Synthesizers – especially the first synths – are hard to use. They were often made by musicians with a background in engineering, or engineers with a fondness for music, and, as Robert X. Cringely used to say, “Nerds like things that are hard to use.”
The first step to mastery is familiarity. The best way to get familiar with the iconic synthesizers is with emulators. And so today’s desktop toybox places your hands on the faceplate of the quixotic EMS Synthi A.
The Synthi A was manufactured in 1971 by EMS, and was valued for packing a tremendous amount of power into a portable and self-contained case. (Legend has it that EMS executives were considering a number of different small footprint synthesizers when an engineer showed up with a simple briefcase containing a prototype Synthi A. They made their decision on the spot.)
You can hear the Synthi A alone in the intro to Alan Parsons Project’s “I Robot”:
SYNTHI-JS is a neat introduction to this workhorse unit, downloadable as a project that can be played offline in a browser or used as a fully-functional demo live on github right here. Developer Alex Nisnevich has some tips to get started with the patchboard in the ReadMe file; you can also start right away by using your own audio tracks as a source: