Tag: Florian Schneider

FLORIAN SCHNEIDER 1947 – 2020

Florian Schneider, co-founder of KRAFTWERK has sadly passed away at the age of 73 after a period of critical illness.

Born into a wealthy Düsseldorf family, his father was Paul Schneider-Esleben, a noted modernist archictect who had designed the Mannesmann-Hochhaus and Cologne-Bonn Airport.

Florian Schneider studied at the Academy of Arts in Remscheid where he met Ralf Hütter in 1968 during a jazz improvisation course. They formed the experimental group ORGANISATION who released just one album ‘Tone Float’ as a five piece in 1970 on RCA.

However, determined to have more control over their future musical endeavours, the pair formed KRAFTWERK and issued two self-titled albums in 1970 and 1972 under the helm of Conny Plank, each featuring colour variations of the now-iconic traffic cone emblazoned on the artwork. However, the story might have turned out differently in-between those two records.

Photo by Maurice Seymour

Hütter left in 1971 to continue his studies, leaving Schneider to continue performing under the KRAFTWERK name with Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, although they soon left to form NEU!

But Hütter rejoined Schneider and they began to use pre-programmed rhythm units instead of a conventional drummer and headed towards a cleaner, more minimal path that was less kosmische and rock, certainly compared with their German contemporaries.

The pair acquired their first synthesizers in time for 1973’s ‘Ralf & Florian’ and while Hütter took ownership of a Minimoog, Schneider favoured the ARP Odyssey alongside his trusty flute.

KRAFTWERK’s breakthrough came with the more electronically driven ‘Autobahn’ in 1974, their final album with Conny Plank and the rest is history. Their appearance on the BBC1 science magazine show ‘Tomorrow’s World’ notably ended with a knowing grin from Schneider, as if he was plotting to change the course of popular music…

‘Autobahn’ was a surprise hit as an edited single in the US and with that came opportunities for touring across the Atlantic. The addition of electronic percussionists Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos formed the classic quartet line-up of KRAFTWERK which released the highly revered long players ‘Radio-Activity’, ‘Trans-Europe Express’, The Man Machine’ and ‘Computer World’.

These records were to forever change the musical landscape and influence generations of musicians in synthpop, hip-hop and dance. In the UK, KRAFTWERK finally got the recognition they deserved when their 1978 recording ‘The Model’ reached No1 in the singles chart in 1982, demonstrating just how ahead of their time they had been. Without KRAFTWERK, it is almost certain that TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, OMD, DEPECHE MODE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, SOFT CELL and NEW ORDER would not have pursued electronics as a means of artistic expression.

But despite being considered the godfathers of modern music, things were not well in die Mensch Maschine. Ralf Hütter’s cycling accident in 1983 led to the cancellation of the ‘Techno Pop’ album during an existential crisis in their Kling Klang studio complex. The eventual reworked album ‘Electric Café’ in 1986 was a disappointment and precipitated the departures of first Flür and then Bartos.

Schneider stayed loyal to Hütter and although both ‘The Mix’ and ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’ were considered underwhelming works artistically, KRAFTWERK were in demand as a live spectacle, with a notable appearance at Tribal Gathering in 1997 as well as undertaking their own successful headlining tours.

However, Schneider was known to suffer from stage fright and disliked the rigors of touring. Even within KRAFTWERK, he had become less involved in the writing process from 1977 and preferred to explore vocal processing, voice colouring technology using vocoders and speech synthesis using Votrax type ’n’ speak machines as debuted on the ‘Radio-Activity’ album and later a Texas Instruments language translator for ‘Computer World’.

Florian Schneider undoubtedly complimented KRAFWERK’s robotic image with a suitably futuristic audio aesthetic. Having not appeared with KRAFTWERK since 2006 due it was said to work on other projects, it was confirmed officially that he had left the band in November 2008.

Although enigmatic, Schneider’s eccentric persona won him a lot of fans, as indicated by the number of music pieces dedicated to him. David Bowie titled the ‘Heroes’ instrumental ‘V-2 Schneider’ as a tribute after the two bonded over a mutual love of vintage Mercedes cars and TUXEDOMOON’s Blaine L Reininger recorded the song ‘Rolf and Florian Go Hawaiian’ for his ‘Byzantium’ album in 1987. Meanwhile in 2009, British duo KATSEN released the single ‘Florian’ which musically was more than a musical homage to ‘Kometenmelodie 2’ from ‘Autobahn’.

Over the years, Schneider continued to cycle and visit music technology shows but there was no music. However in 2016, Schneider broke his musical silence and collaborated with Dan Lacksman from TELEX on the track ‘Stop Plastic Pollution’ to highlight the issue of ocean environment conservation as part of the campaign Parley For The Oceans.

Photo by Lutz Hilgers

More recently, Schneider had become less reclusive. He was photographed by Lutz Hilgers for the January 2017 edition of The Heritage Post in a variety of relaxed poses including riding tandem with a lady in a scenario that delightfully provoked the outrage of the German right wing. He was also spotted having coffee with Robert Görl of DAF and had been photographed in a friendly reconciliation with Wolfgang Flür.

It looked as though Florian Schneider had been enjoying his retirement from the music business, but was happy to use his profile for causes close to his heart. He was a true innovator who can rightly be called a legend for his part presenting an intelligent alternative to rock ‘n’ roll via KRAFTWERK’s concept for industrielle Volksmusik.


Text by Chi Ming Lai
6th May2020

EBERHARD KRANEMANN Interview

Eberhard Kranemann is a one-time member of KRAFTWERK who later recorded an album ‘Fritz Müller Rock’ with the legendary Conny Plank.

A graduate of the Dortmund Conservatory, the multi-instrumentalist also worked with NEU! but it was in 1967 while as a member of the band PISSOFF that he met Florian Schneider.

More recently, Kranemann has formed KRAUTWERK with Harald Grosskopf who played drums on Klaus Schulze’s ‘Moondawn’ and recorded a number of albums with Manuel Göttsching as a member of ASHRA.

In a merger of the Schools of Düsseldorf and Berlin, Kranemann and Grosskopf transmit their cosmic sonic visions of today, tomorrow and beyond in an updated take on art school kosmische with a lively and rhythmic self-titled debut album.

Following an enthusiastic talk at the 2017 ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf, Eberhard Kranemann kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about the genesis of KRAUTWERK and his observations on the vibrant post-war German music scene that ultimately impacted the world’s musical landscape.

So what is the concept of KRAUTWERK?

There is no concept, we are just two guys who are making music for fun. We did know not each other until one year ago. I heard Harald for the first time at a festival in Sulingen where he was doing a solo performance and I had a performance in another room.

I liked his kind of drumming, he doesn’t play natural drums and doesn’t use those crazy boom-boom-boom drums from a computer, he plays a special electronic kit with sticks on plates. He doesn’t use the pure electronic sounds, he changes them via Ableton with his special effects… they had so much power, I had never heard this before. I thought “I must work with him”

Then, he came into my room… I’m a more experimental musician using wired sounds and he didn’t like it! For him, it was too dissonant! So when I telephoned him to suggest working together, he did not want to… but 4 weeks later, he said “OK, we try something”

He came into my studio, but I did not tell him before that I’d prepared it to record our whole session professionally. I recorded 40 minutes of what we had played. We had never played together before but this 40 minutes was so great, it was wonderful music.

We made another date 4 weeks later and did 20 more minutes.

So we had 60 minutes in total and this is our first LP, CD and digital download. It was two old guys making music for fun, but then a label heard it and other people liked it very much.

So we did a British tour which was a big success, we will be going to Stockholm and next year, we play in China. People in America want us to go there too.

Both you and Harald Grosskopf have a lot of history in German electronic music, Harald was in ASHRA and released a great solo debut in ‘Synthesist’, had you been aware of his previous work?

No, I wasn’t interested in the Berlin School of Music, for me it was boring, it was just synthesizers going on and on and it was not enough. For myself, I need more power or action.

You were in KRAFTWERK?

Me and Florian Schneider were the originators of KRAFTWERK, one year later Herr Hütter came into the band and now he is the only man who makes it exist, he gets a lot of money out of it because he is a businessman.

A band who spends 30 years not making any new music and only the old sh*t comes out every year in new clothing, this is not for me. I must make new music going into the future and when I began this project with Harald, I had the idea of starting at a point 30 years ago when KRAFTWERK stopped making music because when they now play concerts, they don’t make music… they stand there like roboters and the music comes programmed from the computer, I do not like this.

When I played in KRAFTWERK in 1971 and the years before, we used techniques between man and machine but there was a lot of freestyle, everyone could play. But they stopped it and did this very cool, reduced music… you can do this if you want, they are very famous for it and they do it very well, but I think my friend Florian left the band he didn’t like it anymore. He is a real musician and he wanted to make music, he doesn’t want to stand on a stage with the sounds coming from the computer

So how do you make technology work for you in KRAUTWERK?

There is a difference between Harald and me; Harald works very much with technology and computers. But I don’t do it as much as he does, because I’m more of a traditional musician. When we play live, I play cello, Hawaiian guitar and sing. But I don’t tell stories, I use the voice like another instrument and make rhythm with it like “boom-tschak-boom-bah-tschak”… so I sing like a drummer and then Harald comes in with drums.

