• Electronic Music Studios London Ltd (EMS), the Synthi 100 synthesizer and the construction of electronic music histories

Morgan, Frances, 2021, Thesis, Electronic Music Studios London Ltd (EMS), the Synthi 100 synthesizer and the construction of electronic music histories PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

The study of the institutional electronic music studio has become a popular way of framing historical narratives of postwar electronic music. Recent studies of sonic and musical devices from a material cultures perspective likewise construct histories of electronic music through its technologies.

My investigation into Electronic Music Studios (EMS), which was both a studio and an electronic instrument company, starts from a reading of this literature. It also combines archival research with readings from philosophy of technology and science and technology studies (STS) to critically explore the multiple temporalities, discontinuous narratives, and wider cultural significance of electronic music histories.

Founded in London in 1969 by Peter Zinovieff, EMS was set up during a period of exciting developments in music, art, design and technology in the UK. It was unique in being both a private studio which hosted prominent composers, and a manufacturer of commercial synthesisers under the name EMS London Ltd. The computer-controlled ‘hybrid’ studio system developed at EMS was among the most advanced of its kind, making EMS an important location in the international
development of computer music in the 1970s. I examine the role of the computer in music and other art forms in the late 1960s and early 1970s, asking how wider cultural perceptions of new digital technology affected ideas about computing and creativity.

As an instrument manufacturer, EMS was, and is, best known for its VCS3, a small analogue synthesizer launched in 1969. In this study, I focus mainly on the Synthi 100, a large hybrid digital/analogue synthesizer developed in 1970–71. I chart the development of this instrument from its invention to its rehabilitation in the present day. Examining how the Synthi 100 was acquired and used at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, London, and the Electronic Studio at Radio Belgrade, I consider the importance of EMS’s instruments and philosophies to different electronic
music studio cultures in the 1970s. Through the lens of the ‘new organology’ of John Tresch and Emily Dolan as well as Susan Leigh Star’s notion of the ‘boundary object’, I develop a ‘map of mediation’ around the Synthi 100 and its users.

A number of projects to restore Synthi 100s have taken place in the last decade, both privately and with institutional support. Through a case study of a recent restoration project, I demonstrate that reconstruction and restoration processes help to illustrate the changing status of an historical electronic instrument, from investment through obsolescence, to become a new compositional tool, and, finally, a valuable object through which the cultural heritage of an institution can be enhanced.

In conclusion, I propose that the complex entanglement of past and present in electronic music histories can be perceived through the reoperationalisation of historical music technologies.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W300 Music
Creative Arts and Design > W300 Music > W330 History of Music
Creative Arts and Design > W300 Music > W360 Musical Instrument History
Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2021 15:18
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2021 15:18
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/4730
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