Before the Web and SoundCloud, publications wanting to share sound examples – whether that was from artists, tutorials, or whatever – had to get creative. And so it was that Keyboard Magazine included flexible discs in the magazine, some time in the 80s.

Based on a discussion from various Keyboard editor and contributor veterans, it seems there have been a number of attempts to digitize these over the years, along with lots of other useful content like those Brian Eno DX7 presets I shared yesterday. But the sheer content volume of a monthly magazine published starting around 1975, plus the lack of even scans let alone a proper digital archive for most of that span of time, atop complex copyright issues around the musical materials keyboard featured, have meant this is done in fits and starts.

That also means that what you hear here is definitely of … marginal legality.

Still, it’s a reminder of the power of sound to illustrate ideas. And those sounds are charmingly leisurely in their pacing, in contrast to today’s algorithm-heavy, clickbait-driven world. (Sigh.)

Indeed, oddly, it was in the Flexi-Disc age that magazines shared all sorts of random content that they might not do today. And I love the trained radio voice introducing sampling resolution concepts.

It’s all a reminder that it isn’t so much the medium itself that matters as it is a commitment to editorial. There are commercial struggles now, as ever.

There are some heavy hitters in these releases, too. (Yeah, about that copyright.)

Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Chick Corea sit alongside some seriously obscure stuff. Have a listen, at least until these are found and deleted.

The history here is terrific. But while I think some archival work is interesting, I think it’s even better to spend energy building new stuff. Part of what made Keyboard special was the sense that obscure experimentalists and the likes of Herbie Hancock were part of a single community. That spirit ought to be more possible today – and perhaps less exclusively men, less limited to the US or US and UK.

And, heck, maybe we should see about producing some flexi-discs for record fairs.

  • Svante Berg

    I love those old flexi-dics mags, very expensive in Sweden. When I heard a winner from one of the competetions on a flexi-disc I decided to go that path. He used a Commodore 64 with some AKAI sampler (S700?), he sampled a weather man, excellent tune. Must find it!
    Those flexi-disc was a path to sounds and tunes that you couldnt hear anywhere else.

    • Michael Barnhart

      I think I remember that track and sample. I got those mags as a teen. “The forecast calls for showers this morning . . .”

      • Svante Berg

        Exactly, thanks! Still brilliant!

    • Polite Society

      Is it the one that’s about 6 minutes in on that first video?

  • Alberto

    …..and i still have 30-40 of these! Among others are the one shown, Zappa’s Black Page, Alain Thibaud
    ‘God’s Greatest Gift’ (a Fairlight-only production…), ‘The Manor March’ and more…..
    I bought my first ‘Keyboard’ November 1978 in Torino, Italy and i have it here in front of me now:
    a 16-pages Duke Ellington Story (from page 32 to page 41 with no advertising!!!), the second part of a special Report by Dominic Milano on Polyphonic Synth with complete Front-Panel Specs, 12 pages and NO ADVERTISING!!!, sections on Contemporary Piano by Burge and on Synths by Bob Moog…ecc. ecc…..simply wonderful, even today 40 Years later!
    As Svante said, a path to sounds, tunes and informations you couldnt hear and
    have anywhere else.

  • brian hennessey

    The best ones were the contest giveaway winner’s tracks….. I wonder what they are up to now.

  • Graham Metcalfe

    I remember them well. I think I still have a couple laying around somewhere. I think one of the ones I have was from a book published by keyboard magazine on basic subtractive synthesis from around 1978.

  • DPrty

    Nice!!

  • John J A Jannone

    Guitar Player magazine did, too. That was how I heard John Scofield for the first time. Life-changing.

  • Blue Monster 65

    I’ve got a few of these as well. My favorite was an otherwise unreleased (at the time) track by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin. Very cool to see (hear!) many of these again.

  • This has also been a thing for all sorts of music magazines. I’ve got a Joy Division flexi disc from back then – can’t remember which magazine it was from. Some of these discs have become super exclusive and rare collector items that go for ridiculous money. For those who can be bothered…

    But yes, I’d like to see some of these popping up again – maybe as special editions for record store day or whatever. Sound quality is rather questionable, but it is a fun niche medium.

  • brianmoore

    LOVED my Sound pages 😀 My very favorite was a track by Alain Thibaud “God’s Greatest Gift” – basically some sampled Ronald Reagan speech and funky beats done on a Fairlight <3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6E6L8RNVIM

  • Graham Metcalfe
  • Rich Rath

    On a similar note (sorry!), see https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/04/forgotten-audio-formats-flexi-disc/. Fave was a Guitar Player flexi from late eighties of David Torn playing some whack ambient stuff that really stretched the limits of what you could with a Guitar and some loopage back then.