As Fritz Müller, you worked with the legendary Conny Plank, what was he like?

He was a very important man, for me in the last century, Conny Plank was the most important producer, engineer and mixer in the whole world, THE BEST! He was so great that he even turned down David Bowie and U2. He was very honest, he didn’t want to work with them.

He was very clear and only wanted to make music with people he liked… not only liked but loved! There was a lot of love between him and the musicians, it was so wonderful to work with him, he had a good gut feeling about people. I was the person in the background that put him in contact with KRAFTWERK and NEU!


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Eberhard Kranemann

‘Krautwerk’ is released by Bureau B in CD, vinyl and digital formats

Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf play Kraken Sthlm in Stockholm with FAUST on Friday 17th November 2017

https://www.facebook.com/realsynthesist/

http://www.bureau-b.com/grosskopf_kranemann.php


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
14th November 2017

ELECTRI_CITY – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music

OMD’s Andy McCluskey said: “Musically we are much more the sons of Düsseldorf than we are the sons of Liverpool. KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF were so much more influential on us than THE BEATLES”.

Meanwhile ULTRAVOX’s Chris Cross adds: “Personally I would have loved to have been in a band like LA DÜSSELDORF”

First published in German during the Spring of 2015, Rudi Esch’s ‘ELECTRI_CITY – Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf’ gave a fascinating insider’s account of the Germany’s influential post-war music scene which was centred around the city of Düsseldorf.

The original book spawned an English language edition ‘ELECTRI_CITY – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music’, two compilation albums released on Grönland Records and an annual music conference, the third of which will take place on FRIDAY 27TH and SATURDAY 28TH OCTOBER 2017.

Among those performing live will be ANNE CLARK, ROBERT GÖRL, STRÖME, ARCTIC SUNRISEELECTRONIC CIRCUS and KATJA VON KASSEL, while JONATHAN BARNBROOK will be giving a talk entitled ‘Designing Bowie’. In addition, The Electricity Club will be chairing a panel discussion with Zeus B Held and Chris Payne.

Rudi Esch came to prominence as the bassist of industrial trailblazers DIE KRUPPS whom he joined in 1988, but prior to that, he was in DIE ENGEL DES HERRN with the mercurial Klaus Dinger of NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF fame.

The book takes an unusual format in that it features a series of parabites, pieced together from over fifty exclusive interviews, to tell the story of The Düsseldorf School and its cultural significance.

This makes the text easily digestible and is certainly a preferred layout compared to the more tedious documents that have been published about musik von die Bundesrepublik over the last few years.

Interviewees include Michael Rother, Klaus Dinger, Wolfgang Flür, Daniel Miller, Paul Humphreys, Andy McCluskey, Martyn Ware, Glenn Gregory, Chris Cross, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Giorgio Moroder and Rusty Egan who gives one of the funniest quotes: “To me, the Germans made cars and rockets. Mercedes and Messerschmitt were the names I knew before KRAFTWERK”.

“Düsseldorf is the capital of electronic music” says Esch, as he gives an account of how the Düsseldorf electronic scene developed from 1970 to 1986 with acts like KRAFTWERK, LA DÜSSELDORF, DER PLAN, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RIECHMANN, RHEINGOLD, PROPAGANDA, DAF and NEU!

In those early days, the choice of instrumentation was dictated by money. Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben both came from affluent millionaire families, with the latter’s father a prominent architect who oversaw the redesign of the Cologne-Bonn Airport.

As expensive as synthesizers were back then, the more avant-garde types tended to prefer EMS equipment as it did not come with a keyboard, while those who liked melody opted for the Minimoog.

KRAFTWERK of course bought both! But as former member Ebehard Kranemann remembers “KRAFTWERK was not about the money, it was about the music”.

And with his Farfisa organ and its preset rhythm accompaniment, Hütter became fascinated with mechanical percussive templates and goaded their then-drummer Klaus Dinger with his proclamation that it was “the fastest drummer in the world”.

Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother were working class boys, which influenced their pursuit of a more organic approach and ultimately led to them flying the KRAFTWERK nest to form NEU! While Rother had the talent and an easy going manner, Dinger had ambition and his forthright tendencies did not win him many friends. “With Klaus, you never knew if he would give you a headbutt or an invitation to dinner…” says Wolfgang Flür, “…all in all, I didn’t like him”.

Dinger was explosive, confrontational and unpredictable. In KRAFTWERK, while Hütter and Schneider had their neon lit signs with their first names in blue, he wanted one with ‘Klaus’ in red! When Colgate offered to pay a substantial amount of money to use LA DÜSSELDORF’s hit ‘Rheinita’ in a TV advert, he declined. There was also the incident of him breaking journalist Konrad Schalensick’s nose following a negative review of their second album ‘Viva’.

