When Will Gregory asked me to be involved with the Moog Ensemble I started writing some music for the group which formed the beginnings of this collection of pieces. It became apparent after a while that for practical reasons it wasn’t quite the right music for the group (I have written other music for the ensemble since), but I decided to pursue the idea of my own suite for synthesizers anyway. The notion of a collection of sci-fi scenes – planets with different characters and colours, gradually evolved.
The pieces show off the different kinds of music that have been made on synths. Some of it has a distinctly “radiophonic” feel – neoclassical fanfares, fugal writing etc – that reminds one of sci fi of the 1960s and 70s. Some of it is atmospheric or ambient – conjuring alien landscapes or architecture. There are occasional nods towards the electronic music of the avant garde, and to the dance music of the 1990s.
One of the intriguing things for me about the instrument is that despite its promise of being a new sound, it is in fact quite dated. Some of the sounds are so iconic and evocative that it becomes impossible to shake these associations off. So I decided to use these associations rather than avoid them. The synthesizer has many different traditions, many different colours: as noted above, there is the neo-classical (or more properly neo-baroque) style in many TV soundtracks of the 60s and 70s – for example, Doctor Who of the Jon Pertwee era. Many of the sounds in the original series of Star Trek (the Enterprise going into warp, photon torpedos, various planetary environments) are made on synths. Prog rock made much use of the synth and there are allusions to the style of bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Gentle Giant here too. The synthesizer was a big part of the jazz rock fusion era, and the soundscapes featuring in the music of Weather Report, Herbie Hancock’s HeadHunters, Chick Corea, and others, were created using synth sounds. Stevie Wonder worked with the TONTO team to create his own synth sound world. Later on, with samples and drum loops, another characterisation of the synth came into dance music.
The music of this album can be broadly characterised in three ways: there are “narrative” pieces like the fanfares and “Strange Games”; there are “ambiences”, either of environments or architecture; and there are dance-style “groove” pieces. The compositional approaches vary from the traditional dots-on-paper (“Hindemith Planetia”, “Nu World Synfonie”) method to more improvisatory jazz and dance-music methods (“Angular Momentum”, “Cloud Catcher”). The synth’s ability to create imaginary worlds is explored in an intuitive music concrete way, sometimes using actual sounds from the real world (“Rain Planet”, “Ice World Terraforming”).
Listen out for certain motifs carrying over from piece to piece. This gives a sense of continuity over the 18 pieces that form the suite.
There is a huge dynamic range over the course of the album. Some of the ambient music is very quiet. The synthesizer is an instrument which has the ability to create sounds that hover almost subliminally, and this is unlike any other instrument. I’m hoping that this dynamic range will draw the listener into the sound world of the ExoPlanets Suite.
I’m still exploring the world of the synth: there’s plenty more to come!
Eddie Parker 2016