Don Dorsey ‘Bachbusters’ (Telarc, 1985)

Back in April 2012, at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, my two young daughters – then aged four and five – were watching the Electrical Water Pageant float past. Transfixed by its colourful show of lights, they genuinely believed it to be the work of pure magic. 

I was so caught up in their excitement that it took me a while to realise that analogue electronic music was being played across the lagoon. With some furious Googling, I came across an electronic musician called Don Dorsey. A classically trained Californian music student, in 1970 Dorsey convinced his mother to loan him $1,500 to buy a Minimoog. 

His concerts with the instrument caught the attention of Disney executives, and he was hired to work on parade music following the death of his predecessor, Paul Beaver, in 1975. Dorsey’s innovative mid-70s Moog work on an earlier version of the Electrical Water Pageant (and its land-based counterpart, the Main Street Electrical Parade), had literally brought classically inflected synthesiser sounds to the ears of millions of park guests.

I became fully obsessed with Dorsey’s largely unsung role in electronic music history that night in 2012, and quickly tracked down a copy of ‘Bachbusters’. One of only a handful of Dorsey’s non-Disney projects to be commercially released, the album was recorded in 1985 at his home studio in Anaheim, California.

In a sense, ‘Bachbusters’ was a digital update of Wendy Carlos’ analogue ‘Switched On Bach’ from 1968. Made with a Synclavier, Roland MKS-80, Yamaha DX-7, Oberheim XP-1, and other digital synths and drum machines, the album tapped directly into Dorsey’s classical chops.

In the process, he offered bright, thoroughly modern and irrepressibly energetic MIDI-based interpretations of Bach’s venerable organ and harpsichord pieces. It was natural enough territory for Dorsey, who had brought Bach-style arpeggios to the Main Street Electrical Parade, echoed here in a memorable version of ‘Italian Concerto In F Major (Presto)’. 

‘Bachbusters’ won’t ever get the same level of plaudits as ‘Switched On Bach’. I completely get it – its mid-80s, all-digital presentation has a sharp, clinical sound and precision that analogue synths didn’t have. Nevertheless, to spend time in the company of this album is a wondrous, joyful experience. If you need further proof, just look at the chap with a keytar on the sleeve, skipping merrily along to its bright and mellifluous arrangements.

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