October 26, 2021

Synthesizing musical interests

Homer hosts 15th annual NorthEastern Electro-Music festival

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Electronic artist Laura Todd tries the synthesizer petting zoo instruments Saturday at an Electro-Music Festival at the Homer Center for the Arts in Homer.

It was 1986 and Robert Dorschel decided after years of wanting one that it was time to buy a synthesizer.

He took some of his college money and bought a Roland Alpha-Juno. Thirty-two years later, he still owns it and plays it. However, he also has an ever-growing collection of instruments.

“I’ve probably purchased about 100 synthesizers, if not 150 and I’ve landed — in other words kept — about 30 to 35 of them,” he said at the 15th annual NorthEastern Electro-Music Festival, in Homer this year.

The electronic musical instrument generates sound by combining different frequencies. Think the Beatles, Mick Jagger or Nine Inch Nails. They’ve all used a synthesizer at some point in their musical careers, it’s just usually hidden behind the noise of other instruments, Dorschel said.

Dorschel is the lead director of the festival, a three day-event over the weekend at the Center for the Arts of Homer. It’s a gathering spot for lovers and new learners of synthesizers. About 100 people from as far away as Sweden came to the festival.

Daryl Wonderly of Grey, northeast of Utica, used to sit and watch his father play the organ when he was younger; it began his interest in music. “As a young man, very young, it was quite impressive to see all of that and hear all of that,” he said.

In his teenage years he started playing the guitar. However, by 1985 he was getting more serious about building a musical career, so he switched to the keyboard. It offered more in the way of music.

“I realized there was a lot more to the rock world than playing guitar,” he said. “That was the beginning of the end right there.”

It was also right away the time he was exposed to progressive music and began listening to bands like King Crimson and Genesis. From there it spiraled into playing a Mellotron, a tapebased instrument.

“They were a unique kind of instrument that could give you a sound like no other,” Wonderly said.

He ventured into playing Moog synthesizers. The Moog Co. was known for pioneering modular voltage-controlled analog synthesizer systems in the mid-1960s.

This weekend was Wonderly’s first time at the festival and as an artist the event sparked his interest. Wonderly loves the history of the instrument and wanted to learn more about them. An hour talk by Cornell Professor Trevor Pinch on the subject caught his attention.

And while his friend Dennis Spost stayed for the talk, Spost really captivated by the synthesizers set up in a room for viewing. Spost started playing drums at age 12, then guitar at 15 and synthesizers and keyboards around the age of 21. He liked the Roland 8 System, a newer type of synthesizer.

Dorschel said that while it takes a lot to get the festival together, it’s exciting to see how many people come and share their ideas, critiques and knowledge. It’s the idea of creating a more spontaneous performance using something other than guitar or drums.

“There’s hundreds, if not thousands of festivals that are guitar-based, rock-based, blues-based and jazz-based — there’s next to nothing for what I would categorize as artistic electronic expression,” Dorschel said.