(SoundCloud link at the bottom if you want to skip the back story) Ahh, the venerable Yamaha DX7. Although I didn’t know it yet, I was already a budding synth nerd when my school acquired one of these magical beasts not long after it’s release in 1983. It was the stuff of science fiction - No knobs! Futuristic flat panel membrane switches! A digital LCD display! It was all a bit too much and I was quite intimidated by this mysterious new technology wrapped up in that sleek, minimalist exterior.
Over the next couple of years I stole every moment I could with the DX7 - I even learned to program it (not a pursuit for the faint-hearted!) Even though I didn’t really understand what was going on (no-one really did), I managed to get some kind of grip on the arcane and highly unintuitive sequence of cause and effect rendered by this new type of additive ‘frequency modulation’ synthesis.
Inevitably, the world moved on from the DX7 as synth programming and experimentation were largely discarded in the quest for ever more ‘realistic’ instrument emulations, in the form of sampling and ROM-based, multi-timbral workstations. I neither owned - nor desired to own - a DX7 for many years, even when they were plentiful and the price had bottomed out to hard-rubbish levels. When I did eventually get my hands on one recently, it was in part an obligatory acquisition for the collection, but mostly for the nostalgia. However, in the course of producing this Containment Project recording, I have not only rebooted my relationship with this legend, but taken it so much further than I ever could have done as a wide-eyed neophyte. As awed as I was by it as a junior technophile, I only now appreciate how truly special the DX is.
My original intention with this composition and recording was to pay homage to the classic, infamous, and much overused 32 factory patches that formed part of the sonic foundation of my early days in synth-land - not to mention every other top 40 hit produced between 1983 and 1986! Leaving the classic (and ubiquitous!) “E.Piano 1” preset out of this recording was hard - but we all know what it sounds like! I had contemplated some kind of mid-80s synth-funk jam - one of the DX7s natural habitats. However I eventually decided to make this work about exploring tones and textures that may not be typically associated with the DX7 - although there are moments in which the unique character of FM synthesis leaves no doubt as to the origin of these sounds.
I had recently been listening to Brian Eno, whose divergent approach took the DX7 to another place altogether. Ask most people to describe the Yamaha DX7 in three words and they might instinctively spout epithets such as “cold’, ‘clinical’ or ‘metallic’. And there’s no doubt that FM synthesis, with it’s inherently unintuitive, mathematical underpinnings, along with it’s lack of analogue filters (or any filters for that matter) can result in sharp, grating, fractured-sounding tones - especially in the hands of inexperienced programmers. But over the years, hundreds of programmers have followed Eno to create thousands upon thousands of new sound libraries, showing just how exciting and versatile this instrument can actually be.
So with the help of the excellent dexedprogram as an editor/librarian, I assembled a set of largely “atypical” DX7 patches for this project. Note that while dexed does sound pretty much like the original instrument (minus the somewhat grainy output!), I chose to load each patch into the physical DX7, tweak it from there, and record analogue, noise and all. EVERY sound in this recording (including drums!) is from the DX7. The recording chain is DX7 —> Focusrite ISA220 —> Mytek ADC —> Pro Tools. No compression or EQ on the way in, and minimal processing in the box.
The one and only sound that I used from the original factory set is the famous ‘TRAIN’ preset - and then, only the noise element (as a shaker/cabasa-type part). This was one of those sounds that would make people’s jaws drop at first hearing back in the day - no one had ever heard a synthesiser do anything like this! Whilst sketching out this piece, the Train sound put me in mind of Steve Reich’s minimalist masterpiece, thus informing the title as an oblique reference to his great work. So, enjoy PUBLIC TRANCE PORT - a little bit trance, a little bit ambient,and a little bit, umm, long. It comes in just shy of an unapologetic 11 minutes and is best consumed uninterrupted in headphones or on the good stereo in the lounge - stick with it, I think the payoff is worth the investment.