Keyboard Hall of Fame

WHEN OUR FIRST ISSUE DEBUTED IN SEPTEMBER 1975, THE MUSICAL possibilities offered by synthesizers were in early adolescence.

WHEN OUR FIRST ISSUE DEBUTED IN SEPTEMBER 1975, the musical possibilities offered by synthesizers were in early adolescence. Audiences were accustomed to seeing multi-keyboard rigs on rock stages. Electronic organs, some with early auto-accompaniment, served as entertainment centers in many homes. Jazz had become a genre that was as respected and studied as classical. Genre-benders like Chick Corea and Josef Zawinul were blowing minds with this thing called fusion, Emerson and Wakeman had marshaled keyboards to combine classical complexity with rock ’n’ roll bombast, and Keith Jarrett had pushed spontaneous improvisation beyond what most jazzers thought possible.

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The common thread here is that talent and technology were converging to bring the idea of the “keyboard player” to a tipping point: something people wanted to be—and something that people with different stylistic bents, amounts of traditional musical training, and levels of interest in technology could see themselves being.

We are therefore very pleased to present the first Keyboard Hall of Fame, a new yearly honor roll of individuals and instruments that helped us all be the musicians we want to be—via example, inspiration, and/or putting the tools in our hands. One final word: Lists such as this inevitably generate responses of, “I can’t believe you didn’t include so-and-so!” We will—that’s exactly why we’re doing this every year.


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We have to confess to some initial pondering as to whether including Dr. Robert A. Moog would be too obvious, or to put it another way, whether he was more like the ground the Hall of Fame stood upon than anything that could fit inside the edifice itself.

Miles of ink have been spilled about Dr. Moog in the pages of Keyboard—not to mention by him, as he authored one of our first regular columns, “On Synthesizers” —some of the very first published writing that aimed to explain the basics of synthesis to the layman.

Dr. Moog wasn’t the only primordial synth designer, nor was his design philosophy the only valid one. There can be no doubt, though, that he was first to elevate synthesizers to mainstream cultural appreciation. This was due partly to the playability of the synths themselves and partly to his cultivating relationships with—and listening to feedback from—musicians. When Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach won three Grammys in 1969, any doubt that “serious” music could be played on these newfangled contraptions was put to rest. At the other end of the spectrum, Keith Emerson’s early and high-profile adoption of Moog modules cemented the synthesizer’s position as a rock ’n’ roll instrument—a role that the Minimoog would make available to the masses. In fact, the Mini became so ubiquitous that “Moog”—to the understandable chagrin of some competitors—became for a time a near-synonym for “synthesizer” in casual parlance, like “Xerox” for copy machines.

Though Bob left us too soon in 2005, two organizations carry on his legacy: the Moog Music company of today, which was born when Bob re- gained the legal right to do business under his own name in 2002, and the education- and preservation-focused Bob Moog Foundation, helmed by his daughter, Michelle Moog-Koussa. Need further proof of his influence? On what would have been Moog’s 78th birthday, Google transformed their logo into a playable “doodle” of a Minimoog. --STEPHEN FORTNER


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It’s easy to point to Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman as elevating the keyboard player to rock god status—and entirely appropriate, because they did. But where the heady times during which Emerson and Wakeman became famous made them seem otherworldly and supernatural, Jordan Rudess may well hold the title of Most Accessible Rock Star Ever.

His credentials are supernatural enough: At age nine, he went to Julliard. He’s played with the Dixie Dregs and David Bowie. In 1994, he was voted Best New Talent in the Keyboard readers’ poll. He’s toured with legendary synth player Jan Hammer. He currently makes his home in Dream Theater, the prog-metal band whose fans’ rabidity is matched only by devotees of Dethklok or Amanda Palmer. Seeing him execute a solo up close, there’s an effortless speed and precision that seems to occur outside of known physics.

All that ability is enough to make even the most well-intentioned wizard feel detached from the rest of us muggles, but if you meet Jordan, he proves to be a patient and passionate educator who seems to want everyone to play as well as he does—or at least to feel the joy of playing as well as one can. He has embraced alternative musical interfaces such as the Haken Continuum and Eigenharp, performed with students in college ensembles such as the Stanford Laptop Orchestra, and conceived iOS apps (MorphWiz, SampleWiz, and SpaceWiz) that can seduce even avowed musiphobes into making sounds.

Wanna be a well-rounded and ass-kicking keyboardist for the modern era? Check out Jordan Rudess, and then get busy. After all, the keyboard world shouldn’t have to wait too long for its next hero. . . . --STEPHEN FORTNER


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“I’m honored to be in the company of these other guys,” says Marcus Ryle, though that should surprise no one in the know. Products whose design he contributed to or masterminded include: the Oberheim DSX sequencer (upon joining Oberheim when he was 19) and OB-8, Xpander, and Matrix-12 synths; the Dynacord Add-One electronic drum brain and ADS sampler; the Alesis MMT-8 sequencer and HR-16 drum machine, QuadraVerb, QS-series synths; and the one product that most deserves the overused adjective “game- changer,” the Alesis ADAT. These days, you can find him at Line 6 modeling effects, guitar amps, and the latest revelation: StageScape, a where-has-this-been-all-our-lives system of networkable, “smart” P.A. gear.

