I write this column with two recent events in mind. One is the sad passing of legendary synthesist and composer Vangelis. The other is Superbooth 2022 which, thanks to Covid, was the first trade show Sound On Sound has attended in more than two years.
One of Vangelis’s achievements was to help establish the synthesizer as a musical instrument in its own right. In his hands, the mighty CS80 could be as expressive as a conventional orchestra. And, looking back at those black‑and‑white photos of the great man in the studio, I sometimes wonder how much progress we’ve made since those days. Today’s synths are more powerful and affordable than ever, but are we doing any more to wring expression from them?
Modular synths offer endless scope for sound manipulation, but at Superbooth you’ll rarely see anyone actually playing one! The majority seem happy to delegate pitch and rhythm to sequencers, leaving their hands free to plug patch cables and tweak knobs. That, of course, can be expressive too, and sequences are the cornerstone of many modern electronic musical styles. But a permanent focus on patterns and patching can sometimes make for a monotonous musical diet. Sound design with Eurorack is fun, but if we want to create music with substance, perhaps we need to do more than plug in and patch around?
More than 40 years after Vangelis used it to such powerful effect on his CS80, polyphonic aftertouch is slowly becoming more widespread. MPE and MIDI 2.0 are connecting a new generation of expressive controllers, while technologies such as multi‑touch screens and accelerometers provide new ways of translating movement into musical feeling. If we want to go beyond what was possible in the ’70s, we need to invest the time and money in learning to use these new tools. And, whatever their musical merits, shows provide the ideal environment for discovering and exploring new technologies — so I’m excited to bring you news of not one but two UK events.
SOS’s own SynthFest UK returns to Sheffield on October 8th, but before then, we’re also proud to be involved in a new show for everyone interested in music recording, mixing and production. Located a 10‑minute walk from London King’s Cross station, Tileyard is the world’s largest studio complex, and is home to everyone from Spitfire Audio to Soundcloud. We couldn’t think of a more perfect venue for GearFest UK: your chance to get hands‑on with all the latest hardware and software. At the time of writing, nearly 50 manufacturers are already signed up for the event on Saturday July 2nd. There’ll also be seminars, live music and excellent food and drink, as well as the chance to experience immersive audio in Tileyard’s stunning Atmos mix space. I look forward to seeing you there!
Sam Inglis SOS Editor In Chief