Instruments | Synthesizer | Contemporary | Classical
The world’s first synthesizer was the American RCA Mk I, made in 1951, whose bulk occupied a laboratory. To play it, composers such as Babbitt had to tap in punched-tape instructions – there was no keyboard. In 1964, Robert Moog (1934–2005) developed the first commercially successful synthesizer. It was capable of generating a wide range of sounds but was monophonic – able to sound only one key at a time. Walter (later Wendy) Carlos popularized the instrument with her record Switched on Bach (1968). From the 1970s ever more sophisticated and miniaturized polyphonic instruments were developed. Tristan Murail’s (b. 1947) Les sept paroles (‘The Seven Last Words’, 1986–89), written in quarter-tones, uses the synthesizer’s ability to play microtones – intervals smaller than the modern Western semitone. Adams’s The Wound Dresser (1988), Reich’s The Cave (1989–93) and a host of works by Glass also make significant use of the synthesizer.
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