The signs were there from the start, with Dinger playing rhythmic guitar alongside Rother’s melodic interplay, not satisfied with just being the drummer. So without Conny Plank to act as buffer and referee, NEU! would never have lasted for three albums. The silent partner in NEU! who recognised talent and created an atmosphere for musicians to experiment, Plank was without doubt a factor in the second side of ‘Neu! 2’ being filled with speeded up and slowed down variations of a previously issued single.

The thorny issue of KRAFTWERK’s treatment of Conny Plank is discussed in the book; “I don’t know where KRAFTWERK would be today if it wasn’t for Conny” says Hans Lampe, assistant to Plank and later to become a member of LA DÜSSELDORF.

However, Plank did accept 5000 Deutschmarks (a lot of money in 1974!) which bought him out of the co-producer credit on ‘Autobahn’ after it was licensed and edited for release by Capitol Records in America.

Another discussion point is Karl Bartos‘ contribution to KRAFTWERK as he wrote many of the melodies as ‘the kraftsman’. According to Michael Mertens of PROPAGANDA who was a conservatoire classmate: “Karl understood that to make popular music, you had to retain some degree of naivety”.

Classical music education played an important role and it appeared in the most unlikely of places. DAF’s Robert Görl had much in common with Karl Bartos and Michael Mertens, although Görl says: “Wir wollten lieber mit Maschinen arbeiten. We always preferred working with machines”.

During the post-punk period, just as Liverpool had Eric’s, Manchester had The Factory and London had The Blitz, Düsseldorf had a creative centre emerge around Die Ratinger Hof.

Affordable synths from Japan such as the Korg MS20 were a game changer for younger bands like DAF and DIE KRUPPS as they found their sound. However, there was an important distinction between synths and keyboards as Kurt Dahlke of DER PLAN and PYROLATOR explains: “I insist that I am never credited as a keyboardist on records. A keyboard player is some kind of all-round entertainer, sat at his keyboard using various presets. I insist on synthesizer”.

While KRAFTWERK were a reaction to the Americanisation of popular culture in Germany, the next generation of more forthright and aggressive acts like DIE KRUPPS and DAF were a reaction to KRAFTWERK.

Jürgen Engler mentions “I hadn’t bought a single KRAFTWERK album” while Gabi Delgado comments that “To me, KRAFTWERK were sounding too boring, too beautiful, too sedate and too sterile” and even adds “Sequencers and Moroder. That was more important for electronic music than the entire legacy of KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF”.

DAF’s preference for a militaristic aesthetic caused controversy and confused observers, but from the off, they were out to shock. They attracted a following which Gabi Delgado hated; his parents had escaped from the Fascist Franco regime in Spain. However, their early sequencer guru Chrislo Haas was less bothered and flirted with the ideology as a fashion statement.

Their manager Bob Giddens reckons “DAF kind of overdid it later on with their hyper-Germaness” and as they hit the peak of their success, Ralf Dörper reckons they disappeared in a haze of “Sex, drugs and sequencer”. Haas eventually left DAF and went on to form alternative club favourites LIAISONS DANGEREUSES in a charged partnership with Beate Bartel of MANIA D.

Of course, all this is only a small part of the story. The visionaries, technicians and eccentrics who played their part like the late Gunter Körber (A&R for Metronome and Brain Records who later founded the Sky label that issued key albums by Michael Rother and Wolfgang Riechmann), inventor Werner Lambertz and Florian Schneider’s sister Claudia also give their takes on the scene.

The book appropriately ends its coverage in 1986, when KRAFTWERK’s ‘Electric Café’ disappointed many and led to the departure of Messrs Flür, Bartos and eventually Schneider.

But fast forward to 2017 and Düsseldorf has come to terms with one of its biggest cultural exports and is now happy to celebrate the city’s influence on musicians and artists all over the world.

However, the final word has to go to the departed Klaus Dinger: “A lot of people may have helped themselves to the stuff we developed, and then made big bucks abroad. But nevertheless I’d go as far as saying: this was only ever possible in D-U-S, my home town Düsseldorf”.


‘ELECTRI_CITY – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music’ is published by Omnibus Press, available via all good book and online retailers

https://www.facebook.com/Electri.city.Esch/

The ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE takes place in Düsseldorf on FRIDAY 27TH and SATURDAY 28TH OCTOBER 2017 featuring ANNE CLARK, ROBERT GÖRL, STRÖME, ARCTIC SUNRISE, ELECTRONIC CIRCUS and KATJA VON KASSEL – for further information, please visit http://www.electricity-conference.com/

Tickets available from https://www.eventbrite.de/e/electri-city-conference-2017-tickets-37245039917

https://www.facebook.com/ELECTRICITY.Conference/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
26th August 2017

ANALOGUE SOLUTIONS Interview

Making Electronics For Electronic Music, Analogue Solutions is a British company that specialises in the manufacture and modification of analogue synth related equipment.

