Battlestar Synthetica

"Bye bye baby, baby goodbye."

Last week I sold my Yamaha CS-15. Yes, the exact same CS-15 you can see as the wallpaper of our synthblog. I was in desperate need of some cash and even though I really loved the CS-15, I thought that it’s sound and features were too similar to my Korg MS-20. It had some physical deficiencies (The pitch bend was missing the slider-hat and the portamento and brilliance slider had been broken off, although the little stumps still worked), so the asking price for it was a measly 450 euros. Usually a CS-15 in perfect shape goes for about 600 euros here in Finland.

Anyways the first one to give me a call about the CS-15 was none other than my old friend Jori Hulkkonen. He’s been in the business of re-acquiring the same set of equipment he had when he made his first album Selkäsaari Tracks and the CS-15 was the last piece of puzzle missing. At the time Jori was in Helsinki for his record release party for the Stop Modernists 12″ single Subculture, but he promised that he’d pick up the synth first thing on monday. I received a pile of e-mails during that weekend about the now reserved CS-15. Soon I had three or four guys in line waiting for Jori to pull out of the deal. On monday I saw a facebook -link concerning a demonstration of the new Roland Jupiter 80 -synth in the local SLSX -music shop and felt the need to go there. As Jori’s studio is right around the corner from that music shop we arranged to meet there and I took the CS-15 with me.

When I got there and parked my CS-15 somewhere in the shop corner, I noticed that basically I was there by myself. Jori was supposed to meet me there in 20 minutes, but until then I had to be the sole customer to take part in the demonstration of the Jupiter 80. I’m not a guy who goes to a synth-shop to play the solo to some Emerson, Lake & Palmer -song. I’m embarrased by my lack of skills and I’d rather watch a Youtube-video of a synth at home than go to a shop to try it myself. So I wasn’t too happy when I was left alone with the music shop guy and the Roland salesperson as he booted the JP80. Fortunately, as the demonstration got on it’s way, an older guy entered the shop to see the new Roland workhorse too, and soon after that a second one. Both of them laid their eyes on my CS-15 too and asked the shop clerk if that one was for sale.

I was not too impressed with the Jupiter 80. It seemed to be the same exact workstation-synth Roland has been doing for the last ten or fifteen years. Only this time they had given it a retro look and a legendary name. The Roland sales-dude was a talented player and an experienced sales person and he showed the three people there how the new Jupiter could sound JUST like a violin or an accordion. In my opinion that’s the whole problem with these workstation-synths. If I’d wanted to sound like an accordion player, I would’ve bought an accordion and not an MS-20. I don’t want a synthesizer that realistically mimics “regular” instruments. I want a synth that sounds like a synth. I want my synths to sound like melting plastic armour in a laser-infested space-skirmish, not like a guy blowing a flugelhorn in a white t-shirt. There’s a difference right there.

Enter Jori. After the Roland-guy showed the new customer Jori some of the tricks the J80 was able to do and even demonstrated the machine’s shortish boot-time after powering up (Basically all of my synths start instantly when I turn the power on), Jori asked the guy bluntly: “Who is this synth made for?” My thoughts exactly! Who needs a synth that’s teetering on the edge of serious analog-modelling power and being a multi-purpose kitchen appliance for schlager musicians? The Roland-guy had trouble answering Jori’s questions and Jori kept annoying him with comments about the synth’s menu-driven nature and “ease of use”. Basically almost every aspect of synthesis in the J80 is accessible only through the touch screen. The sliders and pots on the machine surface give access only to a couple of parameters for the machine’s 4 different “channels”.  Personally, if I wanted to control a synth with a touch screen, I’d buy an iPad and download a couple of Korg synths for it. I’d also save about 2400 euros in the process.

After Jori had harrassed the Roland guy for long enough we both asked him why has Roland taken this approach and direction in the noughties. Even though Korg has made the Kronos and all the other shitty workstations for schlager-music-one-man-bands, it has also made a lot of interesting products for people who are still interested in real synthesis. At the same time Roland has completely forgotten it’s great legacy and concentrated on workstations and “pro-audio”. Roland has forgotten it’s strengths and started to mimic a small swedish company that makes red coloured keyboards for musicians who play on the Turku-Stockholm ferry. That’s a weird niche market, but Roland is going to conquer it with it’s workstations. Nobody at Roland seems to realize how much money there is to be made by making new versions of the classic X0X-series drum-machines etc. In the past Roland catered for dance-musicians, nowadays they make gear for dansbands. There’s a difference again.

After we had had our say, we took the CS-15 and walked to Jori’s studio. As a downpayment for the Yamaha, Jori gave me the amazing battery operated Boss DR-55, forefather of the Dr. Rhythm -series and one more example of the style of equipment Roland should be making today instead of these 3000 euro moulinexes. But more about the Boss in a later post.

Sorry if I have offended someone. I just can’t see the point in these modern “synths”. The newest synth in my own collection was made in the year 1985.

Tomi / Turku Synth

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Filed under Drum Machine, Roland, Synthesizer, Yamaha

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