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British synth pioneer Peter Zinovieff, one of the creators of the EMS VCS3, has died aged 88

Peter Zinovieff
(Image credit: Kaye/Express/Getty Images)

Peter Zinovieff, the legendary British musician and engineer who helped to create the iconic EMS VCS3 synth, has died at the age of 88. The Guardian reports that he suffered a fall at his home earlier this month.

The son of Russian aristocrats, Zinovieff was born in 1933 and studied Geology at Oxford University. He was a contemporary of Delia Derbyshire, which whom he worked in the ‘60s, 

Zinovieff founded EMS (Electronic Music Studios) in 1969 with electronics boffin David Cockerell and composer Tristram Cary. At the time, theirs was one of only four companies offering commercial synthesizers, the others being ARP, Buchla and Moog.

The VCS3 was EMS’s first product. Released for the princely sum of £330 in 1969 - a year before Moog's legendary Minimoog - it was designed to be portable. This was a synth you could gig with, and loads of famous musicians did, from Pink Floyd and Roxy Music to Hawkwind and Heldon.

What made the VCS3 so special was its patching system. Unlike cable-laden semi-modulars such as the ARP 2600 or Korg MS-20, the VCS3 used a 16x16 matrix into which pins were inserted to connect sources to destinations. The pins themselves had varying tolerances, making the process beautifully, astonishingly unpredictable.

Other synths followed. The Synthi 100 was a large-scale modular, while the Synthi A put the guts of the VCS3 inside a briefcase. There was also an expanded version, the Synthi AKS, which added a sequencer and a small keyboard, and a couple of vocoders.

In his later years, Zinovieff returned to being a composer, and was featured in GForce’s 2015 Bright Sparks documentary. Musicians - including Jean-Michel Jarre and Pink Floyd - have been paying tribute to him on social media. 

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Ben Rogerson

I’m the Group Content Manager for MusicRadar, specialising in all things tech. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 20 of which I’ve also spent writing about music technology. 

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