It produces a wide range of devices utilising different architectures and methodologies, some of which emulate the design of classics instruments from the past.

Products with glorious names such as Vostok, Tereshkova, SEMblance, Telemark, Leipzig, Red Square, Station Q, Station X, Europa, Oberkorn and Concussor form part of their impressive line and have been purchased by the great and the good from the world of electronic music.

The Electricity Club spoke to the company’s founder Tom Carpenter about his passion for synthesizers and his active involvement in helping to shape the sounds that are heard in music today, even from some of the most unlikely of sources…

How did you first become interested in electronic music?

The first bands that I used to listen to were really inherited from my older siblings. I just listened to what they listened to. But within their collections were songs such as ‘Sweat Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, ‘See You’, ‘Meaning Of Love’ and ‘Autobahn’ amongst others. Those early songs stand out. Whether that’s because I particularly liked those types of songs back then, or it’s just a kind of hindsight, I don’t know.

The first band, well, artist, I really got into and discovered myself was HOWARD JONES. Mainly because of him I totally got into synthesisers, and taught myself to read and play music. It sort of led the way to me being obsessed with electronic music.

Apart from liking the singles, I didn’t fully get into DEPECHE MODE until a mate played me ‘Black Celebration’. That blew me away! Then I went straight out and bought all the back catalogue. I have fond memories of the late 80s and the 90s of going to vinyl shops and hunting down anything on Mute, and all the euro-electronic bands like FRONT 242, FRONTLINE ASSEMBLY, TELEX etc.

All the classic manufacturers have their own stories as to how they came to be successful but which one of them for you personally had the most romantic notions?

Do you mean which classic manufacturer stirs up the most emotions? To be honest, when I first started messing around with synths in the mid to late 80s, I loved them all! I can’t single out a preferred manufacturer. But I did like Roland and Moog a lot. I found Yamaha and Korg too weedy (although there are classic exceptions like say the MS20). Really I just have favourite products rather than manufacturers.

These days I am really into old samplers. I have an Emulator II and two Emax IIs.

What was the first synth you owned and how was it to use?

The first synth I owned was a CZ5000. The plan was to get a CZ1000, but ended up with the CZ5000. I was given a little book and had to pay it off each week! I was about 15 at the time, and it was great! The on-board sequencer allowed me to compose my own tunes. It’s all I could afford at the time. I eventually got a drum machine, and also a dual tape deck so I could bounce tracks. My first analogue synth was a SH101, which I bought second hand. They had already been out a number of years by then.

The Synth Britannia explosion was partly initiated by affordable synths coming from Japan by Korg, Roland and Yamaha. What main differences in usability and sound were there in your opinion compared to synths from American manufacturers like Oberheim, Moog, ARP and Sequential Circuits?

All this happened before I really got into synths. Most of those guys were fading or slowly converting to digital. I was in my mid-teens when I got into synths, and synths like the DX7 were just released. Drum machines were just going digital. Products like the Prophet VS – hybrids. The ‘new’ sound was digital. Looking back, you could summarise in saying the US synths were phatter and the Japanese weedier though Roland were less so.

But I love all analogue synths. I know some synths are better or have more features, but give me any analogue synth, and as long as it has a way of being sequenced (CV or MIDI), I’ll use it. In the early 90s, I had really basic monosynths like a couple of SH09s, SH101, Rogue, CS40M, TR606, etc. Nothing mind blowing, but I used to run all this stuff live and it sounded amazing! Though I would’ve loved a big Moog modular, or Prophet 5 or whatever, I am happy to use anything.

Were the affordable digital synths like the Yamaha DX7 and later the Roland D50 a death nail for creativity in electronic music for a number of years?

Only for certain artists. The more versatile the tools get, the lazier people become. Why bother creating a patch from scratch if you can just select ‘Native Dance’ on your D50? The same laziness applies today with plug-ins. Why bother manually patching in a spring reverb when you can patch it in yourself? But ultimately a good tune is a good tune, just depends how critical you want to get over the production.

So the digital synths certainly were the start of lazy music making. However, you also had the dedicated artists like DANIEL MILLER and ALAN WILDER who would still work hard to create unique sounds.

So when did your interest in synths start becoming more serious to lead to it becoming a vocation?

I was never happy working for people so I was always destined to go self-employed. But what to do? I started by buying and selling old synths and drum machines. This served me well for a couple of years, but I could see this wouldn’t last. Used gear was getting harder to find, too many dealers fighting for product.

