Will Gregory Moog Ensemble Plays Bach Live, In The ‘Switched On’ Style

This video, via Bowers & Wilkins, is a preview for the upcoming Society of Sound release, The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble’s Undercurrents

The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble (Will Gregory, Vyv Hope-Scott, Simon Clark, Graham Fitkin, Ruth Wall, Simon Haram, Ross Hughes, Dan Moore, Pete Rosser, Ade Utley) is an electronic music ensemble, originally formed to perform some of the ‘Switched on Bach’ arrangements of Wendy Carlos.

In the video preview, The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble performs Brandenburg concerto No. 3 BWV 1048.

Undercurrents will be available on March 19 on Society of Sound.

26 thoughts on “Will Gregory Moog Ensemble Plays Bach Live, In The ‘Switched On’ Style

  1. I adore classical music on synthesizers, and I think it would be lovely for more musicians to form classical synth ensembles to play perhaps other composers’ works, but Bach definitely has a soft spot in people’s hearts(or at least mine) because of the Wendy Carlos albums.

    1. Really gotta agree here. Switched on Bach is one of my earliest childhood memories (along with Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” and while I still listen to it quite a bit there’s a whole other universe out there, even just within the baroque style. Some of them can even be recorded on synths that don’t have “fuckbrain” written on them with masking tape.

  2. I personally don’t get synths doing classical music. The only time it made sense was in A Clockwork Orange, as the story is future/present and has a narrow classical music theme, so it works at a time when synths were the sound of the future – but that isn’t the case today. And in that film, it is also making a statement regarding popular taste in a modern society – did Kubrick use the music because he sat around and listened to that kind of thing, or did he use it as it sounded alien and off-center? I’ll go for the later option, as he was known for using artists without them being aware of the real purpose he sought from their talents, or lack of them in Shelley Duvall’s case. But I do like classical pieces when played with context and meaning, who doesn’t? But I don’t get the context or meaning of something like this, like when a classical orchestra play The Beatles hits, you are left just thinking, why? It doesn’t add anything to classical instruments or these old pop tunes – I think most would find much better uses of both the musical arrangements and the orchestra. It reeks to me of a final trite stand – trying to find originality within the unoriginal.

    1. Playing a type of music not normally associated with an instrument helps you hear its timbre in a fresh way, which in turn expands your understanding of what can be creatively achieved.

      1. I agree, but should the context of that be as a simple exercise or a formally exhibition? Masturbation is fun and exciting pastime, but maybe not for sharing publicly in its full execution. I found a telling quote from Kubrick on the music of A Clockwork Orange: “This music may be used in its correct form or synthesized, as was done with the Beethoven for some scenes in A Clockwork Orange.” The use of the term ‘correct form’ is very telling, therefore he is indirectly saying synthesized classical music is not the ‘correct form’, it is ‘incorrect’. He used these sounds as it was wrong and disturbing, the music is a statement on a purposeless trite culture that he mirrors in that film – which is now mirrored back at us by the Will Gregory “Droog” Ensemble – haha, coming soon to a milk bar near you.

        1. You’re focusing a lot on that Kubrick quote. Here is a quote from a musician.

          Glenn Gould said,
          “Carlos’ realization of the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto is, to put it bluntly, the finest performance of any of the Brandenburgs—live, canned, or intuited—I’ve ever heard.”

    2. There’s probably some cognitive dissonance for people of certain age between the idea of synthesizers being a ‘futuristic instrument’ and classical music being something of the past.

      Synths don’t have the same futuristic connotation that they did 45 years ago, though. For a lot of people, they use synths because they like retro sounds of the 70s or 80s.

      Point being – they aren’t a cliche to be trotted out when you need the ‘sound of the future’, they’re another instrument to make music with now.

      And Bach is clearly some of the most appropriate music to play on synths. In much of his work, specific instruments are not noted, so it’s up to the performers to decide how to arrange it.

    3. Yes, I totally agree, this is horrendous and reminds me of a record I got as a kid in the early 80s with synth versions of Beethoven (probably inspired by Carlos). Sounded great then, now it sounds ridiculous and dated in the non-retro sense for both lovers of classical and electronic music.

