Research Output

Following the Distributors: Syco Systems and the Selling of Musical Instruments.

  Since the 1980s and 1990s, scholars in Science and Technology Studies (STS) and, more specifically, those adopting the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) approach have been investigating ‘the user-technology nexus’. This continued a shift in the historiography of technologies from a focus on the designers of technologies towards the contexts of use and ‘the co-construction’ or ‘mutual shaping’ of technologies and their users. To understand music technologies and avoid deterministic arguments about how technologies shape music and society, we have to follow both the designers and the users of music technologies. In his study of the Minimoog and its adoption as an instrument in rock, Trevor Pinch writes that ‘it is sellers who tie the world of use to the world of design and manufacture. Sellers are ‘boundary shifters’. They are the true ‘missing masses’ of technology studies’. He was referring to David Van Koevering, one of the individuals responsible for developing a market for analogue synthesizers. At the end of the 1970s, Peter Vogel of Fairlight Instruments in Sydney, Australia demonstrated a digital synthesizer to Peter Gabriel during the recording of his third studio album. Along with his cousin, Stephen Paine, Gabriel started a distribution company called Syco Systems, which became the sole agents of the Fairlight CMI in the UK. Using interviews with the distributors at Syco Systems, this chapter shows how they connected the engineering worlds of its designers with the musical worlds of its users. It tells a story about how the use of the Fairlight CMI as a sampler rather than a synthesizer was shaped by the marketing strategies of its distributors and conflicted with the original objectives of its designers.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    03 September 2018

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    M1 Music

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    784 Instruments & instrumental ensembles

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Harkins, P. (2018, September). Following the Distributors: Syco Systems and the Selling of Musical Instruments. Paper presented at Art of Record Production (ARP)/International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) UK & Ireland Branch Conference



Social Construction of Technology, SCOT, music technology.

Monthly Views:

Available Documents