..:: StarinkWorld - Interview with Felix Visser ::..Felix Visser is a close friend of Ed Starink and he is also the founder of the Netherlands' legendary synthesizer/electronic music equipment manufacturer "Synton". Synton Syntovox Demonstration (YouTube)
In December 2013 StarinkWorld prepared an e-mail interview with Felix Visser. The interview was conducted in English by Andreas Heinz.
StarinkWorld: Felix, would you like to tell us when and how you and Ed met each other for the first time?
Felix Visser: It is quite a long time ago that Ed and I met. It must have been in the late seventies of the twentieth century. Synton had just released its Syntovox 221 vocoder. If I remember correctly, at that time Ed was working from a small studio near Amersfoort, in the Netherlands. Two important things: he was, at that time already, working his ass off and digging into anything which had to do with e-music cutting-edge technology. The other memorable thing was that Nicolette, Ed's wife, each day would be preparing high piles of delicious sandwiches for all the musicians who were doing gigs in the studio and visitors (and people wanting to sell the latest studio gear and music equipment...).
StarinkWorld: Do you live in the Netherlands or also in France like Ed?
Felix Visser: I live in both countries, one foot in the Netherlands, the other one in France.
StarinkWorld: How would you describe a good friendship?
Felix Visser: It's OK when there is a "footing", an understanding. You don't have to pick up loose ends when you've been out of touch for a while - or even years.
StarinkWorld: You founded a company which designed, manufactured and distributed vocoders, synthesizers and other electronic music equipment. When and why came you to the conclusion to create own electronic music instruments?
Felix Visser: In 1972, when the Synthi A (a brief case version of the VCS 3, aka as The Putney) plus the DK1, the Cricklewood, a dynamic keyboard which I'd bought in London, broke down. Fortunately EMS had given me all the circuit diagrams - may be a precautionary matter - so I could repair the sucker. While fiddling around with internal stuff and user interfacing procedures, I thought: hey, this could have been done such and so, and so on. In 1973 I started my company, going for a duophonic synth which I called "Syrinx". It never came out. After 3 months I ran out of money, had to let go the two techies I'd hired and that was it. I survived with a piece of outboard gear I made with another tech friend. It was a phase shifter. I was thrilled by the Doobie Brother sound in Listen to the music. Thrilled by the jet plane effect that seemed to "fly" through the sound.
StarinkWorld: Is there a certain "Felix Visser" (Synton) sound?
Felix Visser: All Synton sounds have my signature - for better or for worse. From the first product (the phaser) until the last one (the SPX 216 Syntovox vocoder with shiftable filters). It could make Shephard tones, sometimes called "barberpole filter" effect.
StarinkWorld: How did you know which sounds the users of your instruments wanted/needed?
Felix Visser: I didn't. I was, at the time a performing and composing musician myself and I knew what I liked.
StarinkWorld: Which electronic music instrument (in general) would you name the most innovative invention ever?
Felix Visser: If you talk innovation, you talk about technology. I will not venture into that discussion. It's incredible what some people did with technology, but to me all that matters is sound and playability of the instrument. The new Syrinx, many years after the first one died a premature death, was released in the early eighties and it was a perfect example of bad timing in the history of synths. It coincided with the release of the Yamaha DX7. Nobody wanted an analog, monophonic synth anymore. Exit Syrinx. Today people pay up to 10.000 euros for it - if they can find one.
StarinkWorld: Which of your synthesizers (or other developments) do you like the most?
Felix Visser: Well, what can I say more? I still have the parts which could make me one and I dream about putting one together. Some day.
StarinkWorld: Which synthesizer (or other device) of your competitors did you find such interesting that you might have thought "gee, why didn't I develop that"?
Felix Visser: From an analog technology point of view there are quite some. MiniMoog, Prophet 5, OB1. Digitally speaking: Fairlight, Synclavier. I'd like to make a note though at the word "competitors".
The interesting thing is, that almost all the people in the music instrument industry did not really consider co-players as competitors. It was quite an unusual but very nice atmosphere. People would share ideas.
I have no idea how it is nowadays. Software people think differently. They have no time to play around. They have to compete fiercely and "make it" in just a few years. Long term planning does not exist anymore. And stealing has become a habit.
