Synth Gems 1 - Mike Metlay
by Jason Czyeryk
If you’re reading this, you like synths. And if you like synths, you already own, have ordered, or are “Adding to Cart” right this very moment your copy of Synth Gems 1, the new book by Kim Bjorn’s Bjooks publishing empire.
You’d be right to do so, as Synth Gems 1 might just be the crown jewel in the Bjooks canon—no small feat—as it contains so many of the lust worthy, addictive qualities that we all love from Bjooks previous bjooks. Sure it’s the photos that get most people hooked—we are a visual culture after all—but before we expound on the greatness of the pictorial aspect of Synth Gems 1, let us not forget the power of the written word. Written by longtime Recording magazine editor Mike Metlay, along with his who’s who of editors and contributors [Gordon Reid, Colin Russell, Marc Doty, Chris Meyer, and Kim Bjorn] Synth Gems 1 scores high in the scribe department, as it was the writing that kept me from my inclination to quickly tear from page to page as quickly as I could to absorb all of the photos. Synth Gems 1 an informative, interesting, and overall excellent read, and that is not hyperbole. From the beginning of Vince Clarke’s foreword to the final page number, every piece of text, every number, letter, every grammatical symbol found in the 320 page book is exactly what you’d want out of a book about synths.
The backstories of the synths—and there are over 60 featured in the Synth Gems 1 covering the period from 1970 to 2000—is a fascinating look behind the scenes of so many synths, and not just the most famous ones, though even for those who are already familiar with the history of the MiniMoog, reading Metlay’s overview brings new insight into the prototypes, the ideas, the fact that Bob Moog himself wasn’t initially even very interested in what became the most popular, everlasting creation emblazoned with his surname. And that’s just the MiniMoog, as Synth Gems 1 is packed full of beautiful synths—some well-known and well-documented—others that most have only seen in pixelated web-shots on sites that haven’t existed for over a decade. The Fairlight CMI, the SynKey, the Skywave...I’m not one to lust over gear, I mean, how many synths do you really need [Ahem], but even for those non “lust-inclined,” synth-addicted folks like myself, it’s impossible to not appreciate the ideas, passion, and craftsmanship in the synths that Synth Gems 1 highlights so well.
Along with the fascinating history of each featured synth, there’s also some synthesis overview as well to cover any newbies attracted to the photos in the book like moths to a a modulated flame. Hey, it’s all wavelengths, right?
Speaking of the photos, there are over 300 of them, and as far as I know, there exists nowhere else [publicly at least] one place where photos of such high quality of so many vintage, rare, and odd synths exist. The pictures shot by Peter Mahr and the team at the Electronic Music Education and Preservation Project [EMEAPP] are gorgeous and it’s obvious the pains that were made to get Synth Gems 1 to look this good. Even the background coloring of the photos is well thought out, letting each synth stand out, popping off the page in harmonious color schemes. When you take in all of the pages—all of the synths—together it’s hard not to feel much esteem for the synth world as a whole.
A final word of warning: This is a book you’re going to have to buy for yourself. Don’t ask your significant other or your parents to get it for you for this year’s holiday, your birthday, or some other gift-giving occasion. They’ll only regret it, finding you crouched on the floor in your bedroom closet, or hiding behind a decorated pine tree, or sitting in the attic “looking for something,” when in reality you’re just doing your best to devour your copy of Synth Gems 1 in the privacy of your own mind. Who wants the blame for that? For ruining December/your birthday/whatever? And your co-workers? When they ask via Zoom how your holidays/birthday/whatever was and you mumble something about aftertouch, Salt Lake City, and vintage chips? Who the hell is going to know what you’re blabbering on about? Well, we will. Won’t we?
320 pages, hardcover