March 1999 pp. 30-43

FAST Moving Music

Pioneering synthesist Larry Fast looks back on his career.

For more than 25 years, Larry Fast has been an electronic-music and analog-synth trailblazer. From his own albums to his work with a fascinating array of artists, Fast has been a tireless contributor to electronic music. He tells us about the music, technology, and people that have shaped his genre.

By Barry Cleveland

Just about every EM reader owes a little something to Larry Fast. A true pioneer in electronic music, Fast has been instrumental in developing the technology and the music that has shaped this genre.

His accomplishments over the past 25 years are impressive indeed: he assisted in the development of the Polymoog and Memorymoog and worked at AT&T Bell Labs on digital sampling and resynthesis, FM synthesis, direct-to-disk recording, and other nascent technologies. It's no exaggeration to say that, along with Wendy Carlos and several others, Fast created the vocabulary of analog synthesis. (If you doubt this, just audition the presets on the latest retro analog synth, and compare them to the sounds on Fast's mid-to-late-'70s recordings.) Fast has also authored his own music software and helped to develop the Universal Synthesizer Interface, which evolved into MIDI. More recently, he has designed and marketed a listening device for the hearing impaired and acted as a consultant in the development of digital audio watermarking. None of this should be surprising, coming from a guy who built custom synthesizer circuits for Rick Wakeman while still in college.

As a composer, Larry Fast was one of the first people to recognize that, by combining synthesizers with multitrack tape recorders, an individual artist could create an entire orchestra. Wendy Carlos blazed the trail in 1968 with Switched On Bach, and Fast, who called his one-man orchestra Synergy, followed her lead shortly thereafter. He released nine Synergy albums between 1975 and 1986, all of them featuring his signature sound: highly structured and richly layered orchestraI -style compositions that are created entirely on synthesizers. (For more information about this music, check out the Synergy Web site at synergy-emusic.com.)

In addition to his Synergy projects, Fast has worked with an astonishing variety of artists-Kool & the Gang, Southside Johnny, Bonnie Tyler, Hall & Oates, Kate Bush, Barbra Streisand, Charlie Sexton, and the Dream Academy, to name a few. He scored the original "Laserium" light shows, Carl Sagan's Cosmos series, and several feature films, including The Jupiter Menace. Fast also recorded and toured briefly with the European progressive rock group Nektar, and his production credits include albums with Annie Haslam (Renaissance), FM, and Shadowfax. When Peter Gabriel left Genesis in 1976, he asked Fast to join his new band, initiating an extraordinary collaboration that flourished for almost a decade.

As if all this weren't keeping him busy enough, Fast also served as the director of A&R for the Auction Recording Company (a subsidiary of JEM Records) between 1986 and 1990 where he signed well well-known artists like Wendy Carlos and Anthony Phillips, along with virtual unknowns such as (former EM author) Don Slepian and myself. To top it off , Fast wrote a series of articles for EM during 1985 arid 1986, starting with our premiere issue (June 1985).

Larry was kind enough to share with us his thoughts about technology, his career, and the future of the industry

You have said that you became interested in both electronics and music at an early age. What were the origin of these interests, and when did they merge?


Even at the earliest age, I was fascinated by things that lit up, and my first toys were robots. My grandfather on my mother's side was an electrical and mechanical engineer involved with the nuclear program, and he brought me bags of switches, alligator clips, and other electrical parts. We used to build radio and other circuits together, and that at led to my involvement with tape recorders, speakers, and stereo equipment. My first serious tape machine was a 1/4-inch mono machine he bought when I was born in order to record me as I learned to talk. it's a 1949 WilcoxGay, literally from the dawn of the American tape recording industry. I took it apart and put it back together, learning about things like mechanics and bias amplifiers. That recorder is the one that I learned on, and I still have it.

