Electronic Music Masterclass with Martyn Ware

1 March, 2016

It’s not every day you get to rub shoulders with a 1980s electronic music visionary, but that’s exactly what happened to our students when founding member of both The Human League and Heaven 17, Martyn Ware, visited us at BIMM Berlin for a Masterclass on all things synth.

Martyn began the Masterclass with a brief introduction, telling the group that he was one of the very first musicians to use synthesisers to produce electronic music in the 1980s. Aged 20 and living in Sheffield, England, he got hold of some money and had a choice to follow a standard life path or focus on music – he chose the latter, stating:

“I could either buy a car or a synth… and I still don’t drive today. It completely changed my life!”

Martyn’s original instrument was a drum machine, but he found it difficult to use, so moved on to the Roland System 100. The group was treated to a rendition of the first song he ever wrote, and he explained that thanks to this song he was spotted by a successful London DJ, and subsequently signed to Virgin Records.

Martyn then discussed the pros and cons of a range of different equipment, including the first polyphonic synth and the Roland SH-3A, as well as the Roland TB-303 bass synth and TR-606 drum machine models, which he credited with the birth of acid house because it was the first time repetitive patterns could be programmed. Martyn told the audience that he thinks the old equipment had better quality components and generally sounded better than modern digital machines, and advises students to try to use the old analogue synths whenever the opportunity arises.

Martyn told stories about his time in The Human League, as a producer helping to revitalise the career of Tina Turner in 1983 with the song ‘Let’s Stay Together’, and the early beginnings of Heaven 17 – when they pretended to be more experienced and established than they actually were.

Martyn also spoke to the group about his current work via the 3D sound technology company he set up in 2001 with Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure) ­– Illustrious. The firm collaborates with fine artists, performing arts associations and corporate clients around the world to create all encompassing sound installations. Previous projects have included two DJs ‘sound boxing’ at the Royal Albert Hall in London by throwing sounds at each other, ‘sound portraits’ at London’s National Portrait Gallery, recreating the sounds of Rome’s colosseum in 480AD for the ‘Rome Reborn’ project, developing a ‘breathing tree’ in Geneva, as well as participating in educational sound work with autistic children.

The Masterclass was a great success and the engagement from our students was fantastic. BIMM Berlin student, Alexandrine, said after the session:

“Sound definitely has more meaning and dimension that I imagined before. I love the way it’s used in arts and how people feel the music running through their bodies. I believe that it’s really important to have projects like the one Martyn did with autistic children.”

We’d like to say a huge thanks to Martyn for coming to speak to us and it was brilliant to cover such a diverse range of hugely interesting topics!

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