Friday, January 4, 2019

Renaissance Synthesizer SynKet

This is another piece I did in my Roman summer of 1969. Look closely and you will see a gentleman from the "Renaissance" era playing a musical instrument from 500 years in the future. The sound maker is a synthesizer called a "SynKet" and it was invented in the late 1950s by a sound engineer and designer named Paul Ketoff, hence "Syn-thesizer" and "Ket-off." Ketoff was also active as a soundtrack designer for the Italian film factory of "Cinecitta" outside of Rome, and many movies from the 1960s have sounds made by the SynKet in their music. From recordings of what audio it produced, the Synket sounds rather like a "proto-Moog."

The Synket was one of the first modular American synthesizers, though it was created in Italy. It was never manufactured commercially and only a few were built. But Bob Moog himself worked with Ketoff and some of its technology made its way into the famous Moog synthesizer so the SynKet's sound lives on as the "proto-Moog." The original SynKet was built in the basement of the American Academy in Rome and when my father and I were introduced to it, its inventors were still working with it and gave us a demo. Part of our 1969 trip was to visit synthesizers and electronic music studios all around Western Europe so we had a great time. I got to meet Paul Ketoff and other pioneers who were making sounds and building synthesizers. You can read all about the SynKet at this excellent site.

My imagination took hold and I produced this little painting of time mash-ups in the music world. My portrait of the SynKet played by the Renaissance gentleman is quite accurate. There was a central box with three modules, and three mini-keyboards, one for each module. To the left is an amplifier, because like other electric instruments, it needed an amp to be heard. This set-up also had pedals for sound modification. You can also see wires lying on the floor, some of which go to a speaker barely visible near the central pillar. The small figure in red and black dancing away to proto-beats is "SynKetIno," perhaps the son or relative of our player having fun. There was a plan to produce a little SynKet which would be portable for live performances but as far as I know, "SynKetino" was never built. In the far distance is a lady with a tall pointed hat, and two men with a horse.

My family and I returned to Rome in 1970 and found that the SynKet had been abandoned in the basement and didn't work. But by that time my father and I were jamming away on the wonderful Buchla and countless others on Moog, so Paul Ketoff and the SynKet are obscure history.

Gouache on sketchbook page, 6 3/4" x 9", summer 1969.

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