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David Bowie / Brian Eno - 1974 EMS Synthi
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Buchla, EMS & Serge  
Author David Bowie / Brian Eno - 1974 EMS Synthi
bsilverberg
Had the privilege of attending the "David Bowie Is" exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in New York last night. It was an absolutely fantastic display of items and well thought out multimedia presentation from across his vast career, I highly recommend it. Despite the strict 'no photography' rule I could not stop staring at the Synthi on display and felt obligated to share here for those unable to attend. Below is the text as written on the placard:

EMS London
Synthesizer (EMS Synthi), circa 1974

---------

This synth was used in the recording of Low, "Heroes," and Lodger. It is a key element of their pioneering electronic soundscapes. It was gifted to Bowie in 1998 with a letter from Brian Eno that read, "Look after it. Patch it up in strange ways - it's surprising that it can still make noises that nothing else can make."

cuttooth
Thank you for sharing this! I really wish I could make it out to the exhibit, since Eno and Bowie are two of my favorites.

I need to make friends willing to gift me a Synthi. hihi
cretaceousear
Nice - it was briefly messing around with one of those the got me interested in this world. That and the noises Brian made on it.

Did Bowie use it on anything else ?
Can't think of anything myself, though I don't know the later stuff too well.
cebec
Thanks for sharing! Very cool. Legendary instrument and legendary musicians.
woVERTICES
Yep...great to see the wonderful show at the Brooklyn Museum! Great to see this historic instrument...but why in such a darkened corner of the show; it show be visibly and LOUDLY celebrated!!!
Best,
John
www.johnjpotter.com
prototek
GREAT POST!! I've been an obsessed Bowie fan since I was 9, so seeing him (and Eno) get some attention here makes me happy. The two of them used a nice little bunch of synths on those "Berlin Trilogy" albums and I've always wished there was more documentation regarding which synths were used on which tracks. It's been years since I've looked at the liner notes of Low, but I seem to remember each song listing which synth was played and by whom.

One of the synths used on "Heroes" (and possibly the 2 other Berlin albums) that definitely surprised me as it's not exactly the most popular or common piece was the Steelphon S900. D.B. used it on "Sense of Doubt".
There's great footage of him in the studio, circa "Heroes". My Italian is worse than poor so I can only assume Bowie is "acting" out the recording of Sense of Doubt for this Italian documentary. Either way, priceless footage from an important time of this avatar's career.

Glad you enjoyed Bowie Is. I'm looking forward to going in July. Every time I think about that show it dawns on me just how prescient it was of Bowie to save all of his costumes (going all the way back to '72!). It's also a miracle they are all in such fantastic shape! And some of these outfits were worn many a night while on tour so it seems amazing to me that the rigors of the road somehow had very little negative affect on them.

Back to synths... Unfortunately, no, I don't think Bowie ever used the Synths again. Imagine the incredible direction things could have taken if he only did! The latest I can think of him using an analog synth was in 1980 on the Scary Monsters album. On the outro of Ashes To Ashes one can hear someone riffing away on what to me sounds unmistakable like a Minimoog. Sawtooth wave and lots of portamento. Then a couple of years later when he went on tour, he had Roger Powell handling keyboard duties. I seem to remember Powell relying heavily on a Memorymoog for the live shows.
Of course, Bowie's use of Moogs during live shows is nothing new. During the Ziggy tour, he always had a Minimoog (sometimes 2) on stage. I've heard lots of live Ziggy recordings, none of which feature any synth (Mellotron doesn't count!). Anyone know what the Mini was used on during those Ziggy shows?

Sorry for making this so lengthy, but I'm a rabid, OCD-level fan so I tend to get a bit chatty when Bowie comes up (and before his death that was basically never. I sometimes wondered if anyone else even knew who he was!).
I only regret not going to more shows. The last one I went to (which was GREAT) was in September 1996 at the Roseland Ballroom. I was literally pushed up against the stage so I got to watch him and the band perform from a only a few feet away. That and the intimate-vibe of a place like Roseland made it an unforgettable show.
I saw him maybe a year earlier when he did that HORRIFIC tour with NIN. It was nobody's fault, it was just a misguided idea because the goth kids that came to see NIN were so perplexed who this old guy was and they really didn't get it. I saw them at the Meadowlands. I got there 2 hours early and while waiting in the lobby I hear "Look Back In Anger" coming from somewhere. I followed the sound and reached the doors that lead into the arena. I looked through the windows of the doors and gasped when I saw D.B. and his band on stage rehearsing. I immediately checked if the door was open (it was) and ran like hell down the closest aisle, all the while security guards were closing in from every direction. I got to the edge of the stage before they could reach me and what happened next I'll never forget... I'm standing looking up at Bowie and he motions to his band to stop playing. He also called the dogs (security) off. He then proceeded to introduce himself and we then chatted for about 10 minutes. Nicest, most down to earth guy ever. I was out of my head with nervousness but he had a way of making one feel at ease somehow. He somehow managed to make me feel like he actually cared about what I had to say. I think that alone took away the mind-loop of "OMG, this is David Bowie"!
Total class-act and I'll always be grateful for that experience. Ironically, the concert that followed (with NIN) was a complete bore. Bowie re-worked every one of his so given songs, either putting them in half-time or dramatically slowing them down. And since the "backing music" seemed to be mostly pre-recorded, fully electronic arrangements, none of the songs had a trace of Bowie DNA in them. IMO, it was his first tour in ages. He wasn't sure what his audience "looked like" anymore, nor was he sure of how much of an audience he still had. It seems natural he wasn't feeling completely confident given the circumstances. At least that tour let him "take the temperature" of things.
So! Good to see there are some serious Bowie fans on here! I had no idea.
we're not worthy
prototek
I forgot to include the Sense of Doubt video (featuring the Steelphon 900) in my last post! d'oh!
Here it is...
David Bowie- Da Marte a Berlino (1977)
cretaceousear
Wonderful post prototek! Thanks thumbs up

