Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga ★★½

When the trailer dropped and I saw back-to-back Nord Stage 3's on a glorious Icelandic shore, and even despite knowing this wasn't going to be very good, I had to watch for the gear. Aside from the aforementioned and beautifully shot keyboards, by the next scene I was treated to a Yamaha DX7 and a Roland Octapad II, then my jaw dropped. Rachel McAdams’ character is standing over that glorious and nearly forgotten three-voice powerhouse string synth from 1980 - none other than the Moog Opus 3. This one really hit home for me because last year I was fortunate enough to restore one of these boards, inside and out.

For those of you who don't know, this particular keyboard was Moog's answer to similar string synths produced around 1978-1980 like the Arp Solina, Korg Delta, and Roland RS505. While it was low in polyphony and had as limited a signal path as any other "stringers" of the day, the brass/organ/string sections could be panned independent of one another with an early stereo output. The on-board bucket brigade delay chorus section (similar to the ensemble mode in other synths of the time) had adjustable speed and could be shared amongst the string/organ voicings while the filter section could be shared between the organ/brass voicings. Add a primitive envelope section and LFO (with frequency modulation!) to the stack, and you have yourself an incredibly versatile synthesizer that could make decidedly non-string sounds on top of its express purpose, hence why it was often a go-to instrument for acts like Stereolab, Kraftwerk, and 808 State.

It should be noted that there is a subtle symbology in the keyboards of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. William Ferrell is often seen behind the Yamaha DX7, a keyboard workhorse that defined the sound of the 80s. As one of the first digital synthesizers, it put to shame the analog competitors of the time with its versatility and build quality - no outdated capacitors and voice chips to blow up, melt down, and rattle loose while loading in. Even Prince immediately made the shift towards digital in lieu of the magic of his trusty Oberheim boards right around the time of "Purple Rain" and he helped define the decade with the DX7 being a signature aspect of his sound. Like Ferrell's character, the DX7 is a workaholic's board (as anyone who's ever tried to program one can attest), but it has been relegated to a historical point in popular culture and these days seen as out of fashion and oversaturated. One can easily purchase a second hand unit for about 500 dollars. Ferrell plays a man who has strived his whole life to prove himself as an asset to his community, but he's stuck on a dream that never came true, a purpose that should have come, and he's now another second-hand nobody.

Then you have McAdams and her Opus 3. She's a diamond in the rough, certainly not as driven or prolific as her bandmate, but capable of a musical beauty that perhaps only Bob Moog and Herbert Deutsch could have hand-crafted themselves. When Fire Saga make it into the Eurovision Song Contest by chaotic luck, she borrows Ferrell's DX7 and begins to see what kind of effort it takes to not just find her voice, but to rise from the trials and tribulations that plague their musical scramble to the top and find the song that does justice to the past as well as look towards her hopes and dreams for the two of them. At the end, their song is played on a Yamaha CP70b, a remarkable electric stage piano that is as timeless as the songs written on it by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, U2, D'Angelo, and Nick Cave. Fire Saga doesn't need the flashy Nord Stage 3 and the fame and glitz (and money) needed to own one, much less two. For a brief moment they got to show the world that they have each other and a song.

Anyway, I couldn't stand the music, but I did laugh a few times.

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