30 years before the east coast-west coast beef that took the lives of Tupac and Biggie, another battle was raging between artists. No blood was shed, but the results are felt all throughout music around the world today. I Dream Of Wires dissects the journey of the modular synthesizer from its first beginnings in the early part of the 20th century, to its meteoric rise in the 60’s and 70’s and beyond.
There’s a certain amount of compulsive madness required to really get into making music with a modulator, something I could never do. Looking at some of the cases the musicians in the documentary are using all I can see is mayhem. There are wires sticking out everywhere and nothing appears to make sense. Performing with the early synthesizers was truly an abstract art form.
The two main creators of these machines were Don Buchla and Robert Moog. The latter is a pretty recognizable name for even novice music lovers. The former is a bit more mysterious for those who aren’t into electronic music. Buchla made machines for a more experimental crowd. It didn’t take long for the practicality of Moog’s keyboard-based synths to overtake the market, leaving the Buchla as a niche item only a few could understand and even less wanted.
What I Dream Of Wires does well is exhibit the significance both machines had on the evolution of music. Just like rock and roll picked up the Moog in the 60s and 70’s, DJ’s of the 90’s latched on to the Buchla model because it was more open to whatever your mind could imagine. Much like cassettes and CDs took the place of vinyl in the 80’s into the 90’s, its only a matter of time before the original comes back.
The history of modular synthesizers is well-covered by director Robert Fantinatto and producer Jason Amm. They speak with some of the first musicians to take a shot at electronic music, including Morton Subotnick who released the seminal electronic album Silver Apples Of The Moon. Gary Numan and Trent Reznor both deliver interesting, if too short, clips as well.
They take their time going through the origins, making the early parts of the film almost as dense as the sounds coming out of those oscillators and filters. It picks up as more and more of the film goes into interview mode, and we get to see a lot of the people who are keeping this type of music-making alive. More than anything I like the message that you can’t just do everything on your computer. Sure it makes everything easy and convenient, but you lose some of the soul needed to make music great.
I Dream Of Wires will have its Chicago premiere on Friday May 2nd at The Society For The Arts at 9:15pm. Director Fantinatto will be in attendance for a post-viewing Q&A session. You can get your tickets on CIMM Fest’s website.