Blowing up my Musical World

Growing up was an all you can eat buffet of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. As such, the few non-classical recordings in the house fascinated me the most. We only had a handful, which made the bizarre kinetic 5/4 swing of Brubeck’s “Take 5” and the exotic Beatles quite otherwordly and enchanting. At that age I had no idea that I’d write music one day: I assumed that most music was a serious orchestral business. Nice, safe, phrases repeated over and over, nearly always landing on the tonic. Rarely any non-Italian lyrics, definitely no drumkit.

One year I asked my Santa for a walkman and he was generous that year. It blew up my musical world. Suddenly three minute confections of synths, orch hits, grinding guitars, dance moves and shakin’ beats were getting piped into my headphones. I would hide in my bed past my bedtime and surf the FM channels. I would wait the agonizing 5 minutes before the next song, my eyes bleary with sleeplessness, just in case the next song was one I would love. I soaked in the lyrics, the style, scandalized by the sex, excited by the bass, fascinated by the hooks.

I bought tapes and played the singles over and over again, rewinding the tapes until the ribbon was loose and warbled and the pitches started to slacken. But still, then, I had no idea I would one day tackle making my own creations.

Later, as a teen, I accompanied an amazingly talented electronica group into the studio. They had a real cult following online, before anybody know what ‘online’ was. As the night progressed into an all nighter, someone realized I was getting very bored and offering me a Juno-106 synth and a pair of headphones to play with. Something shifted in me that night… while playing with the knobs, listening to the buzzing squelching and changing timbre… I feel in love.

That was the first spark I had in what would later become a long and torrid love-affair with synthesizers. In a way, that would also lead to opening up the world of music creation that would eventually lead to sequencers, drum machines, samplers and ultimately songwriting / composition.

I think I probably got a late start in music, compared to what I would have liked. Even though I’d written love poems to my piano and sung myself to sleep as a child, I didn’t realize I was musical. It took a fascination with synths and other tools to get me to cross to the other side. My love for them allowed me to experiment and explore music more deeply. It allowed me to finally discover who I am.

Sometimes when I tell people I make electronic music, they often react with a face I recognize. It’s usually a mixture of curiosity, awe, confusion, and if you look carefully – a smidge of disdain sometimes. Like somehow those tools take away the hard work, the creativity. To be honest, I can’t really get on board with that point of view. Those machines really helped to unlock my creativity. The artistic choices you can make are virtually infinite, which in some ways makes things a bit harder. They also require an awful lot of skill, patience and hard work to operate properly. Lastly, and this is the most important to me, they free the mere mortal, the complete newbie, to try writing music. For this, I owe synths a debt of gratitude.

For this I will always be glad.

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