The Keyboard Meets Modern Technology

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As part of the Smithsonian Institution's Piano 300 project, a special event "The Keyboard Meets Modern Technology" was held Saturday April 15th 2000 at the S. Dillon Ripley Centre, which is part of the Smithsonian, in Washington DC.

The event consisted of an exhibition of keyboard technology from Roland, Korg, Kurzweil, Yamaha, Big Briar, and Van Koevering, followed by a panel discussion with Robert Moog, Robert Margouleff, Malcolm Cecil, David Van Koevering, and Keith Emerson.

"Who?" I hear you ask?

Playing a Big Briar Theremin Bob Moog was there, representing his company Big Briar. They make analog effects units (with unlikely names such as "Moogerfooger™") and theremins.

That's a theremin being waved at in the picture

"What's a theremin?" Questions, questions...

The theremin was invented and first demonstrated in Russia in 1920 by Leon Theremin. It comprises a box, usually with a vertical antenna and a metal loop protruding from the left-hand side. You play the instrument by waving your hands around not by touching it.

The distance of the right hand from the vertical antenna determines the pitch of the sound, whilst the distance of the left hand from the metal loop determines the volume (the further away from the loop, the louder the sound).

You may think you've never heard a theremin. If you've heard "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys, then you've heard a theremin (remember the wailing sound?)

Looking at Kurzweil kitChecking out some Kurzweil kit. that's a PC2 sitting above a K2600. I'd love to have a K2600, but if I had the gazillion dollars it would take, I'd probably spend it on something else anyway.

Kurzweil was originally the brainchild of Ray Kurzweil. In the 70's, he developed a machine that would read text out aloud. Stevie Wonder had one (ever wondered where the album title "Talking Book" came from?) Later, Stevie bemoaned the state of electronic musical instruments, which lead Ray Kurzweil to turn his talents in that direction.

The breakthrough instrument was the Kurzweil K250, which was the first instrument to feature "realistic" sampled grand piano. You can still see one in Paul Shaffer's keyboard setup on the Letterman show.

Kurzweil Music Systems was sold to Young Chang, the Korean piano manufacturer in 1990, and they continue to produce top-notch, hideously expensive instruments (i.e, out of my price range).

Bob MoogBob Moog (it rhymes with "vogue"). This man is pretty much the reason that synthesizers are the way they are - this is the man that put the "VC" in VCO, VCF and VCA.

I'm not obsessed, really, but I'll put my hand up to being a geek.

Bob designed and built the instrument used by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos to create the "Switched-On Bach" album, plus several records after that.

She recently remastered those recordings and released them as the "Switched-On Box". I can recommend it, even if my Mum does think it sounds "tinny".

Bob's quite clearly having a whale of a time. Note the absence of a pocket protector - this man knows how to live!

Keith Emerson playing TarkusThe man! During the panel discussion, Keith played the bass line from "Eruption" (the first section from "Tarkus") on a Minimoog.

"What use is the bassline?" you cry!

This picture was taken from some way back, which is my excuse for it being a bit hopeless

Moog Playing Tarkus

Bob waving to the crowd. Actually he's freaking out to "Eruption" from Tarkus, with Keith's accompaniment. This followed Bob's solo rendition of "Amazing Grace". For a musician, he makes a great electronics engineer - don't give up the day job Bob...

Emerson & MoogKeith Emerson, the back of David van Koevering's head and Bob Moog. This was after the panel discussion, when half the room descended on Keith for autographs. Suddenly, bags full of ELP and Keith Emerson solo albums appeared for the man to make his mark on.

Bob got in on the action as well, as Mark Vail was there, plugging his "Vintage Synthesizers" book. There were numerous requests for Bob to scrawl over large pictures of Moog modular synths.

It looks like Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap has snuck into the photo.

Keith Emerson in pensive moodBob Moog confirms his god-like status by displaying a non-sweaty armpit.

Keith tries hard to remember his name, or maybe a fan has asked for an inappropriate body part to be signed, and the great one is pondering whether the "National Enquirer" exposure will do his career any good.

Or maybe he's saying "See that git with the camera to my left? Someone take him outside and give him a good kicking!". Luckily, that didn't happen. If anything, Keith took it all in good spirit, despite the gargantuan line of autograph hunters, and herberts like me snapping away.

It's the first time I've ever been in the same room as Keith (unless you include the Royal Albert Hall and Wolf Trap, VA. - no, I didn't think you would!) He came across as a pretty decent bloke, which seems to be most people's experience. He was certainly entertaining in the panel, with numerous amusing anecdotes (even if I had heard most of them before). Now if he'd only release some music...

Keith Emerson zoning outAge catches up with our hero! He's zoned out from all that activity. OK, it's just one of those embarrassing pictures where he happened to have his eyes shut. Keith - release an album of new material, and I'll take the picture down, otherwise it stays!!

"Where did you get that hat..."

Don't tell me that bloke's British!! Surely nobody British would wear that hat. Except at the seaside. With "Kiss me Quick" on the front.

To avoid the major jam that was being created, Keith moved to the rear of the seminar room, and sat at the table Bob Moog had been using for his demonstrations (hence the wiring).

Derek Smalls looks on in anticipation.

Sweaty Keith

Keith looking all sweaty, after having played a blasting 3 hour gig! Yeah, right.

Now you know why they put powder on for people appearing on TV - the room was warm, but I don't think anyone worked up that much prespiration.

Derek Smalls and the Man

Derek Smalls gets his wish, while Keith tries to remember which one died in a bizarre gardening accident.

That's pretty much it!