15 ultimate synth icons

29th Oct 2009 | 13:07

15 ultimate synth icons
TONTO's Expanding Head Band
Malcolm Cecil with the TONTO monster synth

As part of Synth Week on MusicRadar, we asked you to name your ultimate synth icon: the person or band/group who’s done the most to further the instrument’s cause. Having sifted through your nominations, we compiled a final shortlist and asked you to pick a winner - now it’s time for the results. To kick things off, we’ve got a couple of synth music’s unsung heroes…

MusicRadar says:

They may only have released two albums, but TONTO’s (AKA Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff) influence on synth music is incalculable, thanks to their input on albums by the likes of Weather Report, Gil Scott-Heron, The Isley Brothers, Quincy Jones, Bobby Womack and - most notably - Stevie Wonder. The name is actually an acronym; it stands for The Original New Timbral Orchestra and refers to a Frankenstein’s monster of a synth that started life as a Moog modular but was expanded with hardware from Oberheim, ARP, EMS, Roland and Yamaha (to name but a few).

Your votes:

“Malcolm Cecil and TONTO's Expanding Head Band or the brilliant Tomita and Snowflakes are Dancing. Stevie Wonder used TONTO on most of Innervisions I think. Vangelis's Heaven and Hell or Blade Runner. I saw Kraftwerk on their Autobahn tour, real pioneering stuff. Did I mention Keith Emerson?” (Thanks, bbcoz)

"Have you seen the TONTO synth!?" (From Dave via email, thanks)

Next: Dave Smith

15 ultimate synth icons
Dave Smith
Dave Smith (right) with fellow synth pioneer Don Buchla clutching a Mopho at AES 2008

MusicRadar says:

The more you reflect on Dave Smith’s achievements, the more impressive they become. In the Prophet-5, he designed one of the most popular and influential synths in history (he also founded Sequential Circuits, the company that manufactured it) and his current range of instruments includes some contemporary classics (the Evolver, Prophet ’08, Mopho and Tetra, for example). If that wasn’t enough, he also helped to invent MIDI in 1981 - how’s that for a CV?

Your votes:

“Dave Smith for the Prophet-5 and Prophet-8, Bob Moog for Moog”. (Thanks, Elvis2)

“Dave Smith - the Prophet is amazing”. (From Tom via email, thanks)

Next: Wendy Carlos

15 ultimate synth icons
Wendy Carlos
As Walter in 1972, New York

MusicRadar says:

Bob Moog noted that Carlos’s feedback was invaluable when he was developing his early synths, which should give you some idea of how important a figure in synth history she is. Born Walter, she became Wendy in 1972, having already wowed the world with the Switched-On Back album and soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. She also scored 1982’s Tron - in a nice piece of synth symmetry, Daft Punk have been signed up to perform the same duties on the forthcoming sequel.

Your votes:

“Walter Carlos started it all with his JS Bach covers!” (Thanks, nsureit)

“How about Wendy (Walter) Carlos?” (Thanks, gben)

“Keith Emerson. Rick Wakeman. Bob Moog. Walter Carlos. All for obvious reasons.Others we shouldn't ignore: Peter Bardens, Pete Townshend (Who's Next was a masterpiece).” (Thanks, musophilr)

Next: Herbie Hancock

15 ultimate synth icons
Herbie Hancock
A portrait taken at Jazzhouse Montmartre, Copenhagen in 1970

MusicRadar says:

For jazz purists, Herbie Hancock embracing synthesizers was akin to Bob Dylan going electric, but that’s exactly what he did in the early 1970s. His ‘Mwandishi’ albums are particularly notable for their use of electronic keyboards - ARP’s Odyssey, 2600 and Pro Soloist and the Moog III in particular. And, of course, everybody knows 1983’s synth-powered Rockit, which was also one of the first big hits to contain scratching.

