Stranger Things and the return of the synth
SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil (The Philippine Star) - November 7, 2017 - 4:00pm

Season Two dropped last Oct. 27 and Will Byers has been rescued from the land Upside Down. Maybe Hawkins, Indiana of the ’80s can now have some peaceful, quiet time. That is what you think. Season One of Stranger Things worked so well that creators, the Duffer Brothers, have upped the spooky factor of the web-based series from Netflix to high levels. 

On the agenda are explanations for Will’s disappearance as well as how people are coping with last year’s shocking happenings and other developments that make Season Two a most engrossing one.

Stranger Things started off a year ago with the disappearance of the 12-year-old boy Will. This incident threw the town of Hawkins upside down. I mean that literally, because Upside Down, a parallel universe, was the place to where Will was taken by a monster. This monster was released into accidentally by the scientists doing scientific experiments for the US Department of Energy but who, turned out, were also dabbling into the supernatural. 

Coinciding with Will’s disappearance was the arrival of a girl simply named Eleven who has psychokinetic powers.  She was an escapee from the lab where she was the subject of experiments. While also the object of a massive search by those wayward scientists she offered to help find Will.

The plot is not really new. We get a lot of parallel universes, escaped monsters and kids with extraordinary powers. But the series is so incredibly well-done. That means writing, acting, directing and all those other items like music, design, sound, etc., that contribute to the end-results have coalesced to create something superbly spellbinding. 

Stranger Things is now one of those Netflix series often described as, critically acclaimed. Aside please (Haven’t you noticed that we have been getting a lot of critically acclaimed shows from Netflix? And they can all be enjoyed on demand).  But back to Stranger Things.

I must say that the show is not only tingly creepy like the takutan we remember as kids. It is also lots of fun. Just think, small town, mysterious goings-on, kids disappearing, scientific experiments, etc. and it feels like we are back in the ’80s again.  Stand By Me, E.T., Poltergeist, Firestarter, etc. Those Duffers must love Steven Spielberg and Stephen King a lot. 

I do not know how old these guys are but they certainly give a lot of ’80s spins to their show, sets, costumes, popular references like Will had just finished playing Dungeons and Dragons when he was kidnapped, and most of all in its synthesizer music score.

The synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that can imitate traditional instruments, natural sounds and create new sounds of its own. It is usually played via a keyboard helped along by sequencers, controllers, finger boards and other add-ons. 

The arrival of the synthesizer was seen as a huge blessing by music producers unable to afford a full band for their projects. A synthesizer can do the job of several musicians. It was widely used in pop dance recordings during the ’70s and ’80s.

Jean Michel Jarre, Mike Oldfield and Vangelis composed music expressly for the synth. David Bowie, Brian Eno and Stevie Wonder used it a lot in their recordings. Tangerine Dream, The Cars, Tears for Fears, Depeche Mod, Human League, Giorgio Moroder, Ultravox, Devo, Eurhythmics, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys are some of the acts who built hit songs on synthesizers. 

The move towards acoustic instruments changed the sound of pop music during the ’90s. The synth remained in use but only when it closely approximates the natural sound of a music instrument. Stranger Things has now changed that. In fact Stranger Things creators, the Duffers, can now add to their claim to fame the fact that they brought back synthesizer music into favor.

The music is created by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon of the Texan band Survive. The Duffers used a Survive cut titled Dirge for their trailer presentation to Netflix and it was decided to keep their music in the series. These have now been compiled into two volumes that have been nominated for a Grammy, the ASCAP Award and won the Emmy for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music. 

The sound is everything Stranger Things is. Spooky but inspiring at the same time and filled with a massive nostalgia kick.

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