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Giorgio Moroder introduction
David Hoffman spent decades making corporate films and documentaries, he has self-made films and footage such as this clip on Giorgio Moroder. If you’re younger than 30, Giorgio Moroder is the old guy who collaborated with Daft Punk on their album Random Access Memories. The story of Giorgio Moroder is larger and more complex than this.
Start to Musicland
At the time of writing 83 year old Moroder has spent over six decades in the music industry. Giorgio Moroder came from an artistic family in a small corner of what is now Italy, that spoke German and Italian. His brother Ulrich is a famous painter.
From the age of 18, Moroder worked as a musician and songwriter. He eventually got into sound engineering. He founded the Musicland Studios in Munich, which was a popular recording venue with even large artists like the Rolling Stones.
While Giorgio Moroder is most famous as an electronic music producer, he couldn’t have succeeded without songwriting. Before his success in electronic disco and after it, he was a successful songwriter. Through the 1960s and 1970s, artists often covered songs in different languages. In addition Moroder’s birthplace helped him to be multi-lingual. The royalties from these songs helped him build the production side of his business.
Moroder claimed that the song he was most proud of writing was Berlin’s Take My Breath Away – made famous by the original Top Gun movie.
Electronic production to disco
Musicland gave Moroder a base in the 1970s to start producing music. Here is where he started to record disco projects.
One of the projects was Munich Machine – a mix of electronic music with session musicians and singers. Like a lot of European disco at the time it draws from latin music elements and even classical music, with a mix of original songs, interpolations of classics and high tempo cover versions of older pop. The original Munich Machine album art featured ‘Gundam’ type robots that sent my young imagination into overdrive. I saw them in the clouds on long journeys or in car parts my Dad had around the place. Munich machine went on to make three albums.
Munich Machine influenced a lot of hi-energy recordings, as well as British gay club culture like Almighty Records.
Productions done for artists that they worked closely with like Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and Midnight Express movie soundtrack contribution The Chase were much more driven by synthesisers – rather than ‘traditional’ instruments supported by synthesisers. As disco record production budgets shrank away from the Salsoul orchestra-driven productions, electronics made dance music more financially viable and Moroder showed the way.
Recursion to Daft Punk
And in a further link back to disco Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter had a father who was a peer of Giorgio Moroder. Daniel Bangalter better known as Daniel Vangarde was a disco era writer producer who was behind Ottowan’s D.I.S.C.O. and The Cuban Brother’s Cuba with a more conventional disco sound. You can see Bangalter senior’s influence in the way Daft Punk wrote and produced music.
The David Hoffman clip era
The David Hoffman clip of Giorgio Moroder, shows his electronic studio set up I guess around the time of Giorgio Moroder’s E=MC2 album. In the same way that Bob Dylan’s 1965 move to incorporate electric instruments and rock sound into his previous accoustic folk sound shook things up, E=MC2 could also be considered to a similarly iconic moment.
Moroder and his studio partners created a pre-programmed, using only electronic sounds for the instruments. It was also described as first electronic live-to-digital album.
A quick aside on digital recordings
Japanese broadcaster NHK had a stereo digital recorder working in its research lab in 1969, Dr. Takeaki Anazawa of Denon and others had been doing digital recordings from 1971, these were live one-take recordings mostly of jazz and classical music music performances. Denon digital recorders went on record more jazz, classical and traditional Japanese music over the next couple of years. But it was only Sony’s PCM-1600 in 1978 that made digital recording viable for commercial recording studios.
Ry Cooder is the first popular music artist to make an album Bop Til You Drop as a digital recording using a custom-built 32 track digital tape machine by 3M.
It was in March of 1979 that Philips demonstrates its first compact disc player, a prototype called the Philips Pinkeltje. The first commercial production of compact discs was made in August 1982 and the first commercial compact disc players are launched on October 1, 1982 by Sony and Philips.
Moroder uses US start-up Soundstream’s digital recorder, that makes use of computer tapes as its recording medium, which gives an indication of how forward looking Giorgio Moroder was at the time. (Soundstream goes out of business in 1983).
Moroder’s album was probably being recorded and produced by the time Sony launched their PCM-1600. E=MC2 was released at the end of August 1979.
Giorgio Moroder combined digital recordings with electronic instruments. On the album there are credits for ‘programming’ and computerised digital editing. This was a decade before DigiDesign (now AVID) launches its Sound Tools (which evolved into Pro Tools) software for computer-based audio recording, editing and mastering.
This was a few years before Ikutaro Kakehashi of Roland proposed developing a standard way of communicating control instructions to instruments to Oberheim Electronics founder Tom Oberheim. This was seen as the starting point to come up with interoperable instrument instructions.
At the time when Moroder made E=MC2. Some instruments from the same company could control each other, but couldn’t control ones from other companies. It would be four years later before the first MIDI instruments would be launched for sale.
In addition, other instruments had no method of electronic control at all, which is why you see electronically actuated motors pushing instrument keys in the footage below.
Now all of this could have been done in software like Apple’s Garageband, but not in 1979. In fact, it would be 25 years before Apple launches Garageband.
As another aside the original album artwork with Giogio Moroder wearing an electronic t-shirt was done by Japanese artist Shusei Nagaoka, famous for The Electric Light Orchestra’s (ELO) Out of The Blue cover art with its space opera visuals. The image that Hoffman uses below is from the remastered re-released version of E=MC2 without Nagaoka-san’s iconic artwork.