I would wager that pretty-much everyone who loves unusual music has a soft spot for the 1970s. How could you not? After all, it was the era of space-rock, krautrock and psychedelic funk, of punk and prog and outright experimentation, when an album as off-its-chops as Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music could be released by a commercial record company. And it was also the era of the synthesiser, an instrumental that opened up a whole new realm of sound experimentation and dominated the airwaves.
In its way, David Chesworth’s 50 Synthesizer Greats seems a perfect summation of this most-exploratory decade.
Originally self-released in 1979, this sprawling collection features 37 tracks of charming oddities and playful, humorous sound-sketches (plus two digital-only bonus tracks to celebrate its rerelease), making its title just a little misleading. But this is a small complaint – 50 Synthesizer Greats is successful as both an audio time capsule and as a work unto itself.
Self-recorded in his parents’ lounge room – on an Akai 4000 DS reel to reel tape machine, using a monophonic Mini Korg 700 synthesiser, for all you tech-heads out there – it solidified Chesworth’s status as a dominant figure of Melbourne’s experimental music scene during the 1970s and 1980s and garnered attention and admiration from fellow audio adventurers, even though he was only 21 when he created it.
Its success shouldn’t come as a surprise – 50 Synthesizer Greats may be many things, but it isn’t indulgent. Chesworth shows great restraint in his approach and compositional style, especially when we consider that the 1970s was also the era of extended soloing, noodling and musical navel-gazing, when a band like Yes could release a three-LP set consisting of songs in-excess of 10 minutes long. Instead, his methodology is to be concise and straight-to-the-point: bar only two exceptions, no track is longer than 3-minutes while many hover around the one-minute mark. In many ways, this makes it quite accessible, especially for a record so defiantly experimental, and even more so when we consider that Chesworth seems less interested in harsh, abrasive or in-your-face sounds than he does those that are whimsical, playful, sprightly and impish.
Hell, I played it to my mum and she loved it – I can’t say that about much else that you would call ‘weird.’