EXAM 13 – PART 1
Music Technology of the 80’s
One of the instruments commonly attributed to the 80s sound is the synthesizer, a keyboard
instrument that creates sounds electronically. It has the ability to accurately re-create the sound
of acoustic instruments or generate new tone colors. Although the synthesizer had been around
for decades, due to its size, it did not become practical for performances until the 1960s when
Robert Moog and Don Buchla developed modular synthesizers (independently of one another).
Synthesizers of the 1950s required a room full of components to perform the most simple tasks.
In the 1960s, Moog and Buchla developed their modular synthesizer units that did not require
binary computer programming to create electronic music sounds.
In 1982, Roger Linn created the Linn Drum Machine that used computer technology to digitally
replicate the sounds of a drum kit. Linn Drum Machines allowed a programmer to create drum
patterns and play them back automatically. That same year synthesizer manufacturers established
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), a communication protocol allowing different types
and brands of synthesizers to be interconnected and controlled by a single, common digital
A recent technological advance in the synthesizer realm is the sampling synthesizer, which
digitally records real world sounds and accurately reproduces them. A sampling synthesizer has
the potential to re-create almost any sound, or digitally alter that sound, to create special audio
The first commercially successful digital medium for music was the CD, developed by the
Phillips Corporation, a European electronics company. CDs are read by a laser beam that uses a
computer to convert the digital information into audio sound. This digital format allows for pure
audio sound, unblemished by noises created from analog mediums such as cassettes and LPs.
Japan invented digital audio tape units, or DAT machines. These allowed consumers to dub CDs
onto tape without loss of digital sound quality. The American recording industry fought furiously
to make DAT machines unavailable in the United States. For this reason, DAT machines never
caught on as well as expected.
In the 1970s, cable television offered hundreds of channels that catered to special interest groups.
This allowed for the concept of a cable network devoted exclusively to video performances of
songs by pop or rock groups. This is how MTV (Music Television) was born. MTV went on the
air in August 1981, premiering with the music video “Video Killed the Radio Star,” by British
new wave band, the Buggles. MTV’s format consisted of alternating music videos with chatter
from hosts, similar to pop radio programming.
As MTV grew in popularity, negative attention was drawn to MTV’s programming policies. The
videos were deemed to be inappropriate, having high sex and violence content, as well as a particularly denigrating portrayal of women. Another major criticism was its obvious lack of
black artists. To remedy this situation, MTV produced the show “Yo! MTV Raps,” becoming a
strong showcase for rap music by 1987.
Michael Jackson had already been in the music industry for 2 decades when he released his first
solo album, “Off the Wall”. “Off the Wall” was produced by composer/arranger Quincy Jones.
This collaboration carried over into 1982 with the release of Jackson’s album “Thriller.”
Although “Thriller” was only moderately successful upon its initial release, it became an instant
hit when Michael Jackson appeared on Motown’s twenty-fifth anniversary television special.
After performing a medley of Jackson Five hits, Michael gave a riveting performance of “Billie
Jean,” a single from his “Thriller” album. Sales of the album soared and broke all existing album
sales records. Hit singles were extracted from the album with companion music videos which
became a catalyst for black artists to gain access to MTV. Jackson was a pop music pioneer,
being successful for years to come, rightly deserving of the title the “king of pop.”
• Listening example: “Billie Jean”
Artist: Michael Jackson
• Listening example: “Man in the Mirror”
Artist: Michael Jackson Madonna
Michael Jackson’s female counterpart for superstar status in the 1980s was Madonna. Born in
Rochester, Michigan in 1958, and eventually moving to New York in 1977, she teamed up with
drummer Stephen Bray to write dance-oriented material. Her release of the album “Borderline”
in 1984 was the beginning of a seventeen top 10’s hit streak.
Although Madonna’s infectious dance grooves were a big part of her success, equally importa