Listen to this track by Tubeway Army founder and frontman turned solo synth-rock innovator Gary Numan with this sci-fi tale of a lonely computer. It’s “M.E” as taken from his landmark 1979 album The Pleasure Principle a disc that helped to usher in the 1980s; a mix of synthesizer-based pop mixed with live drumming, and with the odd violin and viola for contrast.
Having put out two Tubeway Army albums, Numan eschewed traditional rock instruments (read: guitars) for this, his third release and his first under his own name. Instead, he discovered minimoog and polymoog synthesizers, instruments growing in popularity on the continent as popularized by acts like Kraftwerk, who provided a basis for Numan’s approach .
The main argument against synthezisers in the rock world even to this day is their artificial, cold sound. The “strings” don’t sound like strings. The “choirs” don’t sound like choirs. “Vox Humana” is a preset. But, given that Numan’s subject matter was about alienation, technology, and the relationship between the two, the real question is which came first, the songs or the instruments that inspired them?
Synthesized music, and the themes of technological ubiquity and mechanized humanity in the music took off in the 1970s, partially due to a trend in industrialization and computer technology emerging in parallel at an alarming rate. This trend affected commerce, mass transportation, communications, and (of course) music and the arts to an exponential degree.
Hey; not unlike today.
But, there were certainly other forces guiding this development, too. Read more