Cyclic Selects: David Chesworth. “Some influences just prior to 50 Synthesizer Greats.”


David Chesworth is a sound artist and composer. He has created operas, numerous sound installations, and commissions such as the Sydney Olympics and has represented at the Venice Biennale. He is also currently the artistic director of the David Chesworth Ensemble. From 1978-1982 Chesworth co-coordinated the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre in Melbourne, a centre for experimental music, performance, film and video. He performed extensively during this time with groups like Essendon Airport, Whadya Want, Chocolate Grinders, the Dave & Phil Duo and other projects. It was during this period that he recorded his pioneering 1979 debut 50 Synthesizer Greats. It was recorded in his parents’ lounge room, on an Akai 4000 DS reel to reel tape machine, using a monophonic Mini Korg 700 synth borrowed from fellow post-punk icons Tsk Tsk Tsk. You can read our review of 50 Synthesizer Greats here.

The album has recently been reissued by Melbourne’s Chapter records (who’ve also previously reissued Essendon Airport’s 1979 Sonic Investigations Of the Trivial and 1981’s Palimpsest). With the imminent Melbourne relaunch of the 50 Synthesizer Greats, we asked David about some of the music that he was listening to around that time.

Robert Ashley – In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women: (Cramps) 1974
I love how Ashley creates completely different sonic worlds that are as strange now as they were in 1974. I had the good fortune to spend a couple of weeks with him while he was rehearsing one of his ‘operas’.

John White: “Drinking and Hooting Machine” from John White/ Gavin Bryars – Machine Music (Obscure Records) 1978
Some music requires you to carry out a specific task. Often referred to as ‘process music’. Here the requirement was to drink beer. There is a score that indicates how many sips to take before blowing across the bottle’s opening. As the bottle empties, the pitch lowers in tone.

Steve Reich – Pendulum Music 1966
This is another process piece that just plays out. I first heard this in 1978.

Steven Reich – It’s Gonna Rain.
I also heard this in 1978, by then this music was already 10 years old

Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom (Virgin) 1974
Made after he fell out of a window and became a quadriplegic. The music yearns (if I can use such a word).

Faust – The Faust Tapes (Virgin) 1973
Just up the road in West Essendon in the early 70’s was small shop in a barren suburban street called JB Hi-Fi, It was a small shop with a couple of guys who made their living by selling ‘remaindered’ records bought cheaply from major record companies. These are records that were brought in as samples or just didn’t ever sell as they were too bad or just too weird. This is where I bought many of my early records, from unknown artists for bargain prices. Faust Tapes was one of these records.

Hatfield and the North – Lobster in Cleavage (Virgin) 1973
Another purchase from the proto JB HIFI store. Like Henry Cow, Hatfield and the North possessed a weird sophisticated melancholy. Definitely a south of England ‘sound’, it draws on English pop, jazz folk, surrealist, hippy, left wing sentiments. I like how the opening lyric to the album questions its very purpose as a record. I like how the whole album works as one. Back in the mid 70s it was a curious thing. Try and get past the first jazz rocky bit, it’s worth it.

György Ligeti – Lux Aeterna (1966)
I first heard this in 1973 on the soundtrack to 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Tangerine Dream – Phaedra (Virgin) 1974
This group influenced me for all the wrong reasons. While Tangerine Dream are still highly regarded, way back in the mid 70’s this kind of long-winded music sounded to me like pompous wankery. It’s like the audiences of this music relied solely on its mysteriousness, which hid a total abandonment of concept or structure or expressive interest. Mmmm… perhaps I wouldn’t be so harsh today however, I think this album and many more similar sound ones drove me to make 50 Synthesizer ‘Greats’ which, I admit, also has questionable aesthetics but totally opposite ones.

Kraftwerk – Radio Activity (Capitol) 1975
Kraftwerk, on the other hand, knew how to sculpt creatively with pompous wankery in the best of possible ways.

David Chesworth
50 Synthesizer Greats launch
with Sky Needle + Gregor (solo)
Saturday September 23
The Toff In Town
You can find tickets here.


About Author

Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.