When asked in our August 1983 cover story which model of the PPG Wave he was using, Thomas Dolby replied, “It’s actually a prototype that predated the Wave by several years. It was originally designed to run light shows for Tangerine Dream. When PPG started experimenting with wave computers, they found they could sequence things using this device that had been designed for turning lights on and off. By assigning every sound a group number and a voltage, they could convert the on/off information to pitch.”
He’s talking about the incredibly rare PPG 340/380 system, which comprised a bank of digital oscillators (the 340A), a minicomputer with cassette storage interface (the 340B), and a multitrack sequencer called the Event Generator (the 380). A five-octave keyboard was included, but the sounds and sequencer were programmed from a text-only monochrome video terminal. Dolby used the system for its own sounds, to trigger other sound sources, and to control virtually every audio-visual aspect of his stage show.
“The drums on ‘Windpower,’ for example, were the PPG triggering a Simmons kit, plus me playing extra parts with my fingers,” he recently told me. “What’s probably more iconic is the bass part, which used the PPG’s sounds. That wavetable was so glitchy it had a rhythm to it! PPG were apologetic, but I said, ‘No, leave it.’ I think that sound inspired the whole song!”