Thursday, April 16, 2009

Geoff Downes Asia - Synth Collector

Geoff Downes, once one half of the Buggies, then keyboardist with Yes and Asia, and now a solo artist with a forthcoming album, owns one of the biggest synthesiser collections in the world.

... "What was your first synth ?

Well, I waited 'til the Minimoog came out to get into that, simply because of the convenience. A lot of bands started using that - Yes, ELP, and so on - so I figured I'd better get one.

I was at college at the time and we were "studying synthesiser" on that early EMS thing, the VCS3, which Floyd and Roxy were using. But no-one at the college knew how to get a decent sound out of it.

We were always experimenting with it, waggling the joystick, but all it made was horrible noises. It's difficult to believe that was only 12 years ago, but that was the leading edge of synthesiser technology.

You've now got two Minimoogs, plus numerous other Moogs. I notice that with them and the numerous Prophets. you tend to favour the American sound.

Yes, I've always been an American (or at least an English-speaking) synthesiser man. It's the warmth of the oscillators I like, which even today the Japanese can't seem to produce.

The Prophets and Moogs, in particular, excel at this. Take the Moog Taurus pedals, for example. You still can't get that huge sound out of anything else.

The next thing I bought was a Polymoog, which, al-though pretty terrible by today's standards, was the first polyphonic machine. That really did open up a whole new set of possibilities, because then you had instant string sounds and all those other pad sounds.

And although the Prophet was probably far closer to being a polyphonic Minimoog, the polyphony was still a major thing.

Of course, when the Prophet 5 came out that was a whole new thing. The sort of changes you could make to a Minimoog patch you could now do polyphonically. .

The Polymoog was really quite rigid in its tonal alterations, but the 5 was a dream machine in terms of flexibility. It was like five Minimoogs plus a programmable memory, which was really revolutionary.

Was there anything between the Polymoog and the Prophet ?

Yes, the Yamaha CS80. That was a glorification of the Polymoog approach. It did have four memories you could set up (if you include the two under that lid with the fiddly little sliders), but it was still mainly presets.

The CS80 has lasted a lot longer than the Polymoog in terms of its sound. It's still being used, despite its limitations .. . Yeah. I bought mine around 1980, to help out with the Yes thing, but I was never that into its sound.

I suppose it's part of my prejudice against Japanese synths.

They just don't have quite the right sound for me. I've still got it though, and I'll be using it somewhere on the new album I'm sure. I'm going to get everything on there somewhere.

From MT 1987

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