What is an oscillator?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is mocking whom and I felt myself to be in that position on Thursday night, in that Shoreditch.  Mocktacular Central, if you will.  Or Mock City.  The Mock Hub.

The fun started in the queue for the Pioneers of Electronic Music night, promoted by Nonclassical at XOYO. I’d arrived about ten minutes early and there was a rather confused – if well intentioned – offer to let people in early, so long as they only went into the ground floor bar. This seemed rather pointless to me, particularly when the various negotiations and clarifications took so long that any advantage so gained would have been minimal. There were a few mutterings, from people who were used to a more emollient treatment.

There’s good coverage of the music performed throughout the evening here. Kontakte was great.  The harshness of the synth sounds on tape was a surprise and a good one.  I’d been a little wary of Stockhausen in the past, because I thought he was probably too academic.  It was good to be proven wrong. The Ondes Martenot I remember from the science fiction film seasons on BBC2 in the seventies and it sounded wonderfully expressive. The player had brought it over from France and his loudly supportive compatriots were standing next to me. He was indeed wearing a black polo neck, usefully supporting certain stereotypes. Ray Scott was also a revelation to me, recreated via Doepfer sequencer and various analogue synths. The next act was Dirty Electronics and I confess that at first I thought they were frauds. People were energetically moving their hands up and down, movements that seemed to be producing sound, though I couldn’t see any mechanism.  Only after a few minutes did I spot the very thin strands of plastic that they were manipulating, attached to DIY instruments on the floor of the stage. These instruments comprised the Lady Bracknell, an excellent name.

There was a space next to me after the Ondes Martenot crew left and someone asked if he could stand there. He started asking me oddly basic questions about keyboards, synthesizers etc. I had to clear up his conflation of drum pads and drum machines and explain the difference between analogue and digital synthesis. One of the Nonclassical people mentioned oscillators at one point I think and when my inquisitive neighbour returned, he asked:

Do you have an oscillator?

which was a question that I found difficult to answer, wondering whether he was winding me up, so odd did it sound.  After one of the performances, he talked about the band and said:

I see them as like human oscillators


Every time I think about my studio, the price goes up by £1000.

followed by

What is an oscillator?

in explanation of which I had to deploy various analogies.

Later he made some notes on his phone “because I’m a bit drunk and I’ve had a few spliffs, so I’ll forget all this otherwise”.

If this was all mockery, I’m very impressed. If not, I wonder whether he was a curious trustafarian. He soon started talking to some adjacent ladies instead.


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