Ewan Stefani (University of Leeds, UK)


This paper argues that despite the increasing popularity of analogue (subtractive) synthesizers, in-depth studies of synthesizer performance practice in popular and experimental music are under-represented in academic research. Special features of the analogue synthesizer are briefly defined within the broader context of electronic music instrument research. By examining recordings of live and online video synthesizer performances, the paper explores different strategies for technology-centred audiovisual analysis of music. Where instruments can be clearly defined (as in the case of most non-modular or semi-modular synthesizers), in-depth analyses of performance practice are presented. Each analysis reveals the specific framework and affordances of the synthesizer used in each case, and the different musical approaches to the same instrument across a range of video performances. Three main modes of performance practice are identified: keyboard-centred, parameter-centred (spectral) and sequencer-driven. Musical examples are used to demonstrate how modes of performance practice overlap, often incorporating elements of two or more categories. Problems of identification and instrument definition are discussed, particularly in relation to modular synthesizers. Potential solutions are proposed in the identification of generic features of synthesizer performances by creating a lexicon of practice, focussed upon the use of sequencers, arpeggiators, controllers, and common types of modulation. In conclusion, the paper proposes further refinements to technology-centred analytical methods arising from this initial research. In particular, the integration of existing cultural and social frameworks will be proposed to broaden the scope and relevance of the analyses.