It’s a tough moment for a whole generation in electronic music history. This weekend claimed the British legend Peter Zinovieff – deserving a look back at him and EMS and the VCS3.
At top: Matrixsynth found this image of Zinovieff in the (glorious, it seems) EMS Musikmesse booth, and maybe my favorite image of him.
Peter Zinovieff in the EMS Synthesizer Musikmesse Booth Circa 1975
Zinovieff’s accomplishments are many – a composer, a musician, an engineer, and the first private individual in the UK to own a computer. But he will be best remembered for EMS – Electronic Music Studios – and the 1969 debut of the VCS3.
It says something about the US-centric history we get in electronic music that the Minimoog so easily eclipses the VCS3 in popular imagination. But arguably the VCS3 is as much a predictor of today’s approach to electronic production as the Minimoog was, if not more so. Its 16×6 matrix was way ahead of its time, and might even be more comfortable in the more experimental synth lover market of our decade now. The pins looked like nothing if not a game of Battleship, but allowed synthesists to create modular connections without carrying patch cords – and kept the rig popular. Today’s soft synths and modular hardware and software therefore may owe as much to the VCS3 as any pioneering instrument.
EMS – and the VCS3 – were founded in 1969 by Zinovieff along with the late Tristram Cary and David Cockerell, to be followed by the Synthi. The VCS3 sold for 330 GBP, or about 5500 Pounds Sterling in modern money (US$7600).
But apart from the computer first, Zinovieff was also part of Unit Delta Plus with Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson (for a kind of 60s BBC radiophonic superband), and made cybernetic art, and has kept composing recently. Oh yeah, and he worked with the Beatles and Bowie and many others.
These past days have seen major losses of not only Zinovieff but American composers Frederic Rzewski and Jon Hassell, among too many other recent deaths to count – both as a generation ages and some have been claimed by COVID.
Peter Zinovieff — 1933-2021 [Sound on Sound]
Peter Zinovieff, British composer and synth pioneer, dies aged 88 [The Guardian]
Synthesiser pioneer and composer Peter Zinovieff dies at 88 [Far Out Magazine]
And one more documentary:
Plus here is a fantastic clip from BBC from 6 March 1968 – the year before he started EMS, working with machine composition.