The State Of 21st-Century Synthesis

This video captures a panel discussion on The State Of 21st-Century Synthesis, held at the 2014 NAMM Show.

Led by author Mark Vail (Vintage Synthesizers, Beauty In The B, The Synthesizer), the panel features industry leaders offering their take on the state of synthesis.

The panelists, from left to right, are:

  • Composer/synthesist Drew Neumann (Aeon Flux, The Wild Thornberries)
  • Composer/producer & Continuum expert Edmund Eagen
  • Synth designer and MIDI creator Dave Smith
  • Synth designer & sound designer Eric Persing (Roland, Spectrasonics)
  • Gerry Bassermann (E-Mu, Opcode, Be, Propellerhead)

The video is close to 90 minutes long and offers some great perspectives from true gurus of synthesis. 

Panelists Bios:

Gerry Bassermann

A former product specialist, voice programmer, and instrument demonstrator for E-mu Systems, Gerry Bassermann has also been an editorial contributor to Keyboard magazine, a product demonstrator for Opcode Systems and Be Incorporated, and a creative consultant to Antares Audio Technologies, Zoom Corporation, and many others. He is currently the director of North American Markets for Propellerhead Software ( Gerry also taught electronic music composition at the University of California at Santa Cruz for twelve years.

Edmund Eagan

Audio producer, music composer, and sound designer for film and video with over 28 years of professional experience, Edmund Eagan is an award winner for scoring the animated production “The Woman Who Raised a Bear as Her Son” and as a producer for CBC’s “The Health Show.” Edmund has worked on countless television and radio commercials, animation series, television programs, and live multimedia events. He’s been working with Dr. Lippold Haken for the past ten years in the design, development, and evolution of the Haken Audio Continuum Fingerboard ( and the EaganMatrix synthesizer, both of which he astoundingly demonstrates in performances on Youtube.

Drew Neumann

Composer/synthesist Drew Neumann created the captivating music, sound effects, and voices for Peter Chung’s Aeon Flux, launched on MTV’s critically acclaimed Liquid Television animation series in 1991. Drew also composed music for all 84 episodes of Nickelodeon’s The Wild Thornberrys and the Paramount Pictures feature The Wild Thornberrys Movie, 52 episodes of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, along with episodes of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy and Evil Con Carne on the Cartoon Network. In addition, he created sound effects for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Rollercoaster Rabbit, and Off His Rockers, and composed music for Disney Television Animation, E! Entertainment Television’s Talk Soup, and major advertising agencies worldwide. He has consulted and designed sounds for synthesizer manufacturers/distributors Tom Oberheim of Marion Systems, Studio Electronics, Dave Smith Instruments, Moog Music, GSF Agency, and many more. Drew is currently working on shorts for Renegade Animation and for Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover series Bravest Warriors.

Eric Persing

Eric Persing was the chief sound designer for Roland from 1984 to 2005, programming sounds for popular hardware synthesizers including the innovative D-50. An accomplished studio musician and composer, Eric is the founder and creative director of Spectrasonics a leading softsynth company that produces Trilian, Stylus RMX, and the flagship synth Omnisphere.

Dave Smith

Synthesizer pioneer Dave Smith founded Sequential Circuits during the mid ’70s and in 1977 designed the world’s first fully programmable polyphonic synthesizer, the Prophet-5. He was the spearhead behind the development of MIDI in 1983, for which he received a Technical Grammy Award in 2013. Dave served as a consultant for Yamaha and Korg and was the president of Seer Systems, developer of the first professional software synthesizer, Reality. In 2002 he founded Dave Smith Instruments, manufacturer of analog and hybrid synthesizers built in San Francisco.

Moderator: Mark Vail

Music journalist, historian, teacher, and performer Mark Vail discovered synthesizers in 1973 and bought his first in 1976. After earning an MFA in electronic music at Mills College in 1983, he served on the editorial staff at Keyboard magazine from 1988 to 2001 and has taught Propellerhead Reason classes since 2003. Mark is the author of Vintage Synthesizers, The Hammond Organ: Beauty in the B, and his latest book The Synthesizer: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding, Programming, Playing, and Recording the Ultimate Electronic Music Instrument (Oxford University Press USA, 2014).

