Monday, December 10, 2007

Music Monday

I suppose I am showing my age by admitting this, but I am a much bigger fan of old analog synthesizers and keyboards than of the new digital ones. One of my favorite pieces of musical equipment from the sixties and seventies is the mellotron. Essentially, the mellotron was a tape player - there were tape loops (strings and voices) that played at various tones. It provided a "string" background without the necessity of hiring an orchestra. It also gave an interesting harmonic texture. The earliest mellotrons were used by the Beatles and the Moody Blues, but they were utilized by everyone from King Crimson (who used two in concerts during the '73-'74 incarnation) to Lynryd Skynryd (you can hear it in the background of the opening of "Free Bird" of all songs). One band that used it a lot, if not always imaginatively, was Genesis. Their best mellotron passage occurs in the opening of the following song, which is also one of their best Peter Gabriel-era songs (please note Gabriel's make-up and other accouterments). "Watcher of the Skies":

Another favorite is the big, rolling sound of a Hammond organ run through the rotating Leslie amplifier (oddly enough, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead ran his bass through a Leslie, which gave it an interesting sound). The best utilizer of this particular way of playing was, without doubt, Keith Emerson. This is from 1970, with a great demonstration of what a Hammond so amplified could do, on "Knife Edge":

When I saw Dream Theater on their Octavarium tour, I was surprised to see a big old bank of plugs and knobs behind Jordan Rudess' keyboard setup. Normally, all he had was his Roland, which could be programmed with pretty much any sound, sometimes multiple sounds. Yet, for one solo in particular, in the middle section of the title track to Octavarium he used an old analog synth. There is just something about this sound that is so much better than the digital synth sounds. It occurs toward the end of this clip. Please note that the bank of plugs and wires sometimes required a tech during the concert to move the plugs around to get different sounds, so unless you were trying to show off (Keith Emerson), you kept the thing off stage. I think DT kept it on stage just to show they were really using it.

I just realized that Rudess uses a Korg synthesizer, not a Roland. My bad.

Virtual Tin Cup

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