In preparing my review of the Prophet-6, I stumbled across a recently released new book that traces the fascinating history of Sequential Circuits, Dave Smith’s earlier company, and the one behind the legendary Prophet-5 synthesizer. If you’re a student of electronic music history, were a part of it, or like me, lived through the era, but were too young to have been a part of it, The Prophet from Silicon Valley: The Complete Story of Sequential Circuits is an intriguing read about a storied company and the history-making products it produced during a truly amazing era in modern music.
Its author, David Abernethy, hails from New Zealand (perhaps an implicit acknowledgement of just how widely acclaimed the Sequential name is), but he literally circles the globe to compile his story, tracing the very beginnings of Smith’s first company, all the way to the very end. Any history of Sequential wouldn’t be complete without references to the market conditions, competition, and state of the music industry along the way, so the reader walks away with not just Sequential’s history, but a sense of what it was like to be a musician some 35 or so years ago when the dynamics were so incredibly different from today.
Abernethy weaves his tale by liberally quoting from interviews with artists, producers, former employees of Sequential, and others who lived the history. Diving into details of the various models produced by the company, what went into them, how they fared, and what the challenges were, shines a light not just on the history of Sequential, but also on how much has changed in the few decades since.
While an enjoyable read, and one rich in detail, The Prophet from Silicon Valley is not a particularly well-crafted book. The story proceeds more or less in order, but there’s an inordinate amount of jerking back and forth in time that makes reading it more work than it should be. And while the long-form quotes from artists, producers and others add essential context and insight, Abernethy chose to incorporate the quotes not into the narrative, but instead as a series of blocks seemingly glued to the ends of sections of the book. Perhaps he felt an obligation not to omit the full commentary from those quoted, but I’d have preferred to see things more logically assembled, and with a better flow overall.
That said, I ended the book wishing for more—always the hallmark of a good story in my view, and a reaction that leaves me strongly recommending the book despite its flaws.
The Prophet from Silicon Valley is available both in print form, and in e-book form; I read the latter. I discovered only later that the digital version is missing a massive amount of content from the print version—ad reprints, photos, and much more. That, combined with the fact that the e-book version (via Amazon Kindle) is relatively poorly adapted to the digital format (with countless formatting glitches), appears to suggest that the print version is the one to buy.