Note: When the event started, we realized that there was no video or recording crew on hand, so we quickly set up a tripod and captured this video guerilla-style.  As a result, the video misses Mark Vail introducing each of the panelists, and suffers from some production quality issues.

9 thoughts on “The State Of 21st-Century Synthesis

    1. Yeah, but his comments were actually the best. I was expecting that he was going to bash “kids these days”, “digital synthesis”, “iPhones”, “horseless carriages”, etc. but instead of sounding like some of those ol’ foagies he actually understood that soft synths on a computer are much better introductory synth for kids than $2000 analog gear. Moreover it was nice that he also acknowledged that just because someone is old and grew up with patch cables and no presets doesn’t mean they knew what they were doing and just because a kid mixes everything on a DAW doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand signal flow. He reminds me of Steve Jobs in the sense that he’s an old pioneer who’s been there since the early days but is still with us on the edge of time and not stuck 30 years back.

  1. He gave us midi, and he is one of the synth makers who began the low cost machines. Mopho has got to be one of the best small analogues.

  2. Not much emphasis on the future of synthesis, though. “Look what we can do; look what we did.” Great guys and great tools, but where are the new young innovators?

    1. There’s that damned word “innovation” again. Exactly WHAT are you not seeing that you really want? Exactly WHAT sort of glaring hole needs filling? No one ever describes that one crucial aspect of their imagined right to carp. Let’s hear details concerning some feature or COMPLETELY NEW method of sound generation that the mean old manufacturers are withholding, just to spite everyone. The reality is that you can now acquire any and every audible means, rather inexpensively. Where CAN you go from there except into better personal development of your music? People don’t really need more or “better” gear; they need better ideas. No commercial product can hand you that. I own a bit of everything but an analog synth, which I no longer need. If I can’t devise something interesting with all of that, up mine! 😛

  3. I attended this discussion and I would certainly recommend watching it if you have read this far in the comments! I was a little disappointed that Mark seemed more focused on showing examples from his book than guiding the discussion on the topic. On the other hand, he could probably have given a 90 min presentation on his book and that would have been good too.

    1. Gee, Velocipede, I didn’t mention the book until about 36 minutes into this video and, other than revealing that I had discount flyers on hand for people to purchase it, I was trying to use examples from the book to guide the discussion. Sorry you were disappointed. I’ll try to do better next time if I get the chance.

      Hope you’ll buy the book and enjoy reading it. Contrary to what I’ve heard people contend, it isn’t another vintage-synth book. The Synthesizer is intended as a textbook with chapters on history, basics, buying decisions, and tips on programming, recording, and performance. Creating it has consumed the past seven years of my life and — except for the lack of color inside, which wasn’t my choice — I’m happy with and proud of the results.

  4. Wow, great discussion! Definitely a meeting of the minds towards a common purpose, no real curmudgeons on the panel, no all-or-nothing purists, just practical talk. I love the line about how playing analog synths inspires them to get back to the software.

    The current state of synths and the resurgence of hardware (and the unanimous disparagement of the DX7) is indicative of an interface problem. Controllers will continue to evolve and become more expressive but if the personality of the interface is lost then making music becomes less fun and more like work, which removes the spirit of music and art in general. What is the point in that? People picking up a soldering iron and making their own custom controllers and modular synthesizers are to me the most inspiring current trends but not everyone wants to get their hands (that) dirty. For them there are the Moog Sub-37s, Prophet 12s, etc.

    Dave Smith admitting that the a lot of the veterans didn’t understand signal flow was hilarious. We all just take for granted that all of the old schoolers know what they are doing, but when you consider some of the most inspiring sounds happen via “happy accidents” this assumption quickly evaporates.

    Anyway, great vid. Thanks for posting!

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