Your votes:

"I would say Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock, and probably Moog himself!" (From @rockengi via Twitter, thanks)

"How could I forget Herbie Hancock on my list? Oh, I didn't have enough room!" (From @hollavacui via Twitter, thanks)

"Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock and number one should be Dr Robert Moog!" (From Peter via Facebook, thanks)

“Herbie Hancock was one of the first jazz greats to go synth.” (Thanks, fatfreddy)

Next: Tangerine Dream

15 ultimate synth icons
Tangerine Dream
The band in concert - Alemanya, German in 2007

MusicRadar says:

Crucial to the development of both Krautrock and new age music, Tangerine Dream are also credited with inventing the sequencer-based Berlin School sound with their 1974 album Phaedra. They later moved into soundtrack work, and their name has recently become one to drop by contemporary artists (even Kasabian have claimed that they’re a “spiritual influence”, whatever that means).

Your votes:

"Synth icon - Bob Moog. Synth player Jean-Michel Jarre. Synth band - Tangerine Dream." (from @MadGerald via Twitter, thanks)

“Klaus Schulze (& Tangerine Dream)”. (Thanks, Holland)

Next: Vangelis

15 ultimate synth icons
Vangelis
The Greek composer poses sans cigarette, 1979

MusicRadar says:

It’s a cast-iron certainty that more people could whistle the theme from Chariots Of Fire than have actually seen the film, and that’s thanks to this man. With the help of Yamaha’s CS-80, he created the futuristic soundtrack to 1981’s Blade Runner, too, and Vangelis’s fans will also point to his 1970s solo electronic albums for evidence that he’s a true synth icon.

Your votes:

"Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock and number one should be Dr Robert Moog!" (From Peter via Facebook, thanks)

“Vangelis's Heaven and Hell or Blade Runner." (Thanks, bbcoz)

Next: BBC Radiophonic Workshop

15 ultimate synth icons
BBC Radiophonic Workshop
The Beeb's Brian Hodgson tweeking audio generators for the legendary Doctor Who theme in 1969

MusicRadar says:

The BBC’s most celebrated sound effects unit was making synth-type sounds before synths had even been invented, being keen exponents of musique concrete (tape recordings were cut up, processed and edited to produce other-worldly tones). Delia Derbyshire’s oscillator-fuelled theme for Doctor Who is probably the most famous piece of music to come out of the Workshop, but its work and influence goes way beyond that.

Your votes:

Delia Derbyshire was a significant pioneer of early electronic music before the days of Moog. She was recording electronic sounds onto tape and sequencing them from a barrage of reel to reel machines.Classic example being the theme to Doctor Who, composed by Ron Grainer who was himself to become a composer of electronic music along with everyone else at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. I don't think anyone really understands the massive amount of work putting that theme together was.” (Thanks, bbcoz)

"Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop definitely deserve some love in this list". (From Peter via email, thanks)

Next: Keith Emerson

15 ultimate synth icons
Keith Emerson
Performing in 1996 with Lake & Palmer

MusicRadar says:

Emerson deserves a place on this list just for having the balls to a take a full Moog modular on tour with him - his roadies must have loved that. Known for his out-of- the-box thinking when it came to performing on keyboard instruments, he was an avid collector and amazing player of ‘70s synth technology, becoming an official endorsee of Korg’s gargantuan PS-3300 when it was released in 1978. Earlier this year, he acknowledged his place in OTT rock history by appearing with Spinal Tap.

Your votes:

"Synth Icon: Keith Emerson; Devin Townsend; Depeche Mode; Karlheinz Stockhausen; Moby; Aphex Twin; Venetian Snares" (From @hollavacui via Twitter, thanks)

"Kraftwerk, Keith Emerson". (from Philippe via Facebook, thanks!)

