Lost classic of kaleidoscopic synth minimalism, rediscovered and remastered

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David Borden – Music For Amplified Keyboard Instruments

You can’t go far these days without coming across a reissue purported to be a landmark in the history of analogue synth. Music For Amplified Keyboard Instruments, though, is the real deal. David Borden was a friend of Bob Moog, who he met while composer-in-residence at New York’s Ithaca City School District in the late ‘60s. He and Borden struck up a relationship, and the inventor was keen to get his prototype into the hands of a promising young composer. Borden, more musician than technician, promptly fried much of Moog’s experimental circuitry. “But Bob thought it good,” says Borden. “He redesigned all of the modules so that no matter how they were hooked up they still functioned.”

Borden later joked that Moog was out to idiot-proof his synthesizer, and he was the useful idiot. But 1981’s Music For Amplified Keyboards is proof Borden grasped this instrument’s possibilities in a way few others did. Its dense layering brings to mind a masterpiece of minimalism such as Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians, but the sweep of its melodies is altogether something else: the perfect collision of technology and composer.

Two pieces titled “The Continuing Story Of Counterpoint” come from a 12-part cycle Borden toiled on for 11 years, honed with his live group, Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Co. “We were the world’s first ongoing synthesizer ensemble,” says Borden. Mostly, this music was regarded as a curio. “Later, some critic called it electronic minimalism,” says Borden. “But we never paid attention to genres.”

Borden is proud of Music For Amplified Keyboard Instruments, but it was no commercial success and has been out of print for years. Today, Borden has retired from teaching, but Mother Mallard is again a going proposition – albeit, now a laptop ensemble with USB keyboards. “So I am interested in modern technology,” he says, “And still seem to be ahead of the curve in some cases.”