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"In actuality, the most inventive way to use a synthesizer is to misuse it. That's what we've done. That's what a lot of techno musicians do now. The French call it deconstruction." --Irmin Schmidt quoted in Modulations: A History of Electronic Music

"[...] In 1975, an edited version of "Autobahn" was a top 10 hit. It wasn't the first synth hit --that honor belongs to Gershon Kingsley's hissing "Popcorn," performed by studio group Hot Butter-- but it wasn't a pure novelty either." --"Machine Soul: A History Of Techno", Jon Savage

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Synthesizer as used in music, is a term derived from a Greek word syntithetai < synthesis (συντίθεται < σύνθεσις) and is being used to describe a device capable of generating and/or manipulating electronic signals for use in music creation, recording and performance. A synthesizer is capable of generating and manipulating audio tones such as musical notes. Synthesizers can create electrical signals needed to drive and play audio amplifiers. The tone is generated by electrical circuits which may have adjustable parameters (as in analog synthesizers), and can perform mathematical manipulation of signal using a microprocessor and digital signal processing (as in digital synthesizers), or by a combination of both methods. Synthesized sounds may sometimes contrast with recordings of natural sounds , though sampling synthesizers significantly blur this distinction.

Music synthesizers sometimes include a keyboard, which makes them reminiscent of certain traditional musical instruments, like a piano or an organ. Various alternative or additional pitch controllers, such as "fingerboards" and "ribbons", have been employed as well. (See sound module.)

The term "speech synthesizer" is also used in electronic speech processing, often in connection with vocoders.


From modular synthesizer to popular music

In 1959–1960, Harald Bode developed a modular synthesizer and sound processor, and in 1961, he wrote a paper exploring the concept of self-contained portable modular synthesizer using newly emerging transistor technology. He also served as AES session chairman on music and electronic for the fall conventions in 1962 and 1964. His ideas were adopted by Donald Buchla and Robert Moog in the United States, and Paolo Ketoff et al. in Italy at about the same time: among them, Moog is known as the first synthesizer designer to popularize the voltage control technique in analog electronic musical instruments.

"Moog became the first synthesizer designer to popularize the technique of voltage control in analog electronic musical instruments. Donald Buchla in the United States and Paul Ketoff in Italy had been developing commercial synthesizers using the same principle at about the same time, but their equipment never reached the level of public acceptance of Moog's products and only a handful were sold."

A working group at Roman Electronic Music Center, composer Gino Marinuzzi, Jr., designer Giuliano Strini, MSEE, and sound engineer and technician Paolo Ketoff in Italy; their vacuum-tube modular "FonoSynth" slightly predated (1957–58) Moog and Buchla's work. Later the group created a solid-state version, the "Synket". Both devices remained prototypes (except a model made for John Eaton who wrote a "Concert Piece for Synket and Orchestra"), owned and used only by Marinuzzi, notably in the original soundtrack of Mario Bava's sci-fi film "Terrore nello spazio" (a.k.a. Planet of the Vampires, 1965), and a RAI-TV mini-series, "Jeckyll".

Robert Moog built his first prototype between 1963 and 1964.

In the late 1960s to 1970s, the development of miniaturized solid-state components allowed synthesizers to become self-contained, portable instruments, as proposed by Harald Bode in 1961. By the early 1980s, companies were selling compact, modestly priced synthesizers to the public. This, along with the development of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), made it easier to integrate and synchronize synthesizers and other electronic instruments for use in musical composition. In the 1990s, synthesizer emulations began to appear in computer software, known as software synthesizers. From 1996 onward, Steinberg's Virtual Studio Technology (VST) plug-ins – and a host of other kinds of competing plug-in software, all designed to run on personal computers – began emulating classic hardware synthesizers, becoming increasingly successful at doing so during the following decades.


The synthesizer had a considerable effect on 20th-century music. Micky Dolenz of The Monkees bought one of the first Moog synthesizers. The band was the first to release an album featuring a Moog with Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. in 1967, which reached number 1 in the charts. A few months later the title track of the Doors' 1967 album Strange Days featured a Moog played by Paul Beaver. In the same year, Bruce Haack built a homemade synthesizer that he demonstrated on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. The synthesizer included a sampler (musical instrument) that recorded, stored, played, and looped sounds controlled by switches, light sensors, and human skin contact. Wendy Carlos's Switched-On Bach (1968), recorded using Moog synthesizers, also influenced numerous musicians of that era and is one of the most popular recordings of classical music ever made, alongside the records (particularly Snowflakes are Dancing in 1974) of Isao Tomita, who in the early 1970s utilized synthesizers to create new artificial sounds (rather than simply mimicking real instruments) and made significant advances in analog synthesizer programming.

The sound of the Moog reached the mass market with Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends in 1968 and The Beatles' Abbey Road the following year; hundreds of other popular recordings subsequently used synthesizers, most famously the portable Minimoog. Electronic music albums by Beaver and Krause, Tonto's Expanding Head Band, The United States of America, and White Noise reached a sizableTemplate:Clarify cult audience and progressive rock musicians such as Richard Wright of Pink Floyd and Rick Wakeman of Yes were soon using the new portable synthesizers extensively. Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock also played a major role in popularising synthesizers in Black American music. Other early users included Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Keith Emerson, Tony Banks of Genesis, Todd Rundgren, Pete Townshend, and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown's Vincent Crane. In Europe, the first no. 1 single to feature a Moog prominently was Chicory Tip's 1972 hit "Son of My Father".

In 1974, Roland Corporation released the EP-30, the first touch-sensitive electronic keyboard.

Impact on popular music

In the 1970s, electronic music composers such as Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Isao Tomita, released successful synthesizer-led instrumental albums. Over time, this helped influence the emergence of synthpop, a subgenre of new wave, from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. The work of German krautrock bands such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, British acts such as Gary Numan and David Bowie, African-American acts such as George Clinton and Zapp, and Japanese electronic acts such as Yellow Magic Orchestra and Kitaro, were influential in the development of the genre. Gary Numan's 1979 hits "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and "Cars" made heavy use of synthesizers. OMD's "Enola Gay" (1980) used distinctive electronic percussion and a synthesized melody. Soft Cell used a synthesized melody on their 1981 hit "Tainted Love". Nick Rhodes, keyboardist of Duran Duran, used various synthesizers including the Roland Jupiter-4 and Jupiter-8.

Chart hits include Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" (1981), The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" and Giorgio Moroder's "Take My Breath Away" (1985) for Berlin. Other notable synthpop groups included New Order, Visage, Japan, Men Without Hats, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, Eurythmics, Yazoo, Thompson Twins, A Flock of Seagulls, Heaven 17, Erasure, Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beat, Kajagoogoo, ABC, Naked Eyes, Devo, and the early work of Tears for Fears and Talk Talk. Giorgio Moroder, Brian Eno, Phil Collins, Howard Jones, Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby, Kate Bush, Enya, Mike Oldfield, Dónal Lunny, Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren all made use of synthesizers.

The synthesizer became one of the most important instruments in the music industry.


Since their invention, there has been concern over synthesizers putting session musicians out of a job, since they can recreate the sounds of many instruments. Some musicians (especially keyboardists) viewed the synth as they would any musical instrument. Other musicians viewed the synth as a threat to traditional session musicians, and the British Musicians' Union attempted to ban it in 1982. The ban never became official policy. Broadway plays are also now using synthesizers to reduce the number of live musicians required.

Synthesizer music, especially synth-pop, has been described as "anaemic" and "soulless".

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Synthesizer" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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