Incomplete Rise of the Keyboards

The MiniMoog D

This week I watched a documentary titled Rock’N’Roll Inventions, Rise of Keyboards. I love keyboards so it sounded right up my alley. The first part of the documentary was pretty interesting. The producers gave a brief background of the history of the modular synthesizers, the mellotron and the Minimoog. Keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman appeared several times, providing insightful information.

The early 1970s went by very quickly, with brief references to Keith Emerson and Pink Floyd. This is where it was clear that this documentary was not really focused on keyboards and musicians. Totally ignored innovators like Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and Herbie Hancock. And, even though Rick Wakeman was featured, the focus was on his work with David Bowie and his solo projects rather than Wakeman’s remarkable work for Yes.

It was also clear that this documentary was very Anglo-centric. While it’s true that German band Kraftwerk was featured, essential German artists like Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, were ignored. Also left out were the highly influential Greek artist Vangelis (who brought electronic music to the masses through Blade Runner and other popular movies), the highly successful French artist Jean-Michel Jarre and Japanese musician Kitaro, who became a worldwide sensation thanks to his soundtrack for the Silk Road TV series.

For some reason producers opted to include punk rock, which has nothing to do with keyboards. And then the documentary became about British pop rather than keyboards. Most of the guests were British pop critics and producers. Very few musicians were interviewed and not all were keyboardists.

The techno era portrayed was all about British pop, ignoring highly influential American acts like Devo.

There were references to a well-known (innovative at the time) keyboard called the Fairlight, but they didn’t bother to show it or explain what it was. Instead, the reference was negative, totally unnecessary. Samplers were scarcely mentioned.

On the other hand, drum machines got a short feature, which is somewhat puzzling because a drum machine is not a keyboard.

Brian Eno was featured in the context of Roxy Music, a darling of pop critics, but his groundbreaking ambient work was overlooked. I heard an interview with Brian Eno on the BBC not that long ago and he’s a fantastic guest. And there was barely any information about Electronic Dance Music, chill out and other keyboard-based electronic styles.

This was a wasted opportunity. We clearly need more documentaries that portray a more inclusive and accurate history of modern keyboards.

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