Twenty Systems

The debut release on Expanding Records' sub-label, Concurrent, explores the development of the synthesizer from 1968-1987. But it's much more than just a library piece, says Spannered's Kone-R.

By Kone-R

Ben Edwards is one of the people behind the excellent Expanding record label and has been writing and producing electronic music for many years now. Expanding itself is set to, well, expand. The lads have set up a new sub-label under the moniker Concurrent to put out, as they explained to me, "all the music that doesn't really fit with Expanding". You might expect the first release on the more experimental arm of an already cutting edge label to be a cautious affair, but all the stops have been well and truly removed. Known for their attention to design and the beautiful photographs that often adorn their releases, this particular effort is backed up with a 52-page colour booklet in a lovely digipak.

The concept behind the album is simple - 20 tracks, showcasing 20 different synthesizers, one from each year, covering the period 1968-1987. The extensive liner notes include an introduction from Edwards himself in which he explains; "the purpose of this record is to demonstrate the development of the synthesizer" - no mean feat. If this sounds geeky in the extreme, well it probably is. Some of these machines I'd never even heard of before, so it was a delight (speaking as a fellow geek) to be able to investigate the timbres of each one in turn.

Every track/synth has it’s own accompanying photo and text, delving into the history of each piece of kit and touching on the techniques used to create each piece of music. The EMS VCS3 is demonstrated with thick tones and some extreme bottom end. The liner notes are keen to point out that this particular machine found fame in the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop as the voice of the Daleks. The ghost of the Workshop reappears several times on the album – music made on both the ARP2600 and the Kawai K5M (actually the most recent machine on show) both give significant nods to the work of Derbyshire, Baker et al. Indeed, the idea of sonic exploration from within strict confines pervades this collection, as does a certain amount of retro worship - the Oberheim Xpander practically screams Vangelis soundtrack. But there are surprises to be had. The ARP2500 track sounds like a modern piece of laptop glitchery but this machine was actually made available to the public in 1970. The Serge Modular threatens a rhythm while all manner of squeaks go off, building to a crescendo reminiscent of the work of many of today’s faceless DSP kids – but stunningly, this box of tricks was developed before 1972 by a tutor at the California Institute of Arts.

It’s not all uneasy listening either. The pieces created with the Yamaha CS70M and the Moog Polymoog feature exactly the kind of gorgeous melodies for which Expanding is best known, and provide some of the highlights of the album. In his written conclusion, Edwards explains that the original concept was to see what the machines could do under their own steam, but of course “none of these machines are capable of working on their own” – so it’s man versus machine, and whilst Benge has put a bit of himself into the sonics, he has been sure to let the idiosyncrasies of each synth remain at the fore. In an age increasingly dominated by computer software for music production, this is a vital document of the evolution of the hardware of the last forty years, but it’s much more than just a library piece.
tim diagram posted 6 October 2008 (12:21:34)
looks and sounds great!
Kone-R posted 3 November 2008 (12:15:57)
Looks like this was finally released last week, in all good record shops now!
Joan (monoceros) posted 28 February 2008 (16:49:57)
I have it hehe...but a nice promo.Recommended, the shame is that expanding like other labels has reduced his releasings during last year, i supose for the decreasing of sales.
Site Admin posted 16 August 2007 (22:09:33)
Not out yet, unfortunately! Expanding are making some final tweaks to the accompanying booklet. Hold tight!
Bryan Replogle posted 16 August 2007 (19:42:29)
Where can you buy this album?? I googled it and only came up with a few mentions, and nowhere to purchase. Not even the Expanding records online store had it!
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