“Keith Emerson. Rick Wakeman. Bob Moog. Walter Carlos. All for obvious reasons. Others we shouldn't ignore: Peter Bardens, Pete Townshend (Who's Next was a masterpiece).” (Thanks, musophilr)

“Keith Emerson. He was the pioneer of live synth playing dragging a modular system out on tour while others were confined to the studio. Also for pure musical and technical genius, experimental flair, panache and showmanship. Also a great pal and close associate of Bob Moog in the early days and his feedback to Bob provided the basis for further development of Moog Synths. It's got to be Keith. (Not that I'm a fan or anything!)” (Thanks, bbcoz)

“I saw Kraftwerk on their Autobahn tour, real pioneering stuff. Did I mention Keith Emerson?” (Er, yes you did, bbcoz, but thanks again!)

Next: Stevie Wonder

15 ultimate synth icons
Stevie Wonder
Stevie and backdrop of synths cira 1980

MusicRadar says:

He may be more famous for playing Fender Rhodes pianos and the Clavinet, but Stevie Wonder’s classic ‘70s albums would have sounded markedly different if he hadn’t also been experimenting with synths (check out the Moog bassline on Boogie On Reggae Woman from 1974’s Fulfillingness' First Finale). He was aided by Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff (AKA Tonto's Expanding Head Band), who were key to helping Wonder bring his inner synth visions to life.

Your votes:

“Malcolm Cecil and TONTO's expanding headband or the brilliant Tomita and Snowflakes are Dancing. Stevie Wonder used TONTO on most of Innervisions I think. Vangelis's Heaven and Hell or Blade Runner. I saw Kraftwerk on their Autobahn tour, real pioneering stuff. Did I mention Keith Emerson?” (Thanks, bbcoz)

"Stevie Wonder for sure." (From Paul via Facebook, thanks)

“For me, it has to be Stevie Wonder. The things he did with synths on his '70s records are just amazing.” (Thanks, matey)

Next: Rick Wakeman

15 ultimate synth icons
Rick Wakeman
Onstage with Yes in 1977

MusicRadar says:

These days, you just don’t get virtuoso synth players (which some might argue is a good thing) but in the ‘70s, Rick Wakeman’s solos were as legendary as the Arthurian myths on which he based one of his albums (he also played keyboards with prog outfit Yes). The story goes that Wakey bought his first Minimoog from Jack Wild, the child star who played The Artful Dodger in the film version of Oliver!, because the young lad thought it was broken when he discovered that it only played one note at a time. Bless.

Your votes:

“Keith Emerson. Rick Wakeman. Bob Moog. Walter Carlos. All for obvious reasons. Others we shouldn't ignore: Peter Bardens, Pete Townshend (Who's Next was a masterpiece).” (Thanks, musophilr)

"Rick Wakeman = synth legend!" (From Ben via email, thanks)

Next: Jean-Michel Jarre

15 ultimate synth icons
Jean-Michel Jarre
Onstage with keytar at Mont St Michel, France in 1993

MusicRadar says:

His name may be synonymous with synthesizer naffness, but let’s not forget that Jarre has sold an estimated 80 million records. Breakthrough 1976 release Oxygène remains the most successful, but Jarre’s sound has continued to evolve since then, and his spectacular live shows are world-famous. If you haven’t seen him playing the laser harp, you haven’t lived.

Your votes:

"Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock and number one should be Dr Robert Moog!" (From Peter via Facebook, thanks)

“How about Jean-Michel Jarre?” (Thanks, TomasT)

"Synth icon - Bob Moog. Synth player Jean-Michel Jarre. Synth band - Tangerine Dream." (from @MadGerald via Twitter, thanks)

Next: Aphex Twin

15 ultimate synth icons
Aphex Twin
Richard James' face on a woman's bikini-clad body: the iconic Windowlicker cover art

MusicRadar says:

For many, Aphex Twin (AKA Richard James) is the most important artist working in electronic music today, and certainly the most eccentric. His music has spanned electronic genres, and his studio set-up is ever-changing. On the subject of synths, he told Future Music magazine in 2006: “It’s one of my ultimate aims for Korg, Yamaha or someone who is capable to let me design an electronic/hybrid instrument - but really let me be the boss and not take over half way through. Come on, please! I’ll make you the best fucking box that has ever been created, I promise: it will totally own everything.”