On the other side of things, there was always music around the house when I was growing tip. My mom was an advanced amateur violinist, and my father had played trumpet in high school and college marching hands. They had records of Broadway shows and classical music, and made a big point of having us kids watch Leonard Bernstein young people's concerts on television. My grandparents were regular opera goers and they were involved with an opera circle that served as a training ground for the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

I began taking violin lessons at the age of seven, then switched to piano when I was nine, and continued with private lessons through high school. I was not on a virtuoso track, but I received a good, solid grounding in classical music, with a little bit of jazz and pop. To be honest, I wasn't the most diligent student, but I was drilled in sight-reading and scales and all that, so I picked up a lot. When the Beatles hit, I struck out on my own and began playing guitar and bass, while continuing to take piano lessons, and I taught myself the rock pieces I wanted to know.

I was still building radios when I formed my first band, in 1966. At that time, less expensive transistorized oscillator arid filter circuits had become available, and Robert Moog had begun producing synths. In 1967, I built my first pitch-controlled oscillators which were not formal linear controlled devices by any stretch of the imagination-and that was the point at which suddenly the electronics stuff jumped to the music creation side. From there it was just a matter of collecting circuits, voraciously reading electronic hobbyist magazines and keeping an eye on the Moog devices, which were still a little expensive for a high school kid. While the circuits I was building were becoming more sophisticated, the musicians of the psychedelic era were beginning to explore new sounds. I remember being blown away by "Good Vibrations" when it came out, and by Switched On Bach which came out shortly after that.

Near the end of high school, I became a rock 'it' I roll obsessive, buying all the records I could get my hands on. I traded my formal piano lessons and Gershwin for dating, a driver's license, and playing in a band. When I I went off to Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, I reentered the traditional music world, but more as a composer, taking courses in theory, harmony, and orchestration. An electronic music project I did for a 20th-century composition course was made up of segments that later appeared on the first Synergy album as "Legacy." During those years, I also look a job as director of technical services with a Japanese audio importing company which afforded me even more electronic knowledge, gave me more access to equipment and technology, and provided me with enough income to purchase real Moog equipment. In fact, I was asked to teach part of my 20th-century composition class, as the staff didn't know much about synthesizers or electronic music.

The godfather of electronic music, Larry Fast, circa 1976, around the time Sequencer was recorded.

To what extent do you feel that formal musical training influenced your music, for better or worse?


As I mentioned before, I took piano lessons at an early age, but I didn't put in the hours that my teachers would have liked, and my hands were just a little bit smaller than would be required to become a virtuoso. Also, I would drive my teachers crazy, ill a good and a bad way, because I didn't like the children's arrangements of some of the classical pieces. I would develop my own. I would be berated for not doing my homework, yet at the same time, I'd be told that what I'd done was very good. But what sparked me was the arranging and other creative aspects of music making, rather than just performing somebody else's creative achievement. The over all skills of creation have always been more important to me than developing technical, muscular skills.


You've worked with a wide variety of producers throughout your career. Which ones were able to inspire you to do your best work, and why?


That's a very tough question. I've always tried to keep my eyes and ears open, and I've gleaned a bit of knowledge from almost everybody I've bumped into over the years-producers like Bob Clearmountain, Hugh Padgham, Steve Lillywhite, Jim Steinman, and Bob Ezrin. Not to mention those producers who are known more as artists, such as Robert Fripp. In many cases, I was brought in to fill gaps in tile producer's own production knowledge, which put tile in an interesting relationship with them.

As for people who showed me really different ways of approaching things, Peter Gabriel immediately comes to mind. Peter's a creative person, and he's an artist, but there's a producer's mind-set that he carries with him. I'm not talking about things like techniques for getting a better sound, or even about layering and orchestration on a pop record as opposed to some other kind of record; it's away of hearing and thinking and perceiving what should go into the mix.

For example, when working with Jim Steinman-who, incidentally, is a wonderful character-I knew that, if he asked me for something, he might want to tweak it a little bit, but he would take pretty much what I offered him. With Peter, very often I would come up with what I thought was the right approach, but he would be coming at it from such all oblique angle that what I came up with was not at all what lie wanted. Sometimes it could be a little frustrating, but when I'd finally grab onto what he did want, I would think, "Wow, what a great way of looking at it." That kind of thing happened all the time. So working with Peter was a continual learning experience, and that's one of' the qualities that makes him such a unique artist.

