Synthesizers changed the way music was made around the early 80s, although they began making appearances in the 60s and 70s, the digital era in music made them cover a lot more ground than it was expected at first.
When talking about synthesizers it’s important to know the difference between analog and digital. The biggest difference is that an analog synth only manipulates sound and a digital synth can generate sounds through software, however this also has consequences in the sound itself, digital sound is generated through a finite amount of numbers, analog handle electromagnetic waves directly which means more precision in its sounds.
First Digital Synthesizer
The first commercial digital synthesizer was the Casio VL-1 which was released in 1979, but the one that really made a mark in the 80s within the music industry was the Yamaha DX7 which was realeased in 1983 and marked the beginning of the sample, digital synth pop. It was at this time that synths really got some recognition, and it was all in the midst of the beginning of the digital era, where CDs were introduced and recording studios started to go digital. This does not mean that analog synthesizers died completely as they offered sounds that were very hard to replicate, and even digital/analog hybrids started to come out.
Wether it’s digital or analog, synthesizers allowed a lot of freedom during composition,and it made it easier to work with different layers of sounds and instruments, this lead to whole new world of experimentation.
One Man Orchestra
Vangelis Papathanassiou is a master of the synthesizer, this is no understatement, as he manages to make full sounds resembling big orchestras while still retaining some of the synth’s electronic sound. He is the composer of big film scores such as “Blade Runner” and “Chariots of Fire”.
Synthesizers allowed him to go through a different process of composing music, he said in an interview from 2016 by loudersound.com:
“If a musical piece I create lasts for six minutes and 30 seconds, it usually means it has taken me that time to create that piece,” he says of his compositional philosophy. “This is due to the system of recording and the technique I’ve developed through the years. When the moment is right and I start playing, I can have access to any sound I need, or rather what the music needs, immediately, which makes my work more complete. With this method I don’t have to go through the process of mixing because the mix happens during my performance. It’s a very liberating way to work. I sometimes listen back to pieces I may have recorded some months earlier and wonder where they came from, but it’s important just to follow the moment, when those moments come, and to not be afraid of making mistakes.”
This is not possible in any other way if not with synthesizers and the ability to handle them.
From Piano to The Future
Synthesizers in the end require the same techniques to play as playing the piano, for the most part, this means that it might be a good idea to start to learn how to play piano first, before getting into all the intricacies of synthesizers, modulation, samples and the electronic side of things.
It is however a very interesting idea to consider, because of how deep and new it all feels, even though synths have been around for a few decades, there is still a lot of new ground to cover and explore, even more so when the ability of getting the best of both worlds is getting perfected, this means the precise sound of analog synths with the whole digital computer sample and sound generation.