I used to modify old synths with extra inputs such as audio-ins through filters, so this type of work started to increase. But if you’re technically minded and have some electronics knowledge, it’s just a matter of time before you start building stuff. I started small and simple. That’s how the first modules came about. The first (working) thing I built was the TR808 kick drum, shortly followed by the TR909 kick and a Gate sequencer.

What comes first in conceiving a new product; research for a gap in the market or an artistic/engineering vision?

Definitely no research! My designs could be called ‘artistic vision’! but that’s perhaps a little too pretentious. Everything I have built is something that I want for myself or anything that I think will be fun. I might say “wouldn’t it be cool to have my own patchable synth” – then I go out and put one together. If an idea doesn’t interest me, I won’t do it. I just try to build cool looking and sounding synths. It’s all about the synths! I try to get them looking vintage and sounding vintage, because ultimately that’s what interests me. Also their features and sound are directly aimed at what I call real electronic music. I want them to be used to create DM, KRAFTWERK and ERASURE sounds!

Would you consider yourself an engineer, artist or businessman?

All three combined. You need all three; engineer to make them a reality, artist to make them look and sound good (and to keep you sane), and businessman because unless they make money, you can’t continue.

Engineer/businessman are the hard and boring tasks, but the artistic side is the end result and what keeps me going, because believe me, running your own business is very stressful.

Which musical acts are your all-time favourites? And have any actually inspired the equipment you produce?

DEPECHE MODE! No individual band though has really influenced design as such. There are types of sounds that I like, and many cool sounds are hard or impossible to produce on a classic analogue synth. For instance, most of the original monosynths do not allow you to sweep the pitch with the envelope generator. But this feature allows a whole new range of cool percussion sounds. So I design that into all of my synths.

It’s interesting that the names of several Analogue Solutions products have a Cold War / Mittel Europa chic about them…

There was no real plan. It all started with Red Square. Basically I wanted a random sounding name. It had a bright red colour, and was sort of square (well, rectangular!) so I called it Red Square. That led to the Cyrillic font. Cold War artistry does look cool though.

Vostok was named after Lake Vostok in Antarctica where NASA are doing experiments. Those two Russian names, plus a space theme in Vostok led the way for more Russian, then later, European names.

They are usually inspired by a book I was reading or song that I was listening to at the time. Telemark was the location of a WWII mission while Leipzig is a university town where some great physicists worked.

People are using synthesizers again as opposed to ‘keyboards’ or samplers. Why do you think in the last ten years or so there appears to be a demand for analogue instrumentation that has a more tactile quality about it?

I am a little cynical to be honest. Yes, some artists are going back to the old stuff, but many more are using plug-ins more and more. I’ve met a few of the classic electronic artists known for their use of analogues. But many have all digital studios now. The problem is partly coz they have young engineers/producers, and these guys only know computers, and also laziness as I mentioned before ie plug-ins!

There are some artists that are using analogue because it’s a little trendy these days. Yes there are more analogue synth companies now than there was ten years ago, but it’s still a very small market and always will be. Also the majority of the synth companies only make one or two small products or even modules. For many of those guys it’s probably just part time or a paid hobby.

Please explain as simply as is possible to the uninitiated how one of your semi-modular synths like the Telemark could be used to make music without a conventional keyboard being connected to it…

DANIEL MILLER used to manually trigger percussive sounds or mute/unmute etc on the ARP 2600. You can do this with Telemark.

It has a trigger button. You could manually trigger it with your pinky. Or you could make drone sound effects. I’ve done both before! You can feed audio through its filter and use it as an effect. If you have an analogue sequencer, like our Oberkorn, it can be played that way too.

The classic Oberheim Synthesizer Expander Module (SEM) forms the basis of the SEMblance and Telemark. Were there any copyright issues that needed to be cleared first as there have been situations in the past like the Octave Cat copying the ARP Odyssey or the Clef Master Rhythm copying the Dr Rhythm??

No. I guess we all take our chances. Out of all the ‘new’ analogue synth companies out there, I can assure you, there are very few truly original (filter circuit) designs out there.

Some are obvious clones, and some make no mention of where the circuit came from. I wonder how many of the synths or modular designers out there are designing filters from scratch. Not many!

That’s not to say anyone can just copy a synth. It still takes years of experience to do this right. Firstly, many schematics have mistakes in, which must be hunted out. Then you’ve got to think about the mechanics, construction, power supply, printing, packaging etc…the list goes on! The circuit design is like just 5% of the work needed to bring a synth out.

What do you think of the synths produced by the various electronic pioneers that are effectively 21st Century updates of their classic instruments such as the Moog Voyager, Dave Smith Prophet 08 and Linn designed Dave Smith Tempest? Are they worthy competition in today’s market?