The other person--and this is ironic because we haven't worked together on musical projects that have seen public light--would be Wendy Carlos. She started out as something of a mentor, but over the years we've become good friends and had a lot of exchanges. Wendy wrote the book oil what many of us in electronic music were trying to accomplish from the earliest days onward, and she established a set of standards. Again, she has a somewhat oblique way of looking at how to create, which is uniquely her own. It's hard to put into words because it's sort of an amorphous concept, but Wendy's been more of an inspiration for my own work than most of the straightforward rock and pop music people I've worked with.


Having had the occasion to listen to a wide range of Synergy music over the last few weeks, I decided to revisit the first four Peter Gabriel albums, as well. In retrospect, it became obvious to me that your role in Gabriel's "sound" was increasingly pronounced, culminating in Security, which to my ear might be more appropriately called a Gabriel/ Synergy album. just how much Larry Fast are we hearing on Security?


I guess there's a fair amount on there. [Laughs.] David Lord, who was really more of a classical producer and a great audio engineer produced Security , and it was recorded at Peter's own studio. David acted as a coordinator, making sure that things got done right but giving Peter far more space than he'd had before with other producers, and I think it shows in the, recording.

The producers of Peter's first two albums had very strong personalities and very clear visions of where they thought the recordings should be going. Bob Ezrin is an extremely strong personality in the studio, and he acted as something of a cheerleader. Back in those days, he dressed like a gym coach, complete with a whistle around his neck. He would dance around in the studio, and if he didn't like what somebody was doing in a rehearsal take, he'd blow his whistle in their face. Peter was just coming off the Genesis experience, and he took a bit more of a passive role than he would later in his career. Peter's certainly no passive flower by any stretch of' the imagination-he was fighting to get sonic things done his own way-but Bob had a vision of how he made records, and he went on to great success with Pink Floyd, so obviously it worked. However, it meant that Peter was fighting I for his little place in the sun on his own record, and I was one of many people, including Robert Fripp and Tony Levin, who are known for what they do individually but were submerged into

background positions. [For Ezrin's take on producing Peter Gabriel, see the interview in the August 1996 EM.] Robert Fripp produced the second record, and of course he's an artist and a visionary in his own right, so he and Peter had different visions of how it should go. That meant that any artistic jousting was going to be between those two guys.

Steve Lillywhite produced the third record, with Hugh Padgham engineering, and he wisely gave Peter much more free rein on the creative end of it. Everybody, including me, did their best to let Peter bubble to the surface. For example, Peter wanted to experiment with not having any cymbals on the record, and he took all of the cymbals away from the drummers. That was an idea he had spoken about before the first record, but it didn't happen until the third. Peter also wanted to bring out the electronic instruments, rather than the guitars and more traditional instruments, so by default I was in the limelight. We ended tip working on that album for quite an extended period. The rhythm section was recorded fairly quickly, and most of the guitar overdubs happened in the first several weeks. After that, Peter and I worked on the album for months and months.

Fast worked with Peter Gabriel for almost a decade. Their partnership culminated with the recording of Security, considered by many to be one of Gabriel's best works.

The Security album was done in much the same way: the basic tracks were recorded first, and then Peter and I continued to work on it for quite a while. One thing about working with Peter is that he is a very creative keyboardist on his own. At that period, he didn't have quite the depth of technical knowledge about the instruments that I did, but he was good at using the knowledge he did have to spark interesting ideas. Because of his unique way of making the sound-mind creative connection, lie would find ways to make use of things that might have been overlooked by most other people, including me.

Also, in the earliest days of sampling with the Fairlight, he had a really good ear for listening to some fairly mundane sound and imagining what it would sound like if it was, say, sampled and shifted down in pitch. He was good at that. I was coming into it knowing a little more because I had already done some work at Bell Labs with digital recording and synthesis, but he took to it instantly. So we had a good,cooperative method of working.

I suppose that I had some influence on him, but it's so hard to say. I spent months and months on Security; I was literally living with the family. Some days were very productive, and some days nothing got done; or a lot of work got done, but nothing survived. I remember we were recording in the summer, and I flew home for Christmas. So it was a long project, and I suppose that just by being there I had some influence. There were times when one of us would be playing something, and the other one would say, "I've got an idea; move over," and play the next couple of bars. Peter continued to work on the album even after I came back to America, so when I heard some of the finished mixes, I'd say, "That's me, that's me-whoa, where did that part come from?"


