Friday, January 28, 2011

SAMPLE & HOLD : stockhausen / telemusik

This 1966 classic of electronic music has always been a favorite of mine. As it unfolds and evolves like an unerring dream we hear snippets of ethnic musics, gongs, burbles, bleeps, and shockingly expressive sonic manipulations that are, at once, immediate and transformative, meditative and adrenaline-inducing. When I first heard the DG recording I knew I wanted to go THERE!

Monday, January 24, 2011



ether^ra : My fascination with sound goes back to a formative moment
trying to tune in a station on my dad's am car radio; because of poor
reception I was only able to get static and half-heard ghost voices
that I somehow found quite beautiful. Is there any moment you remember
as an epiphany that pointed you in the direction charted by electronic

I have quite a clear memory of my first encounter with a synthesiser.
It happened when I was about 8, and it was a home made modular synth.
My parents ran a small school for autistic children that was based at
our family home, and there was a music room. This was in the 70s and a
friend of the family was studying electronics and had made a modular
synth as a project, and donated it to the school. I remember it
turning up in the music room [where I would spend hours playing on the
various instruments] and it was amazing because it was so different to
everything else in there. You could make strange and unique bleeps and
buzzes but nothing melodic. It was about the size of a small desktop,
and had all the knobs [the same as the ones used on the EMS VCS3] down
the left hand side, and all the corresponding patch points down the
right, and these were banana type connectors the same as a Serge or
Buchla. From what I remember it had several VCOs, VCFs, VCAs and ring
modulation, and trigger buttons for the envelopes.

Years later when I started getting into synths and recording equipment
properly I asked my dad what happened to the 'Black Box' synth as we
called it, and he said "oh yes, I threw it out a couple of months
ago!" It had been stored in the loft for at least 10 years and the
huge internal battery had leaked and gone everywhere. That was the
moment I can say where I became determined to collect as many synths
as I could, and never throw anything away. The Black Box was my

ether^ra : With the advent of softsynths was it a conscious effort on
your part to celebrate analogue synthesis as a back-to-the-future
proclaimation of analogue superiority as such?

I went through a long period of using computer based synths and
processing, and most of my albums as Benge [up to Twenty Systems] use
a combination of software and hardware. I still use two software
synths quite a lot, Reaktor and Symbolic Sound Kyma, both of which
have a very unique set of features, and actually have their own
'sound'. I find it fascinating how each system, either hardware or
software, not only has it's own feature set, but also has its own tone
and sonic character

I have never really been interested in using virtual emulations of
existing synths or processors. I really like the honesty and
simplicity of an original design, and sometimes its flaws and
limitations are what gives it character. I find that software
emulations always somehow iron out these imperfections and they all
begin to sound the same.

Another feature of old hardware equipment is the malfunction, which
obviously is not normally desirable, but sometimes can set off some
interesting processes. Everything in my studio is connected up to a
large patching system so that most inputs and outputs between synths
and processors are available, via the analog and digital consoles. It
is the recombination of sounds that is interesting to me, especially
when things don't turn out as expected.

ether^ra : The Twenty Systems cd suggests you have a vast number of
synths at your fingertips; is there any one system that you find
especially compelling sonically?

I do have a particular regard for large and uncompromising systems
that were at the forefront of their technology. Several systems stand
out as representing the vanguard, starting with Moog Modular in the
mid to late 60s. In the mid seventies there is the Yamaha CS80 which I
think is the ultimate polysynth. Inside that are thousands of point to
point connections, it is an unbelievable feat of discreet electronic
engineering. In the 1980s digital systems took over, and I would say
that the two companies behind Fairlight and Synclavier pushed each
other to ever greater heights, with maybe the Synclavier PSMT becoming
the greatest all in one digital system ever made. In the 90s PCs
became the central part of the music studio, and Symbolic Sound
introduced its parallel-processor Kyma system [which is still going
strong] and is perhaps the ultimate computer based synthesis system, I
really like the endless possibilities it offers. But there is
something so pure and powerful about those early analog systems with
their physical patch cables, knobs and switches, so I would have to
say that my all time favorite self contained synthesiser is the Moog
Modular. What is so amazing about the Moog is that it was the first of
its kind. Bob Moog just got it right straight away. Everything else
since then, even though it might offer more features, seems to travel
away from the purity of sound and the logic of it's controls

The great thing about the inevitable march of technology is that it
leaves in its wake the previous outdated technology, and I have been
lucky to pick up these systems when they were at their least popular
and therefore most affordable, sometimes even rescuing things from the
rubbish tip. My aim has always been to resurrect these amazing instruments

and put them into daily use.

Thanks to Benge for his insight, his obvious enthusiasm, and kindness for
responding so eloquently to my questions. For more from Benge go to

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SAMPLE & HOLD : benge / twenty systems

Produced with an appropriately light touch, Twenty Systems by Benge(Ben Edwards) traces the bleeping line in the development of synthesizer technology from anaologue to digital, from modular to digital presets. With the recent reapprisal of hardware as a sonic strategy for producing complex musical forms from such figures as Keith Fullerton Whitman and Carlos Giffoni to name two, Twenty Systems adds to this re-thinking beautifully. As an investigation of the idiosyncratic characteristics of each of these systems, Benge wisely limits his gaze, allowing each synth the luxury of showing off its best sonic attribute in isolation. The 1972 Serge Modular is particularly evocative producing off-kilter sonic detrius, complex perfect imperfection, and smeared timbral and rhythmic shivers the result of complex patching and gating. The photography is beautiful. The text is informative, and rich in detail, placing each system in historical context. Benge is obviously in love with this technology trusting each system to speak for itself. If we listen we can hear the past's machine utterings that point emphatically, not to the dusty corners of museums, but to a future imbued with extraordinary potential.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


While not an electronic music release per se, Alexandro Jodorowsky's 1970 soundtrack to the film of the same name has always been viewed by me, and certainly many others, as a fascinating mixture of heartfelt circus sentimentalism, and clattering percussion, along with hints of the bizarre. Seen by many as pretentious even in the context of the late 60's and early 70's, I have always been of the opinion that the film El Topo was the work of a renaissance man who was willing to take creative chances that while not always successful more often than not resulted in images of great evocative beauty. The soundtrack, though indebted to Ennio Moricone, curiously points the way to Moricones' Mission soundtrack. Part spagetti-western, part morality play and zen parable, El Topo has proven to be an influence on many artists from Dennis Hopper to David Lynch. The piece that ends the soundtrack, La Primera Flor Despues Del Diluvio(The First Flower After the Flood) is breath-taking; starting with what sounds like heavily distorted electronic noise/instruments morphs into the sounds of a crying baby after which Master Musicians of Joujouka-like trance horn sounds joyously appear followed by the flute theme with swelling orchestration that started the film/soundtrack. A distant wind quietly proclaims the end. Mystic/madman/artist, Jodorowsky is a man to watch and listen to.