It’s my personal opinion, but I don’t like them. They are just too clean and perfect. They have lost that quirky character of the classics. It’s like now they have the knowledge and ability to take that original filter, oscillator etc and make them perfect. They can design out any cross-talk, glitches, drift etc. Super perfect tuning. Filter tracks exactly. No signal bleeding between circuits. They just sound to perfect – almost DSP like.

Everything is ultimately under CPU control; because all the controls are digitally scanned. The CPU then controls all those circuit parameters directly (and digitally). So nothing drifts, and in many cases you can hear ‘steps’ in say a filter sweep. Some are worse than others.

Also, though they appear to have one control for every function, they nearly all have controls that have more than one function, so some delving is still needed – which is personally something I don’t like doing.

They are great for say live where you need presets, and you get more for your money. But personally I am into the ‘classic’ sound. My synths are built the traditional way. Purely analogue. The pots aren’t digitally scanned. The VCOs aren’t computer controlled, they’re tuned with a good old tempo resistor! My synths have that vintage quirkiness. There are all those nice weird things happening subtly in the background.

But different people have different opinions and needs. No one is better, it’s down to your taste and what you need, and how you work.

Are there any notable Analogue Solutions customers you are allowed to tell us about and what they purchased?

Well, there’s a nice list on my web site! But the ones that stand out are usually those whose music I personally like! An Oberkorn was used on DM’s Sounds Of The Universe, Martin Gore has a load of my stuff (that’s enough alone to make me retire happy). There’s KRAFTWERK, TRENT REZNOR (Oberkorn, Vostok), DANIEL MILLER (modules), THE HUMAN LEAGUE (sequencers, modules) and HANS ZIMMER. There are other artists too that I’m not into much but others are, like APHEX TWIN and a whole bunch of dance music guys. But also, lots of really cool new electronic bands like VILE ELECTRODES who are really into their old synths and quite frankly deserve a record deal!

You met KRAFTWERK’s Florian Schneider at a trade show in Frankfurt?

Yes, I don’t remember the year, maybe six years ago. He was cruising the stand and we started chatting! At first I didn’t realise it was him! I live in Birmingham and he was saying there used to be a good bicycle manufacturer there. He talked a lot about cycling! I finally realised! I asked to take a pic and he was gracious. He made an effort to pose. He put on his glasses and posed with the Vostok, turning a knob and gazing pensively into the ether.

At the same trade show was Bob Moog whose stand was next to mine! He was selling signed photos of himself!

You’ve recently worked with ALAN WILDER?

I helped clean up some of his synths for his recent auction. But my main contribution was to extract the banks off all of his ‘Masses’ and ‘Devotional ‘floppies (and syquests).

The hard drive on his Emax had died, so my buddy Simon Forsyth got that replaced. Then after hours and hours of messing around, I got all the floppies loaded onto my Emax.

The discs were in very bad shape. Some samples refused to load, but using an old XP computer and some special software, I ‘forced’ the PC to load the sounds. A few banks had some glitches where the PC had to ignore disc errors. Eventually I got all sounds loaded and compiled on my Emax. I handed Simon the ZIP disc so he could load them on Alan’s Emax. I also suggested to Alan to sell 20 serial numbered copies at his auction. That he did, and they sold for about £500 each! I also got to back up other tour and studio samples too which he may use one day.

I also lent him a Telemark to use on his recent UK tour. There is another RECOIL project I might be helping on, but I can’t tell you about that yet!

The wonderful synth songstress TARA BUSCH has used your equipment too?

Tara recently contacted me about a project she is working on. I lent her a Tereshkova. She really enjoyed that! She has now passed that onto Benge who works with JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS… he’s loving it too! They are both really cool people.

Who has been the most unlikely artist to have ever bought one of your products, one that would have synthpop fans reaching for the ‘eject’ button?

The ones that don’t interest me I tend to forget quickly! But I was once told ‘one of the heaviest metal bands in Sweden’ bought one of my synths. Also one of the guys from the RED HOT CHILLI PEPPERS, the drummer I think! Those two seem unlikely. There’s a whole bunch of well known ‘dance’ producers/DJs who have bought my stuff. I have little love for DJs.

Over decades, electronics have integrated themselves quite well into percussion and to a lesser extent, wind instruments. But one area it doesn’t appear to have captured is guitars. So why do you think the guitar synthesizer has never really taken off as a concept?

I’m not sure. Might be best to ask a guitarist! Early on it was probably finding a way to interface a guitar to a synth. It’s probably just an interface thing. Drums and keyboards you just need a trigger with velocity. There aren’t many ways to hit a drum or key. But guitars, there are dozens of ways to play a single note.

