(1951-) Synth and keyboard player who was a major factor in popularizing electronic music in the 1970s and '80s. In the early '70s, Fast attended Lafayette College, where he majored in history, but took several courses in computer science and electrical engineering. Combining these with his existing interest in music, he built some electronic sound devices of his own design. After graduation, he did studio and production work in his native New Jersey, where by chance he was introduced one day to Rick Wakeman. This led to a gig in England assisting with the production of Yes's Tales from Topographic Oceans. While he was there, JEM, a major exporter of European recordings to North America, took interest in what he was doing. JEM signed him to a recording contract with Passport Records, its U.S. domestic division.
Under the project name Synergy, Fast released his first record, Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra, in 1975. Combining pop, rock, and classical influences, the album became the best-selling all-electronic music album since Carlos's Switched-On Bach seven years earlier. Fast executed the record mainly with a small modular Moog, a Minimoog, and an Oberheim SEM, along with several types of sequencers including the Oberheim DS-2, one of the first digital sequencers. Members of the progressive rock band Nektar heard the record and invited Fast to appear on their album Recycled; he recorded and did a short tour with that band.
On the strength of this, Fast released Sequencer the following year. With the money from the first album, he had been able to significantly upgrade and expand the modular Moog, and the compositions became more involved and complex, such as in the multi-layered sequences of "(Sequence) 14". This record was also a success, and it brought Fast enough notice that he got a gig consulting with Moog on the development of the Polymoog. Also as a result, he received a call to work with Peter Gabriel on his first solo album. Fast wound up performing most of the synths on Gabriel's first four solo albums, and he was a significant compositional influence on the third and fourth albums.
The work with Gabriel, and the receipt of a prototype Polymoog, both influenced the third Synergy album, Cords (a play on the duo of the Polymoog, which could play chords, and the modular Moog, which used patch cords). Fast begin incorporating some experimental composition, in the manner of 20th-century classical, as well as some very short sketches. Also making a significant appearance on the album was guitarist Peter Sobel, playing a prototype guitar synthesizer designed and built by Russ Hamm. In the course of working with Gabriel, Fast had met guitarist Robert Fripp, and Fast and Sobel incorporated some of Fripp's Soundscapes technique on a few tracks.
Games, released in 1979, bookended Cords with a more precise, less dense sound, a return to longer tracks, and experimentation leaning towards the academic. A major event on the album was the appearance of two digital frequency modulation patches, executed with the help of Hal Alles using a DEC PDP-11 minicomputer at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ. Even the song titles sharply contrasted with Cords; while Cords featured songs named "On Presuming To Be Modern I" and "Phobos and Deimos Go to Mars", all tracks on Games were named "Delta 1", "Delta 2" etc. The album also contained a significant amount of synthesized drums, done with the aid of a transient generator that Fast had designed and built himself to give snap to the drum attacks. This album marked the introduction of the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, which over the next two albums phased out the Polymoog.
For the next Synergy release, Fast went in two totally different directions. Audion was a return to a more pop-influenced sound, with shorter tracks and less experimental composition, along with playing with some atypical styles such as heavy rock and blues. Fast had during the interim produced an album for the Canadian progressive rock band FM, and their angular, distorted style influenced Audion. However, this did not mean that Fast was done with experimental work. Concurrently with Audion, Fast recorded an entire album of computer-generated composition, generated with a PAiA microcomputer system running a John Simonton-authored composition program called "Pink Tunes", driving the Prophet-5. This was titled Computer Experiments Vol. 1; initially this was sold only by mail order via coupons packaged with Audion. It sounds totally unlike anything else Fast ever did. Only a few thousand copies of the original vinyl release were sold; even though it has since been re-released on CD, it remains a rarity that many Synergy fans have not heard.
At about this time, Fast started getting calls to do production, synth programming, and studio work for other artists. He was doing all this plus recording and touring with Peter Gabriel, and as a result Synergy went on indefinite hiatus. A re-release album Semiconductor in 1984, with two new tracks, along with the soundtrack to the sci-fi B-movie The Jupiter Menace, filled the gap. But another Synergy album did not appear until 1987's Metropolitan Suite. The title track, in five sections, was an instrumental fantasia of New York between 1910 and 1929. The album represented a significant technological upgrade; most of the old gear was gone except for the modular Moog. The new gear consisted of an E-mu Emulator II, a Memorymoog, a Yamaha DX-7, and a later revision version of the Prophet-5, in addition to MIDI and SMPTE synchronization gear. From the description on Fast's Web site, it appears that much of the album was virtual mixed; recorded as MIDI data using the sequencer capabilities of the Emulator II, and rendered directly to stereo master tracks.
Metropolitan Suite was one of the first releases on Fast's new label, Audion Records. Fast had for some time wanted to establish a label that would specialize in electronic music, and he finally succeeded with JEM taking the project under its umbrella in 1986. The label was just hitting its stride, with a handful of artists signed and records released, when JEM went bankrupt in 1988 and took Audion Records, along with Passport Records, along with it. The rights to all of the Synergy records became tied up in the bankruptcy, and it took Fast over a decade to get back the rights to his own work. During the meantime, he did session and production work, producing albums for a number of other artists. He also branched out into related technologies, such as devices to assist hearing-disabled people and methods of transmitting audio using infrared wireless networks. He did little recording during this period, except for one project, a soundtrack for the horror movie Netherworld on which he collaborated with Bon Jovi's David Bryan. He finally started to re-emerge with new CD releases of the older Synergy records (many of them had never been available on CD previously), an expanded version of Semiconductor with ten new tracks, and Reconstructed Artifacts, an album of old tracks newly performed using mostly Kurzweil synths, which had replaced most of Fast's other gear at this point.
For the past decade, Fast has mostly been touring, recording with other bands, and releasing occasional single tracks in various electronic-music sampler albums. At one point rumors had it that Fast was working on a new Synergy album, which was to have been executed using mostly soft synths, and was to appear in 2012. As of January 2016, this has not appeared, and Metropolitan Suite stands as the most recent Synergy release of all-new material