Except for a brief stint as a grease monkey on an oil rig in the gulf, music has been my guiding force and my only vocation. I actually loved the work on the rig – was always outdoors, had a bunch of guys to shoot the bull with, and had great benefits. That is until the drill bit popped loose and landed on my leg. That landed me in the hospital and were it not for a super New Orleans maritime lawyer who helped me navigate the legal system in order to get compensated for my medical expenses, I would have been royally f*cked. The legal spiders nest is not one you want to enter while you are laid up, so you actually need a good guy to argue on your behalf against your employer – who probably created the unsafe environment that got you injured in the first place. Anyway that’s all behind me and I can start this post as if my life began on the next sentence…

I have been a musician and constantly-conflicted techno-fetishist from about the time of my birth in the early 1970s. Music has surrounded me all of my life, and (for better or worse) so has increasingly ubiquitous technology.

Three early devices formed the basis for the evolution that eventually turned me into the musical cyborg that I am today: the Casio VL-1, which was the very first synthesizer in my family home; the Moog Rogue that my junior high-school music teacher let me play with; and Simon, the annoying electronic game by Milton Bradley that introduced me to electronic music and “game over” (and over and over) in one fell swoop.

In order of encounter:

(late 1970s) Simon, of course, was that bleeping little round bleep game that bleeping cheated every time. On the other hand, it always played in tune (unlike many musicians that I’ve worked with) and it was forgiving of deviations in the rhythm (unlike many sequencers that I’ve worked with). If it had only had a ‘free play’ mode and a line-out jack, I would probably have one in the studio today. As a kid, of course, I was just obsessed with beating it…and I never have.

(Christmas 1981) The Casio VL-1 was probably little better than the Simon as far as basic sound quality, but it had things that some of the greatest classic synthesizers lacked: a sequencer (100 notes, step-time, step-playback too) and programmable sound design capabilities (ADSR envelope, vibrato, tremolo). Of course, it sounded pretty awful no matter what you did, but it did actually make it on to a number of hit songs. And if you used the line out instead of the horrible built-in speaker, you could always tart it up with some effects…then again, you could do that with almost anything.

(circa 1983) The Moog Prodigy was a classier instrument. I don’t know if Mr. Taverni or the school district owned it, but I got to play with it for an hour or two one day…and that day made me an analog synth junkie. Sure, it didn’t have the options or sound quality of more upscale synths by Moog (or ARP, or Oberheim, et cetera), but it did have a FAT sound and what seemed like a zillion controls to me at the time. Untutored with the basics of VCO-VCF-VCA synthesizer architecture, it probably took me 45 minutes to get it to make anything but alien robot farts, but those were some of the best alien robot farts that I’ve ever heard.

These were all crucial parts of my evolution and they are a very good place to start for anyone looking to be introduced to the industry. It is amazing some of the wonderful sound combinations you could produce if you used these tools to there fullest ability.

April 27, 2010

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