"Think of a sound - now make it." With this slogan, the British company Electronic Music Studios brought synthesisers to the masses in the 1960s.
For the company's co-founder, Peter Zinovieff, it has also been a mantra for his own music. "There are so many sounds in my head and it would be marvellous if they could come out," he says.
"When I go to sleep, I think of ways of producing sounds. Then I spend most of the next day trying to get the computer to obey my nebulous thoughts."
Zinovieff, now 82, has been trying to make computers obey him for almost 60 years.
In fact, he claims to have owned the first personal computer in the world. And he taught the Beatles, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Kraftwerk how to use EMS synths to gild their work.
We meet in his home studio in Cambridge, where iMacs gleam amid trinkets accumulated from a life of globetrotting. In the next room, his fourth wife Jenny is overseeing the installation of a new kitchen.
Brought up by his Russian grandparents during the second world war, Zinovieff remembers playing "thundering duets" with his grandmother on the piano and a fascination with DIY radio sets. "I can still smell the shellac. I was fearless about wiring - and about music."
At the Oxford University, he dabbled in sonic experiments. "We would bang around with sticks and stones and tins and things, as well as our instruments."
But he focused on geology, mapping dormant volcanoes in the Cuillins, in Scotland, surveying Cyprus and going to Pakistan "to look for water".
In his mid-20s, he fell in love with his first wife, Victoria, who wasn't too keen on being posted off to the obscure sites of geological interest where he was being offered work: the Falkland Islands, Georgia, Alberta. So he swerved into a life of experimental music.
Peter Zinovieff and then wife Victoria Heber-Percy in 1963. Photograph: Kaye/Getty Images/Hulton Archive
It must have been a middle-of-the-night decision," he says, looking for his reasoning on the ceiling. "It was a wild thing to do. At that time, there were just a handful of people making electronic music."
He created a studio at home in London with old navy equipment, building up a hodgepodge of oscillators and amplifiers "with I don't know how many kilometres of wire. It couldn't have been more fiendish."
He then bought a computer to control all the equipment. This was the PDP-8 , which had four kilobytes of memory, no hard drive and worked by feeding in commands on ticker tape. It cost GBP4,000, the equivalent of GBP100,000 today.
"It was a massive family decision," Zinovieff remembers. "I'm afraid I went cap in hand. My father-in-law had given my wife this ridiculous tiara, made of turquoise and pearls. We managed to sell that for the same price as the computer. She didn't miss it. It's often told rather against me, this story, but it was a worthwhile thing to do.
"The computer was incredibly cumbersome and primitive, but it was definitely the way forward. I spent day after day, and a lot of nights, huddled in front of it, until it would churn out whatever I wanted."
Similar computers had previously only sat in factories, universities and laboratories.
"Mine was certainly the first in a private house, anywhere. I personally have had a computer longer than anyone in the world - brilliant!"
He later bought a hard drive for it with 32 kilobytes of storage, which is not even enough to store the text of this article. "And when we got it we said, 'We'll never fill this.'"
Zinovieff's compositions from this early period appear in a new double album, Electronic Calendar.
They're full of wild, unmoored sound where noise whips like a blizzard and melodies bloop madly. He's a little ambivalent about some of it now.
"I was always going to do something better tomorrow, so I wasn't very interested in keeping what I was doing today," he says. "A lot of things were fluky."
For one piece, Tarantella, he wanted purely random, arrhythmic notes, but his computer would get stuck in patterns. So he generated true randomness by recording the radiation from his luminous watch with a Geiger counter. To fund his burgeoning studio, he started EMS, designing portable and elegant synths including the bestselling VCS3.
Zinovieff’s claim to fame, the VCS3 synthesiser, used by Pink Floyd, Roxy Music and others. Photograph: Science & Society Picture Library via Getty Images
"I had a nice time teaching Ringo Starr how to use it," he remembers. "I would go to his house in Hampstead. He wasn't particularly good. But then neither was I." Paul McCartney also collaborated with Zinovieff on Carnival of Light , one of the last unreleased pieces of Beatles music. "I'd like to get in touch with him about it," he says.
"But I'm quite in awe - how do you get in touch with God?" Another "god-like" visitor to the studio was Karlheinz Stockhausen : "He was very brusque and German. I didn't find him very sympathetic. It was as if he knew everything, but he didn't know anything about my equipment."
