My first stop is the Globe Hotel in Wellington Street, they give you a shower and change room for five bucks. It sounds expensive but I won't be home for another 20 hours so I pay it. Next stop is Tony's cafe. He opens early. As I walk there the city council refuse trucks are finishing up and the first business types emerge as they scurry to their first meeting of the day. Regrettably I also see the homeless still curled up in doorways. In this city, in this economy built on a century of mining wealth this should not happen. Tony is waiting for me, he does beans on toast like no other. It's like Colonel Sanders secret recipe and I need it for the day ahead. I'll enjoy a cappuccino as well which is a rare luxury. Where I have come from, a haven for mining roughnecks, they have not heard of such a thing (yet).
Two hours later I'm here, to me the electronic shrine I've travelled through the night to see, the city's biggest music store. Not oddly enough I am the first waiting at the door at opening time and I am recognised and greeted for all the right reasons, after all this isn't the first time for me. As I reflect writing this I recall the 1980's as being a period of a great hardware explosion. Certainly in the digital realm which allowed seemingly difficult architectures to be implemented in analog, scales of technology economy allowed these inefficient designs to be implemented in digital. From that, a wave of synths, samplers, drum machines and sequencers driven by the revolution that was Midi in 1983 crashed onto the shores of our imagined possibilities. This store held and promised it all. While my own home town had a local music store, for more specialised and exotic fair you had to come here.
The first synth I see generates nervous anticipation. While this is the first time I have seen it in the flesh I know it well from magazine articles and albums it has already appeared on. Instinctively I go for Patch #1. While I bow down in awe of the technology and the engineers who created it I firmly believe it's the sound designers that make or break a synth, and what a challenge they have. Patch #1 needs to define the synth, its character, its architecture and the engineers intent. It needs to leverage as many of the features the synth offers especially those it's predecessors and competitors don't possess. Patch #1 needs to leave a distinct and powerful impression. Without thinking you play your favourite riffs on it and inevitably you discover something new, that's what instruments are supposed to do, to inspire. You memorise what you have done so when you get home you can try and replicate it in some way. Moving onto other patches should be like turning the pages of a book. Patch #2 and so on should say, well, you thought Patch #1 was pretty cool, guess what, I can do all this other amazing stuff too. I'm soon in tweaking mode and saving patches. As great as these sounds are their other purpose in life is to encourage you to change them. It's a programmable synth, so let's program it and make something new!!
Time is slippery and before I know it's nearly closing time, yes I have been here that long. I have noticed something strange happening. As I deep dive into the machinery I have an audience. Questions fly back and forth and we are all engrossed. The sales guy lets it go, someone's gonna buy this synth today no question. It won't be me but that's not the point. The price tag strangely adds to the allure, the increasing attraction for something I cannot possess. I am satisfied, I have drank at the well and I won't leave empty handed at any rate, I never do. I scrutinise my wallet and do some quick calculations. How much do I have? When is pay day? The synth is out of the question but that little drum machine looks fine. If I get it all I will have left is a burger on the way home. What the hell, my Mum will spot me some until pay day. The sales guy throws in a free cable for my trouble, he knows I will be back for more. As I walk out the store I'm already thinking about what I can do with that dinky little drum box.
Bill and his trusty Greyhound are waiting for me back at the bus station. He doesn't know synths but he knows passion and by the smile on my face he knows I got what I came for. As for music everything after Roy Orbison was crap at any rate in his view, fair cop. Eight hours later we are pulling off the highway to my home town and it's two in the morning and I've been awake about 26 hours already. Bill takes the side street and pulls the Greyhound up right on my doorstep. It's not on the route but it's all part of the service and he just wants to make sure I get home alright. I'll see Bill again soon, probably next month when we do it all over again. I hope so, before the airlines kill the bus service off forever.
What's your story?
Jason Durbin (aka Lagrange Audio) has been a synth and music tech enthusiast for 30 years since getting his hands on his first synth in 1983 at the tender age of 16. He hasn't earned a single Aussie dollar from music but the journey has been nothing short of incredible and he has met and interacted with some amazing people along the way. Jason is a true enthusiast doing it for nothing more than the pure love of it.
Hartmann Neuron. Still five grand. Had one. Needed rent. I'll have another one. "Albatross was a fellow's good luck charm until some idiot killed it. Yes, I have read a poem. Try not to faint." --Capt. Malcolm Reynolds. We all have our own albatross.
26-Dec-13 02:33 PM
Man, you should submit this story to The New Yorker.
26-Dec-13 02:48 PM
@gridsleep, thanks for the comments and I loved the Malcolm Reynolds quote, big fan!!
27-Dec-13 09:55 AM
A really great read!Takes me back to my own youth standing in the music store unaware I had an audience when testing out new synths.Thank you for making this gloomy Stockholm morning a lot brighter :)
09-Jan-14 02:13 AM
@DarkRivers, you are very welcome :)
09-Jan-14 03:32 AM
Chris Calcutt takes us through some extra features