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  • Who ARP You - Pete Townshend's Rock N Roll Electronica

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      PETE5-SQ.jpgThis week we are looking at the work of Pete Townshend and his band The Who. Some of Rock's biggest hits were composed by a guy obsessed with Synthesizers. Townshend's pioneering work with The Who was one of the first bands to use synthesizers in their music. An early adopter, he very skillfully used instruments by ARP and other makers without fans ever noticing there were machines playing in the band.

      Starting in 1971 he first used the EMS VCS3 mk 1 and an ARP 2500 and soon after an ARP 2600 which he's still using to this day. Over the years he's been a passonate collector of synths including the Korg Karma and OASYS and keeps up with the latest technologies including software synthesizers such as KYMA and Native Instruments Kontakdt. We are taking a look at his work with the Who and other instruments he uses.




      Bargain - Who's Next (1971)

      For the second track on Who's Next Pete decided one monophonic note was enough for an idea to use in the song. The synth melody line in between the verse and chorus sounds like a square wave patch which Pete originally created at his home studio and later enhanced at Olympic Studios by producer Glyn Johns.


      Going Mobile - Who's Next (1971)

      For this song Pete considered his guitar to be the controller for his ARP 2500 synthesizer by triggering the envelope follower. The guitar controlled the amount of the filter sweep by striking the strings (chord/notes) and when the strings were not vibrating the filter remained closed. This is what gives the guitar it's wah effect.


      Join Together -  Single 45 (1972)

      The Jew's harp that introduces the song was actually created on an ARP synthesizer using a 4 or 8 bar loop as the basis for the song. The organ section is the 1968 Lowrey Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 Organ that was used on the song Baba O'Riley with the same program from that song set at a slower tempo. The organ output is fed through the low pass filter of the synthesizer.


      Quadrophoenia - Quadrophoenia (1973)

      To get the string sounds that Pete used for the album Quadraphoenia, he first setup what he calls subtractive "synth chains". He used 6 to 8 of these "synth chains" with each chain emulating a single violin sound with the keyboard and running the synth chain's output through one side of the stereo image while bowing with a real violin on the other side of the stereo image. the violin is run through a ring modulator that had a potentiometer with a knitting needle stuck in the shaft. He also combined the synth chain violins through the ring modulator as well and then layered the sound by multi-tracking the emulated violin sounds making it sound like a 24 to 32 string section. The real violin gives the sound it's "real string" sound because of the rosin on the strings.


      TommyOriginal Soundtrack Recording (1975)

      It should be noted that one of the most prolific works of Pete Townshend's career, Tommy, released in 1969 was also made into a movie released in 1975 with Pete overseeing the soundtrack production and direction. For the soundtrack Pete played all  the synthesizer and guitar parts. The original recording by The Who did not feature synths but in the 6 years since the original release Pete had much more ambition and experience with them to enhance the music of Tommy. For the movie Pete added orchestral parts that were never recorded on the original using his ARP 2500 and 2600 synthesizers. 


      Sister Disco - Who Are You (1978) 

      For this song Pete created multiple sequences on his ARP 2500 so that he could trigger them from push buttons. He later referred to to them as "pre-written arpeggios". 


      Love Is Coming Down - Who Are You (1978)

      For this track, Townshend modulated an ARP String machine patch using a real violin run through a Vocoder along side a dry String machine patch. The result gave the modulated string sound hints of harmonics and color ultimately making it sound more human.




      Relay -  B Side Single (1972)

      This track, released in 1972 as a single, was originally from the Lifehouse album that was cancelled previously to Who's Next. Pete processed his guitar through his ARP 2600 synthesizer by running it through the filter audio input and using it's Sample & Hold where by the output was run back into the filter which created random frequencies of rhythm patterns.


      Who Are You - Who Are You (1978)

      For the hit song Who Are You Pete once again went with processing an overdriven guitar fed into the voltage controlled filter and controlled by the low frequency oscillator with a triangle wave. The LFO is synced to the tempo of the song which was 8 pulses per bar which allowed the tone of the filter to open and close with the tempo of the song while also making the 8 pulses trigger pan the sound between the left and right sides of the stereo image.




      New Song - Who Are You (1978)

      The first song that kicks off the album Who Are You is New Song. Pete used an ARP Omni synthesizer. He said of it at the time that he blocked out the whole song using the Omni and that it was the first polyphonic synthesizer he ever penned a song with. He also believes it was the first multi voice synth ever.


      Won't Get Fooled Again - Who's Next (1971)

      For one of the most famous Who songs Townshend employed a 1968 Lowrey Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 organ with it's output run through an EMS VCS3 mk1 synthesizer. In simple terms it could be though of the EMS controls the volume of the organ. A closer study shows how. The low frequency oscillator of the EMS is controlling the frequency of the voltage controlled filter of the EMS which gives it that bright/soft sequencing sound. In order to get that volume characteristic tone the output of the EMS filter is run back into the EMS's voltage controlled amplifier using a square wave LFO.



      Baba O'RileyWho's Next (1971)

      Said to be the very first track composed with the aid of synthesizer. Townshend was frustrated with not getting the ARP synthesizer and sequencer to work together. So he took advantage of the Marimba Repeat button on Lowrey Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 Organ to emulate the sound of a sequenced synthesizer with tape delay effects that has convinced listeners to this day.




      Pete Townshend's Synthesizer Collection

      The Who was just the beginning of Townshend's relationship with synthesizers. He would go on to fully embrace the most cutting edge synthesizers and sound design technology a center piece of all his song writing, recording and producing. Eventually, becoming a passionate enthusiast of synthesizers at one point owning both the Synclavier and a Fairlight digital workstations at the same time. Below are some the more modern synthesizers he would use most in his solo and later Who recordings.



      Additionally, Pete has his hands on all the latest and greatest software and controllers such as Ableton Live. Way more than we can cover here. For those who really want to go deep into the intimate details on Pete Townshend's history with Synthesizers and electronic music. There is an exhaustive guide to just about everything he has done, track by track, and in some cases information on how he did things. The page also features many wonderful quotes from interviews over the years as well as numerous photographs and videos of him working in the studio. Read the full account at petetownshend.net



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