Being stuck between artistic satisfaction and public accessibility is often more than a simple cost-benefit analysis. Electronic musicians have to contend with public perception that they just flip between settings on their Yamaha DX7, yet that keyboard and others like it helped make electronic music a profitable venture (albeit a watered down version, from some points of view). Meanwhile, the popularization of digital “synths” with presets led to the decline of the modular synthesizer that begat them. It’s not a choice between love or money when recognition leads to the destruction of the artform itself.
The rise, decline, and resurrection of the modular synthesizer and the music it inspired is the subject of I Dream of Wires, coming to Together Boston this Sunday. Like the choice between a Casio and a Moog, the film comes in two levels of intensity: a 90-minute theatrical cut for those new to the subject, and the four-hour “hardcore edition,” which has already proven a massive hit in circles of synth connoisseurs. With its excellent narration and top-notch interviews with pioneers and popularizers like Morton Subotnik, Gary Numan, and Trent Reznor, I Dream of Wires gives us a glimpse into the mind of electronically-minded musicians and their often revolutionary perspectives on music, technology, and human ingenuity.
Along the way, the film makes the case for the recognition modular synthesizer as an instrument and electronic music being as valid as “real music” (blech to anyone who’s ever uttered those words). The irony of closed-mindedness in rock music that is ostensibly rebellious yet conservative in its self-limitation is not lost on this crowd. Yet there is a difference between the two camps that the film lays out, whether intentionally or not. For many people who learn to play piano or guitar in their youth, it’s never an instant connection; you may not like it at first, but eventually you learn to communicate through it and gradually grow to love it. Meanwhile, almost every person interviewed in IDOW describes an immediate love and admiration for modular synths and the limitless possibilities they produce. You may not know you’re a great guitarist at first, but start making electronic music and you’ll know right away which school of philosophy, East or West, suits you best.
Together Boston, with its mission to unite the worlds of technology and self-expression, is the perfect venue for I Dream of Wires. If you’re curious about the wide world of synths but intimidated by the steep learning curve, check out this movie, and take in some of what Together has to offer along the way.