Peter Zinovieff, Composer and Synthesizer Innovator, Dies at 88

Peter Zinovieff, a composer and inventor whose pioneering synthesizers formed albums by Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Kraftwerk, died on June 23 in Cambridge, England. He was 88.

His loss of life was introduced on Twitter by his daughter Sofka Zinovieff, who mentioned he had been hospitalized after a fall.

Mr. Zinovieff oversaw the design of the primary commercially produced British synthesizers. In 1969, his firm, EMS (Electronic Music Studios), launched the VCS3 (for “voltage controlled studio”), one of many earliest and most reasonably priced transportable synthesizers. Instruments from EMS quickly grew to become a staple of 1970s progressive-rock, notably from Britain and Germany. The firm’s slogan was “Think of a sound — now make it.”

Peter Zinovieff was born on Jan. 26, 1933, in London, the son of émigré Russian aristocrats: a princess, Sofka Dolgorouky, and Leo Zinovieff. His dad and mom divorced in 1937.

Peter’s grandmother began instructing him piano when he was in major college. He attended Oxford University, the place he performed in experimental music teams whereas incomes a Ph.D. in geology. He additionally dabbled in electronics.

“I had this facility of putting pieces of wire together to make something that either received or made sounds,” he instructed Red Bull Music Academy in 2015.

He married Victoria Ross, then 17, who got here from a rich household. She and her dad and mom had been sad with the intensive journey that a geologist’s profession required. After Mr. Zinovieff labored briefly for the Air Ministry in London as a mathematician, he turned to creating digital music full time, supported by his spouse.

He purchased tape recorders and microphones and discovered high-quality oscillators, filters and sign analyzers at military-surplus shops. Daphne Oram, the electronic-music composer who was a co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, taught him strategies of constructing music by splicing collectively bits of sound recorded on magnetic tape within the period of musique concrète.

But Mr. Zinovieff determined that chopping tape was tedious. He constructed a primitive sequencer — a tool to set off a set of notes repeatedly — from telephone-switching , and he started engaged on digital sequencers with the electrical engineers Mark Dowson and Dave Cockerell. They realized that early digital computer systems, which had been already used to manage manufacturing unit processes, may also management sound processing.

Mr. Zinovieff’s spouse bought her pearl and turquoise marriage ceremony tiara for four,000 British kilos — now about $96,000 — to finance Mr. Zinovieff’s buy of a PDP-Eight pc designed by the Digital Equipment Corporation. Living in Putney, a district of London, Mr. Zinovieff put in it in his backyard shed, and he typically cited it because the world’s first dwelling pc. He added a second PDP-Eight; the 2 items, which he named Sofka and Leo, might management lots of of oscillators and different sound modules.

The shed was now an electronic-music studio. Mr. Cockerell was an important companion; he was capable of construct the units that Mr. Zinovieff envisioned. Mr. Cockerell “would be able to interpret it into a concrete electronic idea and make the bloody thing — and it worked,” Mr. Zinovieff mentioned within the 2006 documentary “What the Future Sounded Like.”

In 1966, Mr. Zinovieff shaped the short-lived Unit Delta Plus with Delia Derbyshire (who created the digital association of Ron Grainer’s theme for the BBC science fiction establishment “Doctor Who”) and Brian Hodgson to make digital advert jingles and different tasks.

The programmer Peter Grogono, working with Mr. Cockerell and Mr. Zinovieff, devised software program to carry out digital audio evaluation and manipulation, presaging fashionable sampling. It used numbers to manage sounds in ways in which anticipated the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) normal that was launched in 1983.

On Jan. 15, 1968, Mr. Zinovieff introduced his pc to Queen Elizabeth Hall in London for Britain’s first public live performance of all-electronic music. His “Partita for Unattended Computer” obtained some skeptical critiques: The Financial Times acknowledged a technical achievement however known as it “the dreariest kind of neo-Webern, drawn out to inordinate length.”

Mr. Zinovieff at the Electronic Music Studios in London in 1968. The following 12 months, the corporate launched one of many earliest and most reasonably priced transportable synthesizers.Credit…Evening Standard/Hulton Archive, through Getty Images

Mr. Zinovieff lent a pc to the 1968 exhibition “Cybernetic Serendipity” at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Visitors might whistle a tune and the pc would analyze and repeat it, then improvise variations.

Continually upgrading the Putney studio was costly. Mr. Zinovieff provided to donate the studio’s superior know-how to the British authorities, however he was ignored. To maintain the challenge, he and Mr. Cockerell determined to spin off a enterprise.

