Interview with Larry Fast

Interview with Larry Fast

(Originally appeared in Mutant Renegade Zine #10, Winter 1999)

Larry Fast is best known for his series of pioneering electronic music albums recorded under the project name Syneragy, his synth work on early Peter Gabriel albums, and his electronic expertise. While in college in the early ’70s, Larry constructed custom-designed synthesizer modules for Rick Wakeman of the band Yes. Larry also served as the consultant to Moog music in the development of the Polymoog (1976) and Memorymoog (1982) synthesizers including voicing many of the Memorymoog factory presets. Larry was also involved with the development of microcomputer control of synthesizers. Later projects used the Universal Synthesizer Interface, which later evolved into MIDI. Larry is currently re-releasing 9 Syneragy, albums, which he has been busy digitally re-mastering. He has been working on the cover art as well in hopes of giving the authentic feel of the original LP’s.

MR – One of my favorite songs on your Sequencer CD is Icarus. Could you tell me a little about that piece?

Larry – Icarus is actually a piece written by Ralph Towner in the earlier ’70s. It was written for acoustic instruments. I wanted to do the piece using electronics because I saw it as a challenge. Many people viewed electronic music as cold and mechanical… harsh. I wanted to show them that electronic music could be organic and warm.

MR – How do you go about writing a song?

Larry – I always have little musical ideas floating around in my head. It’s all biology and magic. When I have free time I make a music sketch on a computer or tape recorder. I have hundreds of them piled up. I then go back over them later and I might say to myself “why did I even bother with that,” to some of them. The ones I really like I focus on and go to work. It’s constantly ongoing.

MR – How is your approach different in writing music for movies or television as compared to your other compositions?

Larry – Music is a craft and trade in support of television and movies. The director will come up to me and say “this piece needs to run 1:23, at this point you need tension and at :32 there needs to be a jolt.” It’s all very structured. It’s a laundry list. The mechanical constraints of time overrides everything else.

MR – How is your approach when working with other musical artist?

Larry – It depends on the artist. Someone like Peter Gabriel is brimming with ideas. He has a clear picture of what he is trying to achieve. However, he is not a master of all trades. He sets the structure. He will say something like “I need dark and brooding.” I give him a few alternatives and it goes from there. I bridge the gap between his conception and where he is trying to go.

MR – How did you first get interested in electronic music?

Larry -I first got interested in electronics as a child. My grandfather was an electrical engineer and he got me interested in the science of electronics. I was always messing around with tape recorders, hi-fis, etc… I also grew up with a strong love of music. I grew up listening to classical music. I was formally trained. I took violin and piano lessons. Then I saw the Beatles perform and it was life changing.

Working with music and electronics turned out to be the perfect juncture for my interest.

MR – Which do you prefer, the musical side of electronics or the electronic side of music?

Larry – Depends on what day you ask me. I’m always looking at what’s next. I wouldn’t say I get bored with one or the other. When I’m working on one thing it gets tedious after a while and I jump over to the other. It helps to keep me fresh and gives stimulation for both sides.

MR – What is your take on the current wave of synth use in music?

Larry – Good and bad. I’m happy and gratified to have been involved at the beginning of electronic music. I’m also happy about how electronics has flooded over into all musical genres like jazz, rock, etc… Electronics are more accepted now.

Electronics in the beginning had a lot of unpredictability. They weren’t controlled by computers like they are now. Now synthesizers are computers. It was hard setting knobs and patching for a 1/2 second snippet of sound. Musicians had to concentrate and think very carefully about what they were doing. It was more physical.

In the beginning, due to the newness of electronics in music, people were forced to develop their won style. This involved a lot of patching and knob turning to get certain sounds. These days, synthesizers are factory made with preset sounds. A lot of the electronic music is becoming homogenized. Laziness could be a factor. Today’s electronic musicians need to be more challenged.

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