Saturday, January 10, 2009

Analog Days - Trevor Pinch interview

Trevor Pinch is the co-author of the amazing book Analog Days.
If you are a fan of synths, or just have a passing interest, this book is a must read. After interviewing so many people for the book I thought it would be great to interview Trevor.

Your book Analog Days is a fantastic read. I am wondering why you subtitled it "The invention and impact of the Moog synthesizer." was this purely to help the non educated latch onto the Moog name to buy the book?

Writing about electronic music synthesizers for a general audience is already a hard sell. Moog is the best-known name, so although the book deals with ARP, EMS and Buchla, it is the “hook” to get people interested. Apart from that the book has more about Moog than any other synths.

How long did it take to create the book?

The research started about 9 years before book came out. The actual writing of the book took about three years. We had a few blank starts when it just didn’t work. At one stage we even had an agent in New York City who promised to make us rich – but he couldn’t sell the book to a publisher, he said “no one is interested in an old machine, couldn’t you put in a bit more sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”!

Do you have a collection of analog synths? Do you have a favourite synth?

My first synth I built myself in 1972 from circuits I found in the UK hobbyist magazine, Wireless World. The Wireless World synth was designed by Tim Orr and it had a six-step sequencer and sounded awesome. I now own a Minimoog and a Moog Prodigy. My favourite synth is the VCS3 – because that was the first synth I ever got to play with. I’d love a Moog Voyager but can’t afford one.

What was the very first recording or sound that got you interested into synths?

The very first sounds that were electronic and exciting were the sounds I listened to in the 1960s of random static and morse code bleeps with BFO on my R1155 shortwave radio set (adapted from a Lancaster Bomber). The first sound I knew was from a synth was from an EMS VCS3 at the electronic music society at Imperial College in 1970. I saw Brian Eno perform at the Royal College of Art in 1970 with Roxy Music, then I saw Hawkwind who had an all synth line-up at one point – I was hooked on synths after that. Zero Time by Tonto’s Expanding Head Band was the first all synth recording that blew my mind.

I have a radio documentary from ABC Radio National Australia called Analog Revolution, you mention Bob Moog being more interested in Sun Ra's Cadillac more than his music, I guess Bob just loved to find out how things worked. Did Bob help you the most o the book?
Bob was an amazing character – goofy, intense, and worldly (always swearing) and other wordly (little twinkle in his eye as he told a good story) at the same time. He was also a little prickly. Funny enough Bob didn’t want to have too close a relationship with me as he thought it might make the book be seen as less than objective. He was also busy (“doing shit” as he would tell it). He always gave me what time he could and he was one of the least pretentious people I’ve met. He did kindly write a foreword to the book and went through several chapters of the first draft with a fine tooth comb. David Borden of Mother Mallard (first ever live synth ensemble) was nearer at hand (still lives in Ithaca, New York) and hanging out with him was (and still is) a trip.

What do you think of the sudden interest in modular synths? There seems to be at least 20 companies building/selling modular synths now days.

The modular/analog phase was passed over for digital too quickly. In the process lots of great analog sounds were missed. Also there is something wonderfully intuitive about learning about the process of synthesis from simple analog modules. Musical instruments are ultimately about interfaces and analog synths have more “user friendly” interfaces. As Bob Moog once told me “a knob is a musical instrument”.

Do you see the book expanding to include the current modular synths?

Wish I could but I don’t know enough about them to do a convincing job!

Who was the most enjoyable person to interview for your book and why?

There were so many – but I’d pick Malcolm Cecil as the real gem. One of the nicest and most knowledgeable, understated guys you could meet and also hanging out with him and TONTO was the ultimate trip into the past of what electronic music could be. He worked with everyone and after my mates John Robert Lennon and Jim Spitznagel and I interviewed him for Tape Op a letter came in to Tape Op from Pete Townshend saying how Malcolm Cecil had been the key guy influencing him to explore the limits of what an instrument could do (think smashing guitars!).

What was Frank Trocco's contribution to the book?

Love, talking, driving, writing, and fun. Frank came to me as a mature student who needed a project. He was a brilliant interviewer with a background in folk music and we did all the interviews together. He also wrote several draft chapters and commented on and improved everything I wrote. The book was my idea but it’s our joint work. He’s writing a book now about his great love – Navajo shamans.

Do you find it strange that to this day that the majority of the people on the planet still don’t know what a synthesizer is?

Not strange at all. Picture this: Bob Moog in 1964 in an upstate basement messing around with Herb Deutsch and his first synthesizer modules. Bob told me people would walk by, cock their ear and wonder what is that “strange shit” coming out of the basement? They had no clue that this would be the sound for generations to come. They still don’t have much clue where that “strange shit” comes from.

Can you give us your top 10 electronic music albums.

Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, Zero Time.

Mother Mallard, Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company, 1970-1973.
Fripp and Eno, No Pussyfooting
Brian Eno, Here Comes the Warm jets

Neu, Neu!
The White Noise, An Electric Storm

Moog Cookbook, Moog Cookbook Plays the Classic Rock Hits
Stockhausen, Stimmung
Wendy Carlos, Clockwork Orange
Tangarine Dream, Phaedra

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