Bright Sparks: new documentary film celebrates the synthesizer pioneers

Most of us know a little bit about synth history, and about the seminal hardware that got us to where we are today, but fewer of us could tell you much about the stories behind these machines and the people who created them.

However, a new documentary, Bright Sparks, shines a light on the individuals and companies behind the classic synths we all know and love, and comes accompanied by a concept album by I Monster of the same name.

In fact, the album actually came first, before the cinematographic baton was picked up by vintage synth lovers Dave Spiers and Chris Macleod. They're also the owners of GForce Software, which has been responsible for a number of acclaimed plugin versions of classic synthesizers.

The documentary focuses on a selection of key companies - Moog, Buchla, ARP, Chamberlin, Mellotron, EMS, EDP and Freeman - and features interviews with some of their key personnel. These include Peter Zinovieff (EMS), Ken Freeman (Freeman), Herb Deutsch (Moog), Alan Robert Pearlman (ARP) and John Bradley (Mellotron).

Tributes paid

There's also insight from some of the artists who've taken the synths created by these brands to their hearts, including Will Gregory (Goldfrapp), Rick Smith and Karl Hyde (Underworld), Alessandro Cortini (Nine Inch Nails), Billy Currie and Chris Cross (Ultravox), Daniel Miller (Mute) and Adrian Utley (Portishead).

The film reveals that early synth development was driven not out of a desire to make money, but a passion to create, which meant that commercial success was never guaranteed.

The album, meanwhile, was recorded by I Monster using many of the instruments that are celebrated in the film.

To order the album and film as a combined downloadable package heard over to the Bright Sparks website. It costs £15.99.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.