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The Don Banks Music Box to The Putney: The genesis and evolution of the VCS3 synthesiser

Gardner, James (2016) The Don Banks Music Box to The Putney: The genesis and evolution of the VCS3 synthesiser. University of Leeds. [Dataset]

This item is part of the Alternative Histories of Electronic Music collection.

Dataset description

The VCS3, made by EMS, is well known as the first commercially-produced European synthesiser. While in recent years interest in such early analogue synthesisers has grown, and VCS3 prices on eBay have exploded, a thoroughly researched and detailed account of the genesis of this significant device has not yet appeared. One of the aims of this paper is to demystify the origins of the VCS3 and to debunk some of the myths that have grown up around the instrument. The VCS3’s precursor, commonly referred to as the VCS-1, was brought into being following a request in 1968 from the Australian composer Don Banks for an electronic music device that would cost no more than £50. Banks’ request was addressed to the incipient team of composers Tristram Cary, Peter Zinovieff and engineer David Cockerell. The success of the device they built for Banks led the trio to set up Electronic Music Studios (London) Ltd., or EMS, in order to develop and then manufacture the VCS3. Drawing on little-known and recently-discovered primary source material this paper traces the development of the VCS3 from Banks’ original request, through various intermediate stages, to its launch in November 1969. A brief discussion of the instrument’s impact and significance is also included, and the vexed question of how the VCS3 came to be yoked to a keyboard is also addressed. The paper also considers the workings of the informal network of Banks, Cary, Cockerell, Zinovieff and other associates, each of whom at the time were essentially freelance or independent practitioners, beholden neither to academic institutions nor industry. This network formed just one of what Bijker, Hughes and Pinch might call a ‘relevant social group’ with respect to the VCS3. Other such groups would include early adopters amongst the rock music world; early ‘live electronics’ groups such as Intermodulation, Gentle Fire and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s group; and the rash of electronic music studios, particularly in the UK, that sprang up in tertiary institutions in the late 1960s and early 70s. Starting with an outline history of Peter Zinovieff’s private electronic music studio in London, the paper proceeds to trace the networks of personal and institutional connections, and technological conditions, that engendered the VCS3, and challenges some of the received wisdom regarding its origins, nomenclature and impact.

Subjects: W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music
W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music > W310 - Musicianship/performance studies > W316 - Electronic/electro-acoustic music performance
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures > School of Music
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Date deposited: 27 Jul 2017 19:45



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