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Benge interview, tutorial and video tour of his modular synth collection
What are you working on the moment?
"At the moment I have several collaborations that I am working on. Some are a bit secret right now, but others are ongoing like my project working with John Foxx. We have made three albums together in my studio in the last few years."
"Now the old stuff is even more expensive to buy that brand new stuff, which seems a bit strange really."
"It's been great, not only writing and recording with such an amazing person, but also because of his reputation as one of the founders of electronic pop music - there are so many great people who have been inspired by him - including a new generation of producers and performers. I've got to work with some really cool people as a result of my working with him. We are about to go on a UK tour together in support of OMD, which should be fun."
Benge in his incredible Memetune Studios in London.
A modern modular system made by synth legend Don Buchla.
A kit project from a German magazine called Elektor in the late '70s.
A Serge Modular from 1973-ish, made in California by hippies.
A very early American modular - very rare!
A early British semi-modular synth from 1969.
A Moog 3C from 1968 and a few current Moog-format modules
What's the future of modular synths?
"I think this is a very exciting time to be getting into modular synths - I believe there are currently more synth manufacturers than ever before - it really has come full circle and the move is away from computer-based systems.
"For me though, I have more of a passion for old and forgotten instruments - that has always been my philosophy here at the studio - to take all those old, thrown away pieces of equipment and bring them back to life and keep them going. It just so happens that other people have got back into these old machines again now and the old stuff is even more expensive to buy that brand new stuff, which seems a bit strange really."
Is there a module you would like to see invented?
"One module I would like to see is a kind of universal compatibility device, so that you could match and combine all the various formats, meaning all the different voltage ranges, cable connectors, audio levels, trigger options, clocking and syncing between modules. Oh, and a voltage controlled coffee filter!"
What's the best thing about having so many modular synths?
"The best thing is being able to keep recombining sounds and mutilating them beyond all recognition. That's why I love having the patchbays, because you can send all the various modulars to all the effects units and processors, and keep mangling the signal chain in any way imaginable. I also like the individual systems and think they all have their own character.Because of the various choices the designers made they each have a very distinctive sound.
"I made an album a while ago called Twenty Systems which tries to document the character of each synth and capture their essence in a short piece of music, a picture and a written description of each one, spanning the years 1968 to 1988."
What's the worst thing about owning these modular synths?
"The main problem with this old equipment is the maintenance. There is always at least one or two in the workshop at any given time. In fact there are some components inside some of these pieces that are getting very hard to find. I have heard stories of synths being broken up to get working parts out of them to fix another machine"
What are your three favourite synth moments?
"First up is the modular Moog solo at the end of ELP's song 'Lucky Man'. It is one of the most powerful sounds on record in my opinion, and must have sounded amazing when it was first released in 1970. Next is an entire album by Morton Subotnick called Silver Apples of the Moon. It was made in 1967 using only the Buchla 100 synthesiser, and it still sounds totally cutting edge today.Having just got my own Buchla 100 I can finally understand how he achieved some of the amazing sounds on this album.
Thirdly I would choose the sequenced bass line on Kraftwerk's Autobahn. Theres something so magical and simple about it, and its the perfect combination of melody and rhythm - something that sequenced analog synths do so well."
Last year, Benge started a download project of solo electronic albums which can be found at http://zackdagoba.bandcamp.com/
If you want to see what Benge gets up to in the studio check out his Blog at http://myblogitsfullofstars.blogspot.co.uk/