Thomas Dolby on Jim Henson’s little-known The Ghost of Faffner Hall manages an explanation of synthesis basics that is surprisingly original. And it involves a fly in a matchbox and a Minimoog.
This video has made the rounds over the past years, but seems to be back in the public eye. It’s worth watching to the end. Oddly, this counts as various Henson and public TV shows on synthesis I wound up watching at an early age.
Some topics you probably think of for granted are described in refreshing ways. A fly in a matchbox is definitely not one of the clichés you normally get in synth 101, so it just might inspire you to some different sound design approaches. (This is why teaching to beginners or children often leads you to new thinking even more than teaching so-called “advanced” material.)
Let’s gear-spot while we’re in 1989. So the sampler in the video is obviously a Fairlight CMI. When we talk about music production being accessible now, this was what came before – 80s composers frequently admit that they got all the gigs just by virtue of owning one of these fairly pricey machines.
Fairlight wasn’t the only game in town in the late 80s. For instance, the Atari ST had ST Replay – one of the tools kicking off the digital revolution on home computers. You can read a review from Sound on Sound 1989. I actually think maybe that’s ST Replay 4 in the opening shot with the Muppets, and not the Fairlight?
Other keys: Minimoog, and Roland D-50 (probably?) underneath.
Now I just want to see someone take that fly and explain West Coast synthesis, FM, and… well actually most modulation you probably could subject the fly to, huh?
Dolby joins a lot of fantastic synth legends on childrens’ TV – and begs the question why we aren’t doing more with kids today.
Herbie Hancock was on Sesame Street.
Suzanne Ciani was on science-focused 3-2-1 Contact in 1980. (That show, in turn, had a badass 80s theme tune.)
Not kids’ TV, but as if Omni weren’t cool enough already – mixing science and sci-fi and other geeky topics in print – it also had a TV show. Ciani was on that, too, in 1981:
And of course the high water mark for 80s Fairlight CMI was show composer Steve Horelick on Reading Rainbow. And like the others here, Steve has continued his career and remained at the forefront of music tech – not least being better at using Logic than basically anyone I’ve ever met.
Did I miss any? Let’s go ahead and do the comprehensive list, yeah.