About his early days in the synth business, Ryle says, “It was a very friendly industry, largely because it was small; you knew Phil Dodd and Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim and Bob Moog and Roger Linn. There’s no point lamenting that it isn’t so much that way anymore, because the change and growth that has come to the industry since has been phenomenal.

“The HR-16 and MMT-8 were what really opened our eyes [at Fast Forward Designs, the consultancy Ryle founded after leaving Oberheim] to how amazing it could be to bring technology to a price where you really could democratize music-making. In 1983 dollars, the Oberheim System [DSX sequencer, DMX drum machine, and OB-8 synth] cost over $10,000. In ’87, the HR-16 was something like $399, the MMT-8 $299, and they were vastly more powerful.”

The Fast Forward team went on to democratize the studio with the ADAT. “I’d worked on home studio gear and I’d done session work in real studios. At home, you wished you could sound like you were really making a record, but you always sounded like you were just making a demo.” Introduced at NAMM in 1991, the first ADAT changed that, offering eight tracks of professional digital recording on a VHS-like cassette. You could scale up by adding multiple units at a then shockingly low list price of $3,995 each, as ADATs could be synced and made to respond to a common control panel. What MIDI had done for keyboard playing, composition, and arranging, the ADAT did for multitrack audio recording—launching the project studio revolution.

Having played a huge part in the democratization of recording, Ryle now aims to do the same for the P.A. with Line 6’s StageScape. “Our modeling products have made it possible for any guitarist to get a great sound quickly,” he explains. “For live sound, our new approach provides the same ability, whether you’re experienced with gear or not—for everyone in the band.” --KEN HUGHES


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We had hoped to speak with Jon Lord, a founding member of Deep Purple, about his Hall of Fame induction. Sadly, he passed away at age 71 on Monday, July 16, before we got the opportunity.

A multi-faceted musician who folded jazz, blues, and orchestral sonorities into his rock organ playing, Lord reflected on Deep Purple, in our March 1983 cover story, as “the first hard rock band to use keyboards in another way than just as a cosmetic background effect … when Ritchie [Blackmore, guitarist] and I were trading licks and swapping solos and doing things like that that were taken from jazz but were unusual in rock.”

Lord also pioneered a brash new sound on the Hammond organ—one that relied on heavily overdriven amps instead of the usual Leslie speaker. Both his tone and his playing demonstrated that keyboardists could rock with even the raunchiest of guitarists. “At the very beginning, it was difficult not to play a Hammond like Jimmy Smith or Jimmy McGriff or all those ’60s organ stars,” he continued. “But if you’ve got any kind of searching mind, copying somebody else gradually becomes very unsatisfactory.”

In the documentary Classic Albums: Deep Purple—The Making of Machine Head, he elaborated: “I could hear another sound in my head. So I discussed with a technician that I was working with at the time the possibility of tapping straight into the Hammond, and putting it through a straight speaker. That seemed like a feasible idea—until I realized that I uncaged the beast!”

Lord’s organ sound graced countless Deep Purple tracks, including “Smoke on the Water” and what is perhaps the heavy metal organ anthem, “Hush.” His solos seemed to embody the very essence of improvisation: spontaneity. Lord was equally acclaimed for his exploratory solo endeavors, like the recently re-released and re-recorded version of his 1969 large-scale composition “Concerto for Group and Orchestra.”

“The task I had given myself,” Lord said in the documentary, “was to play with some sensitivity and feeling, with that sound.” Mission accomplished, and much more. --JON REGEN


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Point-and-click synthesis has become so common, it’s hard to imagine the challenges that a young musician and inventor named Don Buchla faced when building his first electronic instruments for the San Francisco Tape Music Center in 1962. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Buchla’s technological debut—and he’s still going strong.

By the beginning of the ’70s, companies like Moog and ARP had spread the synth gospel far and wide. Buchla and Associates (which preceded ARP by more than five years) has always been a smaller, specialty builder. Buchla’s early modular analog synthesizers, the Series 100 and 200, were used by experimental musicians such as Morton Subotnick, and were found in many university music labs. More than a few of today’s top keyboardists, composers, and producers cut their teeth on a Buchla instrument.

As synth design trended towards familiar slabs of keys vying for a home atop your Rhodes, Buchla continued to build instruments that offered tonal and compositional possibilities beyond the limits of the 12-note keyboard. His fascination with gestural sensing and alternative controllers led him to build such visionary instruments as Lightning, which sensed the player’s hand positions using infrared light sources; Thunder, a two-handed multi-touch sensor that had programmable X/Y touch plates and transmitted MIDI; and the Marimba Lumina, a large electronic marimba played with four special mallets that had radio transmitters in their heads.

