May 192009




I grew up dreaming of synthesizers. Well not exactly, but sometime after dreaming of Star Trek and dreaming about being a race car driver like Mark Donohue, I started dreaming of synthesizers. Maybe it had something to do with my grandfathers home organ, with all of its colorful buttons and drawbars and bass pedals, its overtones and dual manual keyboard, where I’d sit and experiment with different switch settings for hours. Maybe it had something to do with my father playing me his Switched On Bach LP. I remember those notes connecting synapses in my brain in the most wonderful way. I remember wanting more.

So it’s probably no surprise that I made the mighty Synclavier the subject of my first (and somewhat pitiful) 7th grade research paper. Of course, it probably worked to my advantage that my English teacher didn’t know what a synthesizer was, much less what a state-of-the-art sampling workstation was (after all, it was already a pretty far-fetched concept for its time). It was the late ’70s and I was living on a small US Army base where my dad was stationed about an hour North of Frankfurt – I wouldn’t have known where to go shop for synths even if I’d tried.

Back then, I had a corkboard bulletin board on the wall in my bedroom, covered in a collage of pictures cut out from Keyboard Magazine ads. The Sequential Circuits “wizard” reigned majestically over the assortment of little paper scraps of synth, all far too expensive to be part of my own reality. I’d never even seen, much less played, a synth in person, and I certainly didn’t know where any stores were that sold them. Those scraps were definitely the stuff my dreams were made of though, especially after practicing the Mozart sonata I was supposed to be learning on the piano an hour and a half each day.

After we moved back to the States (central Kentucky to be exact, not exactly the birthplace of New Wave to be sure), I actually saw a real live synthesizer in a store. It was the Realistic Concertmate MG-1 – a real Moog dressed in Radio Shack clothing. It could make helicopter sounds! But somehow I sensed it wasn’t real enough, and it remained in the Radio Shack catalog rather than finding a home with me (not that I had the cash for it had I wanted to buy it – I didn’t).

I moved on to High School, and found Devo, The Human League, Eurythmics, Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, Duran Duran and others along the way, all the while continuing to play piano every chance I got (the Mozart had been replaced by my learned-by-ear piano versions of pop tunes or accompaniment for singers in the chorus or school talent shows – think Ice Castles, Endless Love…). We moved to a small town in central Texas, and while working at the nearby Chuck E. Cheese pizza place, I’d spend my breaks in the quiet little piano store in the same mall. The salesperson there had a Roland Juno 6 set up on a keyboard stand by the register. It was his, and he was selling it for $400 because he was going to upgrade to a Juno 106. I saved some from each paycheck for a while, and in the spring of 1984, I bought the Juno 6 for myself just in time for my High School graduation.

That’s the first time I found that there’s nothing like the sound, the feel, of an analog synth. I quickly learned how to program sounds, as the Juno 6 didn’t have any way to save presets. Of course, it was no Memorymoog, Prophet 5, or Jupiter 8, but it was within my reach, and now it was mine, Chorus 2 and all! To this day, I still miss that synth.

(to be continued in Part 2)

Leave a Reply