The synthesizer is a musical instrument that produces sound by using one or more electric generators such as valves or oscillators. It’s a device capable of producing sinusoidal, rectangular, or triangular sound signals at the output. A synthesizer relies solely on the supply voltage for this purpose, without the aid of acoustic or mechanical vibration.
Electronic sound dates back to 1906, with the discovery of the triode. Lee de Forest invented it, influenced by another brilliant idea, specifically that of John Ambrose Fleming’s diode. While the diode allowed for current regulation, the triode could amplify electrical signals in the entry or generate continuous oscillations.
Later on, the transistor became an unquestionably critical component in the development of powerful and marketable synthesizers. Walter H. Brattain, John Bardeen, and William Schockley of Bell Laboratories invented it. This contribution won the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics. In 1951, a new electronic component would simplify voltage control dynamics and pave the way for miniaturization.
With the advancement in voltage control came the synthesis of sound. That meant the possibility of manipulating sound in its frequency, timbre, waveform, and intensity components. This led to different sound production and control devices that could connect to each other like units. The practice resulted in the creation of modular synthesizers.
The Moog synthesizer
Robert A. Moog, back in the 1960s, developed one of the most famous brands of synthesizers. They are still highly used to this day. He took the modular structure, voltage control strategy, and interest in transistor-based devices from Hugh Le Caine’s, Raymond Scott’s, and Harald Bode’s instruments and reflections. Moog presented his Voltage-Controlled Music Modules in New York in 1964. He envisioned the development of devices capable of allowing the musician greater compositional agility. Moog boasts the title as the main one responsible for the modular system’s popularization. His devices were genuinely unique because of their increased control capabilities in sound production and ease of use.
Don Buchla, an American engineer, developed the Buchla Modular Electronic Music System around the same period as Moog. Buchla’s method employed touch plates instead of a traditional keyboard to transfer control voltages based on finger location and force. However, Moog’s keyboard made synthesizers more accessible and marketable to artists. Thus, keyboards became the usual way to control them.
Other synthesizer companies arose after retail stores began selling them in 1971. These included ARP in the United States and EMS in the United Kingdom. The ARP 2600, which folded into a carrying case and featured built-in speakers, and the Odyssey, a competitor to the Minimoog, were two of ARP’s products. European artists and progressive rock bands such as Brian Eno and Pink Floyd used the less costly EMS synthesizers.