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Groundbreaking ARP Avatar Album Unearthed

Geary Yelton

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The newly released Summer Synthesis 1978 is a lost album by David Torn and Drew Schlesinger.

Over the past 40 years, esteemed electronic guitarist David Torn has played with David Bowie, John Legend, Jeff Beck, Jack Bruce, Laurie Anderson, Robert Rich, Tori Amos, k.d. lang, Bill Bruford, Mark Isham, David Sylvian, Jan Garbarek, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Sonar, Tim Berne, Don Cherry, and others too numerous. He’s also recorded more than a dozen albums under his own name and played on quite a few film scores.

But before all that, way back in the 1970s, synthesist Drew Schlesinger learned that David had acquired an ARP Avatar guitar synthesizer and didn’t know much about programming it. Since he lived nearby, Drew invited him over to demonstrate some of its functions and program some sounds. Over the next three months, they ended up recording together, producing an album’s worth of tracks on a Sony 2-track and a Dokorder 4-track tape recorder.

The ARP Avatar is a monophonic analog synthesizer, notably similar to the Odyssey, designed specifically for guitarists. The expense of developing the Avatar, various technical challenges, and its failure to sell in large numbers are often blamed for ARP Instruments going out of business in 1981. Consequently, very few records have featured this rather rare electronic instrument.

Neither David nor Drew can explain why these 14 historically significant tracks were never released before now. Recently David mastered the final mixes, capturing the essence of how the songs sounded when they originally recorded them. The resulting music sounds fresh, original, and not quite like anything else you’re likely to hear today.

Summer Synthesis 1978 is available now as a download or on CD from Bandcamp.

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