Larry Fast/Synergy:

Audion (Passport)

Computer Experiments, Vol. I (Audion)

Cords (Passport)

Electronic Realizations (Passport)

Games (Passport)

Metropolitan Suite (Audion)

Semiconductor (Passport)

Sequencer (Passport)


Birdy (with Peter Gabriel; Geffen)

The Jupiter Menace (Passport)

The Music of Cosmos (RCA/BMG)

Netherworld (with David Bryan;


Streets of Fire (MCA)

With Nektar:

A Tab in the Ocean (Passport)

Magic Is a Child (Polydor)

Recycled (Bella phon/Passport)

With Peter Gabriel:

Peter Gabriel (#l; Atlantic)

Peter Gabriel (#2; Atlantic)

Peter Gabriel (#3; Polygram)

Plays Live (Geffen)

Security (Geffen)

With others:

Kate Bush The Kick Inside (EMI)

FM City of Fear (Passport)

Hall & Oates H20(RCA)

Annie Haslam (Epic)

The Roches (Warner Bros.)

Charlie Sexton (MCA)

Shadowfax Watercourse Way (Passport/Windham Hill)

Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes
At Least We Got Shoes (Atlantic)

Barbra Streisand Left in the Dark(CBS)

Bonnie Tyler Secret Dreams (Columbia)





When interviewers ask you about your split with Peter Gabriel, you usually respond by saying that Peter decided to go in a new direction, where electronics played a far less significant role. You are also credited with "tracks not used" on the So album. What was on those tracks, and what or who, from your personal perspective, precipitated such a change in direction?

Peter doesn't like anything to become static or boring, whether it's eight bars of music or his entire life; he always makes big changes. He left Genesis for creative reasons, at a point when a commercial breakthrough was within their grasp, and it shot him off in a new direction. The band that I was involved with lasted for nearly ten years--longer than even the Genesis period--so I think he needed to shake things up and invigorate the music with something new. The eventual split was entirely amicable, and there were no harsh words or lawsuits. [Laughs.] I have nothing but good feelings about all of the work that I did with Peter, and about him as a person and a friend.

When he was initially planning to go out on the road for a couple of dates in 1985, he wanted to do something different. He was becoming thoroughly immersed in African music at that point, and he talked about possibly working with African musicians and changing everything. When it came time to do the shows, it wasn't practical to "change everything," so Tony Levin and David Rhodes stayed on. Production on So was continually postponed over an 18-month period. At that point, I had been off the road for two years, and I was doing a lot of work with Jim Steinman, including playing on Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart album. I was offered the position of associate producer on her follow-up album, and since I couldn't get a start date out of' Peter, I took the gig. Then, halfway through the album, Peter called to say he was ready, but I was under contract, so I asked him to send me tapes to work on. I had little or no involvement with the rhythm t racks or overdubs, and it was sort of my fade-out period. I was sent several tracks, one of which was "Big Time," and several more that just had working, titles. I think one was called "This Is The Road."

On "Big Time" I'd done an edgier, more pushed sort of synthesized horn section, as there were no actual horns at that point. Interestingly, the horn section and some of' the background vocals were recorded at the Power Station A while I was in Power Station B doing overdubs on Bonnie's album, so I heard the horn section go down. I remember thinking that it was a little straighter or more radio friendly than what I had come up with, but not wholly unrelated. It was air obvious thing to do with that track, so to this day I don't know whether the person who did the horn arrangements ever heard what I had come up with. I didn't have bad feelings or anything about his making those changes; it seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do.

Daniel Lanois seemed to have a stronger vision of how to take the record to somewhere that was going to be commercially successful, and given songs like "Sledgehammer," of-course, it was. So was far more successful than anything Peter had done while I was involved with him. However, the changes that Peter was making began before he hooked up with Daniel Lanois. In fact, he had been working with Nile Rogers on tracks that were more tribal, rhythmic, and urban. Peter was very busy with Amnesty [International] and WOMAD, and Daniel may have had to step in to fill the void with his own vision, just in order to get the record done.


