Television Shows or Movies Where Synthesizers Had Cameos


Post date:

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 12:16


Naomi Bolton

If you spend a lot of time using synthesizers or researching them online in order to decide on your next purchase, then you tend to notice them immediately if they pop up somewhere in a film or television show. Sometimes these synthesizers are actually used in the movies for their intended purpose, but other times they are used for props because of their futuristic designs. Then there is the synth that is just lurking in the background, waiting for fans of the instruments to notice and identify it. Here are just a couple of television shows and movies where eagle eyed synth enthusiasts have spotted synthesizer cameos.

Novation Launchpad in Machete Kills & Dark Matter

Starting things off is the Novation Launchpad, which is not a synthesizer, but an instrument that was designed specifically for Ableton Live. It has an 8 x 8 grid of buttons and can be used for launching clips, controlling your mixer and playing drum racks amongst other things. What makes the Launchpad so appealing for props departments is the fact that it is lit by RGB LEDS that can be set to different colors. This inspired the prop department for Machete Kills, the 2013 action film by Robert Rodriguez, to use it as the launch control for a spaceship operated by the villain, Mel Gibson.

The 2015 Canadian science fiction series, Dark Matter, made use of a Launchpad for the same purpose in the eighth episode of the first season.

ARP 2500 In Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Perhaps the most famous and obvious vintage synthesizer cameo to ever feature in a movie is the ARP 2500 in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Phil Dodds, the technician who was sent to install the unit for the 1977 motion picture, was famously cast as the musician who played it. The film actually featured the fully loaded main unit of the ARP 2500 along with two fully loaded wing cabinets, the dual keyboard as well as a custom case. The five-tone motif for the film has since become a well-known part of popular culture, even if not everyone knows what it was played on.

Yamaha DX7 in Monsters vs. Aliens

The popularity of Close Encounters of the Third Kind has seen it being parodied numerous times in other movies. One notable example is the 2009 computer animated science fiction comedy film, Monsters vs. Aliens. The movie was an homage to classic movie monsters and drew inspiration from a lot of science fiction and horror B movies from the '50s, '60s, and '70s. One of the scenes features the president attempting to make contact with the aliens by playing the five tone motif from Close Encounters of the Third Kind on what is clearly a Yamaha DX7. Although he botches it slightly, he fares much better when launching into the Beverly Hills cop theme.

ARP 2600 and Moog in "Fame"

The ARP 2600 is arguably one of the most revered and sought after synthesizers of its time, so to see it casually being carried through busy streets is sure to cause some anxiety amongst vintage synth fans. The ARP 2600, along with its 3620 keyboard and a Moog can be spotted in the 1980 movie, Fame. The scene is played for laughs with one character told to be careful because it is "7000 worth of machine", to which he replies "dollars or pounds." He is also instructed not to touch the "rotary pods" because it is set on "saw-tooth", causing him to retort "Why can't he play piccolo? Something sensible. Or the accordion."

Buchla Music Easel in We Are Your Friends

The 2015 drama film, We Are Your Friends, featured a surprising cameo from the Buchla Music Easel. The movie stars Zac Efron, who plays a character trying to make it as a DJ in the music industry. The movie was not a box office success and drew mockery from artists such as Trifonic and deadmau5. However, they did agree that the Buchla scene was probably the high point of the film


These are obviously only a small selection of synths that were featured in movies in television shows over the years. From the Oberheim DX Drum Machine in Star Trek to the EMS VCS3 used as some type of torture device on MacGyver, there are plenty more to spot. Let us know in the comments below or on the forum what movies made you sit up straight and point out the synthesizers to those watching it with you.