Roland Alpha Juno synthesizer (1985) / The “Hoover” sound

In 1985, Roland introduced the Alpha Juno, an analog polyphonic synthesizer with digitally-controlled oscillators. The year prior, Roland had released the Juno-106, which featured dedicated hardware sliders for every parameter; the Alpha Juno series relegated all editing to a single “Alpha wheel,” wherein the parameter is selected with a membrane button, and the value of the parameter is changed by twirling the wheel at the top left corner of the synth:

While the switch from dedicated sliders to a single adjustment wheel made editing the Alpha Juno’s patches more cumbersome, the sound architecture in the Alpha Juno offered unique waveforms that the 106 lacked. The Alpha Juno’s preset patches included standard fare like “Piano” and “Violin,” among other recreations of typical instruments. However, one of the presets, patch number 86, was titled simply “What the,” a fitting title for a sound that truly defies comparison with any known musical device. A growling, menacing, heavily-modulated wall of noise, the patch eventually came to be known as the “Hoover sound,” due to the only sonically-similar instrument being a vacuum cleaner. It’s a swarm of angry bees, it’s a rabid electronic shriek, and it became a staple sound in early-90s electronic music. “Dominator” by Human Resource and “Mentasm” by Second Phase were both released within weeks of eachother in 1991, so it’s unclear who used it on a released recording first, but Prodigy scored their first hit “Charly” with the Hoover sound in August of the same year. It’s an interesting moment in music history: the Alpha Juno synths had been out for years, yet the pure abrasiveness of Patch 86 evaded any musical application. However, as dance music evolved, it began incorporating atonal and dissonant noises. When Human Resource, Second Phase, and Prodigy took a risk with the patch, they essentially spawned entire new sub-genres of electronic music, ranging from Gabber to hard house. Veeeehhhhuuuuhh!! (Text approximation of the “Hoover” sound)

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