Amin Bhatia is a composer and synthesist, best known for his soundtrack work for film and television.
But he’s also a self-professed ‘geek’, inspired by Holst & Tomita, sci fi and action films and classic analog gear. And he’s released two of the most important ‘classitronica’ style works of this generation, The Interstellar Suite and Virtuality.
The Interstellar Suite, originally released in 1987 and Bhatia’s first album, is a suite of original pieces of synth music, arranged in the classitronic tradition of Wendy Carlos and Isao Tomita. The Suite is themed around a futuristic interstellar voyage. Tracks like Launch: Mission Control and Liftoff and Battle: Planning The Attack put the Suite firmly in the category of program music – music that explicitly paints a picture or tells a story.
For its 25th anniversary, Bhatia is revisiting The Interstellar Suite and updating it for a new generation of technology and listeners.
In this interview, Bhatia reveals how he was inspired by Tomita and other synth music pioneers, how he got into electronic music and his plans for bringing The Interstellar Suite to 21st century music formats.
Synthtopia: Amin – what inspired you to get into synths and ultimately to create The Suite?
Amin Bhatia: My goal was to work with orchestras, as a kid. I loved orchestral music. That’s all my parents played around the house. I listened to orchestral music, because I didn’t know it wasn’t cool. My parents just had that stuff going on all the time. Other kids in Grade 5 didn’t know how cool Holst’s The Planets was, or Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. I began to realize I was listening to a type of music that was very strange and unusual.
Then, like so many other people, the Tomita albums and the Wendy Carlos albums brought to my attention the idea of classical music done in a whole new way, and I found that very exciting and very intriguing.
I bought as many synth albums as I could. And my dad, bless his heart, took pity on me and got me my first Minimoog. Which I still have!
Synthtopia: Thanks, Dad!
Amin Bhatia: He did not realize how expensive a Minimoog was. I took him to the music store, and it was $2,000. It was like “TWO THOUSAND!?! Wait a minute!”
So, in we go into his credit card.
I brought the thing home, and I had an old four track recorder, because I was doing tape experiments and my parents let me play with the family tape recorder. And I brought this Minimoog home, and for weeks, I was trying to be Tomita. And the sounds that were squealing out of this thing! My parents were beside themselves. They were thinking “What did we just waste our money on?”
And [meanwhile] I’m learning about filter sweeps, and I’m learning about sawtooth, and I’m learning about ADSR. And my parents are hearing all these shrieking sounds from the basement.
Then, a few weeks later, they were having a party. They were having some of their bridge group friends over.
By then, I had figured out some basic melodic things, and I did a little echo chamber thing with my four track recorder. I did some flute melodies for them, from one of my dad’s favorite classical albums, and the bridge group thought it was cool. But my dad was just thrilled – and really relieved that this thing could actually make some music!
From that point on, I think he breathed a little easier.
As the years went buy, and I did more and more experiments, my dad became my greatest fan, bless his heart. Between him and my sister, I would experiment with all kinds of things and play them.
The Origin Of The Interstellar Suite
Synthtopia: In the last 25 years, The Interstellar Suite has earned a reputation as a cult icon of the classictronica style of synth music. What inspired you to create The Suite?
Amin Bhatia: A friend of my, Dave Kletke, showed me the back of a Keyboard magazine, and there was an ad for the Roland synthesizer competition.
At the time….a friend of mine in college was doing a radio play thing. It was about a spaceship that could travel faster than light. It was an audio play concept he wanted to get going. So, I started doing some sketches and melodic things.
The radio play never got off the ground, but when I saw the contest, I took one of the pieces that I was working on, Flight Beyond The Stars, and finished it off. And I shipped it off to the Roland competition. It was done with a Minimoog and a four track. I think I had some Polymoog in there as well.
Weeks later, I got a letter in the mail from Roland. They said “Thank you very much for entering into the competition.” And I looked in the amateur category, and my name wasn’t there, though I’d entered as an amateur. I nearly threw the piece of paper away.
But then I turned it around, and on the other side was the professional category. And they’d moved me from the amateur category to the professional, and I’d won the grand prize.
So I called my dad, and he came running! I was yelling, “Oh my god!” We drank saké wine that night!
That was a pivotal moment.
Most importantly, the judges on that Roland Synthesizer Competition included Ralph Dyck – who was a synthesizer programmer for Roland. Ralph, who’s a brilliant programmer & synthesist, got my four track demo tape in the hands of Steve Porcaro. David Foster took an interest in it, and Oscar Peterson wrote me a nice letter expressing his support.
The doors that opened from that contest entry then took me to the next level, and made me think that – maybe – I could make a living doing this.