Tag Archives: Moog Synthesizer

The ExoPlanets Suite

ExoPlanet Suite front cover

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

 

 

Snowsteps for Moog Ensemble

Snowsteps

For Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, 10 players

 

This is the second piece I have written which is based on, and is a transformation of, a Prelude by Claude Debussy. The piece, “Des pas sur la neige”, translated as “Footsteps in the snow”, is the sixth in Book 1 of the Preludes for piano, written around 1909-10. Although there is no specific literary or artistic allusion contained in the title, the romantic image of the lonely journey through a winter landscape, punctuated by moments of hope and of despair, is a common one in European art. Schubert’s Winterreise, settings of words by Wilhelm Muller, is perhaps the most famous.

 

Following the example of painter Joan Miro’s transformation of Dutch master Hendrik Martenzoon Sorgh’s “The Lute Player”click here for link, I have kept the shape of the original piece intact, but adding mirroring phrases and transforming the harmony.

 

In my first Debussy transformation “Windgames”, the original instrumentation remains. When the opportunity to write something new for the Moog Ensemble came up, it allowed me to explore some of the timbral landscape of Debussy’s piece. My first piece for the Ensemble, “Oceans of Heaven”, was based on the instrument’s ability to make a note appear from, and disappear back into silence. In “Snowsteps”, I’m exploiting, among other things, the instrument’s ability to change the timbre of a note over its duration – great for conjuring images of changing shades of sunlight reflecting and refracting on snow.  The high tones, with filters open, create a glassy quality, as of ice. The use of delay pedals, with muted swirls of notes, of drifting billows of snowflakes.

 

In a few places the progress of the piece is interrupted. One hears distant unearthly harmonies like howling wolves, or a mourning choir of angels. This is achieved on an instrument called a Swarmatron.

 

One can imagine several iterations of this piece, each getting further and further away from the Debussy – as if successive snowfalls were gradually burying and adumbrating the original contours.

 

Would Debussy have composed for the synthesizer if he were here now? A bit of a cliché question, and rather problematic considering all that has happened to musical language since his time: Stockhausen took the exploration of electronically generated sound to an extreme point half a century ago – notwithstanding that it was Debussy that opened the compositional door to timbre and colour a half century before that. Debussy conceived of his music as “the art of sound and colour”; he was interested in the sonorous possibilities that modern musical instruments offered. It would be difficult to imagine a piece like “La Cathedrale Engloutie” on a harpsichord, for example. So, yes, if the synth had been around in Debussy’s day I’m sure he would have been intrigued by its capabilities. He was never interested in the organ though – but then the timbre of an organ note cannot be changed while holding a note down…

Will Gregory Moog Ensemble Tour

The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble will be touring June – July 2015. See gig calendar for details. The tour ends with a performance at Barbican London 8th July alongside Charlemagne Palestine. The program will include a new work by Eddie Parker and new arrangements from the soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange.