Name: Egil Kalman
Occupation: Producer, composer, performer
Current Release: Egil Kalman's Kingdom of Bells (Egil Kalman plays the Synthi 100) LP is out via iDeal.
Tool of Creation: Synthi 100
Designed by: Electronic Music Studios (EMS)
Country of origin: Britain
Became available in: 1971
Egil Kalman uses the Synthi 100 on: His latest album Kingdom of Bells.
If you enjoyed this interview with Egil Kalman about the Synthi 100 and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram.
You may also be interested in Yoshio Machida talking about the Synthi 100's little sister, the Synthi AKS.
What was your first encounter with the Synthi 100?
It was a brief encounter in the Spring of 2019 while in Athens on tour with Zoe Efstathiou.
We only had time to make about one patch but it was immediately evident that it was a very capable and awesome instrument.
Just like any other piece of equipment, the Synthi 100 has a rich history. Are you interested in it? And if so, what are some of the key points from this history for you personally?
I find that when it comes to the early days of synthesizers, their designers and users are very inspiring indeed.
The company behind the Synthi 100, Electronic Music Studios (EMS) and its founders Peter Zinovieff, Tristram Cary and David Cockerell, have a fascinating history in particular. I highly recommend the documentary ‘What the Future Sounded Like’ as an introduction to the subject.
What, to you, are some of the most interesting recordings made with the Synthi 100?
John McGuire’s ‘Pulse Music III’ and Sarah Davachi’s ‘Vergers’ are my favorite Synthi 100 recordings.
[Read our Sarah Davachi interview]
What interests you about the Synthi 100 in terms of it contributing to your creative ideals?
The sheer size of the instrument in terms of the number of oscillators, filters, amplifiers, envelope generators etc. allows for the creation of rich and detailed pieces with many layers and parts happening at the same time.
Which is particularly useful to me, as I’ve chosen this rather dogmatic method for most of my musicking (and indeed all the music on this record) where I don’t make any overdubs; use any pre-recorded material; loopers etc. All of the pieces were recorded live as stereo tracks.
In some of the tracks which focus on just intonation I had enough oscillators to have each tuning ratio represented by one oscillator and in that way it allowed me to play the Synthi as one giant harp!
What are some of the stand-out features from your point of view?
The digital sequencer!
It has 256 note events that you can freely distribute on up to 10,000 clock events. It also features real time recording, making it possible to record your performance with all its rhythmical nuance intact, if you run a very fast clock. It was quite advanced for its time and is very clever in how it uses its memory. I took advantage of this on several of the pieces for this record.
Prior to using it for the first time, how did you acquaint yourself with the Synthi 100? Will you usually consult a manual before starting to work with a new device – and what was that like for the Synthi 100?
I got some great help getting started with the digital sequencer from Angelos Mitsios at KSYME. Other than that, in the case of the Synthi 100 most of the functions were pretty clear to me as I have some previous experience with the VCS3 (shout out to Christoffer Berg!).
I do however enjoy reading manuals, forums and watching youtube videos etc. when I get my hands on a new device or even about gear that I don’t have. It might not be very useful or necessary, it’s more like some kind of light entertainment to me to be honest, hehe.
Tell me a bit about the interface of the Synthi 100 – what does playing it feel like, what do you enjoy about it, compared to some of your other instruments?
It was a very thrilling experience to play it!
The interface is spacious, well thought out and logical. Compared to my own Eurorack system, which includes a variety of brands with different philosophies, it has a refreshingly unified feel to it.
How would you describe the sonic potential of the Synthi 100?
Massive. It has a raw and powerful sound which distorts in all the right ways.
In which way does the Synthi 100 influence musical results and what kind of compositions does it encourage / foster?
I did not have any plans or compositions prepared for my residency at KSYME where I had access to the Synthi 100. So the tracks on the album are in some ways the result of the kind of compositions it encourages.
The Synthi does however allow for many approaches: generative, sequenced; played with keyboard or potentiometers, etc. As I enjoy all these methods I tried to take advantage of these varied possibilities. It didn't feel like the Synthi restricted me to a certain kind of composition, though this likely has a lot to do with the kind of music I like to make.
Within the respective methods listed I did nonetheless find that using it very much becomes a dialogue where it nudges you in certain directions based on its response to your inputs.
More generally, how do you see the relationship between your instruments and the music you make?
Instruments definitely go hand in hand with creativity for me. I spend a lot of time practicing various instruments (drums, double bass and modular synthesizers mainly) and through this practice I encounter ideas for compositions and material for improvising.
They also suggest different kinds of music and ways of interaction through their interfaces and history. In some ways this is especially true for electronic instruments which are more limited than acoustic ones in how subtly they can be played by their nature and allows / necessitates the designer to put more restrictions on the performer / programmer.
So the exact instrument(s) becomes quite important to me.
That said, the kinds of music I wish to pursue is largely the same regardless of instrument. However due to their differences I find that they allow you to hear the music from different angles and in doing so influence the outcome.
As double bass is my first main instrument I’ve learnt a lot from using modular synthesizers because they allowed me to listen from more of an above perspective, as I was not so busy being physically involved in making the sounds.
Could you describe working with the Synthi 100 on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
The track "Lyra" is me playing the Synthi 100 as one giant harp, as mentioned above. Each of the oscillators represented a string which I “plucked” by inserting pins in the patch matrix. This was a lot of fun!
How does the Synthi 100 interact / complement / conflict with some of the other tools in your studio?
If I had a Synthi 100 it would certainly be the centerpiece of my bedroom studio, haha!
Are there other artists working with the Synthi 100 whose work you find inspiring? What do you appreciate about their take on it?
The two listed above, Sarah Davachi and John McGuire. It’s just great music and it’s quite different from each other, which I think highlights the flexibility of the instrument.
In the light of picking your tools, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
What I strive for in my music is a kind of depth, which for me comes from detail-oriented practice and by not attaching my ego to the music. Through listening deeply, music can be an experience of the beyond!
Therefore I try not to concern myself with concepts such as originality or perfection in my music making as I feel they are superficial and not helpful in trying to go deeper.
With regards to picking my tools I am however a student of music history, so I suppose I’m interested in continuing a tradition in some sense. I started playing the double bass for its importance in Jazz music and it’s definitely fun to have the opportunity to use historical instruments such as the Synthi 100!