StarinkWorld: As a former developer of electronic music instruments what do you think about the fast evolving of computer technology and therewith the more and more use of software synthesizers instead of hardware synthesizers like for example the Synton systems?
Felix Visser: It relates to what I said earlier. Technology is a vehicle, not a goal. I have worked with software based instruments that could do anything and everything, but in the end it's up to the musician to make it sound, to express himself. I am interested in live performances. Therefore in physical, playable, caressable, kickable, whispering, talking, screaming instruments. It's all about interactivity, intuition, feedback, tangibility.
StarinkWorld: Ed told me once - and you wrote it in the Preface to Ed's Universe Symphony, too - that he felt like working in a museum when he was in his studio filled with these great and legendary synthesizers, the SSL mixing desk and so on. Many people would be happy to own one or more of this stuff. Nevertheless do you think that his new computer-based studio setup was at a certain point also a sort of thrust of innovation for him to take the challenge to complete the Universe Symphony?
Felix Visser: I can't speak for Ed, but I think his goals go way beyond just the "challenge" of being the master of all these boxes. That's secondary. He doesn't have to prove that he can work his way around the bugs and flaws of all that tech stuff.
StarinkWorld: You encouraged Ed to release the first part of his Universe Symphony and you referred to Ed in the preface that he is thoroughbred romantic. On an internet forum I've read something like "this music is very sad and while listening it doesn't let me think about the universe", so quite the opposite to "romantic". I suppose that people often expect cheery as well as electronic music in the vein of Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, J.M. Jarre or Vangelis. Do you think that Ed's music about the universe exceeds some peoples musically imagination due to its complexity and the fact that it's pure piano music?
Felix Visser: I don't get the proposition of the universe as being romantic. And I don't agree with your conclusion. Romanticism is the joy of grief, it's that simple. As for the other part of your question (or proposition) that people expect "happy" music, and your summing up of composers who are by this statement labeled as cheery music makers - have you ever listened to Vangelis' music for Blade Runner? It's pure romanticism, nothing to be cheered up by - it's pure suffering, grief. Beautiful.
StarinkWorld: You quoted Goethe in the preface. Is in your opinion Goethe the best way to explain Ed's way how he transcribed the Universe from his mind into music?
Felix Visser: "In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister." It's just what it says. Ed has found his "dictum" in the galaxy - stellar configurations, etc. He made a deal with himself to, as much as possible, limit his freedom of move by sticking to the rules he'd set to interpret those configurations and translate them into notes.
That is "die Beschränkung". Of course he took some liberties here and there - call it freedom of speech, poetical freedom - and fiddled around with the rules whenever he felt like it.
StarinkWorld: You pointed out that Maurice Ravel is Ed's pivotal and favorite French composer. Could you set up an equation like "Ed Starink's Universe Symphony can be compared with Maurice Ravel's..."?
Felix Visser: Well, you can compare the two, if you insist. But it's comparing apples and pears. So: apart from their meticulous way of working and both being modern romantics there is no comparison.
StarinkWorld: What are you doing nowadays? Do you still build or develop synthesizers?
Felix Visser: I'm involved in an artistic project in the Netherlands in which all thinkable forms of art can be integrated. One step beyond Wagner's idea about "Gesamtkunst".
I do not build synthesizers anymore since a long time.
I'm thinking about, for many years though, and study the ancient Etruscans, the artist people that cheered up and colored the life of the ancient Romans. In particular I am interested in their musical wind instruments. May be, one day, if I live, I will present a paper on it and a blueprint for an analog electronic wind instrument that listens to its performer.
StarinkWorld: Which music - besides Ed's of course - do you prefer to listen to?
Felix Visser: West Coast jazz. Jazz. Stan Kenton's version of the "Wilhelmus", the national anthem of the Netherlands. Screaming great. One would start to love an otherwise silly song.
StarinkWorld: Are you making music yourself?
Felix Visser: Not anymore. I listen.
StarinkWorld: What is your favorite colour?
Felix Visser: The fragrance of wild thyme.
StarinkWorld: Thank you very much for the interview, Felix.
The photo is used with courtesy of Felix Visser himself.
We would like to thank Felix for his kind cooperation.