His 500 Series, starting in 1971, was one of the very first digitally controlled analog synths, a concept that became universal by the mid-’80s. In 1982 the 400 Series was one of the first digital instruments to feature a built-in sequencer with a piano- roll display. More recently, he has returned to microprocessor control of analog sound with the 200e.

Buchla and Associates recently became Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments, due to acquisition by a group of industry veterans that includes former Keyboard tech editor Michael Marans. Don tells us this will free up his time to design new instruments. Whatever he has in mind, we can’t wait to play it! --JIM AIKIN


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Even if you got through the ’70s and part of the ’80s without ever buying a record or going to a concert, Suzanne Ciani made sure you heard the sound of the synthesizer in your living room. How? She was one of the first and most prolific electronic composers to use and promote the synth as a sonic wellspring for TV ads, jingles, and soundtracks. Her success spread the idea of the sound designer: Here was a new career path for musicians willing to learn their way around a synth.

Her most famous spot was the “pop and pour” sound for Coca-Cola’s classic commercial, but her work was everywhere, encompassing tags for Atari, American Express, car manufacturers, TV networks, you name it. Other highlights included music for Bally’s Xenon pinball game and sound effects for Meco’s disco version of the Star Wars theme. When Lily Tomlin hired her to do the soundtrack for The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Ciani became the first woman to score a Hollywood feature film.

As Wendy Carlos was to the Moog, so was Ciani to the Buchla synthesizer, which she discovered in graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley. “When I first went to the Buchla, I thought I’d never go back to the piano,” she told us in a recent conversation. “Synths may be technical, but for me, they actually debunked the ‘pretentious world of difficulty’ associated with studying music—they made it more accessible.” Though recent years have seen her return to piano performance, she recently acquired a new Buchla 200e. “I’ll let you know when I make some sounds with it I want you to hear,” she laughs, “as it’s such a deep instrument.” In the meantime, check out Lixiviation, a newly released anthology of her most seminal compositions and commercial work, on the Finders Keepers label. --STEPHEN FORTNER


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While the synthesizer industry is massive—and nearly 50 years old—few inventors are truly entitled to be called legends. Bob Moog is one, as are Tom Oberheim, Roger Linn, Alan R. Pearlman, and Don Buchla. Dave Smith, though, stands out as a legend whose mission today has total continuity with his mission at the beginnings of the synth industry: To make synths fun and affordable to gigging musicians.

He developed the first fully integrated polyphonic synth with patch memory (the Prophet-5), vector synthesis (the Prophet-VS), wave sequencing (the Korg Wavestation) and computer-based software synthesis (Seer Systems Reality). His current instruments deliver the same analog goodness and bang-for-buck that motivated his vintage ones: The Prophet ’08 could be called the new Prophet-5, the Mopho Keyboard the new Pro-One, the Poly Evolver . . . is like a Prophet-5 and a PPG got fused by a Star Trek transporter malfunction and a galactic dance party ensued. Modules like the Mopho and Tetra have spearheaded the resurgence of inexpensive, control voltage-capable desktop synths—and have gained huge followings in both the analog enthusiast and electronic dance music cultures.

About his return to hardware, which began with the Evolver module, Dave says, “The Reality soft synth did a lot, but I realized I was never playing with it. I had to ask myself why. I realized how silly it is to have a computer screen—QWERTY and mouse on one side, MIDI keyboard on the other—and somehow try to have fun. At the same time, I was helping Roger Linn on his AdrenaLinn, and I realized how much I liked hardware. It’s fun. It has knobs and switches. Unlike soft synths, which always have to be ported to new platforms and operating systems, it’ll still work in ten years.”

Though he’s not given to boasting, Dave Smith was also the primary contributor to the invention of MIDI itself. In fact, he coined the acronym. Full stop. --FRANCIS PRÈVE


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Five-time Grammy-nominated Fred Hersch is absolutely one of the most daring pianists on the planet. Hersch paid his dues accompanying legendary Jazz musicians like Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, and countless others. He can also be credited with helping usher in the countermelody-laden sound so many younger pianists champion these days. He had a tenure writing Keyboard’s “Solo Piano” column, and former students of his include Brad Mehldau, Ethan Iverson, and Jason Moran, who said, “Fred at the piano is like LeBron James on the basketball court. He’s perfection.”

His personal story is no less compelling. Hersch has battled HIV for more than a quarter-century, and recovered from an unrelated condition that left him in a two-month coma in 2008. In his typi- cal style, he channeled the experience into art, creating the multimedia piece “My Coma Dreams” in 2011. Look for an extended interview with Fred Hersch in an upcoming issue. --JON REGEN