Don Buchla may not be a household name but the pioneering electronic music instrument inventions of this avant-garde artist have shaped what modern electronic music is today. His creation in the 1960's of a unique analog synthesizer (the Buchla) completely altered how people think about, compose, and perform music. To tell the Don Buchla story and to help make the general public more aware of this oft overlooked, avant-garde, modern music innovator, Bay Area filmmaker Connie Field set about making a documentary on Buchla.
"He has been called a mad scientist, a genius, an innovator, a recluse, an iconoclast, and has gathered a horde of fiercely loyal admirers by following his own visionary path, and dancing to his own muse," wrote Field on the Kickstarter page she set up to fund the filming of the documentary. [To date only 5% of the shooting has been done.] Working closely with Field on the film is editor Gregory Scharpen (a longtime Bay Area theatrical sound designer, musician, and KALX DJ) who has worked on eight other films with Field to date. Earlier today I caught up with Scharpen to ask him about this film and the importance of its subject to modern music.
Amoeblog: What is it that makes Don Buchla such a unique and worthwhile subject?
Gregory Scharpen: Don is both an engineer and a musician; a very unusual combination. Plus he has an innate sense of the theatrical, as well as an extreme dedication to craftsmanship. And there's the small matter of him being a genius.
Amoeblog: If Don Buchla had not come along in the sixties with his innovations would music (specifically electronic) not have evolved to its present state, do you think?
Gregory Scharpen: I don't think so. His machines were specifically designed for performance conditions, which freed electronic music from academic institutions and their room-sized synths. It let musicians in general take these ideas and instruments and run with them.
Amoeblog: How do you describe his invention the Buchla, its impact on music making, and how it has been perceived by audiences?
Gregory Scharpen: I think people initially didn't know what to make of it. Morton Subotnick [SFTMC co-founder] says people thought, "it was magic." I think it probably confused some people, and others, it blew their minds. It certainly radically changed the lieus of many, many musicians and composers.
Amoeblog: Can you say a few words on the SFTMC's (San Francisco Tape Music Center) role in the Buchla story?
Gregory Scharpen: The SFTMC commissioned the Buchla. Don showed up one day to use their tape deck, and through a small confusion as to why he was there, Morton [Subotnick] jumped on him with this idea for a new instrument. Don essentially said, Yes, I can do that, but what I think what you're -really- after is -this. And then [he] set about doing it
Amoeblog: What are your personal impressions of Don Buchla as a person?
Gregory Scharpen: Don is fairly soft-spoken and unassuming but has a good, wry sense of humor. But he definitely shies away from the limelight which is one of the reasons there hasn't been a film about him yet.
Gregory Scharpen finished today's conversation by stressing how "Don's an unsung hero who needs his fair due, and we're in the perfect position to make that happen." To help make the documentary happen by contributing to the ongoing Kickstarter campaign, which ends this Monday April 15th, go to the Don Buchla Kickstarter page