Mozart justifiably called the pipe organ the “King of Instruments.” No single musical instrument can produce so magnificent a sound or such an immense variety of tones, timbres, and dynamics. Rightly, then, the king of instruments belongs in the Church, accompanying and inspiring the faithful as they give glory to the “King of Kings,” Jesus Christ Our Lord.
Outside of the Church, the prince of instruments is the synthesizer. This sophisticated modern instrument has many of the strengths of the pipe organ. In fact, an electronic or digital organ is actually a pre-programmed synthesizer operated by tabs, rather than knobs or sliders. The two instruments are different forms of the one instrument – the electronic music synthesizer.
The synthesizer has suffered a fate similar to that of the Hammond organ: with some exceptions, it seems to have been relegated to the often caustic domain of secular music. Besides being used almost exclusively in contemporary musical styles – especially rock and jazz – its immense sonic capabilities unfortunately tend to lure the synthesist away from the art and discipline of traditional music – of melody, harmony, counterpoint, meter, and rhythm – into the chaotic world of experimental sound production. And often, the more bizarre and complex the sounds, the more satisfied is the synthesist who produced them. This often leads to a type of aesthetic relativism that can no longer distinguish between music, sound, and noise, between the beautiful and the ugly. And to even suggest that this is the case is to offend and anger the synthesist who creates such…material.
Many argue that art and beauty are entirely subjective and exist only “in the eye of the beholder”. Only to a degree is this true. As a believer in God, I recognize the existence of absolutes and universals, that all is not subjective and individualistic, that the individual is not their own reality nor the creator of their own universe. And I profess that beauty is inseparable from the true and the good. In other words, while art and beauty in general have subjective elements, a person’s sense of them is also the result of many influences, including his or her moral formation and interior life. In many cases, a person can learn to like the dark, the caustic, and the horrific, so that the opposites become intolerable. This can happen in all aspects of life, and certainly in the area of music, where such a preference for the sinister is often regarded as only harmless rebellious art of an esoteric type. However, bad morals tend to produce bad music, and vice versa. Even the pagan philosopher Plato agreed with this statement. And a life filled with loud, discordant, grating noises is unhealthy for the mind, heart, and soul. It is important for musicians to recognize this, since music, which is perhaps the most intensely emotional of all the arts, can have a direct influence on the thoughts and behaviors of those who make it, as well as on those who listen to it. There is responsibility in offering one’s music to the public.
As a formerly working Church organist of twenty years, I’ve devoted my own music-making to beauty in the classical and moral sense. Presently, my own instruments consist of several analog synthesizers, with a trace of digital. Although these are certainly secular instruments – and so I would not use them in Church – I use them outside of Church in a purely musical and pious way, producing and recording sacred and classical music. This includes chants, hymns, various pieces from the Church organist’s repertoire, and increasingly, my own improvisations and compositions.
Providing such music is a wholesome end in itself, but it is also a gentle way of evangelizing, of bringing to others a harmonious echo of the Gospel. In fact, the musical elements of design, form, and development are reflective of God, and, as examples of organized and purposeful beauty, are inherently “religious”. That is, they reflect the work of the supreme Creator who always creates with design and purpose. In light of this, it is not an exaggeration to say that every good piece of music provides a religious experience for both the composer and the listener, even if it is denied.
This blog will provide music from the Sacred Synthesis YouTube channel, as well as ideas and reflections on electronic music and the effective use of synthesizers, especially those designed by Dave Smith Instruments, now renamed Sequential. I would especially like to describe their use in a purely musical way, without the excessive tech-talk that usually fills online synthesizer forums.
An especially noticeable character of the music presented and discussed on this blog will be the absence of drum machines, sequencers, loopers, and so on. Electronic music has always been – and is especially today – a cacophony of mind-numbing rhythmic devices, monotonous patterns, and brutal noises that are often indistinguishable from the sounds one hears in a bathroom, a traffic jam, or at a construction site. I will not contribute to this mass of noise pollution.
Not surprisingly, modern electronic music is often performed primarily on the control panels of the various devices used, to the omission of, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the synthesizer – the keyboard. This clearly reveals that Electronica has drifted far from what is traditionally regarded as music. Perhaps it was always the case. I’m simply parting with that tradition. As a synthesis, I am definitely a keyboardist who also plays the pedalboard.
To state the obvious, then, the opinions expressed on this blog will strongly differ from those typical of the synthesizer domain. I do not subscribe to the common views of synthesists, nor to the common methods and arrangements of electronic music. For one, I compose and perform an entirely different type of music from Electronica – call it sacred, neo-classical, or whatever else. Perhaps I need to invent a new term to describe it. I realize these opinions and ideas are offensive to many people. After all, this is not how the musician is supposed to think. It’s non-conformist and contrary to the mold in which the artist is supposed to fit. So be it. These are my own sincere views and long-held philosophy, and they are the source and inspiration of the music I make. If I didn’t hold them, my music would be completely different.
My goal is not to win a popularity contest, but simply to describe and produce something musical, wholesome, beautiful, and edifying which pleases both the ear and the soul.
“The final aim and reason of all music is nothing other than the glorification of God and the refreshment of the spirit.”
– J. S. Bach