Interpreting the Synthesizer


Interpreting the Synthesizer: Meaning Through Sonics examines the synthesizer’s significance for music and culture, with a range of contributors providing historical, musicological, practical and theoretical perspectives.

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The synthesizer as an instrument has evolved rapidly over the last 50 years, conveying different meanings in musical culture at various times in its history. For example, post-punk and new wave acts used synths to signify their embrace of futurism and modernity. Earlier psychedelic bands used the instrument to sonically represent mind expansion while prog acts signposted their lineage to the classical avant-garde. Techno artists used synths to escape the strictures of acoustic music in parallel with rave culture’s desire for escapism from the mundanity of daily existence. It is now seemingly ubiquitous in modern pop music production.

In Interpreting the Synthesizer: Meaning Through Sonics, the synthesizer  is examined from a range of cultural and musical perspectives, examining the instrument’s meaning for audiences and musicians, for music and culture, over the last fifty years. A range of contributors provide the perspectives of cultural theory, music history and electronic music practice. Examining such areas as the early advertising of British synth cottage industry EMS, the synth solo in 60s and 70s rock, the use of the synth throughout hip-hop’s evolution, live performance with modular synthesizers, Bowie’s use of synths in his mid-70s work and the obsession for gear acquisition amongst synth afficionados, this book will appeal to music historians and electronic music practitioners alike.

Nino Auricchio, Paul Borg, Warren Burt, Tim Dalton, Ian Dixon, Michail Exarchos, James Gardner, David Prescott-Steed and Nick Wilson all contributed to Interpreting the Synthesizer: Meaning Through Sonics. 

Read about the writers on our Bios page.

Read chapter summaries on our Chapter Introductions page.

Cover photo by Rikki Bunder
Cover design and layout by Pol Signerson

Nino Auricchio and Paul Borg present their paper “New Modular Instruments and Performance Practice” at the 2016 Synthposium: