Vale Tristram Cary, 1925-2008

Photograph of Tristram Cary

The godfather of British electronic music, composer Tristram Ogilvie Cary OAM, died on 24 April 2008. He was aged 82.

Cary’s story is told in his Wikipedia profile and the Times Online obituary. If anyone outside the “serious music” world knows him, it’s usually for writing the soundtracks for early Doctor Who episodes and films (which he hated talking about), or the Hammer Horror movies Quatermass and the Pit (1967) and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971).

However Cary was also a pioneer of music synthesisers. Trained as a radar technician in WWII, he co-founded Electronic Music Studios (EMS), which created the first portable synthesiser, the VCS 3.

I worked briefly with Cary one summer as a programmer. He was director of the electronic music studio at the Elder Conservatorium of Music in Adelaide. I wrote a digital filter in PL/1 (!) for what I think was the Synclavier synthesiser — though it may have been something else, because as a hardware hacker Cary was well wicked. In his studio, it was difficult to see where one machine ended and the next began, they were so cross-linked.

I remember he was particularly fascinated with the sounds of bells, which then were starting to become achievable through digital synthesis. It was the first time I’ve ever found my applied mathematics knowledge of Fourier Transforms to be even remotely useful.

If you enjoy any kind of electronic music, you should take an hour of your day to learn more about Tristram Cary. He made your world.

[Footnote: I found out about Tristram Cary’s death from a most unusual source: the end credits to Shaun Micaleff’s program Newstopia. The more I discover about you, Shaun, the more I think my initial assessment of you as an arsehole was a mistake.]