May 192009

(continued from Part 1)

With my very first synth (the Roland Juno 6, see Part 1) wrapped in a comforter and packed on top of the rest of my stuff in the back of our orange 1976 Volvo station wagon, I headed down a few very hot two-lane rural Texas highways on the way to The University of Texas at Austin.

Ah, Austin, where I could now visit Strait Music (finally – a real music store!) and learn the true meaning of the affliction now commonly referred to as G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). The world had moved into the era of the Yamaha DX7 and everything was going digital – my Juno 6 was eventually sold, and I bought a DX100 (with my very first line of credit, no less). Talk about the “poor man’s DX7.” Limited functionality, Mini keys, and real buttons instead of the DX7’s ultra-cool membrane switches (what were we thinking?). But it was digital (!) it fit my meager college budget at the time, and I thought I was sorta cool, especially when I attached a guitar strap and played it as only I could have done in the ’80s. I knew better than to get within miles of any Austin blues bar with those shenanigans though – I’m sure I’d have been kicked to the curb swiftly by some well-worn cowboy boots.

Then when the Roland D-50 entered the scene, I succumbed to my first all-encompassing G.A.S. attack. In fact, when I wrote the check to buy my D-50, it was from the money meant to pay for next semester’s classes (which didn’t exactly go over real well when I later had to fess up to my mom and dad). I became the proud owner of the Grandaddy of all ROMplers – I could play Digital Native Dance! It sure sounded great, but programming sounds? Well, not really anything like what it was back on the ol’ Juno 6. Still, it was fine for my hobbyist tinkerings, and many a tinkering track was captured on the cassette boom box I’d set on record and leave on while I noodled in my dorm room to the beat of my Alesis HR16 drum machine.

Then one evening I attended an Ensoniq EPS clinic at Musicmakers in Austin. Wow! Not only did this thing sample, it also would let me sequence a whole song! I know, I was pretty far behind any serious MIDIphile at this point, but my student budget wasn’t really suited to a substantial setup, nor was my time outside of school enough to tackle the technical hurdles (and related expenses) of a rig like that back then. Plus, Musicmakers had a huge library of sounds, and for anyone who purchased their EPS there, you could come in and download them for free. Sweet!

I really liked the EPS. The operating system made sense, I had a bunch of sounds, and I could arrange a whole song for the first time. It worked great for me as I wrote and arranged songs for myself (and had I ever gotten around to putting together a band or gigging, I’m sure it’d have been fine for that too). I should have remembered how I “clicked” with the instrument, and just how important that was to my creativity.

But once college days are over and real jobs begin, once late nights spent sampling and sequencing are replaced by real-world early morning shifts for new retail managers, priorities shift a bit. And especially once the girl who is “the one” moves in, and together sights are set on that next larger apartment, wedding plans, and reaching up to grab the next rung up the career ladder, the keyboard in the corner can get lonely pretty quickly – at least mine did. And before I realized the full implication of it, I owned no keyboard at all.

You may be wondering at this point, “what does this have to do with Moog?” I promise you, in my own quite roundabout way, it is.

(to be continued in Part 3)

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