[As a teen I was a big prog fan and turned my nose up at DB - then a bit later my girlfriend was a big fan so I grew to like Station to Station and Young Americans - and then Sound and Vision arrived - to me that's sublime pop. Only got to see him the once in London 83 - Scary Monsters is the album I play most] I shall be watching that video !
SmartBits
Indeed nice post prototek! I must say I loved the album he was promoting at the time on tour with NIN, wish I could have been there. I do have some recordings of him and NIN doing some songs together (Hurt, Scary Monsters and Reptile I think) and those sound absolutely fantastic.
I was at the Bowie Is exhibit in Groningen back friday Januari 8th 2016. By coincidence it was his birthday that day so we got a goody bag to celebrate that. The monday after while driving to work it was on the radio that he died.
askthedust
prototek wrote:
I forgot to include the Sense of Doubt video (featuring the Steelphon 900) in my last post! d'oh!
Here it is...
David Bowie- Da Marte a Berlino (1977)


Hey!
I'm a huge Bowie fan as well, and somewhat obsessed with the synth sound and production of Low.

From what I've gathered the past few years, the Synthi was of course used a lot, but they didn't have the KS keyboard sequencer or they chose not to plug it (it was probably reattached later, when Eno offered it as a gift to Bowie). Most of the Synthi parts you can hear on Low are sfx, percussive noises, oscillating filter sirens played with the joystick : all the cool sounds on the A side that are a bit hidden behind the band in the mix but give the production of Low a very avant garde feeling.
If you listen closely, you can hear it on Always Crashing in the Same Car, and I'm also pretty sure the white noise percussive sound you hear on Sound & Vision comes from it (sending noise to the trapezoid generator and using the manual trigger button to trigger it in time).

The main lead keyboard is an ARP Pro Soloist, and its famous "fuzz guitar"preset that you can hear distinctively on Weeping Wall. But an Arp Odissey was also used in the studio and then live to recreate the lead keyboard parts of the album (the ring mod sounds in Speed of Life, the S&H intro of What in the World, the lead part with delay on A New Career in a New Town).

All the B-side features a lot of Bowie's Chamberlain and TR-77 drum machine (Art Decade). Warszawa is Bowie's Chamberlin + a Mini Moog.

A Solina can be heard all through the album, notably on Speed of Life, Sound & Vision and Subterraneans.

Low is probably my all time favorite record I'm always super happy to discuss about it, especially on a synth forum smile

I've even tried to emulate some Chamberlain tones from it with M-Tron



Graham Hinton
bsilverberg wrote:

This synth was used in the recording of Low, "Heroes," and Lodger. It is a key element of their pioneering electronic soundscapes. It was gifted to Bowie in 1998 with a letter from Brian Eno that read, "Look after it. Patch it up in strange ways - it's surprising that it can still make noises that nothing else can make."


I have heard several figures ranging from £5000 to £13000 for what Bowie paid Eno for that Synthi A from people in direct contact with them, but never that it was a gift before.

The irony is that he never recorded with it again, but it is now "worth" more as a collectors' item because it belonged to both of them. It is sad to see instruments in museum exhibitions and then put back in storage afterwords.
ritchiedrums
woah
askthedust
Graham Hinton wrote:
bsilverberg wrote:

This synth was used in the recording of Low, "Heroes," and Lodger. It is a key element of their pioneering electronic soundscapes. It was gifted to Bowie in 1998 with a letter from Brian Eno that read, "Look after it. Patch it up in strange ways - it's surprising that it can still make noises that nothing else can make."


I have heard several figures ranging from £5000 to £13000 for what Bowie paid Eno for that Synthi A from people in direct contact with them, but never that it was a gift before.

The irony is that he never recorded with it again, but it is now "worth" more as a collectors' item because it belonged to both of them. It is sad to see instruments in museum exhibitions and then put back in storage afterwords.


A possibility is that Bowie actually bought it and Eno wrote the letter for this occasion, but for the exhibition the Bowie clan considered it would be more glamorous to talk about a “gift”.
mrfang
Dissenting opinion: Bowie's collaboration and tour with NIN were excellent. Outside was not an album many Bowie fans loved, but it was produced by Eno and has a sound that is more innovative than some of his more popular albums.
Lofisynthguy
This is an amazing piece of history!
Dreams of owning one of those
askthedust
mrfang wrote:
Dissenting opinion: Bowie's collaboration and tour with NIN were excellent. Outside was not an album many Bowie fans loved, but it was produced by Eno and has a sound that is more innovative than some of his more popular albums.


I definitely agree but I'm biased because I love NIN as well.
Speaking of which, their latest single, released a couple days ago sounds to me like a big Blackstar ripoff...
search64
I’d say it’s more an ode to.
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