Obituary of Pierre Zinovieff | Electronic music

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Although the Moog synthesizer has become synonymous with electronic music, Peter Zinovieff’s Electronic Music Studios (EMS) deserve the same credit. The VCS3 synthesizer he launched in the late 1960s has become the favorite creative tool of some of the more adventurous musicians of the time, including Brian Eno, Hawkwind, Robert Fripp, Curved Air, Led Zeppelin, Gong , Roxy Music and Jean-Michel. Jar.

“To me, the original VCS3 synthesizer is like a Stradivarius,” Jarre commented. “All those old analog instruments are very poetic. I have a huge emotional relationship with them.

Pete Townshend used VCS3 to create the organ track for Won’t Get Fooled Again (from the 1971 Who’s Next album), while a variant of the machine, the Synthi AKS, featured prominently on Dark. Pink Floyd’s Side of the Moon, after guitarist David Gilmour visited Zinovieff at his home in Putney, southwest London.

“He built this thing in his garden shed,” Gilmour reported. “He showed me the original machine, masses of wire and hundreds of components all around the walls, floor to ceiling, which he had miniaturized into a case model.” With apeSoft’s iVCS3 app, today’s musicians can use VCS3-like effects on an iPad.

Zinovieff, who died at the age of 88, founded EMS in 1965 and became a bubbling creative center for electronic music in Britain in the late 1960s and 1970s. The particular purpose of EMS was, according to Zinovieff: “To be able to analyze a sound; put it in a sensible musical form on a computer; be able to manipulate this form and recreate it in a musical way. EMS has become a creative hotbed for experimenters such as Harrison Birtwistle, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Hans Werner Henze, and its reputation has attracted visits from innovators such as Ray Dolby and Bob Moog.

Zinovieff benefited from the invaluable help of his collaborators, composer and electronic experimenter Tristram Cary and David Cockerell, a former medical technician whose expertise helped Zinovieff bring his ideas to life. “Peter had built his studio using his own rather amateurish engineering skills,” Cockerell explained. “He really needed someone with a little more technical skill – well, more patience – than him, to make the sounds he had in his head… he was bold and adventurous, and he thought ‘let’s- the “, and he he.”

Peter Zinovieff at Cambridge in 2015. His synthesizer has been used by Pink Floyd, The Who and Brian Eno. Photograph: Graeme Robertson / The Guardian

In 1966, Zinovieff formed Unit Delta Plus together with Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, with the aim of creating electronic music and promoting its use in film and television. During its brief existence (it disbanded in 1967), Unit Delta Plus is said to have staged Britain’s first electronic music concert, at the Watermill Theater in Berkshire. He also took part in the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave in 1967 at the Roundhouse, London, in which Paul McCartney’s 14-minute sound collage, Carnival of Light, was shown.

Zinovieff began to find running his studio a financial burden, not least because he had little interest in making a profit. “I didn’t want to have a commercial studio, I wanted an experimental studio, where good composers could work and not pay,” he explained. “If someone had a good project, they could come and work in my studio and I wouldn’t charge them.

He wrote a letter to The Times offering to donate the studio to the nation, but it garnered little interest. He and his partners then decided to create a brand of commercial EMS synthesizers, and their first attempt, in 1969, was the Voltage Controlled Studio 1 (VCS1). This one was designed by Cockerell and was sold to Australian composer Don Banks for £ 50.

EMS ‘console-sized Synthi 100 was used, among others, by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which used it to create music for Doctor Who and Blake’s 7. Then came the VCS3, which was designed as a portable electronic music studio rather than just an instrument. , and had a keyboard attached. It sold for around £ 330. It will then evolve through a series of iterations including Synthi A, Synthi AK and Synthi AKS. In the mid-1970s, competitors such as Oberheim and Yamaha threatened to overtake the synthesizer market, but in 1976 EMS pulled off another blow by introducing the Vocoder voice synthesizer.

Zinovieff was born in London, son of Leo Zinovieff and his wife, Sofka (née Sophia Dolgorouky). Her parents were Russian aristocrats who met in London after their families fled their homeland to escape the Russian Revolution. Peter and his brother, Ian, spent WWII living with their grandparents in Guildford, Surrey, and then with their father in Sussex after their parents divorced.

After attending Guildford Royal High School and Gordonstoun School, in Moray, Scotland, Zinovieff attended the University of Oxford and earned a doctorate in geology. He spent some time in geological exploration in Pakistan and Cyprus before devoting himself entirely to electronic music in which he had previously indulged in his university studies.

He married his first wife, Victoria Heber-Percy, in 1960. The following year he built a home studio for himself in a bunker in his garden overlooking the Thames in Putney. “I was lucky at the time to have a rich wife so we sold her tiara and traded it for a computer,” Zinovieff recalls.

He thus became one of the first people in the world to install a computer in a private house – it was equipped with a now inconceivable memory of four kilobytes and then cost the astronomical sum of £ 5,000 to build – and he used it to control his sound. -production equipment. Zinovieff was opening up new ground, although he was obviously aware of the work of computer music explorers Max Mathews and Jean-Claude Risset at Bell Labs in New Jersey, and the doctoral research of David Alan Luce (future inventor of the Polymoog synthesizer) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After the bankruptcy of EMS in 1979, Zinovieff retired from teaching and working in graphic design, although he wrote the libretto for Birtwistle’s opera The Mask of Orpheus (1986) while he lived on the Isle of Raasay in Scotland, where he and Birtwistle owned properties.

He returned to composition in 2010. He collaborated with the violinist Aisha Orazbayeva on OUR (2010) and Our Too (2014), created a series of pieces with the poet Katrina Porteous and with the cellist Lucy Railton conceived RFG (the title means gums with Rowntree fruit). This was performed live in 2016-17 and released as the album RFG Inventions for Cello and Computer in 2020. In 2015, a compilation of his early work was released in 2015, the same year as Anglia University. Ruskin awarded him an honorary doctorate in music.

He is survived by his fourth wife, Jenny (née Jardine), and six children: Sofka, Leo and Kolinka, from his first marriage, and Freya, Kitty and Eliena, from his second, to Rose Verney; her son Kyril, from her third marriage to Tanya Richardson, died in 2015. Her first three marriages ended in divorce.

Peter Zinovieff, innovator and composer of electronic music, born January 26, 1933; passed away on June 23, 2021

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