So in 1969, Mr. Zinovieff, Mr. Cockerell and Tristram Cary, an digital composer together with his personal studio, shaped EMS. They constructed a rudimentary synthesizer the dimensions of a shoe field for the Australian composer Don Banks that they later known as the VCS1.

In November, they unveiled the extra elaborate VCS3, often known as the Putney. It used specs from Mr. Zinovieff, a case and controls designed by Mr. Cary and circuitry designed by Mr. Cockerell (who drew on Robert Moog’s filter design analysis). It was priced at 330 kilos, about $7,700 now.

Yet the VCS3 was smaller and cheaper than different early synthesizers; the Minimoog didn’t arrive till 1970 and was costlier. The unique VCS3 had no keyboard and was finest suited to producing summary sounds, however EMS quickly made a touch-sensitive keyboard module out there. The VCS3 additionally had an enter so it might course of exterior sounds.

Musicians embraced the VCS3 together with different EMS devices.

EMS synthesizers are distinguished in songs like Pink Floyd’s “On the Run,” Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” and Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn,” and the Who used a VCS3 to course of the sound of an electrical organ on “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” King Crimson, Todd Rundgren, Led Zeppelin, Tangerine Dream, Aphex Twin and others additionally used EMS synthesizers.

“I hated anything to do with the commercial side,” Mr. Zinovieff instructed Sound on Sound journal in 2016. He was extra desirous about up to date classical makes use of of digital sound. In the 1970s, he composed extensively, however a lot of his personal music vanished as a result of he would tape over concepts that he anticipated to enhance.

He additionally collaborated with up to date composers, together with Harrison Birtwistle and Hans Werner Henze. “I didn’t want to have a commercial studio,” he mentioned in 2010. “I wanted an experimental studio, where good composers could work and not pay.” Mr. Zinovieff and Mr. Birtwistle climbed to the highest of Big Ben to report the clock mechanisms and gong sounds they integrated in a quadraphonic 1971 piece, “Chronometer.”

Like different groundbreaking synthesizer corporations, EMS had monetary troubles. It filed for chapter in 1979 after branching into further merchandise, together with a video synthesizer, a guitar synthesizer and a vocoder.

Mr. Zinovieff handed over his full studio — together with superior prototypes of an interactive video terminal and a 10-octave pressure-sensitive keyboard — to the National Theater, in London, which belatedly discovered that it couldn’t elevate funds to take care of it. The tools was dismantled and saved for years in a basement, and it was finally ruined in a flood.

Mr. Zinovieff largely stopped composing for many years, however he wasn’t fully forgotten. He labored for years on the intricate libretto for Mr. Birtwistle’s 1986 opera “The Mask of Orpheus,” which included a language Mr. Zinovieff constructed utilizing the syllables in “Orpheus” and “Eurydice.”

In 2010, Mr. Zinovieff was commissioned to jot down music for a sculpture in Istanbul with 40 channels of sound. “Electronic Calendar: The EMS Tapes,” a set of Mr. Zinovieff’s work and collaborations from 1965 to 1979 at Electronic Music Studios, was launched in 2015.

Mr. Zinovieff in 2015, the 12 months “Electronic Calendar: The EMS Tapes,” a set of his work and collaborations from 1965 to 1979, was launched.Credit…Graeme Robertson/eyevine, through Redux

Mr. Zinovieff discovered new software program, on computer systems that had been exponentially extra highly effective than his 1970s tools, and returned to composing all through the 2010s, together with items for cello and pc, for violin and pc and for pc and the spoken phrase. In 2020, through the pandemic, he collaborated with a granddaughter, Anna Papadimitriou, the singer within the band Hawxx, on a death-haunted piece known as “Red Painted Ambulance.”

Mr. Zinovieff’s first three marriages led to divorce. He is survived by his fourth spouse, Jenny Jardine, and by six kids — Sofka, Leo, Kolinka, Freya, Kitty and Eliena — and 9 grandchildren.

A former worker, Robin Wood, revived EMS in 1997, reproducing the classic tools designs. An iPad app emulating the VCS3 was launched in 2014.

Even within the 21st century, Mr. Zinovieff sought higher music know-how. In 2016, he instructed Sound on Sound that he felt restricted by unresponsive interfaces — keyboards, touchpads, linear pc shows — and by playback by stationary, directional loudspeakers. He longed, he mentioned, for “three-dimensional sound in the air around us.”