I have to say I was a bit surprised to learn recently that the solo in QUEEN’s I Want To Break Free wasn’t Brian May on a guitar synth but their session keyboardist Fred Mandel…any comments?

I am not that old! Most of my contemporaries are at least 10 years older than me! Best ask Bob Williams or Deiter Dopefer! They listen to old man music!

The Avatar guitar synth effectively crippled ARP, so would Analogue Solutions ever consider building one?

Well, you’ve really sold the idea to me 🙂

What are Analogue Solutions working on at the moment?

I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you! I have keyboard versions of the Telemark and Leipzig-S finished. I am hopefully going to be collaborating on a project with DANIEL MILLER to make a Mute product. I have an idea of what that will be. But it’s very early days.

I have tonnes of ideas, and many are really cool and fairly original, but the problem is time and money. Some are outside my abilities, and the problem is good designers and software writers are hard to find and generally want paying! It’s a shame because a lot of these ideas will die with me. I have at least 30 or more great products that have reach various stages. Some nearly complete prototypes, some are sketches. And there are a bunch in my head.

Are there any of the new generation of electronic or synthpop acts who you particularly rate?

VILE ELECTRODES are superb. They are making EXACTLY the type of noises I like synths to make.

Though they are different sub-divisions of electronic music, they both have a genuine love of true analogue synths and drums. Those two always pop into my mind first. There are probably others, but I can’t think of them right this second! (Sorry if I forgot anyone….)

There is now more music than ever being made with accessible laptop technology and software. But is the quality suffering because ‘everyone’ thinks they can be a musician? Where do you see electronic music heading in the future?

A good songwriter is a good songwriter, no matter what the medium they write on. Sure, everyone thinks they can become a good musician, but they can think it all they like, it doesn’t mean they will be successful! But ultimately whether good or bad, laptops and new technology makes it easier for people to get into music. And if that gives them a hobby and pleasure, then that’s fine!

What is bad though are the ones that ARE successful. You only have to listen to the charts and you hear lazy programming, plug-ins, side-chain compression, auto-tune. The chart end of the music really is getting worse. It’s not me getting old! Honest!

It’s also bad that these chart guys end up producing albums and doing remixes for the classic electronic bands we all love, and end up murdering their songs!

What has been your proudest achievement/favourite product with Analogue Solutions?

They come in stages. First it was getting my first circuit working. Then getting a little award for ‘Best Analogue Synth’ from a US mag (!) In recent years, meeting many of my idols (either in person, or just having email conversations) like Messrs Gore, Wilder, Miller and Oakey. The thing that amazes me is that these people know who I am and contacted ME! They are people I grew up worshipping. Years back, I’d never imagine I’d get to meet them or be contacted by them.

My favourite product is usually whatever the latest release is. However, though Leipzig-S is also a new release, it is my favourite because it really does sound SO good. I put the right balance of modulation routings on there. Run the sequencer and you have instant analogue satisfaction! I also choose modulation routings to make it really good for percussion. It’s one of the only synths that has even given me goose bumps.

Your own favourite synth of all time and why?

That’s like trying to choose your favourite DM song. I like so many. None really spring to mind. I used to love my MS20. Most analogue synths make great sounds so I love them all! I also used to love my Micromoog, and even the lowly Rogue. I am a big fan of the Moog bass sound. The Korg 700S and Korg 770 were amazing too.

The worst synth ever created?

Anything by Groove Electronics. The pitch and scaling used to go right out every time I switched them on. Like I said though, I like all analogue synths. I can generally find a use for them all. A better question might have been ‘what is the most overrated synth?’ – I can think of many!

OK, so name and shame now…

TB303 and Juno 106 are both overrated. I’ve used some big cool stuff and wasn’t that impressed – like for instance the E-Mu modular.

Is there a funny story involving synthesizers or an artist that you can tell us about?

Crikey, a few… getting locked out my car on ALAN WILDER’s front drive was daft!

I get the occasional stupid tech question. I’ve had a guy whose cat p*ssed over his Vostok. Another guy dropped his Vostok off a table.

I remember driving around Sutton in Surrey to collect a synth. After about an hour looking for the place, I rang the guy and he said “no! Sutton Coldfield!”… which is about 3 hours away!

Any other future projects?

I’m working on some remixes for various bands. I’ve not done any music for about 10 years, and just this month finished building my home studio and have ‘got back into it’. Really sounds good to have all those nice synths running live.


The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Tom Carpenter

www.analoguesolutions.com

Analogue Solutions
1 Court Crescent
Kingswinford
West Midlands
DY6 9RJ
United Kingdom


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
24th February 2012