Touch – Morton Subotnik
Exposure to this album opened up a completely new realm of sounds. This was the first time I heard the Buchla Electronic Music System, a first of its kind synthesizer that was originally commissioned to be built by Morton Subotnik and Ramon Sender of the San Francisco Tape Music Center. Don Buchla was the pioneer behind this treasure trove of seemingly endless synthesis. What enabled this machine to stand apart from its predecessors was that, “Previously, one had to use either discrete audio generators, such as test oscillators—or musique concrète, recorded sounds from natural sources. Buchla designed the synthesizer in a modular fashion, combining separate components that each generated or modified a music event.*” The composite sonic results are mystifying, and at moments, even a bit terrifying. I will add that I’m not sure how a composer would truly ever be able to repeat a particular piece note for note.
From January 2001 until March 2003, I was lucky enough to work at the now closed Streetlight Records in Noe Valley of San Francisco which had a constant influx of incredible records. This album arrived as part of a collection that someone had inherited from a friend, and over the course of about 6 months he sold the store somewhere between 900-1000 LPs. The entire staff had numerous field days due to this extensive experimental, 20th Century and avant-garde avalanche of rare vinyl. My guess would be that the staff probably purchased nearly half of it. Shameless, yet this is one of the biggest reasons we all worked at a record store.
Released in 1969, Touch was the third album to showcase a Buchla synthesizer and these intricate instruments helped to reshape how high level synthesizers would be made going forward. To this day, this album still stands out to me as a visionary quest into music exploration and is something that may never meet its equal. I admit, the Buchla Electronic Music System may not be music to everybody’s ears, though even a short span of listening will yield sounds you’ve never heard before, even in your wildest dreams.
* – from the Wikipedia article, Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments
Touch – part 1
Touch – part 2