Ravel’s Bolero Gets Switched On

attack regularity release chaos shared this modular synth ‘switched on’ style arrangement of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero from 1928.

Ravel’s Bolero was the soundtrack for sexy time in the Blake Edwards comedy 10, starring Dudley Moore, Julie Andrews & Bo Derek.

Bolero is known as a tour de force of orchestration, because the piece repeats the melody incessantly for most of the duration of the piece, with the only development happening in the orchestration.

Ravel reportedly described Bolero as having “no form in the true sense of the word, no development, and hardly any modulation”.

This rendition is in the tradition of ‘switched on’ arrangements of the late ’60s and ’70s, when synthesizers were used both to build creative orchestrations of classical works and to add a dash of futuristic sexiness.

Japanese synthesist Tomita released a notable synthesized arrangement of Bolero in 1978. Tomita’s arrangement is lusher and sonically bolder. It’s also more adventurous or wacky – depending on your tastes – with sounds like his trademark ‘whistling’ and swooping synth glissandos.

12 thoughts on “Ravel’s Bolero Gets Switched On

  1. Well done! I appreciate it when someone takes the time to get a classical piece right. Its not as common now, because part of its novelty faded as Carlos disappeared and Tomita passed. Being able to pull it off at all and have an ear for the synth side as you go makes for quite a work load.

    Kazdin & Shephard were CBS producers who had access to a Moog IIIC. In the liner notes, it says “Did we drive ourselves crazy keeping track of all this? Don’t ask!” Its an interesting part of that period.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDqZj7GeM4g

  2. And there was the “moogsploitation” version on Everything You Always Wanted To Hear on the Moog (Kazdin/Shepard, 1973), which predates Tomita’s version. Cute and jokey, with a faux audience standing ovation at the end.

    1. I still have the vinyl recording of it that my parents used to play when I was growing up. It’s a big reason why I got into modular synths. (It’s also a member of the “delightfully uninformed cover art” club, with its choir of very un-Moog-like banana plugs.)

      1. And this was one of the very few, if not one album that Wendy Carlos gave a thumbs up on. Some of those “me too” were terrible.

  3. Nice arrangement – very enjoyable!

    I know the previous arrangements from the ’70s, but Tomita’s arrangements always seemed a little schizophrenic the way that they intersperse gorgeous orchestral sounds with jokey sounds. The Kazdin/Shepard version seems a bit gimmicky, too.

    Tomita’s sounds orchestral synth sounds are really amazing, especially for the time. I enjoy his albums, but they suffer from the drive for novelty that dates them.

    1. This sounds like the old midi tracks from Guitar Pro to me. I find it embarrassing as there has been a lot of gear invested and surely much time spent setting everything up, but in the end the result is way too cold to imitate Ravel’s magical nuances. Still, I support the idea of revisiting this modern classical catalogue, as it still inspiring nowadays.

  4. This sounds like the old midi tracks from Guitar Pro to me. I find it embarrassing as there has been a lot of gear invested and surely much time spent setting everything up, but in the end the result is way too cold to imitate Ravel’s magical nuances. Still, I support the idea of revisiting this modern classical catalogue, as it can still inspire nowadays.

    1. Yes, a worthy effort. However, the acoustic versions are much more nuanced. I like the Ozowa w/BSO version. You can’t beat the sound of the sax in this piece. It’s magical.

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