Synthesizers and starry planetariums can produce heady experiences on their own. Combine them with inventive electronic musicians and visual artists and you’ve got one heck of a mind-bending experience.
That’s what the New England Synth Fest and the Museum of Science are presenting every second Thursday this summer when they team up to take over the Charles Hayden Planetarium with live performances and accompanying visualizations projected onto the planetarium dome.
The next two shows, on Thursday and Aug. 11, are part of the museum’s “SubSpace: Adult Experiences” series. In addition to immersive performances inside the full-dome environment of the planetarium, the festival includes exhibitors, a synthesizer “petting zoo,” and music performed in the museum lobby.
The New England Synth Fest (nesynthfest.org) is a loose partnership of enthusiasts whose interests include everything and anything to do with synthesizers, from music performance to hardware technology. They’ve appeared at concerts, art exhibits, meet-ups, educational events, and more since 2004.
In 2004, Eric Crawley started hosting events for collectors and musicians who met through his Analog Heaven e-mail list. The group moved to a gallery space in Lowell and then to events at Berklee College of Music, MIT, and elsewhere. The first Synth Fest took place at the Microsoft Technology Center in Burlington before COVID-19 shut down subsequent shows. The Museum of Science is presenting the first major Synth Fest events since then.
Show producer Kent Lundberg, who goes by “Doctor Analog,” thought the Hayden Planetarium would be a great venue for exploring “the natural connections between music, technology, and circuits.” He also noted that “with more people doing video synthesis over the last few years, it made sense to move it to the larger venue.”
At the Synth Fest shows, each artist’s music presentation is accompanied by a visual artist using specialized VJ (video jockey) software and video synthesizer hardware to project their creations onto the dome. For the summer’s first show in June, a technical issue at the planetarium forced the group to move to the museum’s Mugar Omni Theater. Lundberg says that rather than diminishing the appeal of the show, it worked out well for the artists who adapted to the change as well as for the audience that filled the larger space.
For the upcoming dates, the Synth Fest performers will move back to the planetarium and its space-age aesthetic, which is well-suited for the ambient electronics and psychedelic visualizations of the musicians and video artists. The synthesized music will run the gamut, from welcoming, sublime, and cinematic soundscapes to complex resonances and chaotic polyrhythms — with images to match.
“Boston has a plethora of electronic music and synthesizer communities,” says Bob Familiar, who will perform Aug. 11. “The New England Synth Fest is an opportunity to bring all the synthesizer communities together for a large-format event with performances and an exhibit area for makers of electronic instruments. Boston has always been famous for its underground music scenes, and the [festival] is yet another incarnation.”
Thursday’s performers include Rachel Devorah and Emily Boyer, A. Campbell Payne, cskonopka (Christopher Konopka), and J. Bagist with visuals by DebStep. There will also be lobby performances by Shivers, Don Nothing, and D.U.M.E.
The performers for the Aug. 11 show will be LIMBC (Anda Volley) with visuals by Solid State Entity (Patrick Chaney), Bob Familiar with visuals by cskonopka, and Asha Tamirisa. Vizzie, Bill T Miller, and Build will play in the lobby.
Tickets are $10 and available at mos.org/explore/subspace.