You said that, when you went back to the original tapes of your early albums to prepare them for rerelease, you were pleasantly surprised at how good they sounded. After listening to the resulting CDs, I agree, which brings me to the question: where do you stand on the current trend toward higher bit resolution and sampling frequency in general, and the 24-bit, 96 kHz trend in particular?


I have kind of a split answer on the 24/96 question, because there is very solid psychoacoustical data to support the view that higher sampling frequency shouldn't make a difference or, if it does, only to hairsplitting academics and engineers, and even their those differences should be almost imperceptible. Yet there's such strong anecdotal evidence from people whose ears I trust, and from the bit of listening I've done, suggesting otherwise, that I think it's worth exploring further. It's possible that even higher frequencies make sense.

The fact that there's such controversy about it leads me to say, why not just go ahead with it, particularly in terms of 24/96? Storage is getting cheaper, converters are getting better, DVD audio is a natural as a consumer format, so I'm sort of scratching my head, saying, "Let's do it anyway." Why not go for the best of the given technology? I'm going to have to do more critical listening in my own controlled environment-my studio does not currently support 24-bit audio-before I will be able to really decide for myself.

There's such a groundswell around Internet audio. I was at the Plug-In '98 conference in New York, and there were discussions about all of the emerging Internet audio technologies. So much is accepted with, say, the Liquid Audio downloads, which are near CD, but really more like MiniDisc, quality. It seems there was some sort of a threshold in getting a "good enough" sound over to the public (roughly equivalent to a good-quality audio cassette or LP), and once that threshold was crossed, everything beyond it was just gravy for everyone but the audiophile elite and the recording community. It seems a given that compressed audio, at this point, is "good enough." We'll continue to improve it, but that's not the determining factor in whether it's usable. And of course, there are many economic considerations involved in all of this.


The Synergy reissues are the first commercial CD releases to contain digital watermarking. Explain briefly what digital watermarking is, and why it is important.


I have been doing test listening and consulting with MusiCode, from Aris Technologies, one of several companies working in this area. Digital watermarking involves streaming some form of information into the digital audio datastream. The key is to make it indelible so that it can't be stripped out, but avoid doing damage so serious as to render the recording unusable. It must also be robust enough that, if the watermarked recording is compressed digitally, transmitted through various coding schemes, then decompressed or even transferred to analog, the information is still retrievable. And those are two tough tasks because they are at odds with each other. Of course, this robust and deeply embedded data must also be inaudible so it is acceptable to producers and artists who have argued passionately about such things as a quarter-dB boost at 8.5 kHz.


As Synergy, Larry Fast released nine albums between 1975 and 1986. Although Fast has endured a long legal battle over the rights to his catalog, He says a new Synergy album is in the works.

Watermarking is important because most composers and recording artists make money primarily from public performance of their works, and it's very hard to keep track of music use. It was hard enough during the past 75 years, as radio and television grew up, when there were between 11,000 and 12,000 broadcast outlets; now, with the Internet, there's audio all over the place. Performance rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC try to keep track of all those performances, but it's mostly done manually. And the system is far from being entirely satisfactory, even at the current usage level.

There are very well-thought-out copyright and intellectual property laws to compensate the rights holders, but the reality is that they simply can't deal with the Internet at this point. As watermarking becomes the standard, every piece of music will have this indelible code in it that identifies who wrote it, who owns it, and so on. The code can be read whether the music is played on the radio, used on the local TV news, picked up by a scanner with a computer attached to it, or any other way. Infobots can be used to sniff files on the Web, very much like the Webcrawlers used by search engines. They would he generating a music-specific indexing system, and a file could be sniffed out and identified even if the name of the file said it was something else.

Watermarking has to do with the economic engine that runs the music business. I don't mean the six or seven big record companies; I mean the broader picture of how any individual who sits down at a computer, creates a piece of in music, and puts it out to the public can get paid, It's not an antipiracy thing--it won't prevent piracy in and of itself, and it doesn't prevent people from making copies; it just ensures that you know who owns the intellectual rights.