Your votes:

"Synth Icon: Keith Emerson; Devin Townsend; Depeche Mode; Karlheinz Stockhausen; Moby; Aphex Twin; Venetian Snares" (From @hollavacui via Twitter, thanks)

"Aphex Twin - the man is a genius and should definitely be recognised for his contribution to synth music". (From Chris via email, thanks)

Next: Depeche Mode

15 ultimate synth icons
Depeche Mode
The band circa 1982 in matching sweaters

MusicRadar says:

If you’re only familiar with The Mode’s later work, you might not understand quite why they’ve placed so highly on a list of synth icons. However, they were one of the first pop bands to base their sound on the instrument, scoring their breakthrough hit in 1981 with Just Can’t Get Enough. This was written by Vince Clarke, who left the band soon after and found further success with Yazoo and Erasure. With Martin Gore taking over as chief songwriter, Depeche went from strength to strength, too.

Your votes:

"Personally, I think it's a band. Depeche Mode are synth icons to me." (from @Sjusovaren via Twitter, thanks)

"Synth Icon: Keith Emerson; Devin Townsend; Depeche Mode; Karlheinz Stockhausen; Moby; Aphex Twin; Venetian Snares." (From @hollavacui via Twitter, thanks)

“Martin Gore and Roger O’Donnell!!!” (Thanks, creepysuitguy)

Next: Kraftwerk

15 ultimate synth icons
Kraftwerk
The original line-up in 1978: (from L-R) Karl Bartos, Ralf Hutter, Florian Schneider and Wolfgang Flur

MusicRadar says:

Without question, the ultimate synth band, Kraftwerk were formed in 1970, though their breakthrough came in 1974 with the Minimoog-led Autobahn album. Touting them as an influence has become something of a rite of passage for new bands (and not just electronic ones), and their profile rose again this month with the launch of remastered versions of eight album albums from their back catalogue. Co-founder Florian Schneider is no longer involved, but new material is said to be in the pipeline.

Your votes:

"I would say Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock, and probably Moog himself!" (From @rockengi via Twitter, thanks)

"Kraftwerk , Keith Emerson". (From Philippe via Facebook, thanks!)

"Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock and number one should be Dr.Robert Moog!" (From Peter via Facebook, thanks)

“I saw Kraftwerk on their Autobahn tour, real pioneering stuff. Did I mention Keith Emerson?” (Thanks, bbcoz)

Next: your ultimate synth icon

15 ultimate synth icons
Bob Moog
In 2003 tweaking a Minimoog Voyager

MusicRadar says:

Could it have been anyone else? Having honed his modular synthesizers in the 1960s, Dr Robert Moog ensured that popular music would never be the same again when he unleashed his more affordable and portable Minimoog Model D - acclaimed by MusicRadar as the greatest synth of all time - in 1971. He also played a key role in popularising the Theremin. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, his surname rhymes with vogue, not tube…

Your votes:

"I would say Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock, and probably Moog himself!" (From @rockengi via Twitter, thanks)

"Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock and number one should be Dr.Robert Moog!" (From Peter via Facebook, thanks)

“Dave Smith for the Prophet-5 and Prophet-8, Bob Moog for Moog.” (Thanks, Elvis2)

“Keith Emerson. Rick Wakeman. Bob Moog. Walter Carlos. All for obvious reasons.Others we shouldn't ignore: Peter Bardens, Pete Townshend (Who's Next was a masterpiece).” (Thanks, musophilr)

"Synth icon - Bob Moog. Synth player Jean-Michel Jarre. Synth band - Tangerine Dream." (from @MadGerald via Twitter, thanks)

Next: Synth Week on MusicRadar: the hub

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