Sun-Glazed Solina

ARP Solina String Ensemble

A sound as indelible as the 303 or the electric guitar.

While we're on the topic of gutbucket dancefloor funk, time well spent down at the red light disco, it's as good a time as any to sing the praises of that little magic box: the ARP Solina String Ensemble. Oftentimes understood as an ultra-streamlined version of the ARP Odyssey (itself a compact version of the ARP 2600), this synth was actually developed by Dutch outfit Eminent in 1974 before ARP bought the rights to re-brand and re-release the machine for the American market. Its relatively limited sonic palette covered a handful of simulated orchestral sounds, but it's for those shimmering strings that the keyboard has become most famous. They're practically thee key signifier for a certain type of music from a certain era, which just happens to be where we've settled in for the next couple weeks.

William Onyeabor Atomic Bomb Wilfilms

Ian Dury's early records were drenched in the sound of the ARP Odyssey, while Japan's Adolescent Sex draped gossamer Solina strings across its dusted rhythms and melted Moog stylings. Similarly, Steely Dan's low-slung disco masterpiece The Fez is draped in that telltale string sound (The Isleys certainly couldn't get enough of it). Its a sound particularly suited to half-lit bedroom disco like Prince's For You and Donna McGhee's Make It Last Forever, not to mention killer lo-fi disco slates like Super Boogie by Nathaniel "Nay Dog" Mayer and The Filthy McNasty Group plus Free Style and even the mutant afrobeat of William Onyeabor. One can hardly imagine the Parliament records without the presence of the sound.

Herbie Hancock Man-Child Columbia

Its equally crucial in the world of jazz, from Herbie Hancock's Headhunters-era records, Johnny Hammond's awesome Gears and Lonnie "Liston" Smith's contemporary excursions. I mean, where would we be without Shadows? Institutions at the intersection of soul and jazz like Roy Ayers and Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson were similarly in thrall to the sound, while no less a luminary than Stevie Wonder seemed to sneak its unmistakable sound anywhere he could. The absolute dreamiest moments of Wonder disciple Gary Wright's synth-heavy classic The Dream Weaver were a Gaussian blur of silky Solinas, prefiguring the likes of Air in the process.

David Bowie Low RCA Victor

I always think of those killer strings in Horace Andy's Spying Glass in the same breath as all of this stuff, capturing the feel of The Parallax View in its stately sway. See also Barış Manço, Turkey's greatest proponent of synth music (that I know of, at least), with his massive 2023 LP and later outings like Adem Oğlu Kızgın Fırın Havva Kızı Mercimek (a dead ringer for Remain In Light-era Talking Heads. Which brings us to Brian Eno, Another Green World, and of course David Bowie's Berlin records (Tony Visconti used the Solina liberally during the storied sessions). I always think of my brother singling out the synths on Low as the best synths ever back when we did our top 100s.

Jedi Knights New School Science Universal Language

Like a great many great things, the ARP sound began to creep back into consciousness as the nineties wore on. The Jedi Knights paid tribute to the sound with their Sextant-sampling monster groove Solina The Ascension, an undeniable highlight of their epochal New School Science LP and a perfect marriage of electro and jazz funk. The superb album-closing ambient excursion Afterlife was also awash in ARP strings, working as a perfect coda to the whole endeavor. Also on the tech jazz tip, Kirk Degiorgio dealt in similar sounds on all those peak-era As One records, and Chocolate Weasel had that whole atmosphere on lock back in '98.

Gorillaz Plastic Beach Parlophone

In relatively recent times Air and the Gorillaz built otherworldly paradises of their own with the sound... it's hard to imagine albums like Moon Safari and Plastic Beach without it. There's plenty more where that came from, and the sound's nowhere near getting old. Nearly fifty years now and still going strong... it's a sound as indelible as the 303 and the electric guitar. To paraphrase Carl Craig, just wrap me up in its arms.

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