Most people are honest and most uses are legitimate, but keeping track of who is supposed to get their individual 7.1 cents performance royalties is going to be a huge task in the 21st century. This makes it possible. It is not there to protect the status quo of the big powers. It is there to democratize, the same way that the Web and many other things have helped level the playing field in the creative community in recent years. There's a populist spirit behind it, which I like, and which will be helpful to all of us. I'm very excited about it.


Your first album, Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra, was mixed and released in quad. What sort of mixing scheme did you employ for that, and how does that experience affect your view of multichannel or surround mixing as it is being developed?


It's sort of deja vu all over again. The quadraphonic soundfield is very closely related to Dolby Surround and is largely based on the same phase encoding technologies. In 1974, there were two subtly different, yet incompatible, quad "encode matrix" schemes: QS and SQ. They were similar in that you were folding left-minus-right and right-minus-left information into the stereo pair so that you would get all the information on a stereo player, but with the appropriate decoder, the information that had been folded in could be teased back out into the rear speakers. The only things that have really changed in creating Dolby Surround Sound or Pro Logic is that there's a subwoofer channel, a center speaker, and mono rears. When we were originally mixing for quad, it was left and right in the front, with split stereo rears, and no center channel. In films, the center channel, for dialog, is much more important than stereo and sound in the back.

One interesting result of folding the rears into the front was that it created a much wider stereo effect, with sort of phantom extreme right and extreme left speakers, and that's a little bit of the sound of that record, even in stereo. By the way, that encoding just stays there, so when I remastered the original stereo mixes for the CD version, it was retained. And when you play it through it Dolby Pro Logic home-theater decoder, it comes back pretty well. It's a little weird and twisted because one of the rear channels is coming out of the middle and the other one's coming out of the two speakers in the back. But it still makes an interesting effect, and it's remarkable that it has survived.

The mixes were done simultaneously, through an encoder to a stereo version, and also to it 4-track discrete version. The latter version was sent to, I believe RCA, to be made into it quad discrete version of the "8 track" tape format, with I total of 16 tracks. Now there's a format that nobody remembers! [Laughs.] Those discrete masters, unfortunately, were never recovered, and to this day I don't know where they are. I have one copy of a completed manufactured, Q-16 quad discrete cassette, and no player for it. It's in my own little personal museum.

For mixing, it was wide-open territory. It was I right in the middle of the whole quad thing, and nobody knew what the rules should be. The fad was important I enough that the API console I mixed the first album on at MediaSound in New York did have joystick controllers and a 4-bus output. In my case, I was trying to be conscious of the fact that the record could end up sounding like those ping-pong and locomotive stereo effect records. I wanted to use quad in a subtle and dignified way, which meant creating a fairly conventional stereo soundfield across the front, creating a sense of depth to the rear using reverberant fields, and putting the occasional interesting musical phrase to the rear, all the while constantly monitoring for stereo and mono compatibility.

In fact, the problems that we had mixing for quad back then were more related to the physical LP cutter heads, which couldn't do particular phase-related moves. We had to watch certain things, mostly having to do with where you put bass and percussive elements below 150 Hz. If you tried to pan them in certain positions they would create mirrored, out-of-phase versions of themselves for the matrix encoding, and when the cutter head saw that, it would freak out, burn out, or simply do nothing. The same dangers that existed before are still there, and the same precautions are applicable, except in cases in which you particularly wish to have the ping-pong/train effect. In general, it good song is a good song, so don't screw it tip with gimmicks.


What's your gear of choice these days, and are any new technologies on the horizon that you find particularly promising?


I'm using a variety of' things and will probably be doing some upgrading, but my central instrument of choice for the past several years has been a fairly fully loaded Kurzweil K2000. Going back to the Minimoog days, I've always chosen to get to know a few instruments very, very well, and to try to extract the most out of them. The Kurzweil has been the latest recipient of that treatment. I still occasionally use some of the Moog modular stuff from the earliest days, a Prophet-5 and Memorymoog from a later period, a Yamaha SY-77 (that I keep around for the library of sounds I created for the DX series), and some Roland D-50 /D-550-generation stuff. I also have an Emulator II, some Emu Proteus modules, a Korg Wavestation, and a couple of drum boxes. I haven't moved up to the Kurzweil K2500 yet, but it's very likely that I'll be getting a rack module version of that.

