Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp
This weekend saw me and my camera haunting the halls of the Itasca Westin again. Last time it was because of Musecon – a convention for artists, musicians, and other creative types at which I was speaking. You can read my Musecon review for more. This time I was at the Westin to attend Knobcon, a convention dedicated to synthesizers. The Knobcon web site describes Knobcon as:
a one-of-a-kind synthesizer convention… complete with performances, workshops and vendors, Knobcon allows for a fully immersive experience. Attendees can get their hands on an incredible amount of equipment and talk directly with designers of some of today’s most innovative synthesizer products.
Although I have long been a fan of electronic music (Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, ELP, etc.), my interest has always been that of listener rather than user or producer. The convention was brought to my attention by a musician friend of mine who was coming in from out of town to attend. And why the name Knobcon you ask? I think the following picture makes the name obvious. Frankly, the last time I saw this many knobs was in the original NASA Mission Control room at Cape Canaveral.
Synthesizer Knobs at Knobcon
I spent quite a bit of time in the exhibit hall and rooms taking photographs of the wide variety of equipment on display. In addition to lots of knobs, there were cables, lots of cables. And all those blinking lights were particularly appealing to me. In addition to being a visual feast, it was quite an auditory experience as well – walking through a large room filled with synthesizers all doing their own thing.
Knobcon synthesizer exhibits
Most of the photographs I took made use of my macro lens. For the most part I kept the camera in full manual mode so that I could play with aperture and exposure time. Underexposing worked particularly well for those photographs where I wanted the center of attention to be the blinking lights. At some point I will make some of these photographs available on my web site Jim Plaxco Photography.
In addition to photography, I also used my smart phone as a digital recorder to record the cacophony of human and synth sounds I heard while walking the aisles of the main exhibit hall. My thought is to use these recordings as a sound track for some short YouTube videos that will be illustrated using some of the photographs I took at Knobcon.
While not in the exhibit hall, or one of the exhibit rooms, I was attending workshops. While many of these were not relevant to my professional interests, several were really quite interesting. One that kept my attention was The Wavewrights given by Marc Doty, identified as the king of YouTube synthesizer videos (check out Marc Doty’s Automatic Gainsay Channel on YouTube). His talk on the history of electronic music instruments, of which synthesizers are the dominant instrument, was wonderful. He talked about the relevance of inventors like Thomas Edison, Alexandar Graham Bell, and Lee de Forest. A few of the instruments he talked about include the telharmonium, the pianorad (invented by Hugo Gernsback of science fiction fame), the trautonium, the theremin, and (with the coolest name) the Warbo Formant Orgel.
Gene Stopp of Moog Music
Another of the workshops I attended was one featuring Gene Stopp whom I had earlier met at the Moog exhibit in the main hall. In addition to being the Moog Music Product Manager, Gene Stopp was the synth (synthesizer) tech for Keith Emerson during the heyday of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. For me, ELP has the distinction of being the only major rock group that I have seen perform in concert three times. While Gene was supposed to be answering questions about Moog Music and the recently released Moog Emerson Modular, many of the questions dealt with his involvement with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Watch the following video to learn more about the Moog Emerson Modular.
Moog Music Inc: 50th Anniversary of the Moog Modular Synthesizer
Another program I attended was the live interview with Malcolm Cecil, who had been the keynote speaker at the Knobcon Banquet the previous evening. Malcolm Cecil is a Grammy-award winning record producer and co-creator of TONTO’s Expanding Head Band – which collaborated with numerous music acts including Weather Report, Billy Preston, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and many more.
Malcolm Cecil and the TONTO synthesizer
It was the TONTO synthesizer, built by Malcolm, that was their centerpiece. TONTO is an acronym for "The Original New Timbral Orchestra", which is now owned by the National Music Centre of Calgary, Canada. You can read more about the band and the TONTO synthesizer at TONTO’s Expanding Head Band on Wikipedia.
In closing, spending the weekend looking at and listening to synthesizers (and taking pictures of them) was a different sort of experience for me. And I’m grateful to my friend Fred for cluing me in on this convention.
Synthesizer exhibit at Knobcon
On the subject of music innovation, I’ll leave you with this quote from Edgard Varese: "Our musical alphabet must be enriched… we also need new instruments very badly… in my own works, I have always felt the need for new mediums of expression." What electronics have done for the art of music, so too has the computer done for the visual arts.