthesizer that the sound of electricity started to become a household sound in the music of rock bands.

The Wire: The Impact of Electricity on Music first aired on CBC Radio in 2005. Each episode tells the story of how electricity changed music in the 20th century, focusing on a particular new technology. On Episode 4, it's the synthesizer. The series was a 2005 Peabody Award winner.

The Wire is presented by Jowi Taylor.


**Note: this series is not available for download and is available for listening in Canada only due to music copyright restrictions. 


"I remember going into a music store with my dad when I was about 14 and practically drooling over the ARP Omni polyphonic synthesizer. My dad kind of didn't get it. He said, "Well, that violin sound doesn't really sound like a violin and the cello doesn't really sound like a cello". I suppose that was the expectation of synthesizers. That they would create synthetic versions of things we knew. And there was a kind of pejorative sense of that word: synthetic. And when you think about it, lots of the early showcases for synths were kind of like that – different synth tracks took the corresponding instrumental parts of classical arrangements. But the amazing thing is that living in those sounds was a whole new universe just waiting to be explored – by musicians and listeners who wanted to hear the synthesizer be itself – to just love the electronic sound for what it was, not what it could imitate. I'll never forget the first time I heard Autobahn by Kraftwerk – at that time they were even still kind of hippie about it all but by the next album they had a whole look – a whole aesthetic – that fully embraced – and even celebrated – the synthetic. It was like living in the future. Now, I go into the record store and there are divisions within divisions within divisions of electronic music." Jowi Taylor



Guests in this episode:

  • Bob Moog (1934-2005) was an American engineer, electronic music pioneer, and was the inventor of the Moog synthesizer.
     
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was a German composer and electronic music pioneer recognized for his groundbreaking work with tape splicing and synthesized sound.
     
  • Lydia Kavina is a Russian-British theremin virtuoso, and grand-niece of Leon Theremin, the inventor of the theremin.
     
  • Bruce Duncan builds synthesizers in the Toronto, where he owns and runs Modcan Synthesizers.
     
  • Gayle Young is a Canadian composer and author. Among her works is a biography of the Canadian composer and inventor Hugh LeCaine. 
     
  • Dennis Patrick is a Canadian composer. For many years, he was director of the Electroacoustic Laboratory at the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto.

Also heard in this episode on archival recordings:

  • Hugh Le Caine (1914-1977), the Canadian composer, inventor and instrument builder.


The following tracks were used in this episode:

  • Beach Boys - Good Vibrations (1966)
  • Hugh Le Caine - Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin
  • Bernard Herrmann - music from the film The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
  • Miklos Rozsa - music from the film Spellbound (1945)
  • Miklos Rozsa - music from the film The Lost Weekend (1945)
  • Lennington Shewell - Dancing with Tears in my Eyes - from a 78rpm (1930)
  • Mancini/Stein/Gertz - music from the film It Came from Outer Space (1953)
  • Lydia Kavina - Fantasia by Bohuslav Martinu
  • Hugh Le Caine - The Sackbut Blues
  • Hugh Le Caine - Sugar Blues by C. McCoy
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen - Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths) (1956)
  • Louis & Bebe Barron - music from the film Forbidden Planet (1956)
  • Clara Rockmore - Vocalise by Sergei Rachmaninov
  • Wendy Carlos - 2nd movement from Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G BWV 1048 by JS Bach - Switched on Bach (1968)
  • Wendy Carlos - Prelude no. 2 in C minor BWV 847 by JS Bach - Switched on Bach (1968)
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) - Lucky Man - Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970)
  • Pink Floyd - Welcome to the Machine - Wish You Were Here (1975)
  • Genesis - The Colony of Slippermen - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)
  • Isao Tomita - Mars from The Planets by Gustav Holst - The Tomita Planets (1976)
  • Kraftwerk - Robots - The Man Machine (1978)


The Wire Episode 4 Remix was produced by Jon Delerious. The series is produced by Chris BrookesPaolo Pietropaolo and Jowi Taylor. It originally aired February 28, 2005 on CBC Radio 1.

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