The mind-set of the music I've done over the course of my career has been generated from things I could hear in my own head that I want to express !it a recording. I have a certain electronic orchestral palette of sounds that I like to work with, and I've reinvented them about a dozen times over the past 20-odd years. They get me to the same place, and that's I think, as it should be. I don't want to be driven by the equipment. It occurred to me, when reflecting on my earlier recordings, that the tools were really primitive in the early '70s, but the end effect, while more difficult to arrive at, was not much different than what I can generate with the Kurzweil. So even if I go to all-software synthesis, and there are some wonderful products on the horizon, I'll probably take it to the same place.


A Kurzweil K2000 is the centerpiece of Fast's current studio. His arsenal also includes an E-mu Proteus and Emulator 11, a Yamaha SY-77, and several vintage synths, such as the Memorymoog and Prophet-5.


Other than that, I will probably outfit my studio for surround mixing in the next few years, which It means I'll need more speakers. I've been using a pair of JBL 4311's, which were de rigueur when I started. I've, heard lots of good, small powered speakers lately, from Event, Genelec, Meyer, Mackie, and many more, so I'll try to arrange to listen to them all in the same room and choose the best ones for me. Oh, and I'll also probably be getting one of those little Roland Sound Canvas-type modules to carry around with my PowerBook.


I recently heard an interview with Philip Glass in which he was played some music by new artists who claim him as an influence. He was intrigued initially, but after listening for a while, his interest turned to something more like bemusement. What are your feelings on electronica, ambient, and other genres that often take more than one page from the Synergy book?

I have generally positive feelings because electronic music has gone through so many phases. Early on, there was a lot of incompetence with the equipment. There are always great masters doing great work, like Wendy Carlos, followed by hordes of hack artists. After Switched On Bach, there was "switched on" everything for a while, and most of it was awful. There was so much bad electronic music, used so superficially and terribly on movie scores and commercials, that it led to a backlash. It was robotic and stupid and had no life to it. That was hard to get over.

I remember that, around 1992, when techno and electronica was beginning to rise up, particularly in Europe and New York, it felt really good. I didn't like all of the music, but I liked the idea that there was a focus on music created with technology. Now that these forms have become more mainstream, I feel almost like a proud grandparent or uncle or something, saying, "Good. Look what the kids are doing. I'm glad this is working out." There are things about electronica that I like very much, and some things that I either don't like or don't understand, which I can choose not to listen to. I'm just glad that people are using technology creatively. I've been sampled on some of the records, like on the ISDN album by Future Sounds of London; there's a track called "Snake Hips" that contains a huge section of one of the pieces on my Audion album. So I've found myself being sampled almost as a sort of roots music, which is flattering when viewed from that perspective.

Fast today, pictured at the helm of his personal studio.


Last but not least, the same old question: when are we likely to hear a new Synergy CD?


I have ducked that question in the past few years while my catalog was tied up in court. It was hard to sit down and do new music when I had just been burned on the music from the first 18 years of my career. Now it's the opposite of that. With all the reissues, and the preparation of the digital masters, and all of the related stuff that went into them, there are just so many hours in a day.

Typically I would record Synergy albums after coming off the road, when I'd suddenly be left with this wide open expanse of time, and I'd jump right into them. What I'm attempting to do now is to clear the decks so that early in 1999 I'll be left with a nice bit

of time. Fortunately, I won't be coming in cold, because conceptually I've been working on many ideas for new pieces; a lot of things that have been started, but not completed. Recently I organized my work files, which consisted of thematic concepts written down on paper, cassettes of snippets of things played on the piano, MIDI notes, and so on. Everything was transcribed into General MIDI files and cataloged. I have many, many megabytes of information codified and indexed, which will serve as the core of future albums. Some of the material harks back to my first album, although the pieces show more sophistication on my part as a composer, and obviously a lot more sophistication on the part of the technology.

Barry Cleveland is the editor of EM 's Personal Studio Buyer's Guide, as well as an engineer, producer, recording artist, and guitarist with the improvisational quintet Cloud Chamber.

Reprinted from Electronic Musician, March 1999.
Courtesy of Intertec Publishing Corp, Emeryville, CA. All rights reserved.