  3. Interesting thread. I tend to agree more though with Kuwa (yes, I’ll probably get more dislikes than likes for this post). In the case of Bach, I simply don’t see the attraction of recreating something that Wendy Carlos achieved almost 50 years ago. Carlos however proved that the real future in electronic classic music lay in microtonal composition, and this can be really appreciated on her (also) groundbreaking recording “Beauty in the Beast”. Now that we have computers and synthesisers, and therefore are now able to tame the microtonal beast, I find it somewhat odd that we’re still repeating the same old 12-note tempered scale over and over again. The above performance isn’t bad, it’s just that the format of recreating music such as this on synthesisers is quite passé and unoriginal. Can we not go forward in the development of classical music using microtonal scales and computers? I’ll leave you with this. Something to ponder on. 🙂

    1. I, for one, cannot wait for the day when I turn on the radio during my drive to work and can hear some terrifying crazy eyed music like from your friend in the video there.

    2. Hmm, it might be passé in your circles, but I believe the majority of people enjoy listening to and making music that balances the familiar with the novel. A small minority of people enjoy microtonal experimentation. If you enjoy it, great, but check the elitism. Let other people listen to and make the music they like.

  4. Electronic instruments are capable of producing good performances of classical music IF the players use appropriate controllers for expressivity (expressiveness?), i.e.real time nuances in volume and timbre.
    It could be pedals, velocity sensitive keyboards, wind controllers, or just tweaking synth parameters,etc. I don’t think I hear much of that in this performance

    1. I don’t think there’s much expressive capability in a harpsichord, to be fair. And Bach’s compositions tend to be more about the notes than instrument dynamics, although you can certainly add expression if you want to (e.g. Glenn Gould’s playing of the Goldberg Variations).

      1. This is a good point. The original music had very few, if any, dynamic changes. Meant to be played on a harpsichord or a pipe organ. I did notice some knob twiddling in the video to mimic Carlos’ version.

  5. If you know your classical music, you know that Bach is rarely played on the actual instruments that were used at the time.

    Most people consider that irrelevant, because Bach often did not specify instruments, but there are purists that play it on the original instruments, with the (somewhat speculative) original tunings.

    The original instruments sound a little wonky, by today’s standards – kind of an acquired taste!

    1. “because Bach often did not specify instruments”

      Not true, but an usual misconception. By large, most his work does (yes, there may be some flexibility with the bass-continuum part, there may be a more practical approach to instrumentation than in later classical music-even if forced by circumstances-, and yes, Bach did rewrite some of his works for new instruments…and yes, his music style do allow this kind of changes…but that is not the same as “Not specifying…”. Color/Instrumentation DO play a big role in Bach many times. Each of the Brandenburg concertos specify different instrumentation, each has its own color, with an incredible and joyful sense of variety…).

      It may only be true for his latest, strict contrapunctistical work like “The Art of the Fugue” and some parts of the “Musical Offering”. Popular (romantical/puritan) view of Bach puts too much weight on those his latest works and in its abstract, speculative nature, while most of Bach’s work is actually highly sensorial and rethorical/dramatic-even if always within some formal constraints.

      “Historical” interpretations of Bach are actually the main stream in Baroque interpretation since, well, decades. And this interpretations take often more risks than one may thought. The better of them are the opposite of escolastic, reverential or boring. And they do sound great, believe me…Or better not, just listen to the Brandenburg Concertos by Musica Anticua Köln.

  6. Strongly disagree with Kuwa; Jert is spot on imo. Playing Bach with new, varied orchestration is a fantastic practice, perfectly legitimate and longstanding tradition. It’s not a commercial copout at all.

    Personally, I find listening to Carlos-style Bach or Beethoven to be a wonderful illumination of the score. It really highlights the individual voices in a way that I can’t get so well with a standard arrangement. It lets me hear the notes and lines I couldn’t hear before, as it were. I get similar insights listening to one-voice-per-part arrangements of Bach, or in learning a piece myself with a score (just piano for me, sadly).

    I have some sympathy for Kuwa’s viewpoint, though. When I saw the video post, I thought “why bother, why retread Carlos, what a wank”. After watching though, it’s obvious that the point is to have fun, playing great music with a bunch of your favourite fuckbrains. I mean, friends.

  7. Also, there’s no real practice of doing this sort of thing live, so it’s a fantastic thing for them to be pioneering.

    I think I read that Carlos got roped into one live performance, but it was artistically compromised, like playing one voice live, in one timbre.

    1. You can download Carlos’s Bach arrangements as midi files from her website, and hear for yourself the artistry involved in orchestrating the many parts.
      It is so great to see synth players playing live in a band, rather than just uploading from their bedroom to SoundCloud! Much more of that is needed….

  8. One problem is no one is fully sure what the old composers would do if they had synths to use. Although when you listen to prelude and fugue which was done on an organ you can get some idea.
    You can also find modern composers which make music with synths and some are great. And there is also those home made instruments , some of which look like scraps from hell and yet interesting music.
    The say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, well the same came be said for music, it depends on the listener

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