Play It With Feeling

When Bob Moog invented his famous branded synthesizers, they sold well: his Minimoog alone managed to shift 13,000 units between 1971 and 1982. But technology advanced, and in ‘86, Moog Music fell silent. It’s made a bit of a comeback – adoring nostalgic musos and new-age composers love the sound, just like many old-school DJs prefer the raw sound of vinyl to CD, and many producers prefer the warmth of ¼” to a hard disk workstation.

When it comes to longevity, however, nothing can beat the orchestra: after all, the violin’s predecessor, the rebec, made its debut performance in the 10th century.

Don’t get me wrong – synths are a powerful force for creativity in music. Without them, many of the sounds we today take for granted would never have even been imagined! Many of these flamboyant, unimaginable musical emissions are the result of little more than trial and error, and general fiddling around. Today’s music is incredibly experimental, yet we’re still exposed to the good old-fashioned sound of the orchestra.

When sampling was in its infancy, they couldn’t wait to mimic real sounds! The ‘orchestra hit’ littered many a 1980s hi-NRG pop tune… a synthesizer pretending to be an orchestra! Indeed, sampling nowadays is so advanced that it can be difficult to differentiate between a real cello and a digital one. Unless you’re listening closely, when you can see their faces and feel their mood as they pluck and bow.

A producer hero of mine, Trevor Horn, has always celebrated the sound of the orchestra. Some of his most memorable works were perfect fusions of modern synthetic and immaculately-scored composition. From ABC’s rousing string arrangements to the many dramatic musical bridges of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes”; it’s impossible to imagine how different his songs would have sounded without this wonderful, real instrumentation.

Next time you’re sitting alone at home, turn your speakers up loud, or plug in your headphones and listen to something amazing. Authentic, original classical, such as the rousing Jupiter from Holst’s “The Planets” suite. Listen to Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – or the amazing string quartet version played by Litmus. Hear the work of soundtrack composer Murray Gold, with his evocative “Doomsday” piece from the Doctor Who soundtrack, and whilst you’re there, check out the perfect combination of raw, rudimentary early synth, what happens when you make noises into microphones and hack away at bits of tape, and get a 62-piece orchestra to play along to one of the 1960s’ most well-known TV theme tunes! I challenge you to not be blown away.

If you want to hear another perfect fusion of traditional and new, listen to LBC 97.3 next time you’re in London, now playing a brand new, fully-orchestrated package penned by IQ Beats’ Steve Scalfati [and Patrick Napper] and played by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Close your eyes; imagine the images of London’s landmarks, the famous red buses, St Paul’s cathedral, the black cabs, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus by night, and feel the pride of London’s Biggest Conversation when you hear their new sound.

When you listen to real instruments; plucked, bowed, banged and blown by real people, you’ll always get more back in return. The continued and increasing use of real instrumentation proves the point. We’re going back to basics: music’s all about emotion, and a computer will never give you that, no matter how good the programmer.

© 2008 Dan Akers | from