music: PBS Soundbreaking embarrassingly wrong

I should like the Soundbreaking documentary series more than I did. A bunch of musicians talking about recorded music, sign me up! But it’s a crazily scattershot as struggles to edit brief comments by musicians and pretentious journalists into a somewhat coherent story about each topic (there’s no omniscient narrator). The enthusiasm comes across, but it doesn’t dig deep.

And in many parts it gets the details wrong. It shows clips from the wrong time period or ones that don’t feature what the talking heads are saying. For example, in episode 4 “Going Electric” the interviewees talk about the breakthrough of the synthesizer. It shows Pete Townshend with his massive Arp synthesizer and an EMS synthesizer, but then it features two The Who songs with an analog organ part. “Baba O’Riley” uses the “Marimba Repeat” feature of a Lowrey organ and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is an organ through a filter. Pete Townshend is a certified genius for coaxing those complex sound patterns from a home organ, but they aren’t synthesizer parts. (I don’t understand how The Who producer Glyn Johns doesn’t know this, maybe he just accepted Pete’s demo tapes of his organ and mixed them into the studio recordings.) Watch someone reproduce the Baba O’Riley sound at 3:56, no synthesizer, sequencer, or sampler required:

The same episode talks about Stevie Wonder’s incredible five-year run after he he hears the album Zero Time and invites synth wizards Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff and their multi-timbral behemoth synthesizer TONTO to work with him. Great point, great work. But in the background plays “Superstition” (not a synthesizer but a Hohner clavinet going through analog effects, though it does have a Moog bassline and supposedly other sounds from TONTO) and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” (a Fender Rhodes, no synthesizers at all). The episode could have used Stevie Wonder’s “Creepin’ for actual incredible lead synthesizer sounds.

No one is credited as the writer of the series, so I have to blame producers and directors Jeff Dupre and Maro Chermayeff.

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