The idea for the Bright Sparks project began when Jarrod and I were sat twiddling with our Minimoogs and Mellotrons and reading a book by Frank Trocco and Trevor Pinch called Analog Days.
This book is a carefully researched and entertaining read about the various people and companies involved in the invention of early synthesizers. We quickly realised there was a connection between these inventors and ourselves, people making a machine or making music for the joy, adventure and discovery, before trying, and often failing, to successfully market and sell the little miracles they have produced. Art and commerce seem to be two very different worlds and it struck us that many of these pioneers were driven to create their inventions in much the same way an artist is driven â€“ itâ€™s rarely about money, itâ€™s because they feel they have no choice.
It occurred to Jarrod and I that maybe we should make a concept album that paid tribute to these fellow travellers of invention? To the people that have made our music making such an inspiring and fun process of sonic discovery.
We contacted Dave and Chris from GForce Software who, like ourselves, are slightly obsessed with old electronic music technology and the way that it has developed and shaped contemporary music. And with their help the idea developed into the creation of an album and documentary based around the inventors of those machines we use every day, and all of whom were true pioneers in their own distinct ways.
Ultimately we opted to write about Moog, Buchla, ARP, Chamberlin, Mellotron, EMS, Electronic Dream Plant and Freeman. This happens to be 50/50 split of USA companies and British companies which gives the album an A Side paying tribute to the USA pioneers and a B side dedicated to the British pioneers.
Dean Honer. 2015
First things first – I’ve been a fan of I Monster ever since the Never Odd Or Even album and later when I found out that they were GForce instrument users it was a moment of joy. This joy turned to elation when they came to us with the Bright Sparks project idea. Their initial request was simple. Would we provide a few instruments from our extensive synth collection so that each tribute track was truly authentic?
When you’re a fan of a band who dangle an opportunity about a subject that’s very close
to your heart, there’s only one sensible reply. “Yes!”
During the one of meet-ups surrounding the album, I Monsters’ Dean quietly asked me “I don’t suppose you’d make a short film to accompany the record?” And I immediately recalled a lost opportunity several years ago where I’d removed the back panel of our Minimoog in order to ask Bob Moog to sign it at one of the annual trade shows he always attended. However, en-route to the airport I realised I’d forgotten to pack it and duly cursed my forgetful nature. Chris, my long suffering business partner, rolled his eyes and then tried to placate me with a comment of “Don’t worry, he’ll be at the next one”. But he wasn’t and history now writes that Bob Moog, one of the founding fathers of synthesis and bonafide gentleman died on August 21st 2005.
Bob’s story is well documented and the excellent Moog documentary by Hans Fjellestad gives the viewer a real insight into the man behind the magic. But electronic music is peppered with so many other interesting characters whose stories remain either in the shadows or only available in text form, so Dean’s request was an opportunity to do something I’d always wanted. Namely to visually document stories of other significant electronic musical instrument pioneers.
The first interview took place with Ken Freeman at our studio in June 2014. Next up came Alessandro Cortini who, in the absence of Don Buchla, gave an eloquent and inspired insight into why Don’s instruments remain so special. Then, thanks to an old friend, James Bareham, who resides in New York, we were able to capture Herb Deutsch’s engaging and insightful stories surrounding the inception of both the Modular and Minimoog.
One individual we really wanted to film was ARP founder, Alan Robert Pearlman. Sadly though, despite several emails no reply was forthcoming, so in a moment of desperation I asked Mark Vail who explained that Alan’s computer had died and then very kindly connected us via telephone. Several conversations later Chris and I were sat on a plane to Boston heading to the home of a bonafide synth legend.
Further dots were joined by interviews with ex-ARP engineer Dennis Colin, EMS mastermind Peter Zinovieff and original Mellotron maker John Bradley, and in all cases these were fascinating insights from which Chris and I would leave repeating the word “Wow.”
However, a few key people remained elusive. EDP’s Adrian Wagner has always remained an enigma but a conversation I’d had with him in the mid 90s had gnawed at me to the point where I asked him to appear and clarify things. Sadly, largely due to health reasons he declined but nominated one of his closest friends and ex-EDP Sales Director Fred Gardner to recount his story in his absence.
Geographically there were also challenges, some of which were surmountable within our shoestring budget and some of which weren’t. For example, Harry Chamberlin’s family live on the West Coast of the USA and it wasn’t practical for us to fly there. However, I’ve been in touch with Harry’s son Richard and Granddaughter Brigid over the years, and had their blessing with a previous recounting of Harry’s story, and for that reason I decided that I would take on that task for this documentary. One day, I’d like to replace my verbiage with Richard’s, but for the moment, with apologies, I’ll have to suffice.
I offer no apology for how this ‘short film’ grew into the two hour tribute it is now. The truth is that if I had my way it would have been longer because consigning anything to the cutting room floor felt like sacrilege. I also offer no apology for some of the production values. We didn’t use super expensive DLSR’s and lighting rigs galore. Instead, the method of filming was often, set up quickly, record what we could and then leave before exhausting our welcome.
Spending any time in the company of these legends was an absolute honour and this film simply wouldn’t have been possible without its participants or the many that helped piece it together by way of connections, content and a commitment to realising it. To everyone involved Chris and I say a heartfelt “thank you” and we hope this film provides a first-hand insight into a few of the legends who have influenced electronic music since its inception. The Bright Sparks.
Dave Spiers. 2015