Nostalgia with Wires

April 16th, 2015

The first synthesizer I owned was a Roland Alpha Juno 1. The first synthesizer I spent any time with was probably my friend’s Korg Poly 800. I have the most nostalgia, however, for the semi-modular Roland System-100. Hours spent with it in De Anza College’s tiny practice room/synth studio, and Dan Mitchell’s classes, taught me the basics of synthesis. Before that, my understanding was relatively limited. The crutch of presets that my previous synth provided, even if it they were just a jumping off point for programming, perhaps made mastery less urgent. Working with the preset-free System 100 is when I started to really understand how synthesizers work. What moment in a budding young electronic musician’s life is more thrilling than the time this strange collection of wires, knobs and sliders emits a sound like a tuba? Well, lots of times, of course, like the discovery of all the chaos you can wring out of it. But still, for some reason I do really remember that tuba…

Anyway, what brings this to mind is Roland’s announcement that they are releasing, in addition to some digital Eurorack gear, the new 500 Series of analog synth modules. It’s been decades since the modular approach has been a good fit for my style of music making. I briefly considered diving back in a few years ago, but quickly dismissed it as impractical for me and continued creating custom software-based instruments that are more limited, but more immediate (and more portable). In the meantime, the modular world has continued its amazing explosion of new modules from companies large and small. Hardly a month goes by without some cool new module appearing, tempting me back into the world of spaghetti cables. Lucky for me, it’s still an expensive hobby, so I’m safe. For now.