The company would stage concerts to show off this equipment.
Zinovieff shows me one of the programmes, which were covered in foil for the audience to make sounds with, like the rustling sweet-wrappers of some race of robot.
Inside, there's a 3D folding tetrahedron score that encourages players to improvise through sections with titles such as Boredom, Anxiety and Catharsis.
Then there was the whimsical Please Make Me a Beautiful Composition, a simple computer program in which Zinovieff would enter the letters PMMABC and the computer would, up to 24 hours later, play back random tones and print out the letters TIABC (This Is a Beautiful Composition).
"I thought the computer would become very creative," he says.
"You could get it to compose very original music, giving it beautiful commands like, 'Dear computer, I would really like something lyrical and sad lasting 25 seconds. Remember the thing I wrote yesterday: try that.' Even now, we're nowhere near it, but in those heady days when computers first became available, people did think the future would arrive very fast, as far as computer intelligence goes. It's a great shame we're not there yet."
Zinovieff's anything-goes approach led to other innovations. "I think I'm the inventor of sampling," he says, citing compositions that interpolated religious recordings; or Chronometer, when he and the composer Harrison Birtwistle climbed up Big Ben to record the ticking of the clock.
Another work sampled his son reading Tristan and Isolde and recordings of his whippet, Hart. He wrote the libretto for another Birtwistle work, The Mask of Orpheus , and invented an entirely new language for its final act.
Where does all this stem from? "My wonderful head!" he laughs. "Full of wild things bursting out and having to be tamed. Lots of people would say, 'Oh, this is too daring.' But I've never felt that - perhaps because I'm Russian. I'm not afraid of going too far." His was not a head for business, however, and EMS went bankrupt in the 1970s. Zinovieff gave his lovingly built studio to the National Theatre. It was eventually destroyed by a flood. "It was terrible, really horrible," he says, his voice trembling.
Zinovieff moved to an island off Skye, powering one of his last remaining synths with a windmill, in "the dying echo of my work". His personal life was also fractious. "Some of the marriages were tumultuous. It was always difficult. Well, there were different difficulties with each."
In the 1980s and 90s he worked on everything but his own music: graphic design, teaching, a piano-sampling project with inventor Clive Sinclair . But he returned to composition in 2011 when noise musician and Zinovieff fan Russell Haswell commissioned a new work. It kickstarted a burst of activity that included the 2012 piece Good Morning Ludwig .
"I went to Beethoven," he explains, "and asked him, 'Good morning Ludwig, I want to do some variations on your work - what would you like me to do?' So we had this conversation." It was performed via 47 specially placed loudspeakers, although - ever the progressive - Zinovieff now thinks loudspeakers are outdated.
"They're one of the real burdens, aren't they? A paper cone is very primitive and we haven't invented a substitute. It's extraordinary." He is equally scornful of the keyboard and mouse.
"There's no joystick, no being able to say, 'Come on computer, this is what I mean.' Whereas in the EMS studio, there were lots of things to feel and touch. I had this wonderful video camera which I interfaced to these banks of oscillators. You could point the camera at something and a different noise would come out. And I had this keyboard called Squeeze Me, where every key was like a computer mouse. It could control any aspect of the studio." He even questions whether there should be eight notes in an octave.
"What I'm doing is inventing scales where the notes are not a semitone apart - there might be 56 per octave."
And he describes the traditional notated score as "tyrannical in lots of ways. The way a few simple bits of paper, a conductor, and thousands of years of training distributed among the instrumentalists can come together and recreate music is completely magical. But it doesn't help with new sounds." At every turn, Zinovieff is as eager, impatient and open as a child - until you get him on to mainstream modern electronic music, when suddenly he's harrumphing like a grumpy old man.
"I try to push away almost any music. Because it will take away from what I'm doing. It's one of the reasons I find television so terribly annoying, because it's full of ghastly music - almost anything that might be interesting on television has this trite background of electronic music. It's extraordinarily rampant. Most of the computer music one hears now is not experimental, it's a commodity."
But where many an octogenarian's gripes come from wanting things to be as they used to be, Zinovieff craves a life in flux.
"I think it's my scientific side - scientists want to find out what's new and contribute new things. Being alone in the world doing geology was incredibly satisfactory, and I have the same feeling in music now. I want to be doing something no one else is doing. If I took up gardening, it would be the same."
Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2015