Another giant of electronic music’s evolution has passed, with the loss on Sunday of Jon Appleton.
The news came via Jon’s son, JJ (also pursuing a life in music), posted yesterday:
Appleton is uniquely rooted both in shaping music both in instruments and composition. As a composer, he produced seminal works in essentially every decade of his life, helped make the program at Dartmouth a global center in electronic music (with a side trip to work at Sweden’s EMS), and went on to make Dartmouth a center again with electro-acoustic grad program.
Newark Airport Rock is topical, powerful programmatic electronic music, downright cool, and damn hilarious.
And that voice – jazzy and whimsical, edgy and cool, a combination of experimentalism and wit.
You definitely need to listen through The World Music Theatre of Jon Appleton.
On the side of instruments, his influence with the Synclavier is tough to overstate. (Even Ableton founders Gerhard Behles and Robert Henke have pointed to the role of the Synclavier as a major source of inspiration for Live, which might not be immediately obvious.)
The Synclavier often gets caught up in some semantic questions of which was the first commercial digital sampler. It probably does deserve that mention, even as it jockeyed with the Fairlight CMI, but I think the “first” part doesn’t matter much. The instrument, which Appleton collaborated on with Sydney A. Alonso and Cameron Jones, made a major impact in its design and conception.
The Synclavier was an architectural and design marvel. It was built on a real-time CPU and analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion, all produced as bespoke internal design projects. It helped popularize sampling, and was a terrific FM instrument to boot. But with a lot of direction from Jon, the instrument itself encapsulated all of that computational sophistication with something genuinely musical. That industrial design looks almost modern today, with its light-up pushbuttons and gorgeous large knob. (For another Berlin tech founder clearly making a spiritual successor to the Synclavier, see also Native Instruments veteran Stefan Schmidt’s creations, especially the Nonlinear C15.)
From sounds to design to technical achievement, the Synclavier is simply one of the great composition-engineering collaborations of all time.
As a teacher, Jon’s impact was even broader. And it’s been through a lot of his students that I got to know Jon a second time over, in the influence and inspiration he had, as a mentor and as a friend to so many people.
To JJ, Molly, everyone else I know who worked and was friends with Jon, and all the rest of his family and friends, my condolences. And, damn, Jon, we’ll all miss you.