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by Jason Gubbels

September 16, 2013

Farfisa Madness

by Jason Gubbels  |  September 16, 2013

"Fabbriche Riunite di Fisarmoniche" may seem a mouthful unless you speak Italian, but look closely at that company name and you'll see Farfisa, one of the most popular electric organs of the rock era. Rivaled only by the U.K.-based Vox Continental brand of portable "combo organs," Farfisa boasted collapsible legs, which endeared it to musicians looking for lightweight instruments to lug between gigs. Hence its ubiquity in the garage rock scene. ? and the Mysterians and Sam the Sham crafted their most enduring tunes around the instrument's buzzy lines. (It's worth noting that debates rage among organ fanatics as to whether specific studio cuts feature Farfisa or Vox, an especially confusing situation given the various effects pedal organists ran their models through.)

After garage rock's peak, Farfisa found itself embraced by two very different musical worlds. African performers in Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal introduced the instrument into Afrobeat and highlife, while prog/art rockers from Tangerine Dream to Brian Eno began exploring the organ's full sonic capacity. By the late '70s, the garage rock revival and New Wave scene helped catapult the Farfisa back onto the main stage (Squeeze and Stereolab both penned songs explicitly in tribute).

There's no easier way to immediately signify a sonic commitment to the 1960s then to add a Farfisa to the mix. And the organ still finds itself periodically selected as a favored instrument among the avant-garde set, a tradition harkening back to Steve Reich's famed 1970 composition "Phase Patterns." Watch for recent classical use by Keith Fullerton Whitman in this wide-ranging playlist, as well as a frenetic 40-minute Farfisa extravaganza from jazz pianist Matthew Shipp (with members of Spring Heel Jack and Spiritualized), titled "Black Music Disaster," which is a long way from garage rock.

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